THE TRAVELING QUILTER: Quilt Shops in Central Florida

By Lynn Holland

Rainbow's End is just that!

When most people think of Orlando, Florida, Disney World is the first thing that comes to mind. However, for fabriholics, no out-of-town trip is complete without a visit to the local quilt shop. Finding ourselves going that way recently, we decided to scout out the available fabric sources so that we could share this information with those of you who will inevitably be headed toward central Florida someday soon.

Our first stop was in Orlando proper, in the College Park neighborhood. This upscale shopping district houses lots of specialty stores and eateries, which made it a perfect lunchtime stop. Featuring the only bay window on the block, Patchwork Cottage has a spacious, high-ceilinged area with a bright, airy feel. Just two years old, Patchwork Cottage favors traditional patterns in bright "Florida colors" interpretations. Some nice antique quilts decorate the store along with bright shop samples. Despite its traditional style leanings, Patchwork Cottage seems to be aware of all the "bells and whistles" that modern innovations offer the quilter. The shop offers a good book selection for its size, including some computer-oriented quilt and paper piecing publications that you don't see everywhere. The owner also offers some nice quilt-related pins and a lovely selections of other paper goods that make great gifts, even for non-quilting friends. They also sell several different quilt design software selections.

The newsletter is apparently still in its infancy stages since it is just a list of available classes, mostly taught by a single person. However, the selection ranges from English paper piecing to a variety of log-cabin-based projects.

On display in the shop the day we visited was a dollhouse replica of a quilt store, complete with miniature rotary cutter and mat! It was designed and executed by members of the Central Florida Quilt Guild as part of a fund-raising raffle. The daughter person was especially enamored of the perfect replicas of fabric bolts, ninepatch blocks and the tiny design wall.

A spectrum of fat quarters.

The lunch selections in this neighborhood are vast and range from an elegant bistro to quickie sub shop to fancy tearoom to neighborhood café. We opted for the Edgewater Café since we were accompanied by finicky progeny. A longtime resident of Edgewater Drive, the Café offers an extensive menu, fresh flowers on the tables of diner-type booths, and a counter for those who prefer to sit on stools. The food was very fresh and obviously homemade -- a wonderful respite from the oversalted and high fat content food one frequently consumes on the road.

Fortified by our fine lunch, we ventured toward Lake Buena Vista, and after having another of our "this can't be the place" experiences, we discovered that indeed it WASN'T. Set back off International Boulevard, which can only be described as the bargain and discount headquarters of the world, was supposed to be Yesterday's Quilts. Although the center sign still listed the shop, we found only a vacant store, its fabric racks still intact. There was no indication that the store had relocated, and when we called the phone number, it was disconnected.

Discouraged, we then began a tortuous ride to Kissimmee which is roughly six miles away but took about one hour to navigate in bumper-to-bumper traffic. As the clock edged toward 5 p.m., we began to fear that we would only be able to peer through the windows of Queen Anne's Lace. However, secondary luck was with us and the store was open until 6 that evening. And, talk about the magic kingdom - this is it! Featured in the 1996 BH&G Quilt Sampler magazine, QAL is a spellbinding shop. Every nook and cranny of this double- sized store in a strip mall is packed with goodies for textile lovers of all obsessions. There are bolts of fabric everywhere, dollmaking supplies, embellishments, silk ribbon goodies, wearables, paper-making supplies and decorative items.

Everywhere you look; a new surprise awaits you, be it a huge soft sculpture teddy or a lovely Victorian doll. Particularly remarkable is the range and depth of supplies in stock. Lucky are the locals and vacationers who have an opportunity to take a class in one of the two huge classrooms and who can shop there whenever they take a notion to! For those wanting a cute souvenir to take to friends, QAL offers mini tote bags with the shop logo into which several fat quarters can be tucked. The shop newsletter is lively and features information of upcoming quilt-related events throughout central Florida, as well as the usual new stock and class information.

The staff of this shop is upbeat and helpful. They pulled out maps and helped us figure out an alternate route back to the expressway so that we would not have to venture back the way we came. To be sure we were getting good advice, our salesperson consulted one of the regular customers for a second opinion. We left the store convinced that Queen Ann's is among the royalty of quilt shops we have visited.

Our quilters'-overload high was almost good enough to keep our mood happy during a rain-soaked, construction-ridden I-4 trip thorough Tampa in Friday rush hour traffic. Now that's a great store.

Florida colors!

The next day we continued our tour of stores by driving to Dunedin to visit the fabled Rainbow's End! When you enter the door of RE, the fantasyland of over 5,000 bolts spread before you is truly breathtaking. There is a huge selection of solids, a whole section of batiks and balis, a separate alcove for Christmas fabrics and projects, lots and lots of darling doll kits, a whole wall of fat quarters and a sizeable assortment of ready-made wearables intended for silk ribbon embellishment.

Other notables about Rainbow's End: The children's area is a sizeable separate little nook. It has really decent toys, and is situated near the bathrooms. Outside the main door is a nice bench where non-quilt fanatics can sit and enjoy the Gulf breezes. There is a MAN who works there, who capably cuts fabric and seems to enjoy it. The classroom space is huge, and appeared to be large enough to accommodate lecture type classes. The day we were there there were two classes going on simultaneously with a huge room divider separating them.

After visiting Queen Ann's and Rainbow's End within twenty-four hours of each other, we probably could have ended our quilt tour happily. However, we had Christina, the new quilter DIL with us, and we felt we should visit just one more local shop. We almost had another vanishing store experience. Pulling up to the quaint house, which the Yellow Pages had listed as the address for Country Quilts and Bears, the shop formerly housing the quilt store was empty. Luckily, we asked at the stamp store a few stores down and they directed us to the new and enlarged location.

"Brownie" offers a bolt

Run by a husband and wife team, this store is a charming eclectic mix of quilts, soft sculpture, and friendly people. An overhead train runs throughout the store and a five-foot tall bear (lovingly named "Brownie") stands at the counter to greet you. Among the cool bear stuff is a bear nativity scene, a mink bear and a bearmaker's cookbook.

Their taste in quilts runs to the folk, with lots of nice flannels and sensational Seminole projects. Our scientist DIL was enamored of a fabulous Christmas tree skirt that featured crabs and other sea creatures in shades of turquoise and magenta. It was Valentine's Day the day we visited and we were invited to help ourselves to a super spread of goodies (including the best strawberry covered pretzels I've ever tasted and lots of chocolate.) These people know what quilters like. Going on at the time was a Valentine bearmaking class, full of laughing, talking people (including a man). Among the classes listed in the newsletter is one designed to help you turn that old fur coat into a furry friend just like the mink one on display. Again, the staff at the store seemed genuinely pleased to be there and happy to share their enjoyment with the customers.

We were very impressed with all the shops we visited during our trip, and especially interested in the number of men that patronized these particular shops as active customers, not just tagalong spouses or children. Is Florida more advanced in promoting the male realization that quilting is a great creative outlet for persons of all sexes and ages?

A postscript to our visit: About twenty miles out of Orlando, DD decided that she just HAD to have some fabric she had seen at Patchwork Cottage. When we returned to Atlanta, I called the shop and gave a vague description and approximate location of the desired bolt, recited my VISA number and three days later we had gratification in the mail.

TVQ * Planet Patchwork