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Two, Two, TWO Shops Hops This Year!

There are those who might say we're gluttons for quilt-shop overload, but this year we managed to cover the annual spring shop hops both in our home town of Atlanta and in Central Texas, where the bluebonnets were blooming in profusion in early April. Below is our intrepid reporter Lynn Holland's report.

Atlanta, March 27 - 30, 2003

Doing the Atlanta Shop Hop is always a challenge for the working quilter. Trying to make it to all eight of the far-flung stores in three days without missing work calls for good planning. Last year I was lucky enough to have been sent to an early meeting down the street from Patrick’s (1176 Elm St SE, Covington, GA 30014, Phone: (770) 786-3220) , a combination hardware, seed, feed, gourmet Southern food and QUILT store. (I am not making this up.) Literally, the luck of the Irish was with me again when I was sent to a repeat of last year’s event in the shadow of the shop! Patrick’s theme (no surprise here) was St. Patrick’s Day (the participating hop stores all chose holiday or special occasion themes), and I could hardly wait to get there that morning. The real plus was that the store opened at 8:30, so I could stop there before my appointment.

Although the day was dreary and drizzly, the welcoming committee at Patrick’s was definitely in the “top of the morning” spirit when I arrived at 8:30. All the employees were decked out in vivid green tie-dye shirts, shamrock name tags, and green glitter “deely-bobber” headbands or hats. Leprechauns stood guard over pots of gold, bags of rye for whiskey making and bushels of potatoes.

Another early customer was showing off her snowball quilt top from homespun plaids, so of course I stopped to participate in the admiration committee. Throughout the fabric store area were shamrocks offering traditional Irish wisdom, and the store’s hop quilt, Emerald Isle, hung over the register.

I selected several Christmas fabrics for purchase, and my fabric cutter remarked, “I KNEW I liked you when you came in! You’re a Christmas person!” This particular helper has more Christmas quilts than beds, so she frequently loans them to friends who have special holiday events. We chatted for a while and then opined that despite the “Please do not touch the coins in the display” signs, much of the gold-wrapped chocolate would probably be missing from the leprechauns’ pots by the end of the hop on Saturday night. After all, how much temptation can quilters resist?

Even though it was raining by the time I left Patrick's, I KNEW why I always enjoy my trips there. It’s such an upbeat place. My goodie bag had hard candy, a packet of marjoram seeds and the Emerald Isle pattern. I wondered if I’d regret not buying that great emerald fabric pack later in the day.

Although Rob and I had expected to visit Dream Quilters in Tucker (2343 Main St., Tucker, GA 30084, (770) 939-8034) and Quilt Garden in Lilburn (92 Main St. NW, Lilburn, GA 30047, (770) 923-2310)  together, his surprise flat tire sent me out on my own. DQ was “letting the good times roll” with its Mardi Gras theme. Every hopper got beads and doubloons, along with the shop’s pattern. Although the store had lots of green, gold and purple everywhere, there was a particularly beautiful carnival mask displayed with a picture of its owner attending one of the elegant crewe balls. One disappointment was the lack of zydeco music blaring as it does day and night throughout the French Quarter.

At Quilt Garden it was Halloween, with tombstones and glowing pumpkins. I was greeted by a staffperson garbed in full gypsy regalia, with dangly earrings and fancy ruffled skirt. Right inside the door a gentleman was working on the computer in an alcove, whom the staffperson referred to as “the monster in the closet”. (I hope he’s related.) Beautiful orange lights illuminated the store, and in the back was a full complement of Halloween-y treats. Since Quilters’ Garden is in a small group of shops, I asked if they’d warned their neighbors about the hop. “Actually,” the clerk said, “they’re pretty used to strange stuff happening over here, so they probably didn’t even notice. As a matter of fact, I had a customer earlier who wasn’t aware of the 'hop' event. She finally asked about the tombstones so I told her the whole story." "Oh,” said the customer to the staffer, “ I guess you are kind of strangely dressed!”

At day’s end, I had been to three shops. I was on schedule.

On Friday, my plan called for an after work visit to Quilts and Fixin's down south of town in Jonesboro (7986 N. Main St., Jonesboro, GA 30236, (770) 472-0015). Their special event was “New Arrivals.” Most staffers wore maternity tops and pillow pregnancies, but one of the women was dressed as the doctor, complete with a stethoscope. The shop pattern was an adorable baby buggy, and the back room was set up for the baby shower, with pink and blue candy pacifiers and bags of peanuts. (I guess pickles and ice cream would have been too messy!) As usual, this shop was packed with friendly shoppers and shopping friends, not to mention all the wonderful quilting stuff that make it worth the long trip from my house!  

At the other end of Atlanta, in the north suburb of Marietta, Little Quilts was serious about their birthday party motif. Little Quilts is, yes, the home shop of Alice Berg, Sylvia Johnson, and Mary Ellen Von Holt, of book and pattern fame. As I opened the door, several shop employees cried out “Surprise! Happy Birthday!’ There in the front of the shop was the birthday table, covered with (of course) a quilt and set with rolled fat quarter mini cakes and sundaes topped with polyfill whipped cream. In the center of the table was a beautiful cake fashioned and decorated with fabric. Some clever person had figured out that Gutterman thread spools make adorable candle holders and that bright buttons can double as cherries if need be. Streamers hung from the chandelier, and a teddy bear in a party dress sported a brightly colored birthday hat. Shop helpers wore pink party tiaras and lacy aprons as they conducted party games throughout the store. I won a fat quarter while playing Bingo in the checkout line, where the register featured black and white photos of the shop staff as little girls at their own birthday parties. Needless to say, I was in the checkout line because I couldn’t leave without the silver birthday cake charm that the store had on hand just for the occasion. All that and bags of Crackerjack, too.

Tiny Stitches, also in Marietta, was in its usual Saturday hum of activity. Although they did have a stylish wheelbarrow full of watermelons to announce the “Family Reunion” theme, only the back room reflected the store’s chosen event. However, the lemonade and cookies were good, and the watermelon and ladybug quilts on display were too cute. This shop probably resembles a family reunion everyday, so “the usual” was probably appropriate. If you haven’t visited, this store is loaded with fabric and samples too vivid and numerous to describe. While we were there, two customers were discussing how soon one of them would have finished machine quilting the other’s quilt top, and another quilter had brought in a purple and green top to get some advice on what border fabric to use to “tone it down a little.” She quickly found herself in the middle of a circle of new friends and fabric bolts!

Although I didn’t travel to Gainesville to visit Quilted Hearts (2415 Old Cornelia Hwy, Gainesville, GA, (770) 536-3959) and its Valentine’s Day theme, I was pleased to have visited seven stores in the three days. 

Hill Country Texas, April 4-6, 2003

If you’ve ever lived in or visited Texas, you know that folks there like to do everything in a big way. State pride is everywhere, from “Don’t mess with Texas” signs on cars to the “Texas- we’re bigger than France” t-shirts at the airport. This held true with the Bluebonnet Trail Shop Hop that we had the joy of following in early April. Stretching from Austin to Dripping Springs to San Antonio, this eight-shop hop covered a lot of territory.

In addition to the usual great prizes that hops usually offer, the shops on the Bluebonnet Trail had designed an event that would give quilters extra reasons to make the effort to visit the stores during the special weekend. First, the hop ran from Friday through Sunday, to give folks plenty of time to make the circuit of eight stores. Then, there was a block challenge at each store using the same challenge fabric, but with a winner at each location. Each store also gave each visitor a fat quarter just for coming (!).

My favorite idea, however, was the UFO Exchange, which the “Hop Trail Ticket” explained like this:

Bring an unfinished project sealed in a paper bag. Exchange your unfinished project in the first store. On you way to the next shop, open your new project and decide if it one you would like to finish. If you don’t like your new project, reseal it and exchange it at the next store. Hopefully you will find a new UFO that you will enjoy finishing. 

We started in Kerrville, a charming town about an hour plus out of San Antonio. Kerrville is now the home of the Jasmine Heirlooms, makers of the beautiful and practical hoops and quilting frames. We stopped in to check out their new location, right in downtown Kerrville, across the street from Schreiners, a old-fashioned department store with great stuff. After a nice salad lunch at the Kerrville Arcade, we were ready to see quilts!

For our first stop on the hop, we started at the fabled Creations, which we had last visited just prior to its move to the adorable house on Main Street it now calls home. Outside, a cardboard Roy Rogers stood on the porch welcoming visitors. Inside, it was the 50’s, I’m guessing because that was the golden age of the TV cowboy. The shop was abuzz with activity and music, typical of shop hop conviviality. We were welcomed and shown the Creations version of the hop quilt.  However, shop hop typical turned to surprise when an Elvis impersonator strolled by and asked how we were doing! Staffers were measuring fabric decked out in pink and turquoise poodle skirts and cat-eye glasses.  One room was a soda fountain set up with a live soda jerk offering bottled Coke and trail mix. Advertisements from old Life magazines adorned the walls, and a jukebox blared the “latest” tunes.

Creations was packed with fabric, books, accessories and so many ideas it almost put me into overload . During “normal” times,  Creations emphasizes regional themes, and the cowboy and cowgirl “stuff” was as visible as usual. I fell in love with more than one of the beautiful clothing samples they had draped around the store, and wished that I had not promised myself I would finish my Mardi Gras jacket before I sunk money another clothing project. Each room had different inventive window treatments, and I found a few that I thought I might re-create at home.

Even though Creations’staff had gone over the top for this event, the “happening” they staged for the hop was just another example of what a truly fabulous store it is every day. Even as I was waving goodbye to the Hopalong Cassidy figure at the end of the driveway, I was planning to come back. If you can’t get there in person, be sure to check them out on the web.

It was a good thing that the drive to Leon Springs took a while, because I needed the time to clear my head! We had visited Sew Special Quilts (24165 W Ih 10 # 421, San Antonio, TX 78257, (210) 698-6076) before during hop time, and I remembered the friendly, church-social atmosphere (not to mention the homemade goodies) that we experienced. This time was no different. The spacious store had a wheelbarrow full of fat quarters at the front from which you could help yourself. (Remember- one free fat quarter at each store!)  On the other side of the door, a quilter was crafting pink fabric flowers to be exchanged for donations to fight breast cancer. This shop had great clothing, too, and was swarming with quilters of all ages. Their block challenge participants included two nine-year-old quilters- the only store where we noticed a “junior division” of the challenge. In the back room, a large fountain gurgled peacefully (piecefully?) The aforementioned homemade goodies were there too, and lived up to my memory. I had a yummy oatmeal raisin cookie and frozen strawberry punch.

We contemplated driving under the freeway for some Rudy’s barbeque (beef, of course), but decided to let that wait until another day, because we had one more store to see before we called it a day.

Although we were tired, we ventured to Seventh Heaven in San Antonio. We had visited several times before, once to the out of town location where they started. They are now located in a charming shop in Alamo Heights, which is much more convenient.

Hanging out in front of Seventh Heaven was a donation quilt to benefit the local animal shelter. A sun-visored volunteer convinced me and several other hoppers that we had to have some tickets before we went into the store.

This store is just what its name says. Seventh Heaven had beautiful patriotic patterns and decorative items. They had many patriotic cottons and flannels, and basically just tons of great ideas. It was fiesta in the back of the store, with a sombrero full of salsa and a popcorn machine going full blast.

There were six or seven UFO projects sitting in anonymous bags in a box, waiting for new homes. I lingered over some of the lovely quilt kits, and I should have bought  the wool felt Sam the Eagle. Oh, well. They do mail orders.

After a stop at Central Market (we had to have our vegetarian tamales to take home), we decided it was time to stop hopping- Las Colchas and  Creative Sewing Center would have to wait. 

Even though we arrived a few minutes before noon on Sunday, we were not the only ones waiting for Las Colchas to open. This store is a long-time favorite of ours, so we were especially happy that we had the chance to visit during hop time. Tucked in a quiet neighborhood near downtown, this tiny (and pretty ancient) house is home to a unique collection of quilting designs and fabrics.  As might be guessed from the name, Las Colchas is cognizant of the Mexican heritage of San Antonio, and features many San Antonio specific designs. Their mission quilt pattern has always appealed to us, along Jane Tenorio-Cascarelli’s books(The Tamale Quilt, The Tortilla Quilt, The Pinata Quilt) , and kits for those quilts that Las Colchas offers.

 This shop has a large following of appliqué aficionados, which was reflected in the shop challenge block that won first prize: A Sunbonnet Sue pulling a mound of fabric in a wagon labeled “Bluebonnet Trail Shop Hop.” There are lots of crazy quilt samples here, too, along with primitive dolls and rug hooking supplies.

Even though it was the last day of the hop, the staff here was still enthusiastic. Forced to re-group because of the rain (a primitive doll display, pulled from the front porch was heaped on a table), they were anxious to show us a new exclusive design which was about to be featured as one of the shop’s Block of the Month offerings. So we could see (and photograph) it well, the staffer unfolded and held up the stunning Texas wildflower quilt. It was originally designed and made by a local quilter as a gift for her sister, who loves Texas wildflowers.

True to Las Colchas’ San Antonio roots, they offered Bill Miller’s sweet tea for refreshments!

Our last stop was Creative Sewing Center (11777 West Ave, San Antonio, TX 78216
(210) 344-0791).
This is a huge store in a strip center and has about any- and every- thing a seamstress or quilter could ask for. They have a huge inventory of cottons and all sorts of other fabric. They offer an extensive line of machine embroidery items (They sell machines, too). There were many clothing items we hadn’t seen elsewhere, and clever kits featuring unique fabric. I especially liked the “Meatloaf” cat pincushion kit, made up in a marbleized fabric. More cool ideas and a brightly colored fat quarter later, we said goodbye this sewer’s supermarket.

Although we didn’t get to all the shops on the hop, but we did put quite a few miles on the rental car as it was.  We had visited The Quilt Store, Inc. in Austin on a previous trip, but were sorry we didn’t have time to check out  Peacemakers in Dripping Springs (301 Mercer, #A Dripping Springs TX 78620 512-858-0272). But of course we’ll be coming back to Texas.  And yes, the wildflowers were beautiful, especially the real bluebonnets all along the roadways.  Fabric and flowers-what a great way to start spring!


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