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Portland, Oregon, is a medium-sized city set down in the middle of the great northwestern evergreen rainforest. Located in the Columbia River valley in the northwestern corner of the state, the city and its suburbs co-exist harmoniously with one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world. Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and other volcanic protrusions rise up suddenly from the valley floor near the city, and the great broad river rolls through on its way to the Pacific, about an hour away. It's breathtaking.
For a city of its size, Portland has an amazing number and variety of quilt and fabric stores. When I knew I would be visiting there on business, I inquired on Quiltnet for recommendations from residents and others knowledgeable of the city's quilting resources, and within a couple of days had mini-reviews and directions to nearly a dozen stores.
As in most metropolitan areas, the quilt stores are mostly located in the suburbs. I had only one free afternoon when I had a car, so I tried to make the best of my time visiting stores on the eastern and southern edge of the city in places like Clackamas and Milwaukie. The first store I sought out was The Mill End Store (9701 SW McLoughlin, Milwaukie), which brags of having the largest selection of fabrics anywhere in America. Being a fan of Mary Jo's Cloth Store in North Carolina, I had my doubts, but was ready to be convinced as I found the store in a semi-industrial part of town, next to a very clear and noisy stream which went its merry way along the edge of the parking lot.
The store is huge (purportedly more than 70,000 square feet), and appears to be a warehouse converted to retail space. The ceilings are very high and open, with large skylights admitting abundant natural light. There are shopping carts by the front door and on the left two velvet chairs and a table of magazines for those who accompany shoppers but don't wish to venture onto the floor.
The layout is orderly, with a wide center aisle and various departments on either side. It is not exclusively a quilt store; it has large costume, bridal, upholstery and other departments, with excellent choices in all of them. Their costume department is one of the most awesome with its selection of metallic knits, lames, and sequinned fabrics.
The quilt department on the left as you enter bills itself as such and has a good but not spectacular selection of cottons on small racks, arranged both by color/theme and by maker. Watercolor prints, "Sunshine on a Bolt," (a very nice selection of that problematical color, yellow), "Cute as a Button," southwestern fabrics and tropicals are among the categories, as well as a generous selection of RJR Quilters' Cotton and a smaller selection of Nancy Crow's line. There was a modest group of holiday cottons as well.
One side room was devoted to the clearance of flood-damaged items (proof that the gentle stream outside sometimes doesn't mind its manners) and there was a large notions department that looked somewhat neglected. The silk ribbon selection, for example, was completely picked over.
Despite (or maybe because of) the size of the place, The Mill End Store was disappointing to me, in two areas in particular. While the selection of quilters' cottons was somewhat larger than you might find in a quilt store, it had no particular personality reflecting a judicious buyer's taste in fabric. It was a hodgepodge with the overall feel of a Hancock's store -- something perhaps for all comers, but not a place you would ever become attached to.
The trade-off for the impersonality of warehouse quantities and settings is usually a discount on the price, but The Mill End Store betrayed no desire to give anyone a break. Nancy Crows ran from $7.00 to $9.50 a yard, Hoffmans started at $6.99 and stopped about $8.99, and RJRs ran $7-8.
Sadly, when I left the Mill End Store I didn't feel any particular desire to ever come back. Except perhaps to visit the mallards who waddled across my path towards the creek as I returned to my car.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from The Mill End Store, Country Dry Goods (2008 SW Willamette Falls Drive, West Linn), south of downtown, is a tiny shop that has a big personality. As the store's name would indicate, the emphasis is on country, and the small space is jammed full of traditional and country fabrics, '30s reproductions, and lots and lots of plaids, said to be the best selection in town.
The owners are fond of mini-quilts, and there are many of them displayed around the store, mostly in the "primitive" country style. The class list is generous, and they have a good selection, for a small store, of books and supplies. There is also a lot of imaginative packaging -- packs of fat eighths and quarters -- that allow you to obtain samplings of the many charming fabrics they sell. Prices are typical for a small quilt shop.
There is a friendly atmosphere in Country Dry Goods, and the shop is obviously a labor of love. By limiting its selection and style, the owners have succeeding in making the shop that much richer.
Josephine's Dry Goods (2nd Floor Galleria, 921 SW Morrison, Portland) is another example of the principle of "less is more," in a way entirely different from Country Dry Goods.
Josephine's is not a quilt shop primarily, and its selection of cottons is limited to two or three racks. Its downtown location in an upstairs corner of the Galleria probably makes it inevitable that its size be small and its prices high, but quality, not price, is the issue at Josephine's. They carry very high quality silk, cotton, wool and rayon fabrics, including the Liberty of London line, and also specialize in high-end notions, especially buttons.
The fact that Josephine's doesn't cater to quilters is very much to quilters' advantage, because they aren't trying to buy cotton according to what they think quilters want. Their selections are based instead on their own somewhat idiosyncratic tastes, and the cottons are among the most unusual I've seen anywhere. I thought I had seen every Hoffman fabric in my quilt shop travels, but kept encountering design after design I had not seen before. The shop owner is especially fond of fish designs, and I couldn't resist bringing home several gorgeous yards of fish fabrics from a town that has a fish fixation on its famous and threatened population of salmon. They also had a large selection of cat fabrics. Prices were in line with other small shops.
Because I was unable to visit more than these three stores, I asked a couple of Portland area TVQ subscribers who sent me information to each review a store of their choice for this article. Below are reviews of two more stores, by Kathy Mudge and Terry Grant.
By Kathy Mudge
The Quilting B celebrated its first birthday on July 2 and I hope it will be around for many more years. It is located in Clackamas, Oregon, in the old grange building. How perfect for a country quilting store.
There are antiques in, under and around the fabric. Betty Anderson is proprietor; her Mom, Dot, helps. While Dot says she doesn't quilt, the beautiful blouses and dresses made from the shop's fabrics show she is an excellent seamstress. Maybe she'll get "hooked" yet.
Some of the patterns are for clothing so it is nice to see both model garments and quilts hanging in the store. Betty and Dot are always interested in seeing my latest project and are quick to call to the other customers to "come see."
Betty has a good selection of books and notions. Handcrafts sit on ledges and on the cutting counter. Betty offers a wide array of classes in quilt making, soft toys and garments. Her fabrics include the full line of Country Threads, a good selection of Christmas fabrics, and a nice selection of 60" wide flannels as well as many others. She will be adding Barn Dance to the Country Threads just as soon as they arrive. All fabrics are available by the yard or fat quarter. If what you want isn't cut as a FQ just ask; Dot or Betty will be quick to correct the oversight.
Last winter during an extremely icy spell (for us) I gathered myself together and slid to the store. I was greeted with a cup of hot tea and had my coat taken so I could browse to my heart's content. Betty carries Market Spice Tea which makes me think of quilting even when I'm not.
With 1500 bolts of fabric, the "B" isn't the largest quilting shop around, but certainly one of the friendliest. The Quilting B is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 5:00PM. Starting in September it will be open on Mondays also when Betty quits her other job. The address is 15410 SE 94th, Clackamas, Oregon 97015, phone 503 656-2999. From Interstate 205 take the Clackamas-Estacada exit. Immediately get in the left lane and turn left at 82nd Ave. One block north around the bend turn right on Clackamas Rd. Go two blocks and turn left on 94th. The Quilting B is on your right.
By Terry Grant
Last week when I went into The Pine Needle, in Lake Oswego, Oregon, it was unusually hot for Oregon--nearly 100 degrees on the sidewalk, but inside the shop it was Christmas! All the Christmas fabrics, patterns and books were on sale. In addition, their "piney" motif and the profusion of elegant, unusual gift items, mixed in with colorful fabrics, always makes this shop feel festive and "Christmas-y" to me! This is a beautiful shop. Owners, Geri and Priscilla, clearly know about display and merchandising and they have gone to great lengths to make this spacious shop much more than "just a quilt shop."
When you visit The Pine Needle, prepare to spend some time. It takes awhile to see everything. The day I met my friend Mary there, we looked, then went around the corner to the Tillamook Dairy Ice Cream Shop for lunch, then went back to make our purchases. The fabrics are displayed by color and by style and are incorporated into groupings of books and teapots and elegant napkins. Some are displayed on antique tables or cupboards, with beautiful fruit candles and gourmet jams. There is a large candle section as well as the expected sewing notions and trims. Throughout the store there are wonderful jumpers and jackets and dresses with the patterns to make them as well as sweatshirts, T-shirts, and workshirts that form the basis for many of the wearables. Those finishing touches and embellishments are all there as well--ribbon roses, braids, charms and the most amazing assortment of decorative buttons I have ever seen, ranging from whimsical ceramic buttons to porcelain and pewter that look like fine jewelry. Dollmakers will find a wide assortment of materials and accessories for dolls, including doll-size wooden skis!
If you think this doesn't sound like a serious quilt shop, a look at the beautiful sample quilts hanging everywhere assures you that they know all about quilting. They offer a wide selection of quilt classes, taught by the best teachers in the Portland area. In addition to a huge selection of quilting cottons, they carry battings and all the other things you need for quilts. This month they are displaying quilts by customers--open to anyone. The quilts will be voted on and gift certificates given to the favorites.
The Pine Needle is located at 429 First Street in Lake Oswego, a lovely little town just ten minutes from downtown Portland. Quilters visiting Portland will be glad they took the time to find The Pine Needle.
TVQ* Planet Patchwork