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THE TRAVELING QUILTER: Quilt Shops in Maryland
Gifted with a free day prior to a recent business meeting in Baltimore, I rented a car and took the opportunity to visit several quilt and fabric stores in the general vicinity. Of course the Washington, D.C. area could sustain a week's worth of quilt shop visitation, so my limited time caused me to focus on a triangle north and east of Our Nation's Capitol, where I visited three very different and intriguing stores.
I knew before going that there was no way I could visit Maryland without going to the fabled "G Street Fabrics," about which I've been hearing online for quite some time. Reputed to have an enormous selection of fabrics, G Street has several locations around the area, with their large main store in a strip mall on Rockville Pike in Rockville, off the Beltway north of Washington.
Actually, G Street has two storefronts in the mall, the main entrance and another door under a sign saying "Decorator Fabrics," seemingly separated by one of the ubiquitous CVS drugstore chain. Actually it's an upstairs/downstairs situation, with the majority of the fabric on the main upper level. G Street is of course not exclusively a quilt store and has a wide array of fabric of all types, from upholstery to bridal. Walking up the stairs from the front entrance and encountering the main fashion fabric floor is truly a breathtaking experience. There is fabric against the wall and in racks throughout the floor in a very large open area.
The other thing you notice right away is that there is lots of help. Registers are placed strategically throughout and each station seemed to have at least two friendly folks ready to measure and cut and take your money. This was a refreshing contrast to the kind of skimpy staffing and resultant slow service that we've been experiencing at our local fabric chain of late.
Back on the right there is a whole long wall devoted to buttons. Thousands (millions?) of buttons. There is a counter in front of the buttons, and you are invited to take a number for service. Although there wasn't a line for buttons while I was there on a Monday morning, you got the distinct feeling that on a busy Saturday you might really HAVE to take a number!
I was on a quest for unusual batiks for a jewel box quilt Lynn was working on, and I found several upstairs among the fashion fabrics. Unfortunately they were priced at more than $9.00 per yard.
Eventually I discovered the stairway that led downstairs to the "Decorator Fabric" store and discovered on my way down that the quilt department was located there, too. There is a large rack of quilting books near the stairwell and in the very back of the lower floor, almost as an afterthought, is an ample selection of quilter's cotton. Here I found another big selection of unusual batiks -- some of the most interesting I have seen anywhere -- and spent a pleasant 20 minutes picking through the bolts selecting a half-dozen for half-yard cuts. These were also priced at between $9 and $10 a yard.
It was here that I first saw the new Serendipity collection designed by Paula Nadelstern for Benartex, and they had a great many other lines of designer fabrics. If they were deficient in any area, it was probably in country-style prints, but I wasn't really looking for that type of fabric, so I might have just missed it. In the center of the lower floor there is what could best be described as an indoor gazebo on which sample quilts were hung on display. Despite these attempts at decoration, and the large number of fabrics, the cavernous size and warehouse feel of the lower floor made the experience there anything but intimate and inviting.
G Street has a very large number of classes -- so many it takes a 50-page booklet to list them all. They aren't all quilting classes, of course, but they do invite many of the nation's best-known quilters to give lectures and classes. This past spring their line-up included David Walker and John Flynn. The last weekend of April they also sponsored "The Quilting Event at G Street" at their Centreville, Virginia, store, that featured a weekend crammed with classes on all aspects of quliting.
All in all I came away from G Street somewhat disappointed. I can't really put my finger on why -- I had a bagful of wonderful fabrics to show for my visit. I guess I resented paying prices that were higher than most small quilt shops I know, and for the stepsister location of the quilting department, far from the light of day. Maybe it's just the price you pay for all that help.
G Street Fabrics 11854 Rockville Pike (Mid-Pike Plaza) Rockville, MD 20852 (301) 231-8998
Leaving Rockville, which is strip-malldom personified, I got on the Beltway and headed east for Annapolis. I had read in the Quiltnet FAQ about the beautiful Navy town's only quilt shop, "Cottonseed Glory," and wanted to check it out. The store is located in a small shopping center in an arty corner of town not far from the Academy and has a definite small quilt shop feel. The owner and her assistant were busy when I walked in helping several customers select fabrics and colors, and giving them design advice. It was clear they knew their customers personally and did a lot of repeat business.
The store is charmingly laid out with much of the fabric displayed in two tiers along the walls by color so that you feel like you're stepping inside a color wheel. There are close to 4,000 bolts of fabric in the store. They also have a great many patterns and have a secondary specialty in dolls and doll patterns. Stuffed country dolls of all shapes, sizes, and colors hang on the walls and from display racks throughout the store.
Cottonseed Glory has an ample classroom in the back, and for a relatively small store has a generous class selection. Class prices are reasonable and they are held both during the day and in the evening. The store holds its biggest sale of the year on Super Bowl weekend while all the military retirees and cadets who live in town are glued to their TV sets.
I was still in the hunt for batiks, and found several more here to add to my collection. To my surprise, the prices were a buck or more less per yard than I had paid at G Street for the same line. Go figger.
Cottonseed Glory isn't quite up there with Rainbow's End in Florida (see TVQ #23) in imagination and selection, and its bias is toward the traditional, but it is one of the homiest and most comfortable stores I've visited anywhere. Annapolis is also worth visiting for more than this fine quilt store. The Naval Academy, St. Johns University, the waterfront, and the charming architecture make this a pleasant place to spend at least a day.
Cottonseed Glory 4 Annapolis St. Annapolis, Md (410) 263-3897
My final fabric experience on this trip was in downtown Baltimore. It wasn't a quilt store. It wasn't really a fabric store in the sense you usually think of one. It was full of men, run by men. It was dark and the plank floors creaked under your feet. The stairways were narrow. The lighting was dim.
Harry Guss, Inc., Woolens, Worsteds & Silks, was recommended as a funky place to find good remnants, and funky it was. Three stories in a narrow storefont on Baltimore Street were crammed full of dark, heavy men's suit fabrics. Some were stacked neatly, some were in a jumbled mass on a long table.
The place obviously doesn't cater to the retail customer, as the men inside, who were busily moving fabric from one place to another, said little to those of us who came in to browse. When asked a direct question by a woman looking for some orange fabric, they issued monosyllables and grunts.
All of this "atmosphere" made the place quite interesting, but I didn't really find that much in the store that was of use to quilters. There were VERY few cottons of any sort and the mill-ends they did have looked somewhat battered and tired. I suspect, though, that at the time I was there they were down on that type of stock, and perhaps I wasn't really in a rummaging mood. For a bargain-hunter in the right frame of mind, there might be just the right fabric, at the right price, to finish off the borders or back of that UFO. If not, the local color alone is worth the visit. When I came out of the store I encountered a street vendor selling fruit from a horse-drawn cart.
Harry Guss Suitings 419 Baltimore St. Baltimore, Maryland
TVQ * Planet Patchwork