|The Traveling Quilter: |
San Francisco Bay Area Quilt Shops
In this two-part article our traveling quilters introduce you to the quilt shop wonders of California's San Francisco Bay Area.
By Christina Holland
I grew up in San Jose, California, in the heart of the Silicon Valley, as the daughter of a computer programmer. A nerd to the core, I've always been rather fond of the technological wonders of the valley. There're whole other facets of the South Bay's personality, though, which I am only discovering now, as an adult. On my most recent trip home a couple of weeks ago my husband and I went on an expedition around town, and found some wonderful quilt shops.
Our first stop, actually, was Lincoln Avenue, the main street of Willow Glen, San Jose. Maybe I'm biased, as it's my old neighborhood, but Lincoln between Minnesota and Pine Streets is full of fun and funky little shops. No quilt stores, but there are several craft and antique stores, a small bookstore and a thrift store. And if you're in the mood for coffee and find yourself in front of the new Starbucks, please walk across the street to the Willow Glen Roasting Company - you won't regret it. Okay, now we're ready for quilt shops!
We'd plotted out our route the night before, because navigating through the metropolitan area can be tough - street names tend to change suddenly at town boundaries, for instance. We had no real trouble finding the Golden State Sewing Center, but I will point out that if you're driving south on Winchester Blvd and you round the bend and pass Camden, you've gone too far. It's in a small shopping strip, the name of which was not apparent to us, right by the Plaza Theaters. There is a deli nearby, and Luigi's pizza, if you're in the area at lunchtime.
The Sewing Center is much larger than it appears from the outside, and there is a good sized classroom in the back. The store appears to serve several purposes. Their advertisement in the Quilter's Travel Companion states that they are the oldest Elna dealership in the valley, and indeed the front quarter or so of the store is devoted to the sale of sewing machines. They also have a quite sizable cross-stich selection, with a wall and many bins full of patterns, plus a selection of embroidery floss and other supplies. In addition, there was a very interesting notions area, featuring many varied clay buttons, among other things.
The fabric selection is pretty good, too, although it must of course share space with the other parts of the store. Browsing through their array of Batik fabrics is particularly fun, but don't let that blind you to the rest of it. I found a very bright and colorful butterfly fabric by Kauffman, which I purchased for $8.59 a yard. I also very much enjoyed their fat quarters. The fat quarters range throughout the store in seemingly endless variety. Particular fat quarters are not likely to be located near their parent fabric bolts, at least from my experience, but that just adds to the thrill of the hunt. The fat quarters are $2.50 apiece.
Above: impulse shopping at Whiffle Tree Quilts.
If I had only known shops like Whiffle Tree existed, I might have gotten into quilting a lot earlier. The flavor of my quilting would probably be very different, though - very oriental. The first thing I noticed as I walked up to the door was the neko in the window. The porcelain cats are supposed to bring good fortune to shop keepers who place them by the entrance, and I'd say it's working for Whiffle Tree. There were eleven people there when we arrived, keeping the two staff people very busy. Still, they managed to be very friendly with everyone, and yet quite efficient.
In terms of square footage, Whiffle Tree is the smallest of those we visited. It is, however, almost exclusively devoted to fabric. Of course there's a small classroom, and judging from the class schedule, it sees a lot of use. You can find some equipment and patterns and books for sale as well, but the fabric is obviously the real draw.
I'm a real sucker for oriental and polynesian motifs, having lived in Hawaii for three years, and by the time we'd been in the store for five minutes, I knew I was doomed. I turned to my husband and told him to be prepared, that I was going to spend lots of money. I needn't have worried; it turned out he was even more of a lost cause than I was. He picked out a fun print in blue with little Chinese boys in multicolored robes holding large blue and gold parasols, and informed me that when I made him his big lounging pillow (that's the first I'd heard of that!) that was the material I should use. He even helped me pick out other fabrics to complement it. I also simply had to get the not one but two fabulous oriental cat fabrics. One is in blue, with cartoonish cats in kimonos and origami cranes in the background - "Meow Meow Chow Mein", and the other is a more dignified portrayal of sitting, stretching, and lounging cats on a red background. All of the above were $9.50 or $9.75 a yard.
I was also tempted by the selection of Hawaiian fabrics and by the Timeless Treasures line, with its zebra and elephant prints, but I felt I'd done enough damage, especially with another quilt store still to visit. I will definitely be back there, though, and according to their website, their cyber store is coming soon. For those looking for a mid-shopping lunch break, there's Alotta's deli café, the Florentine restaurant and pasta market, and Armadillo Willy's barbeque.
The most striking thing about All Tied Up is their selection of Batik fabrics. Their Quilter's Travel Companion ad boasts of "hundreds of Bali Batiks". I didn't count, but I wouldn't care to argue with that assessment. I just kept turning around another corner and finding more. I could have spent a lot of money just on the Batiks, but settled on just one, a blue and white snowflake design.
They have a smaller selection of antique prints, a fairly impressive oriental print section in which I found a lovely blue and gold wave design that will be great in that pillow of my husband's, several nice flannel prints, and a decent array of juvenile fabrics. I also enjoyed browsing through an interesting set of fabrics, mainly in greens and browns, with natural prints and petroglyph designs. Most fabrics were between $7.50 and $9 per yard, and the fat quarters were $2.50 apiece.
By Lynn Holland
After my visit to San Francisco in May of last year, I have been anxious to return to Northern California to check out the quilting activity outside SF itself. As luck would have it, my daughter-in-law Christina was going to be in California at the same time and she claimed dibs on Silicon Valley. Since she spent some of her childhood there, it seemed only fair to let her review the stores on her home turf, so Rob and I set our sights on Berkeley.
Rob's college years were spent in California, so for him Berkeley will always be the heart of the counter-culture, where much revolutionary activity began. However, I'm pretty convinced that the "revolutionary" activities of interest to me are in the fiber arts community that seems to have a strong contingent in the Bay area and environs. . Since we arrived in Berkeley in the afternoon and our stomach clocks told us that we were way past lunch time, our first stop was at Picante (1328 Sixth Street), a super Mexican restaurant that serves a variety of imaginative dishes at reasonable prices. The clientele ranges from toddlers on up and it's not at all fancy, just downright wonderful.
Now that we were able to function on a higher level since our primary needs were being met, we went off to search out our first designated stop, Kasuri Dyeworks (1959 Shattuck Ave., http://www.kasuridyeworks.com/) One quick digression about Berkeley -- there are an unbelievable number of cultural influences in this town, in a literal side-by-side existence. An embodiment of this co-existence for me was one little string of stores on University Avenue that contained -- I am not making this up -- a veterinary clinic, an Indian market and a cheesesteak restaurant. But back to Kasuri. This is a treasure for those of you who are heavy into Oriental goodies. They have wonderful kimonos, stunning hand-carved wooden boxes, authentic tea house teapots and just about any fabric art form from Japan you can name. You may have encountered Kasuri's inventory at one of the quilting shows around the country, as the owners frequently take their enchanting show on the road. Although definitely not a "something for everybody" kind o f place, if you're into Asian, you'll be in heaven here. My only complaint is that the store is rather dimly lit, but that's only a minor inconvenience.
Our next stop was at Lacis (2982 Adeline Street, http://www.lacis.com), another incredible specialty spot. The West coast Mecca for vintage lace and other fiber goodies, Lacis first came to my attention when they re-printed the Mary Frances Book of Knitting and Crocheting. The store itself is a wonderland of old lace, ribbon, vintage linens, shoes , beaded purses, retro patterns and items necessary for the preservation of same. There are also a few old crazy quilts hanging around. While I was there, a customer came in looking for a dresser scarf , and the clerk pulled out a drawer filled with items meeting her specifications. Nosy individual that I am, I offered my admiration of some of the pieces she was considering along with some unsolicited advice about how she might work around some of the "flaws" that sometimes accompany antique pieces. In my opinion. the prices are not out of line, especially if you're not the type who likes to spends hours at a flea market searching out the p erfect whatever. Attached to the store is a museum of the more distinctive items in their collection. You'll need to call ahead if you want to view these pieces. Even if you're not a fan of old linens and clothing, Lacis is a beautiful store and worth at least a quick stop if you're in town.
Not too far from Lacis is the venerable Stonemountain and Daughter (2518 Shattuck Avenue), a great two story building right near an intown car dealership. The day we visited, the shop was having its winter class showcase and sale, so it was packed. The most striking facet of the crowd was its diversity in age. There were teenagers selecting fabric for a first sewing project (S&D beginner classes make a kimono--what an improvement over the old home ec apron!), mothers with small children selecting curtain fabric and a little lady nearly knocked me down (by accident) with her cane! The cutting line was at least ten people deep, but the ample staff moved quickly and there were no grumbling customers. The fabric selection is as diverse as the clientele, ranging from African to calico, satin to wool double knit for felting. There's a entire "cotton room," with lots of quiltable choices. I ventured upstairs to the bargain room, but that day is was being used for class previews and it was cr ammed full of customers registering for classes and door prizes.
The class schedule was vast and varied, ranging from beginner to expert. This store obviously knows its customers, too. The wool double knit sported a large sign with the magic marker caveat to test any fabric for shrinkage prior to felting major yardage! After my visit to S&D I felt reassured that sewing is alive and well across the generations.
Although we were beginning to tire, we knew that New Pieces (1597 Solano Avenue), on the other side of town, was not to be missed. Tucked in a super upscale neighborhood, New Pieces is probably on the road to becoming a legend in its own time. Although only four years old, this shop has a distinctive fabric selection and an incredible teaching staff. The recent shop schedule lists elinor peace bailey, Roberta Horton and Mary Mashuta as class teachers! Teacher Angie Woolman's quilt for the President of Ireland was featured in the March 2000 Quilter's Newsletter Magazine, along with the story of Angie and nine other New Pieces quilters who spent 500 hours in three weeks to make the quilt. Not your average quilt shop, the rear of the store serves as a gallery. This shop has many "art quilt" customers, judging by the Millenium Challenge results being exhibited the day we were there. Exhibits change monthly, and the exhibitor frequently teaches in conjunction with his/her exhibit. Other artists offer trunk shows, and as you might expect, there are many color, design and technique classes. The shop offers machine qui lting and usually offers a 3-4 week turnaround time. The schedule of doll classes left me drooling. There is a super selection of beads and buttons for embellishment and fancy yarns are available by the yard to encourage experimentation. The fabric selection tends toward rich, lush colors, exotic prints and lots of Oriental influences. New Pieces is a first rate store with a distinctive personality. I can't wait to go back!
While you're in the neighborhood, don't miss stopping at Andronico's market. At this gourmet grocery extraordinaire, you'll want to pick up some specialty bread and a wedge of Sonoma Jack for later.
Driving down to Pleasanton the next day, we fully appreciated the California culture when we were able to visit Going to Pieces, sister store to All Tied Up in San Jose, on Sunday morning. Although it is the first quilt shop I can remember with a neon sign in the window, this store features a huge fabric selection with a more Western (as opposed to Asian) flavor, with lots of Debbie Mumms, flannels, and primitive/folk offerings. The two stores do a joint newsletter each quarter which is gigantic. The winter quarter was a 24-page booklet listing approximately one class per location per day. Many classes are offered both morning and evening . There's also the "4 Step Program to Fabric Reduction," a class which promises to teach you how to "SAFELY reduce your fabric stash." Although open just a few minutes by the time we arrived, the store was already helping a pair of customers with color selection for a quilt. We quickly fell in love with a little reproduction print and a quiet dragonf ly bolt, and proceeded to the cutting table. Imagine our delight when we were informed that as the first fabric cut that day, this fabric would be "Bolt of the Day", and that we and subsequent purchasers would receive a 30% discount. Quote of the trip was overheard here to, when one customer asked her friend "Does Jeff know how much this stuff costs?" to which the other woman replied, "No, he thinks it's like 25 cents a yard or something. There are just some facts he doesn't need to know."
After my previous trip to SF, no visit would have been complete without an encore visit to Mendel's in Haight-Ashbury. Yup, I took the bus again, but this time I had company, and I think my companions were rather disappointed that there wasn't the same kind of show I experienced before. Mendel's, however, was as full of life (and fabric and art supplies) as before. This time the woman at the cutting table was a blue-haired lady of about 19, amply pierced. But you have to love Mendel's, (especially when you're not by yourself), and I did buy some origami paper and some great wax lips, but no fabric.
Berkeley and the Bay Area may not be the center of the '60s counter-culture any more, and Haight-Ashbury may no longer be the capital of hippie-land, but all the aging hippies seem to have traded in their tie-dyes for fine Asian piece goods and other fiber delicacies. It's a quilter's delight.
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