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The Traveling Quilter: Quilt Shops in Asheville, North Carolina

Wintry weather often makes many of us ready to head for the hills, so that’s exactly what the Traveling Quilter decided to do recently, over the long weekend of the Martin Luther King holiday. We packed ourselves up for a quick getaway to Asheville, North Carolina.

As you may know, Asheville has a reputation for being a huge folk art area, which of course includes the fiber arts. The Traveling Quilter has attended the Asheville Quilt Guild’s annual show several times, but up until this trip have always wondered where quilters in the area bought fabric for their imaginative creations. For a number of years, Georgia Bonesteel’s store in Hendersonville and  Marti’s Patchwork Cottage in Black Mountain seemed to be the closest “real” quilt stores around. Then the Bonesteels’ Hardware Store, which housed Georgia’s quilt shop too, closed.

We had seen the booth of Asheville Cotton Company the last time we visited the quilt show at the Arboretum, but didn’t have the opportunity to stop by the shop. Additionally we checked the Quilters' Travel Companion to figure out other venues might have stepped in to fill the void. To our delight, Asheville and the surrounding area now has several fine quilt stores.

Another big reason we love Asheville is the FOOD. So, armed with a quilt stuff and eating plan, we set out for our adventure.


Of course, an army travels on its stomach, so we dropped into The Laughing Seed Café  in the downtown area for a late lunch right after we arrived. Although not vegetarian, the TQ loves the food at this delightful place so much that she has been accused of driving to this town solely for the purpose of eating here. This is not entirely true, although some times both lunch and dinner on the same day have been consumed on the premises, so you can tell the food is divine. Following our repast of salad and sushi (and a Green Man ale from the “Jack of the Woods” pub downstairs), we walked to Asheville’s newest quilt shop, Piece Gardens.

[Editor's note 08/23/2010: Unfortunately Piece Gardens (reviewed below) has closed. There are now no quilt stores in the downtown Asheville area. ]

Tucked into an old storefront (Asheville has many beautiful historic buildings), Piece Gardens (http://www.piecegardens.com) features one of the most gorgeous selections of Orientals and batiks I have seen outside the Pacific Coast. Owner Amy Moore was in the shop that day, so we had a chance to chat and discovered that she was acquainted with Sarah Phillips, whose Intown Quilters in our hometown of Atlanta shares much of the vibrant atmosphere that Piece Gardens exudes. There’s a nice elevated play area which can accommodate multiple youngsters at the table and chairs. Amy also features earrings to benefit a local women's charity as well as many fun items such as the Art Bra Calendar. Class selections are varied and many utilize the Orientals and batiks which characterize the store. Although I have taken a “no new fabric until I finish my rag fur jacket” pledge, I purchased a stunning blue-and-orange Kona Bay with Koi swimming all over it for my daughter-in-law. (Don’t check the mail any time soon, Christina. My jacket is progressing nicely, and I may have to grandfather in the koi print.)

After such a great start, we took a quick walk through Grove Arcade (www.grovearcade.com), a fabulously restored old building that now houses a marketplace full of great shops and restaurants. Many of the shops feature arts and crafts made locally, especially Asheville North Carolina Home Crafts. Several visits ago I bought a charming felted knit hat, and the store also carries handmade dolls, scarves and incredible wool, much of it from local sheep!

From there, we journeyed to Asheville Cotton Company (www.ashevillecottonco.com).Ensconced in a strip mall near the river, Asheville Cotton Co. advertises that they have 4500 bolts, and I don’t think they’re exaggerating at all. There were tons of novelty choices, and at the sale table I considered some of them to use for the fun laundry bags that keep showing up with my traveling friends. The shop is spacious, well-lit and was doing a brisk business despite it being near closing time on Saturday. The art community nature of Asheville was apparent with the availability of hand-dyed batiks and Laurel Burch fabric. The back of the shop also has smocking and French hand-sewing supplies, another indicator of the customers’ interest in finely-crafted, hand-done projects.

A customer was happily picking up her brand new baby, a Baby Lock ellegante machine and trying to decide what kind of carrier she might want. (We really wanted to suggest she consider a Tutto, but didn’t want to appear too nosy!) Elsewhere in the store, a  mother with a youngster in tow was selecting fabric for an upcoming class. Cotton Co. has an extensive selection of notions, so you can investigate almost any new item that takes your fancy. Classes can be checked at their web site. Recent classes have included some snazzy tote bags and jackets that don’t require months of commitment to complete.

Lots of nice embellishments, too, and some items you don’t see everywhere like an assortment of British and Australian quilting magazines. Although located out from the downtown area, Asheville Cotton Co. sits in an interesting mall with a super kitchen store and a local mega crafts supplier, A.C. Moore, which carried a stupendous assortment of yarn, some of it definitely very high-end selections for a non-boutique location.

After a somewhat comedic search for our bed and breakfast, The Flint Street Inns(http://www.flintstreetinns.com/), we finally figured out our mistakes and found the two charming houses owned by veteran innkeepers, Rick and Lynne Vogel. Our room was decorated with vintage clothing and accessories. After a few minutes of relaxation we took a short drive back to town to have dinner at Tupelo Honey Cafe (http://www.tupelohoneycafe.com/),  which is as delicious for dinner as it had been for breakfast on our last trip. I had fried green tomatoes with locally produced goat cheese and Rob had some yummy crab cakes. Who knew we could eat so much in one day?

Sunday morning in Asheville started with a great breakfast followed by an early morning trip to the Folk Art Center (http://www.southernhighlandguild.org/folkart.html).Always filled with lovely examples of local craftspeople, it offers the plus of opening at 9 am on Sunday. The architecture of the building makes it a natural for quilt hanging, and there are always lots of fiber crafts. This time there were many dolls that we did not remember seeing before, all of them crafted with exquisite detail. One of the dollmakers was doing duty as a salesperson that morning, so she was happy to talk with us about her creations. From there we headed to the mall to purchase gloves to replace those left at home, but wound up waiting until store opening time at a Michael’s where all Christmas stuff had been marked down to rock bottom. Although we held it down to a dozen wreaths, we racked up on the ribbon at 90% off!

Since all the area quilt stores were closed on Sunday, after the glove purchase we opted to drive down to Biltmore Village. Bellagio is a boutique that features lots of hand-done clothing and is always fun to visit, and most of the other shops feature not easily found items as well. However, we soon discovered that the effects of flooding from Hurricane Ivan had this and many of the shops still closed for repair, while others (such as Chelsea’s, a favorite shop/tearoom) are closed on Sunday in the winter. Even though Yarn Paradise had advertised its Sunday hours, that day it was closed for inventory! Obviously not our lucky day, until we drove across to Biltmore Station to All That Glitters and Interiors Marketplace. I picked up some rhinestone goodies at ATG for the daughterperson’s birthday, then trekked across the railroad tracks (hence the station part of the center’s name) to Interiors. We realized that we should have brought the van once we entered Interiors. We could have filled it easily in under twenty minutes time with the unique home decorator items that line the aisles of this consignment market. Selections range from Oriental antiques to weathered iron benches and it’s hard not to want one of each. Although we emerged with our bank account intact, it wasn’t willpower that saved us, it was lack of cargo room.

By then it was late afternoon and we wanted to be sure we got to Woolworth Walk, the artists’ market that inhabits the old downtown Woolworth’s storefront. In addition to the great selection of art, they have now reopened the old soda fountain for refreshments! We browsed for a while, but again didn’t wind up with any treasures to cart home.

No trip to Asheville is complete without a stop at Malaprops Bookstore (http://www.malaprops.com/), where there was a CRUSH of folks for a book signing by a local yoga instructor. Although the crowd shortened our visit, we had to brave the stiff winds to buy a few treats at Chocolate Fetish and at least poke our heads in at Earth Spirit. I mean, how many downtowns can boast a weaving store on one of the main streets? You have to love it! Back at Flint Street Inn, we mulled over our choices for dinner. Winter Sundays many restaurants are closed, including, unfortunately, the one we had previously selected as our Sunday night destination. What to do? Of course! The Laughing Seed.

It was snowing dreamily as we ventured out for dinner, giving Asheville sort of a movie-set look. Just enough to be fun, not enough to make the roads icy. When we got back, we had our scandalous chocolate truffles. Hard to believe that a day without fabric acquisition could be so good!

Monday was a holiday, so we planned to meander down the back roads to Bat Cave and then to Hendersonville. When in Asheville, we always stop at the Manual Woodworkers and Weavers Store and then at the awesome A Day in the Country (www.aditc.com) in the nearby town of Bat Cave. Both feature those woven throws that have become so popular, and these folks are the mother stores of woven throws. A Day in the Country also has a mind-boggling selection of gift items as well, with almost every collectible in the world stuffed into its Victorian-housed self. Clever idea overload, to be sure, but I love it. As luck would have it, the excellent tea room attached to the store was closed on winter Mondays, so we were forced to seek another option. Since we wanted something more upscale than a chain restaurant burger, we decided to drive to Hendersonville and scout out something with more local appeal. Even though we were hungry we had to make a stop at My Quilt Shoppe (http://www.myquiltshoppe.com/) in Flat Rock. Billing themselves as the cutest little quilt shop in Western Carolina, this has been located right next to the Flat Rock Playhouse for the last few years. However, during our visit, we learned that a move to much larger quarters is imminent, as in any day now. They’ll be moving down the road a piece to charming downtown Hendersonville, where I’m sure they’ll maintain every bit of their cuteness!

And this shop really does need to move to larger quarters, because it was stacked and stuffed to the rafters with quilters’ delights, along with being dealers for BOTH Pfaff and Bernina.  Swinging from the aforementioned rafters are Cabbage Patch dolls from owner Lanna Gordich’s prized collection ( I think I heard someone mention a number in the hundreds when talking about the total). In addition to having a very comprehensive selection of fabric, notions and books, they have many fine quilt-related gift items and carry Yankee Candles. I’m sure once they move they’ll continue the tradition of Georgia’s Corner, where items that famous quilter Georgia Bonesteel (Lap Quilting on PBS) favors are featured. Although Georgia herself does frequent the shop, she wasn’t there that day, so we took lunch locating advice from the shop helpers who were!

That’s how we found local favorite, Three Chopt, where sandwiches are named for people and both the waitresses and tea are sweet. We decided to split an “Apple Raisin Annie” chicken salad sandwich, which included Granny Smith Apple chunks and golden raisins in the mix.

Material Things (http://www.materialthingsquiltshop.com/) is a recent addition to the Hendersonville scene. Nestled next to a medical supplies store, it has lots of charm. Jam jars house little quilt kits, an old crib encompasses colorful fabric bolts and buttons await claiming in a washtub. This shop also features rug hooking supplies and classes, so there was lots of wool, and probably the best felt collection I’ve ever seen. The classroom was extremely spacious and the staff very friendly and helpful. When we asked about classes, one of the ladies showed off a beautifully machine quilted quilt and amazed us by saying it had been done on a conventional machine! It’s hard to imagine doing that, but I was almost tempted to drive back just to see how she does it! Other fun stuff at this cheerful shop are the Desserts R Us club , a monthly gathering that features a dessert tasting paired with making a small table quilt that coordinates with the spotlighted goodie and the Ba-Ba Sisterhood, a group of wool and wool felt enthusiasts. This shop radiated enthusiasm and is, I’m sure, a welcome addition to the quilting community.

By this time, we were pretty tired and shopped out. We had enjoyed heading for the hills, but were ready to be back with  our own sewing machine. After all, I have to finish my rag fur jacket so I can keep the goldfish print!

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