THE TRAVELING QUILTER: Quilt Shops in Ohio, Kentucky & Tennessee
By Lynn Holland
Our latest trip found us going in search of new and exciting quilt stuff, this time traveling north on I-75 out of Atlanta toward Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. We had been yearning to visit the fabled Quilt Box in Dry Ridge, Kentucky (between Lexington and Cincinnati), ever since we had seen it featured in the Quilt Sampler magazine several years ago. After looking at the map, we decided to check out the Cincinnati quilt scene first and catch QB on our way back. Our first stop was at Creative Cottage, set in a charming area that has many nice shops in close proximity. (Lunch alert -- there are nice places to eat, too). Looking deceptively small from the outside, this shop is a double delight - the first floor is dedicated to quilting and the lower level houses cross-stitch!
Having recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, Creative Cottage is a very comprehensive source for the quilter and needleperson (6934 Miami Ave., Madeira, OH 45243, Tel. 513-271-2028). There is an emphasis on crazy quilting with some nice fancy fabric packets for sale. I was particularly taken with a crazy quilt jacket on display at the shop, and I still think of it often. The store has lots of batiks, a ton of doll patterns, and lots of tools and accessories for the quilt maker. The store sponsors a weekly charity quilt-in, with the products going to the local women and children's shelter. Last year, Creative Cottage donated over 300 quilts. The cross-stitch floor downstairs is an excellent source of supplies and patterns. I saw many unusual patterns and there are framed samples everywhere. Creative Cottage offers quilting and needlework classes in addition to a very friendly and helpful staff. Owner Marie Tsacalis truly loves the business and is at the shop most days.
With a name like Ohio Star, we had to check out the next place on our list. Of course, we got minor-ly lost, but wound up turning around in a Skyline chili spot just in time for lunch. After lunch, there were more surprises -- Ohio Star was in the midst of closing/reopening, due to a change of ownership, and had just become (like that very week) the Victorian Quilt shop (8556 Beechmont Ave., Cincinnati, OH, Tel. 513-474-9355). The clientele was offering quiet commentary on the politics of the quilt biz while we were there, but we had the good fortune to meet the owner, who seemed enthusiastic about her new undertaking. Many features of the previous business were still in evidence. We particularly liked the large cubbies in the sizeable classrooms where students could leave stuff in between classes and not have to drag it back and forth each week. The samples hanging in the store were plentiful and impressive - I used one of their ideas when selecting the background for my jewel box quilt. True to the new name, Owner was wearing a lovely crazy quilt vest. I'm looking forward to visiting again when Victorian Quilt has had a chance to develop more fully its own personality.
After going to two quilt shops we were pretty tired and headed back toward our hotel, which was right downtown. The children were ready for their afternoon fix of cable TV. But after a quick diet coke and a minute to rest, Rob and I set out on foot to travel the five or six blocks to St. Theresa's Textile Trove (1329 Main St., Cincinnati, OH 45210, Tel. 513-333-0399). Located in Over-the-Rhine, an area of storefront churches, failed restaurants, struggling galleries and multiple religious charities, St. Theresa's borders on a religious experience itself. The store is small and dark, but stuffed so full of gorgeous fabric, trinkets and embellishments that I went into textile overload. The stock is displayed in traditional, old-style dry goods fashion, with bolts wedged on shelves and ancient old display cases and counters holding more fabulous finds than your wildest imagination dare wish for. There are baskets full of beads, buttons, charms - you name it and if you're willing to dig, you'll probably find it. The fabric stock ranges from the standard to the sublime and exotic --including some cut velvet that retailed for $92 a yard. St. Theresa's is one of the most unusual shops in my memory -- so don't be wary of the odd location. If you're in Cincinnati -- put it at the top of your list.
Knoxville, TN, is about halfway between Atlanta and Lexington, where our son goes to college, and we had previously visited the off-the-beaten-path shop Quilt Craft, near there, opened by the current owner and her mother (Quilt Craft, 2315 Kimberlin Hgts. Dr, Knoxville, TN Tel. 423-573-0769). Located in the basement apartment of the family home, Quilt Craft was a "Mom and Sis" store until the death of the owner's mother. Since then, the daughter has run the store single-handedly. Quilt Craft makes the most of the basement apartment space, even displaying fat quarters atop the kitchenette stove. Quilt Craft owns the house next door, which is called Grandmother's Gallery. This is used as a gallery for quilt shows and to house visiting teachers. It would probably be a fabulous getaway place for a small group of retreating quilters!
Quilt Craft is clearly a labor of love. Its small but very carefully selected fabric collection, notions and quilt-related goodies reflect the family devotion to the art of quilting. It's definitely worth the drive down to the beautiful mountain country residential area where it's located.
Nearby, in toney Oak Ridge, is Quilting Corner, which we had tried unsuccessfully to visit several times. We had called over Labor Day weekend, but the owner was uncertain about being open and we decided not to gamble. This time we arrived at the shop a few minutes before the stated opening time of 10:00 a.m., but there was no sign of life. We pressed our noses against the glass to admire the antique chairs and the antique quilts in them, along with a great selection of the latest books on an old farmhouse table. Although we stayed around for a few minutes, checking out the arts center next door and the artisan's mall around the corner, at ten-thirty we decided to move on. The presence of the Soup Kitchen restaurant next door persuaded us to try to make one more attempt on our return trip to Atlanta.
We had framed this trip around our burning desire to visit The Quilt Box in Dry Ridge, Kentucky, which is right off I-75 less than an hour south of Cincinnati (N. Hwy 467, B=PO Box 9, Dry Ridge, KY 41035, 606-824-4007). Although we really don't select our children's colleges based on proximity to quilt stores, it didn't hurt that our most recent freshman had chosen a college in Lexington, Kentucky. Lexington itself has the wonderful Quilter's Square, which offers fabulous fabrics both for quilts and fine handsewn garment enthusiasts. Quilters Square has a very long wall of wonderful wearable and doll patterns, an extensive book collection, and a very amiable staff.
But back to the main attraction. There are not enough words to laud the Quilt Box. To give you just a smidgen of appreciation for the place, I will tell you that my high school age son, usually disdainful and sullen when it comes to our quilt shop visits, willingly GOT OUT OF THE CAR when we stopped here.
The reason is, the Quilt Box is not just a quilt shop, it's a phenomenon. The first thing you need to know about it is that it's out in the country. Although the outlet malls have encroached on the Dry Ridge area, the exit for the Quilt Box (I-75 exit 159) is truly rural. Aside from a couple of interstate gas stations and a couple of local restaurants, there's nothing there. We stopped at one of the stations and called the shop to get directions, which led us back across the freeway and three miles down a gravel country road to the Walnut Springs Farm where the shop is located.
Owner Natalie Lahner and her husband opened the shop fifteen years ago when they decided to distance themselves from the Cincinnati ratrace and move out to the country. The shop is in a charming cottage, but the first thing you notice is the wide expanse of countryside across the lane, complete with a lake (and some ducks and geese to feed) and a five-hole pitch-and-putt golf course. There's more than one way to get a husband to drive with his wife down to the Quilt Box! Our teenaged son found plenty to do feeding the ducks and skipping stones to keep him occupied while we were inside.
Inside the shop is roomy and crammed from floor to ceiling with bolts of fabric, notions, and books. Natalie's fabric tastes run mostly to the traditional (although the range of choices is mind-boggling). Arranged by color groups in several rooms, the bolts are accented by a variety of shop samples of dolls, quilts, and small projects. Raggedy Ann was posed fetchingly on a step ladder while we were there. Another denizen of the shop is Tigger, an big male orange tabby who thinks he owns the place. Outside, the clear owner, is a large peacock who was anxious on our visit to show off his shimmering tail.
The Quilt Box has lots of help, including Natalie, who was working the register when we were there. Live plants and flowers grace the counters, and the light from a large bay window makes the shop pleasant and easy to shop in. Fat quarters are charmingly displayed in an antique letter box and small scraps in a basket on the floor. Fabric and quilting tool prices run about average for a quilt shop. The shop also offers special accommodations for groups who want to visit, including catered box lunches. If the group is in a large tour bus, they will shuttle the group down from the main road.
We stayed at The Quilt Box for nearly two hours before we reluctantly headed back south toward home. Before we left, we paid a dollar (in addition to our many other purchases) to receive "The Quilt Box News," a quarterly 16-page tabloid-style newsletter published by the store. The newsletter shows the same creativity as the store, with free patterns, pictures and stories about customers and staff, and the resident animals. The latest one has a picture of "Cackles," one of their four chickens, will "will climb right up into your lap when feeding." There is also a schedule of about 30 different classes each quarter. It is through this newsletter that I continue to maintain a fondness and feeling of closeness to this store more than 400 miles from my home. But I plan to visit again in November, having the excuse of Parents' Weekend at my son's college.
The next day on our way home, we decided we had the time to make one more attempt to visit the Quilting Corner in Oak Ridge (37 E. Tennessee Ave., Oak Ridge, TN 37830, Tel. 423-483-7778). It was later in the day, the shop was open and it turned out it was worth all the effort. Huge crocks house fat quarters, a farmhouse table displays a great collection of books, a giant basket contains small fabric snips of quilter's candy. The store has a good assortment of patterns, wonderful Balis and batiks. Several beautiful Featherweights were for sale and Longabarger Baskets are displayed. There's a whole wall of mini-quilts/wall hangings, and the store has lovely old quilts and Santas ensconced in antique cabinets. Classes are offered, and the day we were there, a customer was debating if she could take classes on two consecutive days without making her family feel totally abandoned. I didn't pick up a copy of the newsletter because it was marked $1, which seemed a bit steep after the Quilt Box had offered to mail a year's worth of theirs to me for the same price.
We had lunch at the Soup Kitchen, and drove happily home.
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