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Small Town and Big City: Two Textile Adventures
Paducah, Kentucky and Chicago offer diverse experiences

By Lynn Holland
September 2009

Sew Be It: A Quilter's Garden


I had only been to Paducah once when it was not in the throes of Quilt Festival, and that was for my number three son’s wedding. Since I was pretty distracted by things other than the town during that weekend, I was curious to see how different my impressions would be by the visit we scheduled over the Fourth of July, 2009.

Our real reason for the trip was to meet our newest grandchild, but since quilt stores are always on my agenda, I had mapped out a couple that were along our route up the interstate in Tennessee. I had not been to Sew Be It: A Quilter’s Garden since it was just A Quilter’s Garden (several years ago) and was a selection of Quilt Sampler Magazine. Located in way north Georgia, the current owner has retained all the best of the shop, and added some touches of her own.

We were welcomed warmly not just by the shop staff but by the lush quilts that hang all over and around the shop. Situated in sort of a strip warehouse arrangement, the corrugated metal doors are reminiscent of storage units. I think the store shares the building with an automotive something or other, but the Sew Be It does such a great job of distracting the attention with the quilt sign hanging over their end of the building that I didn’t really pay attention. There are loads and loads of batiks and and lots of fun brights as well. All sorts of sample quilts swath the walls and there are wisteria hanging from the beams like a Southern garden. I bought some prints that are sort of watercolor hues with elegant bugs and bees on the print, and a fabulous Paula Nadelstern bag. (I have to tell you more about this bag: The design is from one of her spectacular kaleidoscope quilts, in luscious fall colors. I especially love the fact that it zips closed so that your stuff does not flop out of the top.  I have started to accumulate reusable bags, but never seem to have a sufficient number. This one never fails to get complements when I use it.  In fact, I liked it so well that we tracked down a few to offer in the PP store.) Due to its proximity to the interstate, the quilt shop markets itself as “your new rest stop”, and it certainly may become mine on the way from Atlanta to Nashville or Paducah.

Lavender and LimeNot too far from Sew Be It is Lavender and Lime, which will be a featured shop in the Fall 2009 issue of Quilt Sampler. This store is in a strip mall with a RAVE movie theater as well as a Goodwill and is located next to Fat Daddy’s Pizza, which feature Clumpie’s ice cream . Now I have no idea what Clumpie’s ice cream is like, but I love the name and it was all I could do not to run right in and have a cone at 10 in the morning. Also in the strip is Flamingo Skate Shop. Lavender and Lime’s owner Kathy Skomp runs a bright airy shop,  also full of batiks, brights and prints. She specializes in quilts that can be put together quickly by beginners and beyond, and has published a series of books full of her designs. I bought her latest, Over and Under which looks like the top has been woven. For those who panic over color choices, Kathy also offers bundles of three coordinated fabrics which contain enough fabric for piecing the average top. It’s not hard to understand why Kathy’s customers nominated her for Quilt Sampler: this is obviously a very supportive and creative environment.

Paducah itself is a pretty quiet Kentucky town. Although in recent years it has touted itself as “Art, Rhythm and Rivers”, it’s no New Orleans. During our afternoon downtown, we visited Eleanor Burns shop and bought some bargain lengths of quilt backing ( a steal at $10) and a few other Eleanor items that caught our eye. We had lunch at the amazing Kirchoff’s Deli there that makes wonderful lunches and  extraordinary baked goods, then wandered around, stopping at an antique store to  buy a great chair at a bargain price and a wonderful vintage camera as well. (This is why we travel with a van!) We walked along the river, picked up a few vegetables at the farmer’s market, and enjoyed the riverwall murals.

Cutting Table at Hancock's of PaducahWe also made a visit to one of the best quilt stores (and online fabric sites) in the country, Hancock's of Paducah. This sprawling and unassuming store right off Interstate 24 is a source of a huge variety of quilters' cotton, from country to batik, as well as a large selection of upholstery fabric and tools and notions. I was on the hunt for batiks for a quilt I'm planning and also picked up some Halloween prints for which there are no specific plans.

The huge concern in Paducah related to quilts at the time of our visit was the currently closed “Big E” (Executive Inn) hotel. The hotel, which has always played a big role in the Paducah show as a venue and source of lodging, has been entangled in financial difficulties which threatened foreclosure, with ripple effects on the show. This has been ongoing for some time, with the downturn in the economy exacerbating the difficulties. Apparently, the show in 2009 was in doubt until some last minute details were ironed out in order to open the conference area. Until very recently the AQS website listed the Paducah show for 2010 as "pending," although plans for shows in Des Moines and Knoxville were firm. Then, in early September, AQS members received notice by e-mail that the show is on. Quilters world-wide breathed a sigh of relief as the Mother of All Quilt Shows got up off her death bed and went back into her sewing room.  Quilters return to Paducah like swallows to Capistrano; we have familiar annual rituals here, like those we treasure in our families at the holidays. The show has been both bedrock  and touchstone for those of us who quilt; we are heartened by these recent developments and continue to wish AQS well in working through these complex issues.

Not more than three weeks later we were back in the middle west to visit Chicago. Although half of the Planet Patchwork team was there on other business, the half that was on vacation set out to find as many fiber experiences as the local public transit would allow.  The only bonafide quilt store in Chicago proper is Quiltology. Located in the Lincoln Park District, this store is a little gem in the city.

The store itself is painted in a trendy neutral tone and specializes in a carefully chosen selection of designer material (think Amy Butler and Kaffe Fassett), batiks and  some fun novelty fabrics.  Sample quilts are well lighted and artfully displayed. Most of the patterns samples and patterns seem to be from the Blue Underground Studio. Many of these are modern looking and not too complex to sew, which I’m sure appeals to those urban dwellers whose time is usually at a premium. These patterns produce Road Less Traveled by Blue Underground Designsgorgeous results in the fabrics available at Quiltology and it was hard for me to select just ONE pattern to buy, and just a FEW fat quarters of fabric. (Many of Blue Underground’s patterns utilize those wonderful little devils!) I had a chance to chat  a bit with a local quilter. A customer was in with two t-shirt quilts trying to decide which pantograph to select. One quilt was constructed from her husband’s college shirts, the other from hers; fortunately both schools had the same school colors. The staff person was doing her best to help her in the selection, but also suggested that she might want to call the quilter who would be doing the matching quilting once she had had an opportunity to look at the quilts. Totally a great urban shop who knows its customers and selects things that will appeal.

Since all quilters travel on their stomachs, I have to put in a good word for the great food in Chicago. I had my first Italian beef (sandwich) at Portillo’s, pizza at Lou Malnati’s, a hot dog at SuperDog, great German at the resurrected Berghoff and assorted groceries from Dominck’s market. I also broke my “local only” rule for the wonderful chain, Cosi. Because of the great salads, dietary options and willingness to openly declare calorie content, this place always gets a super star rating from me. I hate that we don’t have one in Atlanta, but they consistently persuade me to cross the  “no chains” line when I am in unfamiliar towns! I also have to praise the in-town farmers’ markets that feature purveyors of scrumptious baked goods, cheeses, fresh mushrooms, granola—incredible- and in the middle of downtown.

Not exactly quilt-stuff, but definitely textile related occurred while I was in town. By accident I discovered that Filene’s Basement was having its annual “Running of the Brides” at 8 a.m. Thursday. Never one to want to miss a fabled bargain-hunter’s event, by 7:45  I was firmly planted on the sidewalk where I could view the line. The line stretched from the store’s doors down State Street, rounded the corner and went all the way down the next block. Literal teams of ladies (ostensibly the bride and her attendants) waited excitedly in line, many of them in special matching attire for easy recognition in a crowd. Bright pink seemed to be the most frequently occurring color for bridal teams. My favorite belonged to those supporting someone whose last name is Swanson. They had on bright red shirts, emblazoned with an origami swan emblem and SWAN written down the side, the acronym for the Swanson Wedding Acquisition Network. Other notables were those in two-foot high tiaras, Cat in the Hat headgear, boas, signs with “Size 6-14, ivory, tube top” Walking up and down the lines were representatives from cleaners and alterations firms who were passing out promotional literature for those who might need purchases taken  in or footprints from the fray removed from silk organza gowns! An enterprising group from “Fiances and Finances” handed out information about classes designed to help brides and the men of their dreams come to an understanding of money in the relationship. When the opening moment came, shrieking females streamed down the escalators which wisely had been  immobilized for the event. Amazingly, all the line-standers made it inside in the first wave. After about five minutes, I cautiously went down the escalator and went for a look at the throngs pulling on garments that might or might not be “THE” dress.

The participants were remarkably well behaved and calm. The basic strategy seemed to be: Everyone grabs as many dresses as possible in the first minutes.  Don’t look, just grab. Then each team sort of staked out a space in the store for try-on. Extra mirrors materialized from I don’t know where and  gowns were chucked in piles for try on. Many girls had worn bathing suits to allow for “in the aisle” dressing, and some, well, figured out something else!

Apparently the next step is to amass the rejects into a heap that is then available to others. (Which explains why people have signs touting what they are looking for-sort of like trading silk and lace baseball cards!  One Size 2 with beaded white satin seeks size 12 with ivory organza. ) Then we have the try on-again ones until the finalists are determined, and from that – the perfect one! I wanted to stay  to see who actually bought the first dress, but when the sales person told me that doesn’t usually clock in until 90 minutes after opening, I became the day’s first sale with my two “I Survived the Running of the Brides at Filene’s” tshirts. I wonder if anyone ever made a quilt with pieces of fabric and trim that didn’t survive this event?

I would also be remiss if I did not praise the remarkable transit system that connects all parts of this city. Armed with my three-day pass, I was able to navigate all kinds of places and got there speedily. Google maps has a wonderful feature that helps folks negotiate public transit, so I was really able to figure out how to get where. I got to the zoo, the Green Market, Quiltology, downtown numerous times, the Art Institute,  American Girl Place (twice) and essentially all over for under $15!

[Editor's note: Because quilt stores close and move quite frequently, please do not depend solely on these reviews for information. Where web addresses or phone numbers are provided, please use them to check on the current status of any particular store you plan to visit. ]



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