Two Hops and a Skip
Shop hops in Atlanta and Texas get Spring into swing
By Lynn Holland
Springtime and a quilter’s thoughts turn to. . . fabric! Our Atlanta shop hop and the Bluebonnet Trail Hop occur within a few weeks of each other, so late March and early April are usually heavy fabric times for the Traveling Quilter. This year we had made the decision not to go to Paducah, due to two out-of-state graduations on the same day in May and a daughter to pick up at college in New Orleans the week after that. Sort of as a warm-up, I decided to attend the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo when it came to Atlanta in mid-March. In recent years, I’ve been less than thrilled with this event. Perhaps it’s that we’ve been going to Paducah and Houston with regularity, so we may be getting a little jaded. This year the class offerings looked good, but by the time I got around to checking on what was available, things were booked. I’m sorry that I didn’t get a chance to take a serger class, since that machine is still something of a mystery to me, but the only one open was at 4:30-5:30 pm on Friday- not my best time for instruction! But I decided to take the day off from work anyway, just to check out what good stuff the vendors were offering.
I arrived at about 11 am, and by that time the parking lot was packed. I parked way far away from the building, and had a nice bit of exercise getting to the event. The event employees were cheerful, and took my $10 and banded my wrist pretty quickly. Inside the main hall lots of folks milled about, and vendors were busily doing demos and selling goodies. I spent about 90 minutes and about $50 there. Since I already have a new machine, and embroidery machines have not yet captured my fancy, I wasn’t looking for a big ticket item. I was in search of a new ironing board cover, so I did find one to select from about five different choices. I loved the $1 per yard beaded trim that Vogue fabrics offered, but I couldn’t decide on a ten-yard bolt, so I gave up. Vogue also had great fabrics from fashion designers, but I have some projects that I haven’t even started yet. I bought a crystal “P” to iron on a t-shirt for my daughter, and a crystal high heel for me.
I pretty much came to the conclusion that next year I need to get with the program early and register for some of those classes before they’re filled. But I did wind up with some ideas and some new stuff, so who’s complaining?
The next week brought the Atlanta Shop Hop, or as we call it, the after-work marathon. Since our hop runs from Thursday through Saturday and covers a wide geographical area, this takes some serious planning. Although sometimes I am lucky and have a meeting that takes me next door to a shop about 30 miles from town, it didn’t happen this year. So we made a different battle plan.
Thursday evening we did the north side of town. Starting with Canton, about forty miles north of the city, we sat in rush hour traffic for quite a few miles. However, we were pleased to see that the former Holly Springs general store has become Quiltin’ Time, preserving several kinds of history at the same time.
Quiltin’ Time was Sunny Florida in the geographical set of themes for the event, with beach chairs, flamingos and flip-flops. This is a relatively new store, and since the metro Atlanta area stretches way north of even Canton, we’re sure northside quilters are thrilled by their presence. Classes are offered both mornings and evenings, and seemed to be very reasonably priced. (Some of them were only $15) Their quilt block (rays of sunshine) was offered to us in a nice folder, along with a color copy of the shop quilt.
From there it was on to Little Quilts in Marietta, where cotton bolls let us know it was The South. Since Little Quilts exudes southern charm every day anyway, the “Can we help ya’ll with anything?” didn’t seem out of place. Little Quilts had done a southern farmhouse block, but also gave hoppers (along with a bag of peanuts, the state crop of Georgia) ideas for clever ways to set the hop blocks- a cabin “Vacancy” sign and a vintage postcard. Little Quilts appeared in the 2004 Quilt Sampler, and they never disappoint.
Tiny Stitches, not too far distant, was next. National Parks were the theme, and they were all decorated for camping. There had a cute mini-tent, Mr. Bear (only you can prevent quilt disasters) by the door, along with camping gear and beach paraphernalia to prepare you to enjoy the great outdoors. We got trail mix in our goody bag, and their chasing trees block is a woodsy take on flying geese. Tiny Stitches has a very wide range of fabric choices, and it is everywhere around the nicely decorated store. This store was extremely busy, but everyone seemed to be having a really wonderful time.
Although the bag of peanuts kept us from gnawing the car door handle, we decided that after visiting Tiny Stitches it was time for dinner. Since we hoped to do one more store that night, it was a quick trip to the corner Chik-Fil-A, where, thanks to coupons, dinner for two was $5.72!
Our last stop of the evening was the shop closest to home, at Intown Quilters, where Sarah Phillips has converted a huge warehouse-type space into an extraordinary quilt shop. Intown carries some of the most exotic fabric in Atlanta, including Indonesian batiks, some fascinating hand-dyed and marbled fabric most with an emphasis on brights. Intown’s theme was Cajun Country, so Spanish moss was draped from the ducting and we got to pick a bag of our favorite Zapp’s chips as a snack. We also got to select a fat quarter and in our goody bag along with the pelican block pattern was a mini pincushion, so we were pretty impressed by the time we left Intown and went home for the evening.
Friday was a late day at work, so we didn’t hit the freeway until around 6 p.m. Luckily, the traffic going south wasn’t dreadful for a change, so we got to Quilts and Fixins right on schedule. They were the Pacific Northwest, with trail mix and bottled water for sustenance. We could have our picture taken with a bear, if we wished, and our goody bag was filled with a Debbie Mumm pattern, the Q&F block and a marking pencil. Quilts and Fixins did a 4x4 Bear Paw block and their version of the Shop Hop quilt was a 12-block basic set, with two extra blocks: one patriotic and the other the state of Georgia. I can never leave Q&F without buying something: this time it was a Laurel Burch cat tote for a bargain price. Everyone was having a good time here, and several of us discussed potential routes for our next stop.
Covington is a good drive from Jonesboro, and it was Friday night in Atlanta traffic. We arrived at Patrick’s at about 7:15, and we were beginning to get really tired. Patrick’s was Hawaii, and this general store with a quilt shop tucked inside was draped with glittering palm trees, and clerks in grass skirts. There were several kinds of chocolate-coconut patties to sample, with leis and discount coupons for all hoppers.
A SUV full of hoppers was getting back into their vehicle as we were leaving, and we overheard one of them say, “I haven’t eaten anything except M&Ms all day- we need to go have dinner!” We felt the same way, but decided to head home and microwave a Healthy Choice entrée -- we were too tired to sit upright at a restaurant!
Saturday arrived and we had our work cut out for us -- still four more shops to go. Since we planned to take a well deserved “rest and restaurant” stop in Gainesville, we had planned to end our day at Quilted Hearts. That meant starting with the closest eastside shop and working our way out.
Quilt Garden had Washington, DC as its destination. Their block was a silhouette of the Washington Monument and the Capitol set on a red, white and blue patchwork. The shop quilt featured the blocks set atop a huge silhouette of the USA – a very impressive piece. Since they were selling kits for the block for just $3, we had to have one, since our number three son would soon be a DC resident. Although we had just had lunch, we accepted a cookie and a cup of “gorp”, which had nuts, buttermints and gumdrops mixed together.
Next was Quilting Essentials, a two-year-old shop near Lilburn which features a nine patch floor! They have brought a lot of energy to Atlanta quilting, and have helped fill the void that was left when Joyce Selin closed Village Quilt in Stone Mountain. New England was QE’s theme. and their classroom offered cookies and a chance to look at lots of lovely quilts and garments being offered as classes. We also got to see Diane Hundley’s Chaos Harmony as a real quilt hanging in the shop. Diane designed the Hop block, New England Lighthouse, which was based on an EQ5 design.
After getting directions for the quickest route, we arrived at Stitch 'N Quilt Shop, also a two-year-old shop, in Lawrenceville. Their theme, the Amish in the Midwest, was told through a collection of charming dolls scattered throughout the shop. This shop is very appealing, and always has great classes. It was filled with customers, not necessarily there for the hop. The store shop hop quilt was in rich Amish colors, and their block an Amish Sunbonnet Sue. They a great range of fabrics, and obviously have cultivated a loyal local following, if the group that day is any indicator.
Now, I love fabric and quilt shops, but even I was getting weary. Our last stop was at Quilted Hearts, in Gainesville, which we always enjoy but seldom get to visit. They were getting ready to move right after the Hop concluded. However, they still had plenty of spirit as “The West”, with cowboy fabric and a saddle right inside the front door. Our goodie bags held peanuts and a marking pencil, along with a peppermint patty and directions to the new location! Quilted Hearts has lots of wool rug supplies and yarn for knitting. I left with a funky variegated eyelash yarn for a new scarf.
The last shop visited, passport completely stamped, we headed for The Dunlap House, our B&B just a few minutes down the road. It was a good thing we had made early dinner reservations, because we were really hopped out by the end of those three days. Although we always enjoy dinner at Rudolph’s, the restaurant across the street, it seemed particularly appropriate to end our hop there, since it has so much of the local appeal that a shop hop does. Even though we were tired, we were really looking forward to doing the Bluebonnet Trail in San Antonio and points north!
A few weeks later we saddled up and headed off to Texas Hill Country. We knew something other than the hop was afoot when we tried to book a usually reasonable.
Hotel room and the price was WAY more than usual. Oops! The NCAA Final Four was the same time as the hop, and San Antonio was awash in rabid basketball fans. We managed to find something halfway reasonable if not fashionable, but we were satisfied not to be sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag.
As you may know from previous articles, the Bluebonnet Trail Shop Hop is truly an event for several reasons. All the shops seem to consider this an opportunity to thank loyal customers and to create new ones. Wanting the total hop experience this year, I planned ahead and investigated the rules for the UFO swap. (Who didn’t love grab bags as a kid?) I selected two languishing treasures from my personal UFO trunk: one, a set of twelve cross-stitched blocks that were completely embroidered but not assembled; the other a 9-degree ruler Christmas tree skirt that was all done except for the quilting. I also bought new bags for them, since I didn’t want the foundlings to be rejected based on shabby packaging.
Because Texas is a big state, we had a travel plan carefully laid out. We would start the tour by visiting the most distant San Antonio shops, Creative Sewing Center and Seventh Heaven, then proceed to Fredricksburg and Kerrville, with a return stop at Leon Springs. Day Two would begin with a trip to Las Colchas in downtown San Antonio, followed by the Wimberly Market Days. After that we would go to Dripping Springs, and on to Austin, where we would spend Saturday night and then check out the final shops on the hop. Since I’ve done a store by store accounting of the Bluebonnet Trail before, the TQ will spare you the vicarious agony of getting in and out of the car at each location and just hit the high spots!
The Bluebonnet Trail shops know how to stage a hop. They’ve had some good practice, to be sure. But instead of just putting out a few store-bought cookies and some juice, they make it a real EVENT. To start, for about a dollar, hoppers can buy a window marker for their vehicles, so from the start, you can get in the mood and honk or wave to fellow travelers on the mission to visit all twelve stores. I’m thinking next year they might want to consider pennants or pom-poms to wave in the wind as avid quilters drive down the freeway.
Another real treat: every store gives its hoppers a free fat quarter. I mean, what could be better than freebie fabric to add to your stash? The refreshments emphasis is distinctive, too. Since the whole affair has the feel of a school homecoming or family reunion, many of the goodies are homemade, even if the staff has to go to bed late or get up early to do so. When I complimented someone at Las Colchas on the delicious cookies, she said wearily, “I finished them at 6 this morning!”
If not always made by loving hands, the offerings are definitely top drawer. This year Seventh Heaven had a popcorn machine, fresh lemonade and gourmet chocolate chip cookies. Pocketful of Quilts featured persimmon cookies, (try finding those at the HEB) candy, cheese, and homemade pralines for hungry hoppers, while Peacemakers enticed us with Krispy Kreme doughnuts and hot coffee.
Many of the stores really get into their selected theme, be it Mardi Gras at Pocketful of Poseys, “Just Can’t Cut It” at Seventh Heaven, or Hawaiian Holiday at Creations. In addition to the de rigueur hop quilt where each store offers one block pattern and their unique interpretation of the hop quilt, each shop sponsors a challenge block competition and displays entries prominently for inspection and admiration by fellow hoppers. Winning blocks are then made into quilts which are raffled to benefit the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
The uber-hop store, is of course, Creations in Kerrville. If a hopper could go to just one store on a hop, Creations would be my recommendation. Starting with the parking lot, you can tell it’s party time. This year was Hawaiian, and you got your lei at the door and headed for the non-alcoholic Pina Colada maker in the next room. The faux coladas were festooned with honeycomb flamingo straws, with macadamia nut cookies to accompany them. A Don Ho look-alike (didn’t he used to be Elvis?) was tending “bar”, and at intervals clerks-turned-hula dancers vamped through the store to ukulele music. Even on non-shop days, this is truly a destination quilt store. They can be seen in detail at www.creations-online.com, and the website is also worth the trip!
It’s not just the shops, either. The Texas quilters are serious about the hopping thing, and many guilds even design quilted wearables just for the event. The aisles of each location had several hug-ins going on during each stop. Maybe it’s just standard Texas quilter friendliness, but it added to the overall fun of the three days. Then there were some little things. Free massages were available at one store (hey, fabric shopping can be stressful!) and many demos showing the newest techniques were at others. Some stores offered trunk shows of the wares of local artists, too.
My UFO experience was interesting. Since my rule was to keep trading as often as possible unless I really hit paydirt, I moved around a lot of unfinished projects. The packaging was as varied as the contents, from a lovely quilt gift bag tied with raffia to a brown Central Market sack stapled shut. Among the UFOs that passed through my hands: twelve sampler blocks from someone’s purple phase, a complete set of never opened block-of-the-month kits from 1999 (could she be a relative of the TQ?), a bright girlie set of 20 star blocks in candy colors, a bunch of vintage Job’s tears blocks, a felt Advent calendar kit, fifteen scrap nine-patches and a partly-pieced runner with finishing fabric included. I finally wound up with the Job’s tears and the block of the month kits, which in turn may wind up in next year’s swap. Who still doesn’t love grab bags?
Other things of note: Wimberly’s Market Days were as “gotta love it” as ever. The TQ stocked up on emu oil (great for healing needle-pricked fingers), had some Texas barbeque and drooled over all the cool antique things that we couldn’t take back on the plane. Maybe next time.
This year we managed to get to Peacemakers, a darling store in Dripping Springs. Tucked in a vintage house, this shop just oozes charm and unique style. They are into redwork and other embroidery, retro prints and just beautiful things in general. Although it seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere, it is certainly somewhere for avid quilters, especially those into hand stitching of all sorts.
Our overnight stay was at The Mansion at Judge’s Hill in Austin. This is a lovely though not overpriced boutique hotel with lots of amenities, including L’Occitane toiletries and fluffy robes. We did travel a few streets over to check out the famous Driscoll Hotel, with its domed glass ceiling in the lobby and real cowhide settees. Very Texas. We also checked out the college area where a fraternity was holding a crawfish boil on the frat house lawn, and managed to have breakfast at the fabulous Central Market the next morning before polishing off the last few stores in Austin!
So who knows exactly what makes the Bluebonnet such a standout? It’s probably just the combination of ingredients that can’t be reproduced in a formulaic fashion. You just have to be in the right place at the right time. One more cool Bluebonnet thing: About a month after the hop, I received a postcard thanking us for making it to all the stores on the hop, and reminding me of the dates for 2005.
However, TQ thinks there is good news ahead for Atlanta hoppers. In several of the most recent newsletters there is a reminder telling all quilters to put the local hop dates on their calendars. Sounds like we’re going to have some excitement to look forward to!
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