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The Traveling Quilter: Quilt Shops on the Florida Suncoast

If there is one thing that Florida has in abundance beside sun and sand, it’s quilt stores. My own interest in quilting began in St. Petersburg years ago, when I bought a small pack of coordinating Victorian Christmas prints at Sewing Circle Fabrics. This was before the time of rotary cutters and self-healing mats, before all the cool toys and time saving miracles of today were invented.  So given my  Florida sewing history, it seems only right that the first time I took the plunge and had a quilt machine quilted by a professional  Longarm artist, she was someone from the Suncoast area. 

But let me start at the beginning. I was in Florida for my grandchildren’s christening last Easter, and while there drove to Gulfport, where I had read about Stargazer Quilting (http://www.stargazerquilting.com/). Unhappily, Stargazer was in the middle of a “going out of business” sale, but I fell in love with Ann Hartwig’s monkey-fabric version of “Yellow Brick Road”. Since my two year old grandson Stephen is known affectionately as “Monkey Boy,” that seemed like the perfect quilt for his room. Luckily, Ann still had fabric left, and as I was making my purchase, she let me know that, even though the retail store was closing, she still would be doing longarm quilting. Since I especially liked the monkey and bananas pattern she chose for her quilt, I took her contact information.

Of course, it took me a lot longer to finish the quilt then I thought it would. However, since it was to be a birthday present for Stephen, I had until October to get it done. I have tried longarm quilting myself, but it is clearly not my forte. But to put your quilt top in a box and trust that it will get there, get quilted and survive takes courage. Ann was very supportive. I fretted over border fabric choice, threads, what kind of binding (bias or straight), just about everything. I called Ann so many times that knew she my number on caller ID, and she answered her phone anyway!

In late summer, the quilt went off to Ann with plenty of time to spare, and I arranged to pick up the finished creation when I came for the party. Monkey Boy’s quilt turned out beyond my expectations. Ann had selected the perfect backing fabric, expertly quilted it (including a special money border) and her friend Sue had done a beautiful job of the binding. Fabulous! Stephen and his parents were thrilled, and now maybe he’ll actually go to sleep in his “big boy” bed.

I t has been a while since we had visited Country Quilts and Bears (1983 Drew Street Clearwater, FL 33765, Phone: 727-461-4171, E-mail:countryquilts@ij.net, in Clearwater, but fortunately the store has remained as delightful as ever.

A train runs around the shop on a ceiling-high track. The morning we were there, the proprietor, John Humphries, was setting the cars straight since they had managed to jump the tracks after store hours when the bears were left unattended! This shop sits in an old house on a main thoroughfare. Interestingly enough, one side of the shop is flannels, the other cottons. This store features many exotic prints along with traditional and novelty options. Hanging up was a chicken appliqué block of the month series done by owner Marilyn Humphries, and a wonderful pumpkin block of the month option as well. Then of course, there were the bears. Bear making classes and lots of fur choices are available, one of the unique opportunities that the shop offers. Lots of Christmas and other holiday goodies were at CQ&B, and I had to have a cute kit for a Halloween lap quilt that was quite reasonably priced at $27. Then I spotted a pirate pillowcase which I had to have for my sister’s pirate-loving grandson.

Any quilter who has traveled to that area has probably visited Rainbow’s End. (941 Broadway St., Dunedin, Florida 34698. Tel: (727) 736-0235.)  The store does more than live up to its reputation; it continues to surpass itself each time I visit. There just aren’t words to describe how awesome this place is, and how it has such a broad selection of way cool merchandise. In addition to having a complete selection of fabrics (probably 20,000 bolts, arranged by theme and color), it carries a very extensive line of Moda Home as well. If it hadn’t been for Stephen and William’s birthday party, I probably would have spent the night there. After all, they do have beds, even if they are for quilt display!

Rainbow's End has nearly doubled its space since we last visited by opening a large area in the back of the store building that used to be storage space. Now it is full of fabric and specialty items, with lots of Christmas stuff featured at this time of year.

We tried to see if some of the other stores listed in the Quilters’ Travel Companion were open, but those we called were either no longer open for retail business or the phones had been disconnected. We were happy we followed our own advice to always call ahead, particularly for a store we haven't visited before. We made a quick visit to Sue’s Bay Area Sewing to pick up our finished quilt, but were so rushed that we didn’t have time to stop and check out the store. After all, we had two birthday boys waiting for us!

One thing we noticed about St. Pete is the trend toward serious food! Downtown hosts a Saturday Market that rivals any we have frequented, and we have been to many, with New Orleans’ Crescent City Market being a “must” for any trip there. The St. Petersburg downtown market has beautiful breads, lovely plants, amazing cheese, great pasta, granolas, fresh produce -- too many things to talk about. We had one lunch at the Habana Café in Gulfport and resisted the urge to embarrass ourselves by drinking the delicious Habana Café mojo sauce that comes with the pork Cuban sandwich. We had to go to Ted Peters, the no-frills smoked fish place in Pasadena, and of course Skyway Jack’s in St. Pete for a giant breakfast. Another day we had intended to go to lunch at Le Kitchen, but wound up next door at Lonni’s since we were enticed by the wide range of sandwiches and her unique wild rice side salad. A Minnesota transplant, the owner had included lots of Minnesota decorator touches to her interior as well. The sandwiches are generous and the menu offers traditional favorites as well as innovative (and delicious) creations.

Although our visit was way too short to explore quilting options beyond a small region, we’re already plotting our next visit. If you’re a quilter and you’re talking about Florida, mention of “the magic kingdom” does not necessarily refer to the amusement park!

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