The Traveling Quilter: Southwestern Virginia quilt shop rally, 2007
By Penny Schmitt
After several years of receiving a flyer about a six – shop quilt store ‘rally’ held annually in western Virginia, I happily had reason to visit that area on the crucial weekend of the rally. Six regional quilt shops cooperate for a three-day weekend of door prizes and patterns that offers good reasons for shoppers to make the rounds of all stores. The shops range from Sew What Fabrics and Batiks, etc. Wytheville, Virginia, as far south of Roanoke to a store in Martinsville and out to Lynchburg. In the course of the weekend, I visited four of the shops and found each one attractive. Some, I know, will become regular stops for me either when I am visiting or when I am shopping for fabric on line.
This year’s theme for the rally was a celebration of the Jamestown, Virginia settlement. All the shops participated in designing a commemorative quilt that featured the British ships arriving on Virginia shores, Native Americans, and regional plant life. Each shop offered a free pattern for a part of the quilt, and each offered a pre-cut kit of fabric to make a section of the quilt top. You could go to all the stores and collect a complete set of kits if you chose. At every shop, visitors were offered chances for modest door prizes and refreshments, and a colored ribbon marking their visit to the shop. I noticed a number of ladies sporting beribboned purses when I ate lunch in Radford, Virginia. Those who made the rounds of all stores and got their ‘rally card’ punched, could leave their card at the last store to be part of a drawing for a major prize—a sewing machine.
The Wytheville store, as its name implies, specializes in batiks, but has a varied collection of other fabrics as well. Sew What Fabrics and Batiks, etc. takes up all of an attractive 19th century frame house on Main Street in Wytheville, a small mountain county seat near the junction of I-81 and I-77. One front room is entirely given to stacks of batiks. Every corner and cranny of the rest of the house is also packed with fabric. Flannels in batik prints line the hallway, fat quarters and nicely rolled remnants and jelly rolls of fabric abound. I have visited the store before, and always make a bee-line for the upstairs, where discounted fabric is to be found at 25% off the original price, or 40% if one buys the remains of the bolt, or even more deeply discounted remnants. The store has ample classroom space upstairs, the walls hung with attractive quilts in progress. The prize finding for my day, in addition to a beautiful dress length of leaf-printed cotton, were three handsome decorative buttons from a collection tucked away in a downstairs corner. To visit on the web, go to www.sewwhatfabrics.com
In Radford, Virginia, SewBiz, Inc. occupies a 19th Century hotel building. The double store front has a two-story white colonnade, and the windows are mostly the original glass, with its liquid waviness making the outside landscape shimmer and quiver. The store occupies two addresses on Harvey street, and has an upstairs as jam-packed with fabric and notions as its many-roomed downstairs. The quilters here seem to like elaborate appliqué quilts. The appliquéd ‘Quilt diva’ over the back room fireplace made my friend Mike laugh, saying it was a pretty good replica of me. I also saw a beautifully executed Laurel Burch appliqué quilt hanging in that room. Here, I found some ‘Hokie’ theme fabric that will someday warm the heart of my Virginia Tech graduate son. Why did he pick the school with the most hideous combined colors ever? They’re pumpkin orange and dark maroon in equal quantities. Never mind, I got two lengths of yardage that are horrible and wonderful at the same time. What to do with them? I’ll figure it out. I also scored some great, unusual fireworks fabric in an ‘off’ r/w/b theme—hot pink, deep teal and gold, and some other ‘must-haves’. While I shopped, Mike continued his unending search for the ‘just right’ sky fabric to complete a project he himself has had in mind for a long time. Visit on line at www.sewbiz.com
After lunch, we headed onward to Fincastle, Virginia, and the ‘Old Trinity Schoolhouse Quilt Shop’. This shop specializes, brilliantly, in reproduction fabrics from the early 19th century onward, as well as a good selection of contemporary fabrics. The building was as much a treasure as the fabric collection (which I’m sure I will be revisiting on-line in the future!). The shop owner was soon showing Mike her snapshots of the building ‘before’ renovation. It was a brick shell with rotted flooring and only enough roof left to protect the integrity of the structure. Now it’s a four-square solid brick building sitting on its high eminence over the first valley over from the Valley of Virginia. What a view—inside and out! The rotted floor has been lovingly replaced with beautiful hardwood. The big windows all around shed gorgeous working light into all the shop areas and work areas. The office / classroom /kitchen is graced by a huge and beautiful old cast iron range with enamel and shiny metal fixtures. The quilts all through the building beautifully show the owners’ special taste for making old things new and beautiful. I was especially impressed by their block-of-the-month offering, a sampler quilt that completely overcame my usual dislike of the jumbled sampler look by setting each block to shine on its own with a truly attractive sashing. Shopping here, I didn’t even try to resist the beautiful repro fabrics, and have come home (among several other things) with a beautiful ‘American Eagle’ medallion in the soft red/pinks, blues, and caramel browns typical of earlier times. I’m envisioning a beauty involving tumbling blocks that will take some real hard work to accomplish, with the medallions as the controlling theme. And if I run out of a key fabric, never mind. This shop’s web site offers many fabric selections with thumbnail images on line, and sorts its reproduction offerings by the dates of the original patterns. It’s a great resource for those of us who like to get the antique look right. Check www.trinityquilts.com
Our final stop was “Creative Quilting” in Roanoke. This shop didn’t have the special cachet lent the others by their antique buildings. It appears to be housed in a former doctor’s office. Still, the proprietors have done a great job turning all the ‘examining rooms’ into attractive nooks furnished with shelves of lovely fabric and nicely finished projects. There, I did take the trouble to collect one of the free patterns being offered for the ‘theme quilt’ of the rally. It features the ships that sailed into Jamestown so long ago. I may never make it, but it’s a lovely souvenir! This shop owner went all out to produce refreshments in keeping with the pre-colonial theme. Popcorn, known to have been eaten by Virginia’s Indians, and delicately cinnamon-spiced dried apple slices were a big hit.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to get to the other two shops in the rally, but here is some information about them in case you're in the area:
Now I am back home, and my first priority was to start putting all my new treasures through the wash in batches to make sure they are color fast and preshrink them. I’m happy to say that even that hideous Hokie fabric seems to be passing the test!
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