Last week my mom was visiting so we participated in the Sew Oregon Shop Hop, traveling to 10 stores over three days. I thought I would give my impressions of each shop here, and report on our experience.
I actually began the tour June 25th — the first day of the tour — because I had a class at Cool Cottons that evening. But I’m going to save my review of Cool Cottons for the end of this post because that’s where we turned in our passports.
The idea is this: at each shop you visit, you get your passport stamped and get a pattern and fabric to make a quilt block. Each shop’s block includes a fabric selected by Sew Oregon. The shop gets to decide what coordinating fabrics to use and how to put them together. You decide what to do with them. If you visit enough shops, you could make a full size quilt.
So after picking up my mom at the train station, off we went. We first headed to Pioneer Quilts in Damascus, a small town east of Portland. It occupies a fairly small space in a rather nondescript strip mall kind of space, but there’s a surprising amount of fabric and a lot of creativity on display inside. I think a lot of classes are offered in the room behind the cash register, where some beautiful quilts hang on the walls.
I especially admired a Cinnamon Ginger quilt made of gorgeous Kaffe Fassett fabrics (he might well be my favorite fabric designer). In this case, admiration led to a purchase of a kit of the pattern by Lori Allison and fabric so I could make my own (my mom thought it would be the perfect 60th birthday present for me, and she was right!)
It seemed Pioneer Quilts also had a lot of reproduction fabrics from pioneer days, as well as quite a few Christmas prints. So its Sew Oregon block of a gift wrapped in a bow looked right at home. The block was designed by Jolyn Buhl, teacher of several classes I’ve taken (she is amazing!)
Making this block was my introduction to using freezer paper. I had no idea it really sticks to fabric when you iron it on–shiny side toward the fabric. Not much fun to remove after sewing, however 😦
The instructions with this block were awesome! Foolproof! Really made what looks like a very complex block very simple to make. I can tell I need more practice before I grok the freezer paper thing, however!
It was an easy matter to get from Damascus to Paradise Quilts in Sandy. This shop is located in what looks like a small house. It’s quite tiny. The shelves are pretty well packed, but it can get a bit crowded inside when more than a couple of people show up. The store seems to specialize in multiple shades of a color.
It’s block was very simple, a large center block with stips of other colors sew on the sides. Very straightforward, not very complicated or elaborate. Kind of like the shop. It doesn’t have a website.
Having finished the east part of the Portland area, we headed south on I-5.
I’d seen this store before because it’s near the sleep lab I visited a few months ago. This shop is in what looks like a suburban office campus just off I-5 near King City. It’s quite large, with an open spacious feeling, maybe because the ceilings in these spaces are so high. Quite a lot of the space is devoted to selling sewing machines.
I saw a lot of fabric that is designed for craft type projects moms might do, like halloween costumes or other holiday decor. I bet a lot of soccer moms shop here (if they sew). One nice thing about this store was the bolts of coordinating fabric with the Sew Oregon feature fabric. I picked up a few fat quarters of these, which came in very handy when I was figuring out what to do with my blocks.
A Common Thread’s block was uncommonly detailed. In fact, it was so complex that the directions took several pages (one page replaced another that had an error). In making this block, I encountered paper piecing for the first time. (Paper piecing means you sew a piece of paper right onto your fabric, sewing along the dashed lines, then you cut along the solid lines and the pieces magically come out sewn together.) I thought it was pretty darned nifty! It really works! I’m definitely going to have to work on my paper tearing technique, because I got so enthusiastic I pulled out more than a few stitches when I was removing the paper.
Canby Quilts & Fabric (the link to the website wasn’t working when I tried it)
We hit the road again and made our way through Willamette Valley farmland to Canby, where the quilt store is located in the picturesque old part of town near the railroad tracks. This shop is stuffed, not only with fabric but books and patterns. I confess I felt a little overwhelmed by it all.
I find when I get overwhelmed in a fabric store, I don’t buy much because I can’t see the forest for the trees. I don’t know where to start. I can’t step back far enough to see it at the right distance. I also need good lighting to get my view on.
The block from this shop was very clever…but I’m not clever enough to understand the directions. So I kind of faked it. As a result, my block was a little, oh, I don’t know, underwhelming I guess. It seems too small in the block of fabric they provided. Maybe I need to embellish it. Or something.
We got directions from the Canby shop to Let’s Quilt in Oregon City but I somehow missed a turn or something because suddenly we were in unknown territory, heading into an orchard. Lucky for us, the Google maps app on my iPhone pinpointed our location and we quickly got back on track.
Let’s Quilt is big! It has a lot of beautiful fabric! I spent a lot of money! But along the way I learned something important about my shopping habits that I’m going to confess here for the benefit of the entrepreneurs out there. Call it Marie’s stimulus package. And here it is: apparently I really appreciate and fall for and buy packets of fabric (fat quarters or half yards) that have been cut and nicely tied together in a stack. Especially when they are amazing bright and bold colors and patterns.
When I walk into my favorite fabric stores, I see whole shelves of fabric that I love. But I can’t buy the whole shelf. I feel too guilty to ask the proprieter to take down multiple bolts to cut off a fat quarter or so. So more often than not, I leave empty handed. But if said proprieter has already done that before I get there, maybe selecting 10 or so Kaffe Fassett fabrics in reds, oranges and green prints and arranges them in an attractive stack, I will walk in and think, “I must have that!”
For example, I’ve been wanting to buy an assortment of Kaffe Fassett’s shot cottons. But which ones? I have no idea. I don’t have a specific project in mind, I’m buying them on speculation. So I can’t decide… Let’s Quilt had a stack of them already cut into fat quarters. When I walked in and saw them, I could hear them say “Marie, over here. We’ve been waiting for you. We need you to take us home…” And I happily did.
This shop had among the most complex websites of the shops (more on that below). However, the planning and care this shop has put into its fabric selection and website was surprisingly not in evidence in its quilt block. It was the simplest block of all, and these were the instructions:
(1) 6 1/2″ block center
(4) 2″ x 6 1/2″ sashing
(4) 2″ x 2″ corner stones
No kidding, that’s every word. Everything. Guess you’re just supposed to know.
Heart to Hand
Oregon City has another quilt shop, but it’s a little hard to find because it is located in an industrial park. Kind of near the back. The owner points out that this no-frills location is quite affordable and she passes on the savings in overhead to her customers. She was busy making more quilt blocks when we were there, as she’d had many more shop hoppers than she expected. Nevertheless, she welcomed us warmly and made us feel she had our hearts in her hand.
This shop’s block was a classic pattern, easy to make… no frills with very low overhead.
From an industrial park to an upscale shoppe and marketplace in the historic Willamette section of West Linn. Quite a leap! Wow, this place is big and it is decorated with a designer’s eye! It has many departments…there’s a civil war fabric zone, holiday and seasonal zones, home decorating, etc. etc., just a whole lot of stuff (stuffe?)
It would be easy to while away a day here looking through all the offerings. I can’t imagine how much this much inventory must cost! Yikes! The shop was hopping, and there appeared to be a lot of buying going on.
It has the most complete collection of Moda cake stacks I’ve seen anywhere! Which fit my weakness for pre-selected selections of fabric. The prices were better than I expected, seemed to be about the same as other places, despite its location in this affluent suburb.
Hollyhill’s block was stylish and sophisticated. It also has the most sophisticated website of all the shops, with online shopping featuring an interactive design wall.
I was a little apprehensive about the Pine Needle, since I had already spent more than I planned and I always seem to be drawn to big purchases at this shop’s booth at NW Quilter’s Expo. In Lake Oswego (an even more affluent suburb than West Linn), this shop is in the older downtown section that looks more like a movie set than an actual city center.
When you walk into the shop, you are greeted by several quilts featuring very “today” fabric and patterns. The big and bold colors make me salivate. I want to eat them!!
This is another shop that does a great job of offering pre-cut selections of fabric collections. I was quite impressed with their sale prices (e.g., 99 cents for fat quarters of very recent fabric!)
The quilt block was an attractive variation on a fairly traditional theme.
This shop is situated with several other gifts/crafts/collectibles shops in low
buildings lining McLaughlin Blvd in Milwaukie. The interior space is small but attractive. Several women were in the back running sewing machines, maybe in a class?
This shop had the most unusual block: an appliqued Christmas tree ornament. I’m afraid the directions were over my head, so I just traced some lines on fabric and faked it. It turned out okay, but I’m not sure this is quite what they had in mind?!?
I found the prices at this store to be great!
Got some Michael Miller fat quarters for $1.50 each (usual fat quarter prices are $2.50 – $2.75)
For nearly all the shops I visited, the Shop Hop was the first time I had been in the store. However, because Cool Cottons is literally feet from my home (our backyards almost touch!), I’ve been there any number of times. I take classes there. I buy fabric there. I attend sewing groups there.
Now that I’ve done recon at 10 shops in the Portland metro area, I can say with certainty that Cool Cottons is my very very favorite. And here’s why: although I can find something I like in every store (and, indeed, I made it a point to buy something in each store, even if just a couple of fat quarters), and sometimes entire departments that I like, there is no other store in this area where I would love to buy fabric from each and every bolt. Seriously. In Cool Cottons, it’s as if someone decided to make a fabric store just for me.
So while it’s not nearly as big as many stores (it’s located in the first floor of an old Portland house), there is nothing to skip past. Every bolt is from a favorite fabric designer of mine… every single one. And many of the fabrics (e.g., those from Japan) I didn’t see in any other store.
Can you imagine how blessed I feel that Cool Cottons opened where it did????? At this point, I don’t think I could manage without them. Too scary to contemplate…
Now, if they start offering bundled samples of collections as I found at Let’s Quilt above for the reasons I mentioned, I will be in serious trouble. Because I will buy them all. Seriously.
Oh, I almost forgot. Cool Cotton’s block was also a clever take on a rather traditional pattern… and since the feature fabric was one quite unlike the fabrics they carry, the complementary fabrics they chose were different from most.
Although my mom and I got pretty exhausted a couple of times while shop hopping, we had a great time.
I think this is a really terrific marketing idea. As I mentioned, I’d never been to most of the stores and wouldn’t have gone without this organized activity. I have to say, if everyone behaved as my mom and I did, it must have been great for business. For example, I spent $593.18 that I would not have spent otherwise. I didn’t dare ask for my mom’s total, but she was close on my heels if she didn’t get past me!
There could be more quality control on the block patterns. They were all different sizes, which made putting them together more than a challenge! Some of the instructions were very clear and well documented. Others were not. Those should be easy things to fix!
As the photos suggest, I already made up all my blocks. I didn’t have enough to put into a traditional quilt, so I made a table runner I can use for a holiday decoration (the unquilted pieced top partially shown below stretched out on my cutting table).