Destination: Quilt Inspiration!

Every once in a while, treating yourself to a little quilt-spiration is in order. With that in mind—and my sewing machine in the shop—I set out for a mini-quilt excursion, traveling to Winterset, Iowa, on a sunny July weekend.

The Iowa Quilt Museum in Winterset, IowaMy plan included seeing the “Innovation meets Tradition: Judy Martin Quilts” exhibit at the Iowa Quilt Museum, checking in with Tony Jacobson at Piece Works Quilt Shop to feed my stash—er, select fabric for twin baby quilts, and grabbing a slice of seasonal peach pie at the Northside Café, quite possibly sitting right in the spot that Clint Eastwood sat in Bridges of Madison County.

It’s a sure-fire approach to a great quilt excursion: inspiration, fabric shop, then pie. Whenever I visit family in Ohio, for example, I usually hit up the Fabric Shack in Waynesville, Ohio, and cap my delight with pie at Hammel House.

There may be other schools of thought to what defines a good quilt trip—schools of thought that are less focused on “pie.”

Because of the presence of several tourist attractions—the Iowa Quilt Museum, the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum, as well as the famous covered bridges of Madison county—Winterset, Iowa, gets its fair share of tour buses, many of them with quilting on the mind.

Piece Works Quilt Shop in Winterset, IowaAs Jacobson unrolled the bolts I’d selected (thump, thump, thump—sliiiice), we talked about tours, and what to expect.

When there’s a bus tour coming into town—usually a shop hop organized by the independent fabric shops—Jacobson plans for it. “Sometimes quilters only have a few hours before they need to head out, so we make sure we’re staffed up. And usually we’ll have nice pre-cut collections on hand that quilters can grab quickly.”

They also stock a few local items—wine from a regional vineyard with a Piece Works label and postcards of area attractions—that make a visit to Piece Works uniquely “Winterset.”

He encourages quilters to allow enough time to take in the other sights of the area. One of the delights of a tour is that you get to see places like Winterset, which are slightly off the beaten track and worth exploring. Though sometimes they offer food at the shop, he’s a supporter of trying out the local offerings. (If you’ve ever had pie at the Northside Café, you would agree. But that’s the Pro-Pie School of Thought.)

Jacobson also advises coming into the shops with a plan. If you’re on a shop hop, this is the best time to hunt for that specific fabric for a specific quilt.

“It’s no problem to bring in swatches of your own fabric,” Tony says. It helps him and his staff find the perfect fabric match for your quilt.

Jacobson sees a lot of quilters cash when shop-hopping , which helps them keep track of their budget.

I also chatted with Kris Peterson, a veteran quilter and quilt-trip taker, about her experiences.

“Do you have any tips like that? For keeping yourself under control?” I asked.

“No,” Peterson said. “Why would you do that?”

My kind of quilter.

Shop hops aren’t the only type of trip, of course. There are excursions organized by national tour groups, festival visits organized by regional guilds and—of course–the girls’ weekend extravaganza.

Pick the trip that aligns with your interests.

“Shop hops can be fun and inspiring, but I’m not in the ‘acquisition mode’ at the moment,” says Peterson. “I’m more about seeing the quilts, and going to quilt shows.”

Peterson advises budgeting your time according to those priorities. At one quilt show, she remembers, the quilt displays and shopping were in two different halls. Her group started with the vendors. “You know how it goes—it was all shop, shop, shop, and chat, chat, chat. When we looked at our watches, we realized we had 45 minutes before the bus left, and we hadn’t seen a single quilt!”

Peterson recalls that, on one bus tour, the organizers supplied handwork projects to the entire group, which was a thoughtful perk. The miles flew past. It’s a great idea if you’re simply traveling with friends, too—bring along that English paper piecing project for the road!

And while Peterson herself may not be in ‘acquisition mode,’ she offers sound advice for packing: “Bring half as many clothes and twice as much money.”

A Quick Overview of Quilt Trip Types

Shop Hop

Often organized by independent shops, though it can be simply a group of friends, these trips bounce from shop to shop. Often there are often special incentives, like discounts, patterns, exclusive fabric panels, or grab bags. These are typically a shorter trips—perhaps a day or two—and tend to be regional. Look to your guild or your favorite local shop for information on upcoming shop hops.

Quilt Tours

There are longer trips organized by national companies or guilds, often centering on a festival or event. These trips are usually about a week, and often include meals and lodging. They are paced to have an activity and some shopping on each day of the tour, and often take in sights that are not specific to quilting. For the ambitious quilt-oriented traveler, there are quilt-at-sea cruises (often with machines and classes), or international trips.
Your guild is a good place to hear about these, though quilt tours often advertise in magazines and websites. Your favorite designer may be teaching on a tour, so following their blogs will help you hear about these.

Quilt Buddy Road Trip

Do-It-Yourself Quilting Inspiration! Planning is critical—how long do we want to spend in each stop? What additional sights might we want to see while there? How will we split of the driving? Where do we stop for pie?

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