Love in Quilting at Thistlebee Quilt Shoppe, Downtown Goldsboro, NC

If quilting is friendship and a universal language of love, expect to feel the rise and falls of that friendship and love like any other relationship. Such was the case for me when I entered Thistlebee Quilt Shoppe last week.

I knew immediately when I entered the store that something was wrong. Bolts of fabric were missing from the shelves, sales signs were down, and it just looked rather bare. A group of ladies surrounded the counter offering condolences and saying they were sorry to see her leave. I picked my jaw up off the floor and went to the desk and asked, “what have I missed?”

If you’ve already read parts 1 and 2 of my story, you know I love my little local quilt shop. The owners, Mary Ellen and Joe MacInnes, were the inspiration of my earlier “Follow Your Heart” blog. Now they are following their hearts out of business. Joe has a non-cancerous tumor that will require surgeries and years of recovery. They cannot manage the store and go through recovery at the same time.

All this Mary said to me while I stood there mute, holding back tears. “I know we were just talking about this, and I said we weren’t going anywhere, but there was no way we could have known about this,” she said. “Closing the store is the right thing to do to take care of Joe.”

I walked to the back of the store to the now near empty classroom and wept. Thistlebee had stood strong in the community for years and developed a spot in the world. It was a spot Joe and Mary Ellen worked together to claim and one she knew she couldn’t maintain without him. The full weight of the loss of the store hadn’t hit them and wouldn’t yet. It was far more important to care for Joe’s health. While I admired Mary Ellen’s priorities, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of self-pity to lose the place I loved so much. I made a stack of purchases that day to help, and ever-kind Joe helped me carry them out. I cried my way home; I would miss them.

Inside the store

Inside the store

Mary Ellen at the register looking out into the shop from the classroom.

Mary Ellen at the register looking out into the shop from the classroom.

The classroom at Thistlebee

The classroom at Thistlebee when mom and I took the quilt class

Thistlebee exterior

Thistlebee exterior

Sometimes we think someone or something will be with us forever, then things change. Life gets in the way and we are left weeping. I plan to keep in touch with Mary Ellen, Joe, and my friends from Thistlebee, but it won’t be the same as sitting and learning and crafting together.

What, in your life, are you taking for granted? How can you better honor that gift while it is still a part of your life?

Rockin’ Summer Row-by-Row Experience: My Journey Into Sewing & Quilting Part 2

As class ended, I didn’t want to leave my new friends…and new passion for quilting. I was midstream designing another quilt on our last day of class when I heard about Row by Row Experience 2015. Row by Row is a quilting challenge that happens annually across the US where quilters travel to various shops to collect patterns and make quilts. The first quilter to use eight or more of the 9 x 36 rows in a finished quilt, wins a stack of fabric. If they use the row from the store they turn their quilt in to, they win an extra prize from the store as well. This year, all fifty states and parts of Canada participated.

My Bobbin Robin (the mascot of the 2015 Row by Row Experience and a contest in herself) was branded by most of the shops I visited.

My Bobbin Robin (the mascot of the 2015 Row by Row Experience and a contest in herself) was branded by most of the shops I visited.

A collage of some of the quilting work I've done since class.

A collage of some of the quilting work I’ve done since class including my first quilt, a runner of drawings done by my nieces, and the start of my own Row by Row water themed quilt.

The idea of throwing travel and quilting together over the summer was a win-win for me. I bit hard on the idea like a fish on a hook. By summer’s end, I traveled all over eastern North Carolina, parts of South Carolina, and all over eastern Florida for patterns. Telling my friends and family members about it had patterns coming in from Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Oregon too. Some of those helpers have bitten the quilting bug themselves now as well. 😉 By summer’s end, I had over 30 patterns and the beginning of a water-themed queen size quilt.

One surprising fact about quilt shops: they are all uniquely different and all uniquely happy, even if they are close together. In one area of Raleigh, NC, for example, there were four shops within a few minutes of each other, but each carried very different materials and supplies from the other. Quilt shops are specialized to certain niche markets and maintain clientele through customer service.

A collage of shops and shopping with my mom and sister.

A collage of shops and shopping with my mom and sister. Notice the bus tour crowd in the bottom corner at Calico Station, FL.

I don’t know if it is the “your husband called and said you can spend all you want here” signs or the bright, colored fabrics, but I rarely found a sour faced, curmudgeoned quilter. Quilters invest in fabric and pattern stashes with pride. They shop in groves (even bus tours), little two-by-twos, or individually. Quilters are young and old, pop artists and antique traditionalists. We are a wide and varied group, but a happy one.

If we count the cost of how much we spend in quilting, we may not be so happy, but I believe we quilters are happy because we feel fulfillment when we sew…and there’s no price tag for that. We are also happy because quilting generates friends. From the old days of quilting by hand in large circles around a loom (which apparently my great-grandmother and grandma did) to going to classes and working on machines to shopping and sharing pictures and ideas with strangers, quilting is a universal language of love.

Rockin’ Summer Row-by-Row Experience: My Journey Into Sewing & Quilting Part 1

A few months ago, my mother and I signed up for a quilting class at our local quilt shop, Thistlebee. I had no experience sewing, but she did. My mother grew up sewing her own clothes and even made her wedding dress. I, on the other hand, didn’t even own my own machine. I was ambitious and didn’t know it.

On a work trip through Little Switzerland, I found a cute little quilt shop. The owner stood in the doorway on double crutches and said to me, “you’re a fabric artist, baby, I know you’re coming in here”. When I told her my story, she told me hers. She had lost everything, and now she was selling away her personal fabric stash to build a life for herself. When I told her I was planning on taking the quilt class and sharing my mother’s machine, she said, “wait right here, baby”, went home and brought me back a machine.

Charlie's Quilts in Little Switzerland, NC.

Charlie’s Quilts in Little Switzerland, NC.

The 1980s Singer given to me at Charlie's Quilts.

The 1980s Singer given to me at Charlie’s Quilts.

I was blown away by this stranger’s generosity and odd prophetic ability to look at me and see me as an artist with fabric. I accepted her gift, and had it serviced and working good as new before the class began.

Joining the quilt class was a good decision. It was good bonding time for mom and I, and we also made good friends at the shop with the instructors and shop owners. Mary Ellen, the shop owner, helped me figure out fabric measurements for the designs in my head. Pat, our teacher, helped me square up my work and learn to love my seam ripper. I went from not sewing at all to sewing a straight line to reading patterns, learning quilt tools, and designing my own quilts. Thistlebee became my home away from home, and something mom and I looked forward to sharing together.

2015-05-30 12.11.21

Mom working on her quilt while Pat helps square up some other work on the ironing board

Pat teaching us quilting lines

Pat teaching us quilting lines

Mary Ellen at the register looking out into the shop from the classroom.

Mary Ellen at the register looking out into the shop from the classroom.

As class approached its end, I realized I would not get my project done in time (I redesigned the project from the original lap quilt to a full queen quilt). I didn’t want to disappoint, so I designed, pieced, and finished a small tabletop pinwheel quilt instead of the rail fence we had started. This little quilt was a big hit in the class (Pat and Mary Ellen wanted to keep it), and it has since been used to teach math in my classes. When I see it now, I smile. I think about Pat and Mary Ellen and Charlie and mom; all the ladies that opened the door for me to learn how to quilt.

My first quilt (designed and pieced in a couple weeks)

My first quilt (designed and pieced in a couple weeks)