East Dakota Quilter


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Exploring Quilt Shops Near Madison, Wisconsin

I had a fantastic weekend. My boyfriend and I decided to get out of the city. Since we didn’t want to spend the whole weekend driving, we settled on nearby Madison, Wisconsin. Most of our weekend activities don’t really relate to this blog: we ate at cute restaurants, went to a museum, walked through the capitol building and the university arboretum, etc. But I did squeeze in a few minutes at two of Madison’s fabric stores: the Sewcial Lounge and Mill House Quilts.

Madison_Medley by EastDakotaQuilter

I regularly check the blog In Color Order. The blog’s author teaches classes at the Sewcial Lounge, which is how I heard of the store. I was excited to visit a store specializing in modern fabrics. In fact, the shop doesn’t bother with any non-modern prints! It was nice not to sort through “filler fabrics.” I expected the store to contain a lot of fabrics with a small sewing space, but quite a large portion of the space was a dedicated sewing area/lounge. The small shop was bustling when I went in, so it seems I was not the only one who appreciated the fun colors! I especially liked a print with small houses and cats (which I thought they were foxes at first). I’m kicking myself for not getting at least a small piece since it’s not on their website and I haven’t been able to identify the fabric with Google since returning home. This might warrant a phone call at some point…

Comparatively, Mill House Quilts is enormous. I don’t know why I don’t remember seeing them at the Quilt Expo last September. Maybe their booth was so full of people that I decided not to stop, or maybe the fabric selection was so wide that I felt overwhelmed. Maybe I got distracted by coffee… In any case, I see the sign every time I drive from Chicago to visit my parents in South Dakota, only I don’t want to make the ten-and-a-half hour drive take longer than necessary. I was glad for a chance to stop without cutting into family time.

mill house snowman

The store was frankly even better than I’d expected. Again, I was expecting some kind of megastore the size of a warehouse. It wasn’t that. But it was still the biggest fabric store I’ve seen that wasn’t a Joann’s, and I would have been happy to receive as a gift almost any fabric in that store. There were dedicated areas for civil war prints, modern fabrics, batiks, etc. There was a whole room full of sale fabrics. I think the best part, though, was the variety of quilts hanging from the rafters of the store. There were many styles, many colors, and it SO made me want to go home and start a new project! I took a brochure with me and was a little awed by the large number of classes. I only wish I lived closer (and didn’t spend 3 hours a day in commuter traffic already) so I could attend some of them!

DMC floss at MillHouseQuilts by EastDakotaQuilter

modern brights at MillHouseQuilts by EastDakotaQuilter

MillHouseQuilts sample by EastDakotaQuilter

MillHouseQuilts civil war section by EastDakotaQuilter

EastDakotaQuilter purchases at MillHouseQuilts

Okay, so I broke down and bought a few red and white fabrics for an idea that’s been percolating–even though I’m not finished with the myriad other projects I’ve started. That’s me standing outside the store with my purchases!


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Sampler Quilt Progress

The official verdict is that a quilt is not properly called a Dear Jane quilt if it uses my method. Some creative license is permitted, so I won’t attempt to define what does qualify as a Dear Jane, but my design does not. Thanks to a recent trip to the Madison Quilt Expo, however, I figured out the appropriate classification for my quilt: a Sampler Quilt. This seems especially appropriate given my decision to quilt-as-I-go.

Most of the colored pieces for the front of my Sampler Quilt are cut. The exceptions are some square-in-square pieces and other oddballs. I pinned some tips in Pinterest and will get around to them when I have more patience. For now, I’m too excited to get started to do any more math!

The white pieces still need to be cut, but there are SO MANY of them! I don’t really like cutting, and I definitely get bored with the sewing. I like quilting because I love the designing part and then seeing how the pieces and colors come together. (I have about three other quilts designed right now and am in various stages of purchase for those projects.) Since I don’t have time to commute home between work hours and a late-night video conference tonight, I decided to do some “quilting” from the office. It consisted of listing out all the white pieces I need to cut and breaking them into size categories. Compulsive organization? Maybe. I have several dozen spreadsheets or printouts for any given project.

Since I will have a visitor over the weekend, I doubt I’ll have much progress to show next week. My attentions are also being diverted into a handful of other projects. I can’t believe how long I’ve already been working on this one! …especially given how little I have accomplished. No matter. It’s the process that is the fun part, anyway.


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Quilt Expo – Madison, Wisconsin

A month or so ago, I received a spam message in my work inbox that was forwarded from a legal organization I belong to. The solicitation related to a quilt expo in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s probably the only spam message I’ve ever appreciated.

I thought about the message for a long time. Given how short a time I’ve been making quilts and the limit of my skill so far, it seemed like a bit of a stretch that I’d need to attend a quilt expo to get ideas. Not to mention the fact that I just started a project that could easily take me 10 years to complete. I discarded all these arguments because Madison sounded like a really nice city to visit for a quick overnight trip. Entrance wasn’t expensive, and since I work in the suburbs an hour and a half from my Chicago apartment, I reasoned I’d already be almost halfway if I left from the office Friday afternoon. I really just wanted to see what colors and patterns other people use–beyond an internet search, which has been my only experience so far–and this seemed like a fun opportunity to do so.

I felt a little out of sorts when I arrived. Everyone else came with at least one other person. I didn’t know where to begin, and I didn’t have an expert with me to consult (or even someone whose presence would force me to pretend I knew what I was doing). Luckily, the quilt contest exhibit was right by the front entrance. I decided to start there.

WOW! I saw hand quilting, machine quilting, appliqué–you name it! And these weren’t lazy quilters like I am. My favorite was a quilt that won third place in its category, Dreaming in Color by Dorinda Evans of Madison, Wisconsin:

I also loved this border on a quilt called Tangerine Rose by Lynn Droege of Overland Park, Kansas:

This quilt (Geisha Fans by Barbara Fuller of Baraboo, Wisconsin) mixed quarter Dresden blocks with normal, square blocks, which I thought was interesting:

This quilt, Chicken Soup by Sheila Hixon of Lakewood, Wisconsin, made me laugh more loudly than was appropriate at the expo:

Another of my favorites was an embroidered-block quilt called Barns of Wisconsin by Sue Brooks of North Freedom, Wisconsin:

Here are some close-ups of the detail in her quilt:

I bought some embroidery patterns from a vendor that are in a similar style. My plan is to review the templates and use them as a stylistic framework to create my own patterns of barns and farmhouses that were part of my childhood. This was based on the success of my first-ever embroidery project, which I began in my hotel room the night before the expo. When could someone ever be more excited about quilting than the night before a quilt expo?! But I didn’t want to lug my sewing machine with me, so I needed a more mobile project that would expend my extra creative energy. There’s a block of my newest quilt that had a letter “B” on the layout I drew. I figured if I gave the quilt as a gift, that would be a great place to embroider the couple’s name, and since my boyfriend’s last name starts with B and most of his siblings are unmarried, they seemed like likely candidates. Then I got more realistic and thought how hard it would be to part with a quilt after making dozens of personalized blocks. So I picked a pattern I liked for myself instead, Sarah Jane Studio‘s October–which matches the autumn theme of my quilt colors.

After I finished looking at the contest exhibit, I had just enough time for coffee before I went to Nancy Zieman’s class: Nancy’s 30 Favorite Sewing & Quilting Techniques. My mom learned how to sew by watching PBS’s Sewing with Nancy, so I had all the giddiness of someone about to meet a favorite celebrity.

And she was funny! Some of my favorite moments:

Nancy commented on the course title. She said, “Some of these tips are better than others. With 30, they won’t all be winners!”

Nancy said her favorite method of organizing projects is to roll the pieces of fabric into a large towel so they don’t get crease marks. An audience member jokingly asked, “How many towels do you have, Nancy?” Nancy responded, “Only *I* know that!”

At the end of the presentation, I even helped take down the quilt that was a backdrop for her presentation! That’s right: I touched a quilt Nancy sewed! Haha. She was gracious enough to take a photo with me before I left, too.

After class, I walked up and down the rows of stalls. I saw lots of cool things and eavesdropped on more than a handful of conversations. I overheard one lady say to her friend, “There’s a light-up quilt. I guess that’s the new thing this year.” I thought to myself, “Yikes! I don’t even know what the old thing is!”

I need to learn how to use wool and felted wool. There was lots of it, and it was so pretty!

My favorite booth was for a store called Primitive Gatherings. They had such a fantastically gorgeous selection of fabrics. When I walked past on the way to Nancy’s class, I stopped a few seconds to grab a business card (well, slip of paper) and drink in the colors. Afterward, I was surprised there was a line just to get into the booth! A lady walking by said, “That makes sense. It’s all in the name.” Apparently, this place is famous. I bought a bunch of fabrics for the back side of my Dear Jane quilt. Since I’m thinking of doing quilt-as-you-go, I could make each square a different fabric. They’re so pretty, maybe I’ll even use that side as the front!

I was disappointed when the $60 I spent didn’t get me one of their printed bags. This is actually very stupid. I mean, I have a ton of printed bags. I usually avoid getting more because I don’t want to store them. But the salesperson told another woman she had to carry the bag with the logo out, and then I unconsciously waited for him to tell me the same thing when I made my purchase. (I was browsing when the other woman checked out.) No luck! Like I said, I shouldn’t have been disappointed because I don’t really need another bag. And with as popular as they are, it would’ve been impractical for them to print bags for every customer, regardless how little each spent. I get it.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the booth itself. I asked if I could take a photo and was told I couldn’t. But it was the absolute nicest way to be turned down. The salesguy looked a little uncomfortable when I asked, frowned a little. “It’s okay if I can’t,” I said. “I understand you’d want to protect your brand image.” He looked relieved. “Sorry,” he said. “Boss’ orders.” He could’ve just said no. Instead, he looked like he wanted to say yes and was struggling because he couldn’t. I don’t care if he was the boss and it was his own decision, it was nice of him to humor me like that! And I really can’t fault anyone for wanting to control their own branding. What I do have a photo of is the fabric I purchased from them:

Shopped out, I went to the extension part of the quilt exhibit to look around. Again, the quilts were a lot more elaborate than anything I could (or would choose to) make with my old, very plain sewing machine. Here were some highlights:

Not A Farmer’s Wife by Carolyn Vogel

Goodnight Sweetheart by Jean Lohmar

I left fairly early. I was glad not to have to wait around for an expo partner and congratulated myself for having decided to go alone, after all.

The weather was fantastic. I thought about driving straight home, but I didn’t want to waste such beautiful daylight hours. Instead, I drove to the capitol building in Madison and sat outside on a bench, working at my embroidery piece:

I had a great day and am glad I went to the expo. In the end, I think the target audience is people who are much more into quilting and batik fabrics than I am, but it was still a nice way to see a wide variety of fabrics all at once. Would I consider going again? I really don’t know. But I couldn’t have asked for a better first quilt expo experience!