By EMOKE BEBIAK
COLUMBIA — Buses filed in and out of Bernadette Square last weekend carrying mostly out-of-state visitors.
They came to Columbia for one reason: to spend an hour and a half shopping at the Appletree Quilting Center.
The store was one of 12 participating venues in the Third Annual Strip and Stitch Bus Hop. Eleven busloads of quilters traveled from their “home” store to 11 other stores in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota. A total of 313 avid quilters traveled close to 1,300 miles — all in the name of happy stitching.
Millie Kaiser, owner of Appletree Quilting Center, was excited to be invited to the bus hop for the first time this year.
“Hopefully a lot of people are having fun, shopping, adding to their stashes and getting new ideas,” Kaiser said.
The bus tour is a good way to pick up new ideas and nurture the quilters’ creativity because every quilt store has its own specialty with different samples, she said.
One of the most popular items at the Appletree Quilting Center was the new purple collection the store received two days before the bus hop, which Kaiser decided to put in the store window. The samples were so catchy that five out of the 23 bus riders from the Pine Needles Sewing Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, bought some of them.
“It’s lavender, and purples and browns, and those are my favorite colors right now,” said Kristine Blackford of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Purple has been my favorite color all my life. See my stash?”
While Blackford usually gives away her quilts, she planned to use the new fabric to make a lap quilt for her own home this time.
“And since it’s purples, I know my husband is not going to steal it away from me!” Blackford said.
Deb Moeller, another quilter from the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area, was the bus mother for the group organized by the Pine Needles Sewing Center there. She has worked as service technician for five years. Moeller’s job was to keep on track the group of 23 women.
“We’re just having a ball of fun!” Moeller said. “The bus driver doesn’t quilt. We’re trying to get him in on it.”
The quilters spent their time on the bus reading, doing hand sewing, quilting or napping. They also swapped ideas and quilting tips with each other.
“It’s fun for [the quilters] because they get outside of their home backyards, the store in their own town, and get to see some of the other stores and what’s out there,” Kaiser said.
The bus hop invigorated business for the Appletree Quilting Center, bringing in 300 visitors over three days, while the store gets 20-50 customers on most Saturdays.
However, the tour also means a lot of extra work for the employees. The store was open 9:30 a.m. to about 9 p.m. on all three days, instead of the normal hours. Kaiser also made sure to provide refreshments to every group. On Friday night, her husband prepared a full meal for dinner with slow-cooked barbecue and homemade potato salad.
“Quilters are such a jolly old bunch,” she said.