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A Quilt Gallery replica birdhouse given to Joan the shop owner from her employees for her birthday. Joan’s longhorn fabric collage seems to perch on the quilt store’s roof.

When one thinks of quilting meccas, I guess Kalispell, Montana, isn’t the first place to spring to mind. However, I am one of a number of quilting teachers who return to this sleepy little western town each year.

The attraction is the Quilt Gallery, owned and operated by Joan Hodgeboom, who runs a first-class fabric store and first-rate teaching venue.

My annual trek to Montana takes place either in late June or early July. This year I only had time in my schedule for one 5-day session. Joan has me committed to two weeks next year. Students come from all over the country. The class size is limited to fifteen, instead of the usual twenty, which is nice for both teacher and student.

Having a fabric store attached to the teaching venue is always fun. It’s always hard to know what fabrics to bring with you. No matter what you choose to pack, the perfect piece of fabric will be left at home. So, we can just pop across the threshold and see what treasures the shop has.

This year the class was made up mostly of first-timers. There were only four returning students, which included Joan, who has for the past few years been joining the class to work on a project of her own.

Take a look at the student work in the following slide show:

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These students certainly seemed to listen to my exhortation that bigger is better in fabric collage. One student blew up her photo of an elephant 950 percent making a seemingly life-sized baby elephant. Another worked on a mandala design with repeated images, which has its own set of challenges. By making their subjects large they gave themselves space to play with the fabric, filling in the shapes of their designs with multiple fabric pieces, the essence of what I teach, which I believe always makes the image richer.

Scroll over the images below for individual captions, click on an image for an enlargement.

I stay with Joan and her husband in their lodge-like home in the mountains. Our morning commute takes us by fields of bright yellow rapeseed (canola) with mountains in the distance. One year I saw a deer bounding through those golden fields. Along the way, it seems that every electric pole has a nest of ospreys on it. On some evenings we stroll their woods where bears have been known to pass.

Joan is an avid rock collector. You can’t go anywhere with her without her noticing rocks. She has a true rock garden with bits of green showing between special stones. We are always sure to stop at Kehoe’s Agate Shop in Bigfork for special specimens. Kehoe’s is a small shop jam-packed with rocks, minerals, fossils, and full-size cave-bear skeleton.

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The people I work with on my teaching trips–the guild representatives, the shop owners, the symposium organizers, the other teachers, and some of my students–these folks aren’t just colleagues, they’re my far-flung friends. Like I did with Joan in Kalispell, whenever and wherever we meet we pick up our acquaintance right where we left off. Our conversations aren’t centered on quilting, but on our families, our pets, our hobbies, our health, and so on.

I’ve had a busy first half of this year–been a lot of places and met a lot of people–and now I’m home to work in my own studio on my own work for a couple months, with mostly local teaching for the rest of the year. I’m very much looking forward to this. I’ve started on my next quilt and have numerous other projects in mind. Some of which you may hear about in future blogs. But I am lucky to have such good friends in so many places across the country and beyond. I look forward to returning to California and Texas and Minnesota and Montana so I can catch up with all my friends. After my summer in Maine.

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