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Dutchland Quilt Patch & Weaver's Dry Goods --- A Triple Treat for Quilters

 

Hundreds of quilts, thousands of bolts of fabric, three stores, and seven children. If that's not a Lancaster County business, what is? Lloyd Esh directs the operations of the family's three shops --- Dutchland Quilt Patch in Ronks and its sister store at the Stagecoach Shops in Intercourse, and the more recently acquired Weaver's Dry Goods just north of Lititz. But back in the 1970's, running one of the county's major quilting enterprises was the last thing Lloyd could have imagined he'd be doing.

When they got married, Lloyd's wife, Mary Ellen, had been doing some quilting and putting the quilts on consignment at other shops. She had learned to quilt from her mother (who is still involved in the business). The question logically arose, "Why don't we open a shop of our own?" But before that question could be answered, they both went on a mission trip to Haiti in 1979, and stayed there for about two and a half years. Just before their departure, they heard that some buildings beside Dutch Haven on Route 30 had become available.

Upon returning to the States, Lloyd went to look at the property. Even though it was run down, he felt it was a good location for a shop. Since he had some construction background, he decided it was best to tear everything down and built a new store himself. Thus, in 1993, their small shop of quilts and quilt related items opened in the Village of Dutch Delights in Ronks, just about a mile east of Rockvale Outlets and Route 896. Crafts and baskets were part of the mix from the beginning, and this expanded into an extensive collection of country decor and home interior decorating items to supplement the quilts.

Lloyd had originally considered making his living in construction, and was also pursuing a real estate license. However, it became evident that running the quilting business was becoming a full-time job, rather than just a side business. That became even more apparent when they bought a second shop in 1995 on Main Street in Intercourse, part of the Stagecoach Shops complex on Route 340.

Because of all the quilts being made, they had lots of fabric around, and customers often wanted specific fabric to make something else to complement the quilt they had bought. And so, in 1997, the fabric section was opened on the second floor of the original store. As the fabric business grew, aided to no small degree by sales over their website, they decided to purchase Weaver's Dry Goods in Lititz in 2002. And that's how this business grew into a triple treat for quilt seekers and quilt makers.

Today, the whole family is involved in the operations. Lloyd's wife goes to craft shows to pick items for sale, pursue new product, and see what colors and trends are coming along. The day I stopped by the Route 30 location, one of the seven children, Tyler, was behind the counter. Lloyd’s daughter, Annie, does some of the decorating. And Lloyd's mother-in-law is still involved in the business, along with about 14 other employees at the three locations.

Lloyd points out that all of the quilts sold are made by Amish and Mennonite quilters. There may be as many as 80 women working on quilts for the shop. The basic stages of making a quilt are piecing, marking, quilting, and binding. Various women may be involved in the different stages, but Lloyd said it is important that one person do the actual quilting, or perhaps a mother and daughter, so that there is consistency. This allows these women to keep their tradition of working at home, while helping to support their families. Picking the right colors to match and blend is perhaps the most difficult task. The Esh family may suggest colors based on what they've seen at shows, but mostly women will piece a top and bring it in. It would then be sent out to be quilted.

Of course, the value of an American-made quilt, as opposed to an import, will increase over time, if properly cared for. Prices range from $400 to $1,600, depending on size, amount of work, uniqueness, etc. In most cases, the quilting price is based largely on how many yards of thread are used. The person doing the piecing tries to judge the cost of her work based on the time involved. The binding is yet another expense. Lloyd noted they do have some one-of-a-kind specialty quilts, which are therefore of more value.

If you want a cheap machine-made quilt, you can go to one of the "box stores." But to find a quilt that you will cherish and hand down as a family heirloom requires an investment of time and money. Some visitors enjoy buying a small wall-hanging or baby quilt, rather than a full-sized one. Lloyd said they are happy to personalize a baby quilt by embroidering the child's name and birth date on an existing quilt in the shop.

As fashions change, so do the colors and patterns that are in demand. At craft shows, items they see in January will be in the stores by the fall. Since Lancaster is somewhat conservative, it may still take another year or so for the trend to catch on. Most visitors know that stars are currently popular, be they the metal stars hung on buildings, or the "star spin" or spinning star pattern in quilts. This pattern seems to bridge the gap between country and contemporary fashions.

They are also happy to do custom quilts. I asked Lloyd for an example, and he said "T-shirt quilts" are popular now. About five years ago, a lady came into the shop with a box of T-shirts. Her husband had passed away, and she wanted each child to have a lap quilt made of pieces of the shirts. Another lady brought in lots of shirts with the logos of various sports teams and asked them to create a full-sized quilt in a crazy-quilt pattern. In this way, items that belonged to a family member and have significance can be turned into an heirloom, rather than be discarded or given away. So, as people come in with items they want to preserve, they talk over what they want to dominate the quilt, what pattern, etc. and thus create something of special, personal value for generations to come.

Many quilters who visit Lancaster County are sure to make a stop at the Route 30 and Lititz stores. At the Dutchland Quilt Patch on Route 30 is just a couple miles east of Route 896 and Rockvale Outlets. The fabric section upstairs has over 7,000 bolts of fabric. There is also a discount fabric area, as well as a large pattern selection. For more information, call Dutchland Quilt Patch - (717) 687-0534.

At Weaver's Dry Goods north of Lititz on West Brubaker Valley Road off Route 501, they have a shed bursting with thousands of bolts of discounted fabric, from $1.00 to $3.50 a yard on up. Fabrics by Moda are as low as $4.99 a yard, and Hoffman batiks go for as little as $5.25 a yard. Other fabrics include South Seas, Benartex, P&B, RJR, Concord, and many more.

Weaver's also has a tremendous selection of notions, "just about everything there is," as well as what may be the largest selection of quilting and craft patterns of any store in the area. In addition, Weaver's is in a lovely country setting with a very helpful staff to help you find what you are looking for. Lloyd summarized Weaver's Fry Goods best when he said, "Quilters go crazy up there." Indeed, during the days of the famous Quilters Heritage Celebration, Weaver's will be busy with cars and buses filled with fabric seekers, and there are extended hours during the event days. For more information, call Weaver's Dry Goods - (717) 627-1724.

(NOTE: The Stagecoach Shop location in Intercourse is devoted to just quilts and crafts. Fabrics are available at the other two locations.)

But there is still more to this quilting operation. The website www.dutchlandquilts.com has been around for about seven years, but has been most active since 2001. At that time, the website was brought in-house. This keeps the fabrics available current, and permits quick updating for out of stock or discontinued items. While the website was originally started to sell fabric, hundreds of other products are now available. Log on and you'll be amazed at the variety, from fabrics and quilt patterns, dolls and handbags, kitchen decor and baskets, to quilts and braided rugs. Customers are buying from literally all over the world, including Europe and Africa.

Whether you are in Lancaster looking for a quilt and fabrics, or far away surfing the internet for patterns and designs, the Lloyd Esh family welcomes you to explore a passion they grew up with and now share with the world --- the Dutchland Quilt Patch.

---Brad Igou (Spring, 2007)

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