(Elkhart, IN ) — (Updated post 5/18/2017) This is the time of year when summer travel plans are being made with the happy anticipation of simply going somewhere else for awhile. In my growing up years, the signal was a few dropped comments between my parents at dinner, AAA roadmaps appearing on the dining room table or left casually about on the living room sofa. My mom, a 4th grade teacher, liked to combine family vacation with research material for upcoming classroom lessons. (She was intrigued with the story of the woman who cooked a pot roast on the engine manifold as they drove down the interstate. Apparently the home cooked flavor wafted down the highway for miles!)

We picnicked at what my dad would call, “beauty spots.” Small town parks in the 60’s were shady, in a good leafy sort of way, not places people worried about losing their things or virtue. We got up early and put down miles and stopped mid morning for full hot breakfast of bacon and eggs, milk and toast. After evening check-in at the Holiday Inn, we went to a nearby park for dinner. The route our parents planned maximized educational and scenic value. The underlying message was; this is your country, go see it.

So you can imagine my delight when I came across a combination heritage cultural trail and Quilt Gardens Tour complete with quilt exhibits in northern Indiana! It fits all the criteria set forth by my road tripping parents–educational, scenic and fun! The entire community in Elkhart County, Indiana is involved in this endeavor that is headed up by the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Businesses, municipal departments, 4-H groups, the county courthouse, local museums all sponsor gardens; local master gardeners and horticulturalists help sponsors plan the with the long growing season and the best assortment of flowers that will look ‘tip top’ throughout the summer in mind.

The sheer numbers will make you swoon. 150,000 annuals are planted into 20+ giant quilt block gardens that range in size from 800 to 3200 square feet.  The typical size is 30’ by 30’. This county wide community project that started with two pilot gardens in 2006, has quickly grown in popularity and size and is credited with bringing in $273 million dollars into the Elkhart County economy. More than 200 volunteers plant and maintain the gardens from May 30 through October 1st contributing 2000 hours over a nine month timeframe. In addition to the quilt block gardens, their are 21 painted quilt murals ranging in size from 129 square feet to 448 square feet.

10th Anniversary in Summer 2017

The 10th anniversary of the popular Quilt Gardens will feature two new sites, a new Quilt Mural and one of the largest-ever exhibitions of Seward Johnson bronze sculptures outside of the artist’s personal retrospective. The Quilt Gardens, which are free to the public, open officially May 30, 2017, and close Oct. 1, 2017. This year, this one-of-a-kind exhibit will be accompanied by something else unprecedented — 56 life-size bronze sculptures by noted American artist Seward Johnson throughout the downtowns of Elkhart, Goshen, Nappanee, Middlebury, Bristol and Wakarusa. The sculpture exhibit will be topped off by a monumental, 25-foot-tall sculpture that will tower over downtown Elkhart’s Central Park. The new Quilt Gardens sites will be at Wellfield Botanic Gardens in Elkhart and at The Barn Door in Middlebury. Wellfield Botanic Gardens is returning as a Quilt Gardens site after a hiatus of five years, while The Barn Door is a recently opened shop featuring antique, vintage and re-purposed furniture and household items. In addition to the 19 Quilt Gardens, there will be 22 Quilt Murals returning on display, including a new mural at the Elkhart Public Library.

Barn Quilt Trails

If you are a country roads kind of traveler you’ll love the Barn Quilt Trails.  Not be outdone by the extraordinary Quilt Gardens Tour, there are two Barn Quilt Trails in nearby counties that boast over 87 barn quilts! LaGrange County and Marshall County each have maps with clearly labelled driving directions. And places to stop for lunch, coffee and shopping. The Art and Earth Trail presents a wider view of Northern Indiana’s historic and arts offerings. There are seven loops with countless options of things to do and see but since we’re focusing on fiber arts, I’d like to make a mention of an interesting art center with a very noble mission. MoonTree Studios, a ministry started by a group of nuns, “challenges people to experience mindfulness as they fearlessly explore the interconnectedness of art, nature and the Spirit within.” There are 39 artists/facilitators at MoonTree who teach experiences (rather than classes). The art experience schedule is loaded with fiber arts such as weaving, crochet, spinning, needle felting, art journaling, felt making, doll making and ploymer clay. Over the past twenty years they have taken a dilapidated old barn, repurposed the wood and added structures to make an art center.

I’m beginning to think northern Indiana is ‘Quilt Central’ because of all the activities happening this summer (and pretty much all year round). At the end of June, the 2014 Shipshewana Quilt Festival kicks off for four days. It runs from June 25-28 with a calendar full of workshops, a marketplace and a huge 200 quilt exhibit.

I hope this story has provided you with some options for summer fiber arts road trips. This is your country, go see it!

Updated Links List (May 18, 2017):