Quilting in the Canadian Rockies
Have you thought about a retreat to the mountains? Maybe it’s time.
Snowcapped mountain peaks encircle the bustling town of Canmore, an hour’s drive west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The majestic beauty of the Rockies takes center stage, inspiring artists, quilters and those who create to reach for a higher standard in their crafts. There is an atmosphere in town that is palpable—an indescribable buzz of energy, excitement and creativity.
Leah & Dean Murphy
At the hub of all this creativity is The Sugar Pine Company, an enduring quilt shop that serves the residents of the greater Bow Valley. Shop owners Leah and Dean Murphy both exude a confident air, which comes from many years of running a thriving, successful quilting, sewing and knitting business. So many of Alberta’s local quilt shops have come and gone, but The Sugar Pine Company remains.
Real estate professionals never underestimate the importance of “location, location, location.” The same may be said for the local quilt shop. Part of The Sugar Pine Company’s tremendous success can be attributed to its spectacular location. Canmore is a short 15-minute drive away from one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, the Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest national park.
Leah and Dean’s shop serves as a landing place for traveling quilters from other parts of Canada, the United States and South America. Dean says, “We even have yearly return visitors from the U.K. and across Europe.” American quilters, in particular, often find their way to Canmore on summer vacation and other major holidays like Presidents Day and Thanksgiving.
Scenery aside, Leah’s charming fabric vignettes keep visitors returning year after year. She is tremendously talented and has a flair for color, design and display. As one of Leah’s employees gushed, “We all stand back and admire what Leah can do with fabrics— she is a natural.”
Claire Bank was Leah’s mother. An accomplished and skilled seamstress, Claire led her hardworking and enthusiastic daughter down the path of learning first how to sew, then to quilt and then how to become an entrepreneur.
In this time of online purchasing, The Sugar Pine Company offers its customers a variety of items from their website, but Leah’s focus is centered on maintaining the brick–and-mortar presence. She is adamant that “retail is secondary to relationships.” Leah and Dean are both kind, humble souls who wish not only to meet the needs of their quilters, but also to get to know them on a personal level.
The quilting community in the Canadian Rockies is strongly connected through its love of nature. Hiking the mountain paths high above the town, living with wildlife as your constant companions, and adapting to the changing
of Mother Nature provides a fertile breeding ground for the creative soul.
Jillian Roulet, incoming president of the Mountain Cabin Quilters Guild (MCQG), is an artist and a former Parks Canada employee who also happens to quilt. Each abstract piece she creates is unique and, as Jillian puts it, “is inspired by color and by nature.” She embraces her natural surroundings; her senses overflow with inspiration from the smallest of things—wildflowers, birds and lichen. Green Orb is a quilt by Jillian that uses a technique called soy wax resist. “I like intense, contrasting colors, and I like a circle shape,” she says. Jillian gives prominence to the circles and lines on her piece with embroidery thread.
Alluvial Slice is another one of Jillian’s art quilts, made to mimic the erosion of river banks in the backcountry after the devastating 2013 flood, which was felt provincially along the banks of the Bow River. Jillian explains, “The ability of the tree roots to find a path through all that rock fascinated and impressed me.”
As one may guess, Canmore is home to a vibrant, thriving and dynamic art quilt community. Annually, the MCQG presents an exhibit of original art quilts. This year’s theme, Canada—my Home, was in honor of Canada’s sesquicentennial, that is, the 150th anniversary of its confederation.
Diana Petrik’s stunning entry Spiral Galaxy is a depiction of her interpretation of nature’s great art. Inspired by Hubble telescope photographs, Diana used a technique popularized by Japanese artist Noriko Endo. Diana explains, “Small pieces of fabric (like confetti) are stuck on the background of batting and held in place by black tulle and free-motion quilting.” Although the result of her work is breathtaking, Diana says, “the technique is really rather simple.”
Charity in the Bow Valley is alive and well. An unconventional entry in the 2017 exhibit was a sample “touch quilt” crafted by Jorie Adams, a little fabric creation that can change the lives of patients living with dementia. Touch quilts are stimulation tools—a way to keep restless hands busy twisting, turning and pulling the fabrics, buttons and bows. Dr. Sharon Moore, a Canmore resident, has been researching the effect that touch quilts have on Alzheimer patients and her work is continuing. Guild members have lovingly created and donated many touch quilts to long-term care facilities
in the region, making a difference in the lives of the elderly.
It’s apparent that no matter where one resides—canada, the United States or elsewhere—we all find creativity and inspiration in people we know, from the places we live and visit, and from things from our environment. From the stunning beauty, majesty and wonder of our natural surroundings to the kindness, concern and humility we experience in human nature, our universal goal is to capture that flicker of amazement and to re-create it in our work, our quilts. Author’s note: The above photo is of one of my quilts, Carina, photographed in Kananaskis country. Carina was featured on the cover of Annie’s More Quick & Easy Quilts for Kids, published earlier this year. —Kim Hanson
Leah and Dean Murphy stand on the upper, outside deck of their quilt shop, The Sugar Pine Company, located in Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
Leah Murphy’s whimsical fabric designs in The Sugar Pine Company quilt shop are charming.
Inspiring, year-round Christmas fabric and pattern displays are found in The Sugar Pine Company quilt shop.
Green Orb by Jillian Roulet.
A young deer helps itself to breakfast on a resident’s lawn in Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
Bow Valley quilter Jennifer May’s quilt named Second Chances is photographed along the Bow River in the town of Canmore, Alberta, Canada. This quilt began as a “one-block wonder” but morphed into something beautiful and different.
Alluvial Slice by Jillian Roulet.
Mountain Sights is a quilt made for display at The Sugar Pine Company by Diane Mcgregor of Castilleja Cotton.
Spiral Galaxy by Diana Petrik.
Carina by Kim Hanson.
Touch Quilt by Jorie Adams.