Celtic Quilt Tours

storyTravelers who find an Irish Chain or a Belfast Patchwork as enticing as the Book of Kells or Culloden Moor are lining up for Celtic Quilt Tours

A young company founded by a couple of adventure-loving quilters, Celtic Quilt Tours treks a wee bit differently. Travelers see the Blarney Stone and enjoy the pub experience, but the tour is interspersed with stops at fabric shops and traditional and modern quilting demonstrations and exhibits.

Debbi Cagney of Houston, Texas, was on a quilt tour of Ireland when she began counting ways the experience could be enhanced. She approached her friend Kim Caskey of Edmonton, Alberta, who has been quilting for more than 20 years, and the pair opted to put together their own tours.

“We wanted to offer travelers a true quilt experience, including meeting authentic Irish quilters and visiting local shops,” says Cagney, a life-long sewing and crafts enthusiast. “We reached out to friends in the Irish quilting community and were welcomed with open arms.”

Together, the pair organized a pilot tour that included a “quilt shop-hop” and quilt classes with international instructors, tied-in with traditional sight-seeing opportunities. The debut was a success, and this year they are expanding their options with tours of Ireland, Scotland and France.

“Quilting has come a long way from the utilitarian quilts made in the early days. Quilters are a diverse group – traditional, modern, art quilter, women and men from a variety of backgrounds, all with a passion to express themselves in the art of quilting.”

And while quilting continues to be a much-loved pastime, it is increasingly regarded as an authentic art form.

“With the availability of quality fabrics, specialty shops and quilt guilds, quilters are sharing and exchanging ideas, taking lessons and exploring their own creative and artistic sides like never before,” explains Cagney.

She says the internet and social media have led to the formation of international quilting groups working together on global, collaborative projects, contributing to dramatic growth in the quilting community.

Most touring quilters come from the United States and Canada, though they have been joined by Mexican, Irish and Scottish quilters. The level of expertise covers the range from fledgling beginner to accomplished and award-winning quilter.

“We limit our tours to one coach per 45 travelers,” shares Cagney. “This allows everyone to get to know each other. All you need is a love of travel, an interest in meeting new people, and a willingness to have fun.”

Because it is a small company, Cagney and Caskey have direct contact with their travelers, via telephone or e-mail, in advance of the trip.

“We stay in touch with everyone each month prior to travel with a newsletter, keeping them up to date with details of their tour. We introduce the special quilters we will meet, the quilt shops we will visit, and historical information on the stops we will explore.”

Over time, friendships have been formed with other quilters around the world.

“One special friendship is with Ann Hill, a prolific quilter in Scotland, well known for her work with Alzheimer Scotland. Ann joined us in Ireland in 2014 as a guest speaker at our International Gathering of the Guilds. Following her presentation, she asked when we were coming to Scotland.”

As a result of that invitation, Celtic Quilt Tours will be conducting the first-ever quilt tour of Scotland this coming September.

At Quilt Canada 2016, Celtic Quilt Tours will host the first International Gathering of the Guilds in North America in Toronto on June 17. As in Ireland last year, quilters from around the world are expected. Paula Rafferty of Limerick will be a guest speaker, and there will also be a Show and Share quilt parade – a highlight of previous gatherings.

Other events planned for 2016 include a Quilt Shop and Textile Tour of Ireland, June 4-16; Kilts and Quilts Textile Tour to Scotland with Patience Griffin (author of the Kilts and Quilts book series) September 19-October 1; and Alsace France and the European Patchwork Meeting, September 12-19.