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Girl Meets Quilting World: Quilt Market Fall 2011

“So this is your first Quilt Market?” I can’t tell you how many times I got that question from complete strangers at the International Quilt Market in Houston last month. I found myself constantly wondering How do they know? It’s possible that I put off a distinct greenhorn vibe, but it’s much more likely that people were reading the obvious signs. I was told to wear comfortable shoes; I interpreted this as “wear your plainest three-inch heels.” So teetering around with swollen ankles asking questions like “are you a distributor or a manufacturer?”, breezing obliviously past quilting celebrities, and staring blankly when demonstrators asked about my favorite quilting tools might have given me away. Just maybe.

Yes, it was my first Quilt Market as editor of FaveQuilts.com, and I was not prepared, neither for my obvious inexperience nor for the sheer scope and size of the show. When I told my parents I was flying to Houston for a quilting trade show, my father incredulously asked, “people come from all over the country for this show?” “No, Dad,” I said with an air of condescension, “they come from all over the world.” Little did I realize, the world is a pretty big place when it comes to quilting! I couldn’t help but gasp as I arrived in the press room on October 29th and looked out through giant circular windows at the expansive show floor below. The booths stretched on forever like a small city, and the labyrinthine aisles of the gallery next door ambled across two entire halls of the George R. Brown Convention Center.

View from the Press Room at Quilt Market

View from the Press Room at International Quilt Market

The fall International Quilt Market is a mecca for professional quilters worldwide, hosting nearly 600 exhibitors and thousands more attendees this year. As I began to walk the floor, I was overwhelmed by the number of people and the endless corridors of booths. I couldn’t have visited every single booth if I had been there for an entire week! Many Quilt Market veterans told me that the show felt more subdued than in years past, but I had trouble imagining how there could have been more of a hubbub in the convention center. The large fabric companies seemed to have their desks filled with quilt shop buyers from morning ’til night, and even the smallest booths were constantly buzzing with demonstrations of new gadgets and quilting techniques.

One of the aspects of Quilt Market I had not expected was the breadth of quilting styles and fashions represented on the floor. As I have developed FaveQuilts.com in the past 6 months, I have found the online quilting community remarkably sensitive to fads, almost to its detriment. In contrast, the variety of exhibitors at Quilt Market proved the diversity of the greater quilting community. Companies like Leilani Arts and Royal & Langnickel peddled such unlikely quilting products as novelty yarns and fabric paintbrushes to adventurous art quilters, while small booths like Geoff’s Mom Pattern Co. ensured that beautiful examples of primitive applique maintained a presence amid the abundance of modern quilts.

primitive applique quilt

Primitive applique quilt from Geoff’s Mom Pattern Co.

I had seen many art quilts on the Internet but none in person before attending Quilt Market. After seeing and photographing award-winning quilts myself at the show, I became a quilt evangelist. I insisted that our entire staff peruse my album and bargained with friends and family members about how many quilt photos they would be forced to sit through. In my attempt to convert my entire social circle into quilt lovers, I thoughtfully chose which quilt photos I would show to each person, pinpointing motifs and techniques would capture their artistic sensibilities before they lost interest. I am now convinced that we should all have quilts hanging on our walls instead of paintings!

At Fall Quilt Market, I learned so much about the quilting world and about Market itself. I learned to wear flats, to bring twice as many business cards as I thought I needed, and to surreptitiously infer what a company does before embarrassing myself with the question. I also learned how wide the quilting world is, how creative quilters are, and how beautiful quilts can be. Finally, I feel like I know how to walk into a quilt show prepared, and I can’t wait for Spring Quilt Market. Kansas City, here I come!