The 40th anniversary of the International Quilt Festival in Houston was a Texas-sized party that incorporated the whole sphere, scope and history of this great craft. I believe this was my fifth or sixth time at Festival, and like many others I spoke with last week, I felt this was definitely the best I’ve been to. I could write a book about Festival (maybe some day I will), but here I just want to share a few observations and some of my favorite photos from this year’s experience.
First off, the fact that Festival was important to Houston was shouted from the rooftops — literally. The city put on a very impressive fireworks show right off the roof of the George R. Brown convention center on Saturday night. This was the second time a Festival anniversary was marked in this way – the last was for the 25th. Those of us attending the Gala on the Green in the park across from the convention center enjoyed good barbecue and a lively band playing danceable oldies — keeping me and my roommate moving and grooving for a full hour after the fireworks. But there was signs and banners advertising Festival ALL over the place, from the airport to the Hyatt hotel.
Quilts Inc. created a gorgeous display of red and white quilts that were made for the occasion, just inside the doors, which was a perfect gateway for the “Ruby Jubilee.” In homage to the amazing display of 651 red and white quilts at the Infinite Variety show in New York’s Park Avenue Armory, they hung the quilts in a column, attached to a special structure fabricated for the occasion.
It’s overwhelming to view, let alone try to describe 2,000 quilts, many of them either masterpieces or heirlooms, as a group. But I think this year I was especially conscious of how skillfully curated the whole production was because of the almost extreme variety of quilts on view. Just about every branch and specialty of quilting was celebrated with abundant, triumphant examples, and that was part of why the 2014 Festival was so thrilling and fulfilling to me. Even the special exhibit of quilts from the book 500 Traditional Quilts was done in this spirit, mixing replicas of famous Baltimore Album and other quilts alongside very contemporary interpretations of traditional patterns. It was like quilts across centuries having a lively conversation within the huge venue.
Here is a detail from a traditional quilt that pulled my nose very close to the cloth:
And there were, of course, hundreds of stunning contemporary and art quilts, like this one by Hollis Chatelain (you gotta love how the ribbon it won matches it so perfectly):
Possibly the single most breathtaking quilt at Houston was the Tristan Boutis, a reproduction of a famous quilted bedcover made in Sicily in the 14th century. This is the oldest existing quilted bedcover on the planet, I’ve heard, and this replica has never been in the U.S. before. It took more than 40 French women about 7,000 to make it, and it was beautifully displayed.
For me and most quilters, Festival isn’t just about the quilts themselves, but about the stories behind the quilts, and the relationships between quilters. I was especially drawn to two stories at Quilt Festival this year about groups. I’ll be sharing one of them in the November issue of Quilt Journalist Tells All, but I wanted to talk about the exhibit of 150 quilts depicting Beatles songs. Donna Marcinkowksi DeSoto of Fairfax, Virginia had no idea when she proposed a Beatles challenge that it would be so big, never mind wind up at Festival and be the subject of a book. What I loved about this exuberant exhibit is that the quality of the quilts varied so widely, but they worked well as a group. Frankly, after seeing so many masterpiece quilts, it was refreshing and inspiring to see some that were more humble. Here is one of my faves of the artistically expert, by Lesly-Claire Greenberg. (These quilts will tour for a year: go here for details.)
One of the other joys of Festival is checking out the marketplace, buying fabric and notions you will NEVER find in your local shop — like the Japanese fabrics I bought from some lovely ladies who live in Hawaii and don’t have either a bricks-and-mortar store or a web store. This is also a great place to preview the latest hardware, including the major models of sewing machines. Clearly, the long arm business in particular continues to grow, and it was interesting to see Bernina’s brand new, first ever long arm going toe-to-toe at Festival with Handi Quilter’s biggest ever machine, the Infinity, with a 26-inch throat.
Finally, Quilt Festival is one long reunion, where the sisterhood of quilters celebrates old bonds and forges new ones. I had a great time getting to know my FB friend Laurie Russman, a Connecticut quilter, better. We shared a room at Festival and we both had a chance to volunteer our time in the booth of the nonprofit Quilt Alliance.
I also got to catch up with old friends and acquaintances, like Jenny Doan of the Missouri Star Quilt Company. She and her kids have turned that company into the biggest seller of precuts in the country and built a business so successful it’s been covered by both the NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. But I met her and her daughter Sarah at Quilt Market in 2008, just before they opened their doors.
Here’s to quilts and quilters, and here’s to Quilts Inc. for building our customized Paradise. May you have many, many, many more anniversaries!