QuiltCon 2015: So Many Kinds of Bliss


images     My feet are touching the ground once again, but I swear that didn’t happen for the first couple of days after I came home from QuiltCon in Austin. For those who don’t know, this is a quilt show put on by the Modern Quilt Guild, which represents the “youth quake” going on in quilting today. This national Mod movement is full of sass, style and energy, and it is bringing more than a new look to the craft: I know I’m not the only person who has been quilting many years who feels rejuvenated, even thrilled, to be making quilts in this moment. Even though most of the quilts I make don’t follow the Mod aesthetic. 



     Even though I could only come for two days, the thrills of attending QuiltCon were multiple and intense. The quality of the quilts took a leap forward in sophistication and workmanship from the first QuiltCon two years ago. While there were still many geometric shapes and solid colors, the designs were more complex, the artistry more profound. Alissa Haight Carlton, co-founder of the Modern Quilt Guild, told me that 80% of the quilts in this year’s show were made by people who didn’t enter last time: I think settled mod quilters are more confident about pushing outside the box, and quilters from other traditions are feeling welcome. After all, the Best of Show quilt was made by Kathy York, who self-identifies as an art quilter. I started with the image above because there were a good number of portrait quilts this year, everything from the Mona Lisa (pixilated) and Conan O’Brien to this awesome “Holy Sh#t, Sherlock” portrait of Benedict Cumberbatch. 


2nd place mod traditionalism, Amy Struckmyer



     Naturally, I can only show a tiny share of the 359 quilts in the show. But you can understand why this next one sang to me: (note: names of all quilts and quilters not previously listed are at the end of this post.)



The meet-and-greet opportunities were epic. The first photo is Cheryl Arkison, a Canadian quilter whose style I’ve long admired. Below that, I’m with Kristy Daum, maker of the Sherlock quilt, and someone I’d recently interviewed for a magazine article (stay tuned). But every aisle was crammed with people I already know, or people whose blogs I’ve loved, or designers whose fabric I use, or quilt world business sources who keep me plugged in. And I did manage to put in a few hours volunteering in the Quilt Alliance booth: I think everybody who came by to play the “Mod or Not” game had a blast, and both my merry dinners out in Austin were with my scrumptious Alliance posse. (God, I love those women– and Luke.)




    It was a lark to keep running into members from my hometown mod guild, the Central Jersey Modern Quilt Guild. The guild banner won third prize in group quilts, and I’m going to brag even though I didn’t contribute a block for it. Here is Jessica Levitt, our guild’s founder and past president.

 Guild quilt

     Audience response to my “Better Quilt Photos NOW!” lecture far exceeded my expectations, considering the exalted company I was keeping. The roster of teachers and talkers was a veritable who’s who of quilt world legends and up-and-comers.  I ran out of handouts because the room was so packed, and all day long, people came up to me to say they got a ton of valuable information from my PowerPoint. I did put in a lot of time, (even before I got a fortune cookie that read: “Only the prepared speaker deserves to be confident.” Not kidding.)



      I won’t soon forget the Saturday night keynote presentation by four women from the Gee’s Bend quilt collective in rural Alabama. I’ve been bowled over by their work ever since I saw it at the Whitney Museum. (If you don’t know from Gee’s Bend, read this blog post by quilter Cheryl Arkison, about her visit with them in Alabama.) Now, I know some mod members expressed disappointment that the Gee’s Bend ladies didn’t talk much about quilt making in the keynote (nor did they do a lot of active teaching at their workshops, from what I’ve been told) , but their gospel singing and fervent affirmations were incredibly stirring. My favorite moment might have been when a Mod quilter asked from the audience if all the quilts they had seen in the QuiltCon show might change or influence their work. Mary Ann Pettway’s frank reply: “No!” (Below is one of her quilts hanging in the Gee’s Bend section of the Austin show.)


      Before I devolve into complete gushing gibberish, let me just say that the two days I spent at QuiltCon will go down in my memory museum as a treasure. To share just one encounter, I was walking around gaping at all the quilts in the show a couple of hours after I arrived at the Austin convention center, and a stranger rushed up to me. She said, “You don’t know me, but I love everything you do!” 

      That doesn’t happen to me nearly enough in life (or ever). Thank you, anonymous fan, for putting the cherry on top of the delicious, sustaining treat that was QuiltCon.


Detail from Chawne Kimber’s prize-winner, In Wedowee. I love everything she makes. And this was one example of the hand-quilting trend at QuiltCon that makes me very very happy.  

 Quilt credits: (Still researching the one next to Sherlock, and the red, white and blue crazy 8 below that, so send me a note if you know), Deconstructed Lone Star by Amy Struckmyer, Disruption by Barbara Lockwood, Typewriter No. 5 by Jessica Toye.