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Three Views of Houston 2000

This year, Planet Patchwork attended both Quilt Market and Quilt Festival in Houston, the world's largest and most influential quilt show and conference. This annual eleven-day marathon in late October and November is so multi-faceted that no one person's experience of it can begin to tell its story. This year we have gathered three different views, each focusing on a separate aspect of this remarkable show.

Carol Miller of Quilt University provides her wonderful candid and entertaining account of Festival, from the perspective of a visitor, and from that of a retail vendor.

Lynn Holland provides a comprehensive and amusing overview of Market, which is a somewhat different experience for shop owners and others in the quilting business. 

Finally, Rob Holland writes an in-depth piece on the best new products, to his mind, that were available at Market. Join us on our journey to Houston in 2000!

The Traveling Quilter: Business and Pleasure in Houston

By Carol Miller

Say Houston to a quilter and they know you are talking about International Quilt Festival, the biggest quilt show in the world. Over 50,000 people come to the George R. Brown Convention Center every fall.

My trip was a combination of business and pleasure. I was scheduled to work as a demonstrator for the Electric Quilt on Thursday-Saturday. They were kind enough to let me pass out literature for my own business, Quilt University. This meant that my personal time at the show was restricted to the preview on Wednesday night and about 5 hours on Sunday. Optimistically, I had envisioned myself socializing with friends each evening.

What I had not taken into account was how bone numbingly exhausted I would be by the end of every day. Vendors had to be in place by 9:30 each morning and the show was open until 7 p.m. Getting to the show via shuttle was an exercise that could take 15 minutes or an hour, so I learned to travel early.

On the up side, vendors got into the hall as soon as they arrived. This meant you could wander through the quilt exhibits when no one else was there. That was absolute heaven. Without that extra time, I would never have come close to seeing the 1,000 quilts, garments and dolls that were on display. They are set up throughout a room the size of a football field, mixed with aisles of vendors. IQA display areas have lovely wide aisles so you can really see, terrific lighting and great BIG printed signs so you can tell whose work it is.

The quilts were, as always, stupendous. No matter how many pictures you see, nothing compares to a close look at the work of artists like Hollis Chatelain, Caryl Bryer Fallert, Judy Dales, and dozens of others. The Grand Prize winner was Cynthia England with a gorgeous winter scene called "Open Season" that had thousands of pieces and took years to complete. Breathtaking! The best applique quilt was by Margarete Heinisch who celebrated her new American citizenship in an intricate and touching quilt of her life called "And Crown Thy Good With Brotherhood."

All of the quilt world's special contests seem to display in Houston, including some from overseas. I was delighted to see the quilts that had been displayed in Europe last summer. Just as quilting styles vary widely in the regions of the United States, color and design take new and intriguing directions when interpreted by Australians, Japanese and all the countries of Europe. I could practically hear my mind stretching with all that stimulation!

If you want to see the quilts, go to http://quilting.about.com/library/0lib/houston0/blh0_top-index.htm. Susan Druding took 600 pictures and is working night and day to get them up. She also includes a complete list of the winners.

Working the Electric Quilt booth was fun. Unfortunately, I went with a cold and all that talking made me sound like a frog by the end of every day, but the EQ people are the absolute nicest in the world and we could sit on stools, which saved my feet. Still, repeating yourself over and over for three solid days does get to be real work.

The EQ products are all neatly packaged, no measuring required. I began thinking about the booths that carried fabric, where the vendors had to lift and roll, cut and fold, put things back and restock. No stools in THOSE booths. Tired as I was, I realized it could be a LOT worse. Next time you are shopping at one of these shows, think about the vendors. When they are tired, they can't go sit down and have a drink or rest their feet. Some of them work alone and have to ask a neighbor to watch the booth just so they can go to the bathroom. And the bathroom is usually quite a hike - and a long line when you get there.

Karey Bresenhan is the guiding spirit behind IQA. She began the show 26 years ago as a small display to thank her customers for a successful year. Considering the stupefying logistics of displaying 1,000 items, arranging 26 rows of vendors and playing hostess to 50,000 people, she and her team do an absolutely amazing job. My only real complaint this year was echoed by many other attendees. For some reason, there were only 1/3 as many food vendors as last year. Consequently, lines for lunch were astronomically long, and people lost over an hour just waiting for a chance to buy their food.

There are a few restaurants within walking distance of the hotel. Assuming you would want to take two extra steps after walking through the show for hours, you would have been further hampered by the fact that it rained every single day. After months of soil-cracking drought, the skies in Texas had finally opened. Not only that, but the temperatures ranged from the high 70's to the high 80's, quite a shock to people who needed a coat when they left home.

It would be a great help if IQA or the local guild could furnish ignorant tourists with some information about local eateries. Finding a place to eat for dinner if you have no car is a continual and annoying problem. Two nights out of five, I solved it by skipping dinner altogether, not an ideal situation.

The shuttle buses are terrific. These are full size city buses whose drivers were unfailingly friendly and accommodating. I wish I could say the same for the quilters who were riding them. Thursday night, my roomie and I caught the shuttle downtown at a little after 10 p.m. We rode it back to the center to start the route over and apparently, all those getting on were going to the same downtown hotel. We were going to the first stop on the route, which is a LOT further out and when those who got on at the center found they had to wait while he drove out there, they actually BOOED. I mean, please.

On another occasion, a woman got on and then used profanity on the bus driver because he had not let her off at her hotel first. She threatened to get him fired.

Have I missed something? Has road rage oozed over into quilt shows? I thought we were all in this together; tired but happy with our purchases and all the eye candy. We ride these buses for free, after all, getting door-to-door service. I repeat, there were 50,000 of us all trying to arrive and leave at about the same time. All things considered, I think the buses handled the problem very well.

Hooray! Sunday I am not working. I get to be a tourist like everyone else and finally get to shop!

My major purchases were threads: Madeira's new Polyneon but mostly the yarny kind that you have to couch on. I resisted the impulse to buy beads although I drooled on quite a few. This year there was a whole section with nothing but embellishment vendors. Great idea! I'd love to see more of the specialties grouped together. It makes it easier to find those things you want and avoid those things that don't interest you. Perhaps it would help unclog the aisles. Wouldn't that be great!

Then, at last, it was time to head for the airport. My suitcase weighed 200 pounds and my drag-along tote was in close competition. I was so tired my hair hurt. But it was glorious. Like labor, the pain will fade and only the memory of great fun, overwhelming stimulation and meeting terrific people will linger. Heaven help me, I'll probably be back next year. See you there!

Carol Miller lives in Virginia, runs www.quiltuniversity.com and has been a quilter for over 20 years.

Click here for Market articles!

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