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The Traveling Quilter: Quilt Market 2000

By Lynn Holland

We had made the decision several months before that we would be going to market at Houston this year, to visit for the first time the literal "business end" of quilting. So the last week in October saw us headed to Texas, and off to TVQ's quilting adventure.

Since we arrived on Friday (which was setup day), we decided to re-visit two of our favorite stores, Great Expectations and Front Porch Quilts. They were both as wonderful as remembered: Great Expectations with its slightly formal (though not snooty) atmosphere, and Front Porch with its clearly casual welcome. GE is akin to the Neiman Marcus of quilt stores. The interior with its track lighting and very high ceilings provides the perfect backdrop for beautiful displays and a fabulous stock of gorgeous fabric. Few quilting items remain unrepresented in this comprehensive shop, and it's hard to find anything wanting about this store, including the helpful, friendly staff. A sign in the window invited customers to volunteer to help out with the store's booth at the next week's Festival. For a brief moment I contemplated signing on, but reason prevailed and I left after buying a Moda napkin emblazoned with a retro map of Texas as a souvenir.

Next stop was Front Porch, with its incredible collection of block-of-the-month quilts displayed in the center of the shop and the huge long arm quilting machine set out for everyone to see. The shop was filled to the brim with wonderful samples and a huge book and fabric collection. I'm particularly partial to the couch in the store which allows you to sit and browse a book without having to juggle your purse and other stuff while trying to turn pages. This is a comfortable, friendly store, which also has a great website (http://www.frontporchquilts.com). The strip mall FP calls home also houses a very authentic Cajun cafe and foodstuff market which is worth a visit, too.

After driving in circles in downtown Houston for a few turns, we finally found the Doubletree and collapsed in a heap. However, after a phone call from Addy Harkavy of Pinetree Quiltworks, we decided to recover enough to join her for dinner. All told, we were up 21 hours that day, and Market was still ahead of us.

It's rather awe-inspiring to see a whole convention center devoted to quilt stuff. Upon entering the hall, it was clear that two things would define the experience for us: who had the best treats and who did the cleverest job of slipcovering their chairs. In the candy department, competition was keen: the usual peppermints and kisses were not going to get noticed among the twizzlers, nuggets, minisize Snickers and Starbursts, all vying for our attention. In my estimation, the goodies award went to Troy Fabrics with their Mrs. Fields' cookies and Martingale Press with snack packs of Crackerjack. Of course, the chair competition was fiercest among the fabric companies, and decorations ranged from simple tie-ons made of torn fabric panels to whole-chair skirted covers. Others had fancy flower, tulle,and ribbon affairs that resembled bridesmaids' luncheon photos in Martha Stewart's magazine. That contest was too close to call.

Since Market is strictly business, there were lots and lots of men. Hottest booths, of course, belonged to the fabric reps, who were showing shop owners their new lines like the precious gems they are to the quilting public. Most interesting new non-fabric products seemed to be Alto's QuiltCut, the mini-iron by Clover, some well-designed notions by a small company named SewUnique (www.sewunique.com) and adorable quilt block nail files from Homespun Quilts. (See article following for a more complete product review). 

Book publishers had lots of celebrities signing their newest books and doing demos. Seeing quilters in person who you have admired and/or met on line in is so much fun! At Martingale, we got to hug Carol Doak and watch Jody Davis demo her Paper Pieced Curves. (Jodie also has a dynamite Christmas book, Paper Pieced Christmas on the market and her soon to be released book has cats that are entirely too cute.

At C&T Publishing, the Muppets were the theme of the day, but who can think of Big Bird or Kermit when Judith Baker Montano is sitting in front of you actually doing silk flower embroidery? To be sure, the Muppets quilt was prominently displayed, and it was impressive. The book is wonderful, and should be a favorite even of non-quilting Henson fans for the photos and content alone. We also ran into Ami Simms, who was there promoting her new book "Picture Play Quilts" from Mallery Press. (See our review)

We learned things at Market. While admiring the beautifully articulated dolls that Patti Medaris Culea designs, I found out that birdshot is superior weighting for doll bottoms, gun cases make excellent holders for beading materials, tobacconist's pipe cleaners are better than chenille stems for doll fingers and vodka will remove latex paint from clothing. Forget hints from Heloise-- just ask Patti if you're looking for the real scoop! Also check out her website www.pmcdesigns.com if you're looking for unusual and exotic cloth doll designs.

Speaking of cloth dolls, elinor peace bailey was present and quite a presence. Many of her creations (and lots of her fans) surrounded her booth. And it's no wonder- she is as colorful and distinctive as her designs. 

My personal design award goes to the imaginative Classic Planes Collection by BINKY for Quilt Noveau Designs, featuring a series of 12 classic planes. Done together, they are a very distinctive quilt. You can see this for yourself at www.quiltnouveau.com The cute and clever buttons from Just Another Button Company made us want to put buttons on everything, and we were ready to move into the environment that Indygo Junction created.

Good thing about Market -- the quilt displays are not nearly as packed as they are at Festival, so it was easy to spend a good bit of time admiring the quilts and the dolls without developing claustrophobia.

Bad thing about Market -- the food is not wonderful. We had some concerns last year about the paucity of choices; we witnessed the Great Barbeque Baked Potato Uprising last year at Festival, but at the time did not understand its genesis; this year we did. Most of the offerings at the convention center are fat- and carb- laden. Seeking refuge at the shopping center across the way, we were appalled at the lack of vegetarian or non-fried choices in the huge food court. Vendors who spend eleven days of gastronomic imprisonment in this arena surely must resort to buying yogurt and bagged salad at a Fiesta Supermarket if they can. There were some savvy vendors doing picnics in the parking lot. Food concessionaires need to rethink their limited, boring, and nutritionally questionable offerings and give the multiple day customer better options.

Great thing about Market -- it's the most amazing gathering of folks serious about quilting all in one place at one time. We learned about some wonderful new items, met some incredibly talented people and had a very valuable experience. How many days until Market in Atlantic City?




PRODUCT REVIEW: The Best New Products from Houston

By Rob Holland

One of the major reasons for our going to Houston this year was to see what clever new things quilters have come up with to make the lives of other quilters simpler, easier, and prettier. We were looking for new products for our own online store, of course, but we were also impressed by a lot of other items which for various reasons we don't carry. Links for sources of the products mentioned are at the end of the article.

Fabric is of course the biggest draw at Houston, and the fabric manufacturers at their large multiple booths were busy morning till night showing their new lines. Since we don't carry fabric, we only watched from afar, but there was no dearth of new designs, and shop owners were lined up two and three deep to place their orders. Some shop owners reported that some of the manufacturers were telling them they could only view their new lines at Houston, and not after the show, which seemed kind of strange to us, since not all shop owners can make it to Houston.

The first place we were drawn to, though, was the Electric Quilt booth, where Penny McMorris and Dean Neumann were demonstrating the perennial favorite Electric Quilt, along with featuring their new products. Decorating their booth were some of the quilts from Robyn Pandolph's new book/CD combination "A Mother's Quilting Legacy," which are truly glorious, especially when you see them "in the cloth." This book is a great addition to your library of EQ projects, especially if you like the folk art style. Penny and Dean had also printed out large quilt blocks from their upcoming release of BlockBase for Windows. They had used a big new printer from Hewlett-Packard that prints up to 11 X 17 size paper in very high quality color. They used the printed blocks as a "tile" floor in their booth. H-P gave them a printer to give away in a drawing, and it made quite a hit all by itself. I haven't had a good look at BlockBase yet (though one is promised), but it should be the quilt software blockbuster of the season once it's released in mid-December. It's basically the same digital rendition of the Barbara Brackman quilt block catalogue that was in the first, DOS-based, BlockBase, but enriched with deeper historical information and better search capabilities. And of course it's designed for Windows.

We also wandered over to the Quilt-Pro booth, where they were showing off their suite of new products for computing quilters. They were demonstrating 1-2-3 Quilt, and their newest release of Block Factory, the Mariner's Compass edition, with Judy Mathieson. This is a wonderful new wrinkle on printable quilt patterns, offering either paper-pieced or template-based patterns of some very complex mariner's compass designs. It has the same easy-to-use interface as their other block programs, and is compatible with their flagship product, Quilt-Pro 3.0. Unfortunately the block factory series is not compatible with the Macintosh platform.

I was also given a "sneak preview" of the new Quilter's Newsletter Magazine disk scheduled for release in December. This disk will contain projects and articles from the last five years of QNM, enriched with digital features powered by Block Factory. Along with BlockBase, this promises to be the most interesting and innovative of digital quilting products coming out of the pipeline in the next few weeks.

As we wandered the aisles, we came upon one booth with a lot of activity, as the owners were giving away a free item that was catching everyone's eye and imagination. The Quilters Block nail file, a little 2" X 2" square of hard foam with an emery board surface, was available in four traditional full-color quilt block designs. These cute little items were being gobbled up by booth visitors at Homespun Quilts, almost to the exclusion of their line of patterns and other items. Although we don't usually like to carry such small items, we couldn't resist and bought some to offer in the store. Packed up in sets of four, these make wonderful stocking stuffers or inexpensive gifts for your secret pal.

Not far away was the booth of one of our favorite vendors, Jasmine Heirlooms, being "personned" in a heroic manner by owner Marjorie Orr. We had met Marjorie and her husband Richard at Festival last year, and had made a promise to visit them and their quilt hoop and frame business in Greenville, SC. Life intervened, but we renewed our resolve to visit them and eventually I did so and wrote the quilter profile you will find elsewhere at Planet Patchwork. Jasmine's line of hoops and frames is among the most elegant and finely wrought of any on the market, due largely to Marjorie's insistence on perfection. They've come out with a new line of lower-price frames and kits for those who want something more affordable than their "heirloom quality" line. We plan to start offering them at Planet Patchwork in a few weeks.

When we came upon Deborah and Scott Fillmer's Pieces of the Past Booth we were amazed to see the sheer number of designs of their flagship "Stick-n-Stitch(tm)" quilting stencils. This clever system for quilting without marking your quilt top now sports 900 different designs, all of which seemed to be displayed. They're also available online. 

As Lynn mentioned, the major quilt book publishers had many of their authors available in their booths to sign copies and to demonstrate their techniques. We met Margaret Miller (Strips that Sizzle and other books), and Judith Baker Montano at C&T and Carol Doak and Jodie Davis at Martingale. We also met, for the first time, Jackie Robinson of Animas Quilts Publishing, whom we profiled  in a recent issue of TVQ. She had her own booth featuring her self-published quilting books.

There were also some really nice new products at the June Tailor booth. They were featuring the new book and CD combo from Pam Bono Designs, which is a truly rich compendium of quilt and other accessory designs. The CD contains hundreds of additional patterns as well. Probably their most interesting product, though, is colorfast printer fabric. Available in packages of 8-1/2" X 11" sheets, in either white or cream color, this high quality cotton fabric is chemically treated to hold inkjet ink without treatment with special chemicals. There are a wide variety of great uses for this fabric, and it eliminates the need for ironing fabric onto freezer paper or some other backing.

Clover notions had a big booth as well, with their whole universe of items. Their biggest seller these days is their new Mini-Iron, a clever little device about the size of a curling iron that gives you easy iron access to all the nooks and crannies of quilt blocks, bindings, and other small places. It cuts down on the burnt fingertips, too. I asked the Clover rep what the story is on supply, since everybody I know seems to be backordered, and he said that they had vastly underestimated the demand, but that new shipments are coming in from China each week.

The grand prize winner over all for new products, though, was from a small, Washington state company called Alto's. Leveraging their long experience in making machines to cut picture mats, they have designed and manufactured a wonderful new device for speedy and accurate cutting of fabric strips and pieces, called the QuiltCut. This combination straight-edge and cutting mat solves many of the problems associated with rotary cutting, such as slipping rulers and slipping fabric, and really revolutionizes the cutting of fabric. A much more detailed review and animated demo of the device is available here.

Overall, our expectation that Houston would yield some neat new products was far exceeded. They're very clever, these quilters!

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