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Quilt Market 2006: The Hottest New Products

As regular readers of Planet Patchwork know, we review the entire quilt show and vendors at International Quilt Market in Houston each year. But after a couple of days on the market floor, we usually find a fistful of new products we’re so excited about that we have to share them with you as soon as possible. This year was no exception, as we found new goodies for quilters ranging from less than $10 to over $100. Some are fun fripperies and others are serious quilter tools, but whatever their appeal, to us they stood out from the hundreds of products that crowd Quilt Market each year. 

One of our favorite booths at market each year is what we have come to call “The Toybox.” Diane Mullinax of Graphic Impressions always has a new crop of clever and inexpensive items useful to quilters, though not necessarily *only* to quilters. This year, along with an assortment of useful cleaning and organizing tools, Diane was wearing two tiny little LED lights, one over her ear and one on her forefinger. These clever and inexpensive gadgets are a great way to illuminate those dark spaces in your sewing life, to help you find that needle that fell down under your sewing table or see that blessed tangle in your bobbin case. We will soon be opening a Toybox section in our store where you can see and purchase this and other wonderful gizmos! 

We have always sworn that one of the things we would never carry in our online store is pins. Everybody, but everybody, carries pins, and while useful, they are, quite honestly, rather boring. But we’ve always been suckers for good packaging, and when we saw the new Fons & Porter Quilters’ Variety Pin Pack, in its trendy little metal tin with a quilt design and four little clear plastic windows, we knew we had to have some. For those practical types who might want to know, this magic tackle box contains 240 pins, an assortment of flower heads (50), size 1 safety pins (100), and red and blue glass heads (45 each). But the real appeal is the nifty box, which is as much a fashion statement as it is a container. It’s great for taking your essentials to a quilting workshop, and after you use up the pins you can refill it with whatever you want – say diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. Retail price, $19.95. Available in our online store.

For all of us quilters with hang-ups (you know who you are) there is another clever new product that provides instant relief. The Quilters Hangup is one of those inventions that seems so simple and obvious once you’ve seen it, that you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. Got a quilt you need to hang, in a show or at home? Forgot to make and install the hanging sleeve, or find the task so unutterably boring that you can’t stand it?  Then let this ready-made, all-cotton pleated quilt sleeve come to your rescue. Already pre-fabricated in 3-yard lengths (cut to the size you want), this sleeve sews on in one easy swipe of your sewing machine and voila. You’re ready to hang. The creators of this wonderful invention tell us they are getting phone calls all the time from harried quilters trying to get quilts off to shows against a deadline. They want their Hangups FEDEXed! Available in our online store!

We sell a lot of quilters’ software and video/DVD products, so we are always on the lookout for new programs that will assist quilters in being more creative. Very few programs come up to our standards, but this year we came across a clever and easy-to-use program called Kaleidoscope Kreator 2.0. This program has a simple, straightforward interface which allows the artist (be it a quilter, photographer, scrapbooker, or any other visual artist) to take a portion of a digital photo and turn it into a printable kaleidoscope image. The kaleidoscope can then be used standalone or incorporated into a larger design. The program provides a large number of different templates for kaleidoscope shapes, and has a handy preview feature which gives you a quick thumbnail of your kaleidoscope as you change it in the program’s work area. This program at $40.00 retail is a very affordable addition to your creative software library, and will also be very popular with your children (or grandchildren). Available in our online store.

Every year at market we see a new twist on the quilter’s design wall. Most of them attach to the existing walls of the sewing room, and some are treated with special chemicals to help quilt blocks stick to them better. There is nothing wrong with these products, but they don’t deal with the primary problem we have (and probably most quilters have), that we don’t have a dedicated wall for hanging up such a design area. This year a clever inventor by the name of Cheryl Ann (with help from her husband) has brought out a portable design wall that fits in a small black bag about the size of a doctor’s bag, and which can be assembled (without tools!) in just a few minutes. Logically enough, it’s called “Cheryl Ann’s Portable, Free Standing Quilting Design Wall.” Set up, it is about 6 feet square and resembles a child’s bounce-back pitching target. Its frame is made of modified tent poles, the modern fiberglass kind that can be broken down into short lengths while remaining held together by stretchy bungee cord material. When you need a design wall, you’ve got one, and you can leave it set up all the time if you want. But when Aunt Maude is coming to stay in your guest room and you need to make room for her three suitcases, you can disassemble it, fold it into its bag, and stick it in the closet. And it weighs less than 5 lbs. Retail price is $131.95. Available in our online store.

Probably the most unusual product we encountered was “Sew You Want to Be a Quilter,” a Trivial Pursuit style board game for quilters. Billed as “A Shop Hop/Quilting Trivia Game,” the box includes a game board based on a small town (with quilt shops in every corner of the town!), 8 spool markers for navigating the board, a single die, and cards containing more than 3,000 quilting questions (and their answers). This is a really clever idea, and in addition to being fun, you learn a lot, too. The questions are tough, and the game is engaging enough to provide hours of fun at a guild meeting or wherever two or three quilters gather together. Retail price is $39.99. Available now in our online store.

We have tested and reviewed a lot of fabric cutters in our time, and carry several of the best ergonomic choices in our store. This year our quest for the ultimate cutter went in an unexpected direction as we encountered a new tool which is *not* a rotary cutter. Rotary cutters have revolutionized quilting, but problems remain, especially for an aging quilter. They require a good bit of force, especially cutting several layers of fabric, and despite elaborate safety improvements they remain a hazard to quilters, their children, and their cats! Enter the My-T-Fine Electronic Cutter, a new twist on electric scissors. This cordless, rechargeable all-purpose cutter will make short work of even the toughest materials, including those annoying blister packs that make so many products so hard to open. The tool is smart enough to know how to modulate its cutting power in accordance with the toughness of its opponent. It cuts through fabric, even several layers, like butter, with no pressure being applied. And because it cuts at the back of the blade, there are no sharp edges to present a hazard to your hands. The charging base has a storage compartment to hold the cord and adapter. All in all this is a useful and elegant accessory for your sewing room. Retail price is $59.99.  Available in our store!

The one product that totally blew our mind at Houston this year was an improvement on one of the oldest and perhaps most cursed small appliances quilters use, the iron. (See our in-depth review here). How can the iron be improved, you ask? Well this one, the Oliso Touch&Glide™, virtually redefines the device. Ironing involves not only the act of placing the faceplate against the fabric to press it, but also the act of setting it upright again on its end to keep it from scorching while you adjust the fabric (or answer the phone). This kind of repetitive arm and hand motion is what can make ironing so painful and exhausting. The Oliso contains a smart microchip and a sensor in its handle which knows when you have let go of the iron, and within a second or two a stand (called the Auto-Lift™ system), pops out of the face and raises the plate off the fabric. No need to set it upright! This ergonomic and safety feature can be overridden if you don’t want to use it, but if the iron is left face down on the fabric in override mode, it will still sense the potential for scorching and will activate its stand after 30 seconds.  

The Oliso also has other features that make you wonder why no one has thought of them before. About a quarter-inch above the faceplate there is a groove in the body of the iron all the way around (called the Flow Glide™ soleplate) that allows you to get into difficult spaces such as between the buttons on a shirt placket. The fabric slides into the groove so you can put the iron’s point right where you want it. For non-quilting use, filling the steam reservoir is also a breeze. Instead of trying to pour water into a little hole at the point, the reservoir is filled from the side through an ingenious built-in funnel (the Flip Funnel™) that pops open. You can also easily see how much water is in the very accessible transparent plastic reservoir. A specially designed fill cup also comes with the iron. Available in our online store!

Five years ago we drove about 40 miles north of where we live into the North Georgia mountains to visit and interview quilter Jodie Davis. Jodie makes super quilts and has published more than 30 books about them, has a marvelous garden around her home, and proudly sports a bathroom full of rubber duckies. Dozens of them. In 2004, among her many other activities (including production of a major textile-related television series and helping to found and manage the Quilters News Network), she published a volume entitled Rubber Duckie, which included in its package a generic yellow rubber duck.

When we saw Jodie at the Breckling Press booth at market this year, she said “You know, my rubber duckie book is the best seller I’ve ever had. It sold more than 178,000 copies.” And it’s still going strong. When she published the rubber duckie book, Jodie says, it was her dream to have it accompanied by a rubber duck with a quilting theme. Due to a variety of factors, her publisher opted to go with the generic duck, but Jodie never let go of her desire to design and sell a rubber duckie just for quilters. This year, introduced in the United Notions booth, Jodie’s Quilting Rubber Duckie made its debut. This cute little yellow fellow (or is it a buttery babe?) is fully tub-worthy, and with its little scissors and scattering of patches, it’s all decked out for display in your sewing room. The quilting duckie is on order and will be available soon!

Jodie also has a new book out, on a little more serious but no less charming subject, called Quilting with Jodie in Cotton Country.  In collaboration with her stepmother Jayne Davis, Jodie has published a book which blends her love for quilts and quilting with her interest in the history of textiles. Quilting projects are interspersed with historical vignettes about such things as the cotton gin and the Frogmore Plantation. All the projects have that charming Jodie Davis touch.

Finally, a new item in our store that we did not discover at Quilt Market. Our good friend Penny Schmitt, whose personal profile we published a few months ago, has now fallen into making beautiful quilted tree skirts for Christmas. It began almost casually, making one or two for friends, and then her co-workers in Wilmington, NC got a look at them and began asking her to make one for them. Penny sent us some photos, and we suggested we offer them for sale in the Planet Patchwork store. They’re beautiful, reasonably priced, and might be just the ticket this busy Christmas season if you don’t have time to do your own!

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