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A Tale of Two Quilt Shows: AQS Paducah and Nashville, 2002

Editor's Note: This year for the first time The Traveling Quilter went to both of the American Quilters' Society show events, their "Mother" show in Paducah, KY, in April, and their relatively new production in Nashville, TN, in August. This review covers both shows.

By Lynn Holland

Paducah, April 24- 27, 2002

We knew this year was going to be different. First, the long-awaited Executive Inn conference center expansion was housing the main quilt show. Big change. Second, our favorite bus trip with all the quilting ladies did not materialize, so we were on our own.  Luckily, our middle son is engaged to an adorable redhead from (you guessed it!) PADUCAH. Her equally adorable family allowed us to stay with them, so the lodging problem was immediately resolved. We planned to spend both Friday and Saturday in town, so this gave us the opportunity to avail ourselves of some of the little “extras” of Quilt City that we hadn’t had time to explore previously. 

We decided to drive up Thursday night as far as Nashville, and arrive in Paducah on Friday slightly before time for our lunch reservation at Grace Episcopal Church. On our way into town, we stopped at Whitehall, a historic home that has been turned into tourist attraction/rest stop extraordinaire. We picked up a good little map of the town, marked with various stops and spots of interest.   

But back to the church. We had viewed the wonderful old church from the shuttle bus on both of our previous trips, and always wished we had time to stop to view the lace show that is there during Quilt Festival. This year I called ahead about their luncheon, and managed to snag the last two spots for the 12:30 seating. 

Since we had about 45 minutes before lunch, we wandered  through the lace show (which included work from lace makers from all over the world), and took a tour of the beautiful interior of the church. 

Then it was on to lunch. At our table were two ladies from Louisville AND a family of four sisters (relatives, not nuns), from various parts of the country. The four had planned the trip to Paducah as a reunion, one of the first since they had all grown up, and they were all dressed alike in custom-made matching shirts. One sister made the shirts, which featured a group photo of the ladies as little girls, along with a Sunbonnet Sue in blue work undertaking some task specific to the interest of the sister who owned the shirt. One Sue was in a quilt shop her “wearer” had once owned; the non-quilting sister wore a Sue who had thrown away her hoop in favor of a fishing pole. We thoroughly enjoyed hearing about their growing up years and just seeing them having fun together. 

The food was as fabulous as the company. We enjoyed a menu of “Olive Oyl’s” Chicken (chicken breast on a bed of spinach, all in a parmesan cream sauce), “scrappy” salad (ramen noodles, broccoli slaw,  raw cabbage, almonds in oriental dressing) and a divine chocolate pound cake. Of course, we had to purchase the church cookbook, which included recipes from this and previous years’ luncheons. 

Having been fortified by meeting  new quilting friends and  ingesting incredible food, we decided that we were ready to experience the festival. 

Quilt Festival was awesome. Many of you may recall our laments in previous years of the crowded conditions in the limited conference space available in Paducah. Since last year the Conference Center has added an entire new exposition building that increased available space by more than 39,000 square feet. The conference center expansion is absolutely right for the quilt show event, and it gave the good feel of an event that finally has the showcase it deserves. Gone was the claustrophobic crush of too many people in a dimly-lit shoebox. Only a few folk bumped into me, and no strollers assaulted my toes. I could actually stay in the main venue for more than 30 minutes without a trip outside for air. What a difference! 

Don’t get me wrong. The big E (Executive Inn, adjacent to the Conference Center) was still crammed with tons of vendors, some of them in the new area, and others stretching throughout the building, into the pool area and literally out the door. This truly is a shopping paradise for any textile artist.

The outside eating area usually has a country fair atmosphere, with things like funnel cakes and kettle corn for sale. The same goodies surrounded the convention center this year, but the dismal weather did keep the picnic table crowds to a minimum. 

We strayed from the main event and ventured a few streets over, where Eleanor Burns had her own temporary shop a short way from the Big E. Set up in a white building , “Quilts in A Day” dotted the fence everyone passed on their way into the building that housed her famous books and other EB goodies. AND, in a large tent in the back was Eleanor’s own road show with the great lady herself speaking from the front of a well-filled  tent. Since we arrived late, we stood in the back, but still had a good view of Eleanor doing her cute little “Sunbonnet Sue” routine, complete with EB in a bonnet. On our way out we purchased an EB fan (yup, it’s exactly what you think is), a “stripper” T-shirt, and some scraps actually thrown by Ms. Burns herself. Amazing. 

From there we went back to the convention center where we met with Bonnie Browning, the director of the AQS show. Bonnie is the wonder-woman who drives every detail of the show from beginning to end. We were anxious to hear about the details of opening the new venue. Bonnie was amazingly perky for someone who had just pulled off the opening of a brand new facility AND one of the biggest annual events in the town.

Although there were no early figures on attendance, Bonnie reported that registration had run out of bracelets, so it was a pretty good guess that attendance was up from last year.

The AQS show was the first event for the new building, which had hosted its grand opening on the previous Tuesday. 

The only real glitch came the first morning of the show when a huge overnight storm caused a  power outage, which locked the firewall door. Then there were a few leaks in the old building, but other than that, things had gone smoothly.

Unless you count that around the first February, after contracting with all the vendors for spaces according to the drawings of the anticipated space, updated drawings changed configuration of the spaces, which forced shifting many vendors, offering new contracts and redoing maps. 

In the vital statistics department, Bonnie reported that there were over 300 booths and 250 vendors. There’s a newly added Quilters Park which offers seating, and a special unit now displays the Best of Show.  From one end of the show to the other is a half mile, and the magic number of quilts this year was 646 -- about 200 more than 2001. 

Between 600-700 “white glove” volunteers staff the show. Before we said good-bye to Bonnie, someone from the Paducah Convention and Visitor’s Bureau gifted us with a goodie bag stuffed with information and snacks. Now that’s southern hospitality!   

Feather Study #20
by Carol Bryer Fallert

One of the great advantages of the new exposition space is that the quilts can be displayed much more effectively and there is room to stand back a little bit to appreciate the overall effect. The quilts at this year's show were as remarkable as they always are, in a wide variety of styles, and of very high quality. The top prize winners are posted at the AQS website at http://www.aqsquilt.com/18-winners.shtml

We would have liked to take the Lower Town Studio and Home Tour, which also promised “the sounds of Moonglow by the old Texaco Station”, but we were too tired. We considered attending one of the quilters’ dinners given by the churches, but we had eaten a huge wonderful lunch. So we settled for a couple of Wendy’s salads and went home. 

The next morning, our bodies were still on Eastern time, so we were up early and decided to stop at Hancocks before going into town. Even though we arrived just a few minutes after opening time, fabric was being measured and cut at a brisk rate. There were some wonderful kits that had been bundled just for the show, along with almost any quilt fabric you could desire. Somehow, I managed to leave without buying anything. I guess I hadn’t had  my caffeine yet. We then stopped by a local yard sale (nothing we had to have there, either) and decided to move on to the show. 

It was not a pretty day, but miraculously, we snagged a FREE parking spot on the street right across from the Big E. We checked out the parts of the show we had missed the day before, and then went back to buy those things we didn’t buy Friday, but should have. This included a Big Board (one of those ironing boards that is the size that boards for anything larger than Barbie clothes ought to be) and a tote bag from St. Teresa’s Textile Treasure Trove. I contemplated long and hard at the Flights of Fancy Boutique booth  (www.flightsoffancyboutique.com), with its plush trims and cut velvet, but managed to break away before any damage was done. 

We then set out for the streets of Paducah, where vendor extensions of the show were everywhere. Last year we had enjoyed the outdoor flea market along the river with its local crafts and food, but this year the chilly gray day convinced us to do otherwise. We wandered through the many shops (both temporary and permanent) that were close to the show. We found food at the old Irwin Cobb Hotel, where Little Edibles caterers were “doing lunch” for visiting quilters. To be sure our visit was complete, we stopped by the Paducah Mall, where we found…MORE vendors! 

It never ceases to amaze the Traveling Quilter how the entire town supports the AQS show. The truly awesome thing about Paducah is that it really does become Quilt City for the week of the show. The only locations we visited that DID NOT have something quilt-y displayed were the gourmet food and wine shop and the grocery stores. Everybody else was decked out in style, including the Paducah Wal-Mart.

Nashville, July 31 - August 3, 2002

After our amazing trip to Paducah, we were anxious to visit the AQS younger sister show in Nashville. The show was being held in the Opryland mega-complex, which is as squeaky clean modern as Paducah’s “Big-E” is authentically old-fashioned.

If you haven’t been to the spectacular Opryland, we’ve described it before as part Disney World, part Las Vegas. There’s a man-made river running through the hotel, with  accompanying riverboat rides. On a summer weekend, there are many families with children who are there to shop in the various areas that are like mini-villages and to enjoy the beautiful foliage that thrives in the soaring atrium. Unlike many high-end hotels, Opryland has a food court in addition to fine restaurants, and is adjacent to the large Opry Mills shopping center that itself looms like a small city. 

The first notable difference was parking. After paying $7 for a space in the uncovered self-park area, I believe that we tromped at least 1.3 miles from the huge lot that surrounds Opryland . (I guess that’s the Disney part to which I was referring). One plus was that the spaces are numbered, so it’s hard to lose your car. Of course, the Traveling Quilter crew is not noted for ability to read maps, so we then took the long route to find the actual convention center. The upside of this is that we got to check out the restaurants and shops of this beautiful hotel, and to admire the impeccably kept gardens.

The convention area was already buzzing, even though it was still early on Saturday. We noticed that the ample exhibit area was similar to the expanse of the Houston show, and well suited to the blend of quilts and vendors assembled. We were pleased to see the Quilters’ Park in the center of the hall, just like the one in Paducah. This provides a place to rest and reflect in addition to visit with other quilters, something that isn’t always available at shows. 

Our favorite new product was the faux chenille, made by the Fabric Café folks. This technique is so quick and fun, it took me longer to BUY the white shirts to decorate than to make them. They will be featured in a full product review shortly, complete with pictures. 

We also admired (and purchased) some lovely old crazy quilt fabric encased in leaded glass from That Old Blue House to hang in our sewing room, and then decided to buy some of  Lisa Shureman's lovely earrings, too.

Things we had to buy included a beautiful oak and leaded glass quilt display case from Kerry's Kollectibles. We had drooled over them in Houston, agonized over which was the right size in Paducah, and just decided to throw caution to the winds and buy it on the spot in Nashville. Our only dilemma was how to pack it for the car trip back home, since the vendor had run out of bubble wrap earlier that day. But we decided to think about that while we checked out the rest of the show.

One thing we did notice was that Hancock’s of Paducah was not among the vendors this year. Last year, there had been much comment on the various quilt lists about the perceived  pervasive presence of this fabric giant among the vendors. However a stop at the fabled store was available as part of a day-long bus tour to Paducah and the Museum of the American Quilters' Society. (There were also opportunities for local tours, including a Nashville City tour, a funky Opryland "Nash Trash Tour," and visits to The Hermitage (Andrew Jackson's home), the Tennessee State Museum and Capitol, and of course the Grand Old Opry.)

"Going Beyond" by Meta MacLean, Quebec, Canada
First Place, Stack-n-Whack Challenge

Guilds entered theme challenges, each different from the other guilds. The rules were posted with the quilt display for each guild. My particular favorite was the proverb or sayings collection, that ranged from “Who do you think you are, the queen of Sheba?’ to "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched." The Mendocino Quilt Artists Guild in Ukiah, California, has dreamed up the "Show Your Attitude" challenge. There were also the Quilter's Choice contest and a Magic Stack-n-Whack contest which added a unique touch to the Nashville venue. 

By then it was noontime, and since our stomach clocks were still on Atlanta time, we were starving. Since I was in a salad-eating mood, I thought that I would have to leave the convention hall in search of healthy eating. However, we decided to check out the food area, since the availability of nourishment can become an issue at large shows.

Surprisingly, the eating area was ample, and the lines moved briskly. The choices included a green salad, fruit salad, deli sandwiches of several varieties and gorgeous showcase-worthy desserts. Prices were reasonable ($4.50 for my nice salad), and they had multiple types of fat-free dressing in addition to regular kinds. And my salad was crisp romaine lettuce, radish, watercress, and carrot with olive and pepperoncini for garnish. The Opryland staff did a flawless job on the food and the food service. If anything could have been improved, it would have been swapping out the too-low chairs at the dining tables. 

Another difference we noticed was the number of younger family members who were helping in the family-run businesses. Since the majority of the large quilt shows are held during the school year, many of the student-age population don't get the opportunity to participate in the up-close-and-personal end of the family enterprise. As a strong believer in the educational value of work, the Traveling Quilter thought this was great. And judging from the enthusiastic young people with whom we spoke, they did too.

We gave in to temptation and decided to venture over to Opry Mills to buy a mattress pad to cushion our newly-acquired quilt keeper. The one bad decision of the trip was not to take the shuttle over to the center, but to brave the huge but overflowing parking lot of the mall. Opry Mills is a giant complex with  great shopping options such as Sak’s Off Fifth, but it’s also very popular. It took us about fifteen minutes to find a spot that then provided quite a trek to the mall entrance. However, once inside, I was reminded a little of Mall of America, but without Camp Snoopy.  There’s a rock-climbing wall, an Imax theater and all kinds of great stores. Lots of options all under one roof. 

One other Nashville destination that has lots of stuff but not necessarily under a roof is the Metro Farmer’s Market. We stopped there early in the day at opening time, just as many farmers were parking their trucks in the merchant slots. As city folk, we are always anxious for fresh produce even if we aren’t going to be cooking that night. We were particularly interested in some native tomatoes that were an especially rosy red, known as Bradfords and corn that had been in the field only a few hours earlier. The market also offers beautiful seafood and meat as well. We had read about ready-to-cook biscuits that are available in the air-conditioned building that is part of the market, but didn’t have a good way to keep them frozen. Next time I’m bringing a large cooler. 

We also have to mention the side trip to the downtown area which houses some super home decoration shops. The Salvage Store and Associated Salvage both have interesting selections of well-priced drapery and upholstery fabric. One has a dynamite selection of trims and tassels, all well below what I have paid for the same items previously. The other carries tons of rugs in addition to fabric. The plus is that both stores are in the same block, with a couple of nice antique stores located across the street! 

Upon reflection, the Traveling Quilter tried to summarize our thoughts about these two distinctive AQS shows. The Nashville  show is much less a trip to Mecca than Paducah. Although we’re sure many of the attendees are exactly the same folks with whom we rubbed elbows at the Big E, everyone seems more relaxed. Maybe because it’s summer. Maybe because the Nashville show is not yet the Holy Grail of Quilting. Maybe because the AQS show is just a blip on the Opryland convention radar, not an annual all-consuming event that for one week a year swallows the town. Maybe because there aren’t yet as many vendors at Nashville. Whatever the reasons, each of these two great quilt shows has something unique to offer the quilt enthusiast.

Which reminds me, how many days until Paducah?

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