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What is it about Paducah? 
American Quilter's Society Show, April 23 - 26, 2003

By Lynn Holland

Every year I look forward to the pilgrimage to Paducah, Kentucky, for the American Quilter's Society show with almost childlike anticipation. It certainly isn't due to the glamour or luxury associated with the destination, although in recent years it has "spiffed up" quite a bit. It's more, I think, the family reunion or school homecoming quality that keeps bringing me (and a whole lot of folks) back to this river town year after year.

As you may know, much of the town shifts its focus to the Quilt Show for the entire week, so many things about the show don't change. It's always held at the "Big E," (The Executive Inn) Paducah's big hotel on the river, which is adjacent to the city's Convention Center. There are lots of local luncheons and dinners, and Broadway, the main street, gives way to fabric-frenzied visitors. This year another "big E", Eleanor Burns, was still packing in the crowds for her clever show (this was Quilt-in-a-Day's 25th Anniversary). Although her temporary headquarters were set up a few blocks away, throngs of people hiked or drove to have the authentic Eleanor experience.

Top three winners in the Professional Mixed Techniques category. Bohemian Rhapsody by Ricky Tims, Sweet Pea by Candy Goff, and A Perfect Moment by Sharon Schamber.Another thing that doesn't seem to change is the scarcity of lodging. Since our attempts to find commercial accommodations had failed, we contacted the McCracken County Convention and Visitors' Bureau. In cooperation with the American Quilters' Society, the Visitors' Bureau runs a matching service with local residents who wish to rent out rooms in their homes to visiting quilters. As AQS members, we were eligible for this "B&B" program, and they matched us up with a family (the Joneses) and we were set!

Due to our schedules, we didn't arrive until mid-morning on Friday. We toyed with the idea of trying to make it in time to hear Robbie Eklow's lecture, but decided that after the previous evening's trip (made lengthy by pouring rain and a truck accident) we would take the extra sleep instead. We had arranged to meet Molly and Gordon Cooper, who were visiting from New Zealand, for lunch at a local downtown church, so decided to begin with a quick tour of Broadway as our first stop. We were surprised to see that one of our favorite stores, A Charmed Life, had moved and morphed into part coffee shop, part store. Although they still had neat stuff, there did not appear to be a new quilt charm for this year's festival as they've had the last several years, nor was the level of activity at the store what it usually is.

There was more buzz at The Guild, a nearby storefront that has been converted into a mini-mall (just for Quilt Week) with assorted vendors. Here we stopped at the Country Bunny booth and as we bought a pearberry lotion bar as a secret pal gift, we were offered a sample of "body butter" by the vendor. The merchants in this group were a cheerful, social bunch, teasing each other about the pronunciation of "body butter" and suggesting that customers "help senior citizens" by purchasing the sellers' wares!

We checked out silver jewelry and clever purses being sold by one of the more talkative vendors, but decided to check with the daughter person before making a decision. After all, choosing between Audrey Hepburn and Betty Boop should not be done without proper consultation! (You can imagine our surprise upon arriving at our hosts' home that evening and discovering that Mr. Jones was the vendor from whom we had almost purchased a handbag earlier that day. Their daughter was also the lady at the Country Bunny booth!)

Gordon Cooper worked in the Electric Quilt booth as a volunteer. It was time for the 12:15 sitting for lunch at Grace Episcopal Church, so off we went to meet with the Coopers. Grace Episcopal hosts a lunch during the quilt show every year, and you may recall that last year we met a family of four sisters at this event who had made the quilt show the occasion for a reunion. We didn't see the sisters again, but we quickly found Molly and Gordon even though we had met only online. Gordon has for years been an active and helpful participant in Planet Patchwork's Info-EQ maillist, and has published a database of Electric Quilt hints and tips for EQ users. He and Molly were near the beginning of a 6-week-long sojourn from New Zealand to several cities in the U.S. and Canada, as well as London, and Paducah of course was a highlight for them as quilting enthusiasts. This was also their chance to meet some of the gang from Electric Quilt in their booth at the show, and Gordon cheerfully set himself to work as stockman and general helper.

Lunch was a chicken and rice casserole and marinated bok choy salad. Dessert was a sinful apple dumpling, which the recipe says is baked in Mountain Dew! Of course, we bought the recipe update for our cookbook so we could relive our lunch again and again! The Coopers were delightful company as we learned of the many things Gordon had done during his naval career, how they became involved in quilting and computers, and why New Zealanders are very busy in April - they all participate in the kiwi harvest! Church members' quilts were hung throughout the dining area, and provided a proper backdrop for what is always a great meal and an even more pleasant experience.

Finally, we were off to the Big E. We stopped for a moment at the press booth to have our picture snapped with Molly and to say hello to the wonderful people from the McCracken County Convention and Visitors Bureau. We were sorry that we missed seeing Bonnie Browning, the indefatigable chairperson of the Quilt Show. She was out and about, overseeing all those details that make this show the event that it is.

Twilight Rendezvous by Inge Mardal and Steen Hougs, Chantilly, France. First Place, Group Quilt, Professional or Amateur.The quilts at Paducah are always amazing. The originality of design, the use of color, and the quality of workmanship are simply unparalleled, and the show maintains its high standards year after year. This year's Hancock's of Paducah Best of Show Award went to Phillippa Naylor of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, for an unusual medallion quilt in bright greens, reds, and yellows, entitled "Lime Light." Elsie Campbell of Dodge City, Kansas, won the AQS Hand Workmanship Award with her "Star Flower," and the Machine Workmanship Award from Bernina was awarded to Cynthia Schmitz of Arlington Heights, Illinois, for "Blueberry Morning." These quilts, along with a complete list of winners, are online at the AQS website.

Since the new exhibit area has opened, the AQS show has been much less claustrophobic. When we first went to Paducah four years ago, frequent trips outside were mandatory. However, with all the new open space, the show has taken on a much more relaxed atmosphere. Aisles are wider, and there is less of a crush throughout the building, allowing better viewing of the quilts and more elbowroom in the vendor booths. Even the outside crowds seemed less wall-to-wall people!

The town has undergone a transformation, too. Many of the riverfront shops have been remodeled, and new businesses have moved into the downtown area. There are trendy boutiques and more gourmet restaurants. We had hoped this trip to see more of the "real" Paducah, partly because our son, Nicholas, is engaged to Sarah, a Paducah native. Due to the upcoming July wedding, we stopped at the old Irwin Cobb Hotel to chat with Jean Little of Little Edibles about rehearsal dinner plans. Last year we had stopped at Little Edibles for a quilter's lunch, but this year Jean offered several nights of dinners for quilters, which featured not only good food but Freda Friedman, who gave a lecture on fiber and creativity.

After our visit with Jean, we ventured down the river to the River Heritage Museum on another wedding-related errand. The Museum's Founder's Room looks directly over the town's decorative flood walls and out onto the Ohio River. It was immediately clear why Sarah thought this antiques-filled room would be a great place to view fireworks! When we had dinner Friday night with Sarah's family, her mother and grandmother clued us in about Surplus City, so we put that on our "must see" list for Saturday, once we had our fill of quilt viewing.

Saturday dawned clear but chilly. After the gloomy rain of Friday, we were happy to be carrying jackets instead of umbrellas. Our first stop was Hancock's of Paducah, the famous local fabric store (not part of the national chain), which was in full tilt even first thing on Saturday. The clerks waited patiently while we were indecisive about which piece of flat-fold toile to buy, along with a cartoon print novelty for our DIL Christina. Then it was off to downtown, where we stopped in at a local establishment for a cup of coffee. It is important to note that even during Quilt Festival, we were able to find on-street parking. After a quick stop at The Guild to pick up the Betty Boop purse for the daughter person, we were off to the show.

We revisited all the quilts that we wanted to see in person another time, and did a thorough second visit to the vendors. (No small task, I will add.). On the second floor we ran into well-known quilter Carol Doak who was taking a "time-out" in one of the conveniently place chairs along the wall. Asked if she was teaching, Carol revealed that Paducah is the one show she attends with a close friend just for the fun of it.

If the weather's good, the Paducah streets are full of vendors.Leaving the show, we went to check out more of the town. Down the road a piece at So Cool, things were hopping. Recently mentioned in Southern Living as one of the Top 200 stores in the south, So Cool is just that. They were holding a sidewalk sale where I picked up several neat presents plus some frivolous stuff for Christmas stockings. Next to So Cool were several vendors selling vintage textiles, so I purchased up several old "bridge cloths" to use for picnics. Trotting by the whole time were carriage rides, which are always a bargain price. Around the corner was a multi-storied antique store with the best collection of hotel and brand china I've ever seen.

By this time we were hungry, so we ducked into "Whaler's Catch" and sat way up in the outdoor crow's nest atop the restaurant. After a wonderful grouper sandwich and a spectacular (but chilly) look at the river and the town from above, we moved on. We had set our sights on Surplus City. Thrillingly enough, SC was holding a post-Easter tent sale, so cartons were piled high with treasures marked way down. This store features "leftovers" from high-end catalogs and all kinds of stuff from who-knows-where. We snapped up two charming wooden shelves for $5 each and some firmly-stuffed 30 inch pillow forms for the same price. We picked up some additional candidates for Christmas stocking inclusion, and wished we had a larger van so we could have bought more stuff.

Saturday dinner was at Flamingo Row. This charming restaurant is a little way out of downtown (3100 Broadway) and has wonderful patio dining. The menu is varied and the food is terrific. What better experience for our last night dinner?

Sunday morning came way too soon, and our family reunion-like experience was over. We said good-bye to the Joneses who were on their way to usher at church, and thanked them profusely for taking in two strangers and treating us like family. As I packed the last of our stuff in the car, I realized that I sure was glad to know that we'll be back again in July. There's just something about Paducah.

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