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Parsing Quilt City
American Quilter's Society Show, April 2008

By Lynn Holland

Quilter's Park in the Paducah Convention Center

I finally figured it out. Not all by myself of course, but with the help of someone who was at the Park Avenue AQS Vendor Mall and talking to another quilter. They were discussing shows, and one asked the other about the Houston Quilt Market and Festival.

“I really thought I would freak out the first time that I walked into that huge convention center. I mean, it’s GIGANTIC. I was completely overwhelmed until I figured out that it was really very logical and you could go row by row and be sure you covered everything. You didn’t have to go anywhere else to eat, and they had lots of choices. Here, well, you have to go all over town to be sure you see it all.” And that’s when it hit me: Paducah really is Quilt City – all of the time – not just during Quilt Week in late April.

But I need to start at the beginning. It has been several years since we were in Paducah. Those of you who are long-time friends of Planet Patchwork and the Traveling Quilter know that we like to do this show a little differently each time. Once we went on a quilt-shop-sponsored one-day up-and-back bus trip (whew!); another time we stayed with a local family who agreed to rent out one of their bedrooms to American Quilters’ Society members who couldn’t find conventional hotel rooms in the city (always an issue during the show). This time, however, we took the easy way out and were hosted by Lisa and Ron Hughes, whose daughter Sarah is married to our son Nicholas. The Hughes’ families have lived in the Paducah area for generations.

Friday morning we drove from Nashville to the show, arriving at about ten. We went to the Convention Center expecting to pick up our waiting press credentials, but the press room was temporarily without an official. So we went to the admissions window, where someone immediately flagged down Meredith, because she had a phone. Imagine our amazement when Meredith turned out to be THE Meredith Schroeder, founder and president of AQS and the entire large enterprise that it has become.

Meredith said, “I can get you into the show.” Then she noticed Rob had a camera and said, “but can you take a picture for me first? My photographer seems to have disappeared.” She took us to the back of the Convention Center to a longarm vendor booth and had us take photos of Peggy Elgert, who had just won a Gammill machine in a drawing and was taking custody of it that very minute. We were thrilled to meet the Queen of AQS, and so excited that we could help. We then set out to explore the first exhibit room and by the time we reached the end of the first row, Rosemarie Steele of the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau had tracked us down to give us our press credentials. We were also happy that we had gotten to the convention center in time to see Ted Storm-vanWeelden of the Netherlands posing in front of her “Best of Show” quilt titled “Spring of Desire.” It is always so awesome to realize that super talented quilters are real people just like the rest of us!


Best of Show Winner, "Spring of Desire"

Quilter Ted Storm-vanWeelden of the Netherlands

The quilts at Paducah this year were as drop-dead gorgeous as they always are. They were displayed over several venues, upstairs and downstairs in the Convention Center as well as at outlying sites. Styles tended generally toward the traditional, but there were lots of art quilts and representational efforts as well. As seems to be the case every year, a high percentage of entries were from Japanese quilters. This is borne out by AQS statistics, which show that 112 of the 791 quilts entered in the show were from Japan. One special area was devoted to the work of a group of Japanese quilters. Called “Cotton Poem,” the display featured the 25th Anniversary Exhibition of Kayoko Oguri and her quilting group. The top winning quilts are always acquired by the AQS for display in their growing collection at the Museum of the American Quilters Society.

Fabric Festival, by Michiko Obuchi, Chiba City, Japan

The gathering of vendors was also robust as always at Paducah this year. Everyone from small quilt shops to major machine manufacturers were peddling their wares to the thousands of quilters gathered in one place. We saw our friends from LaPierre Studios (inventors of the Supreme Slider), Just Curves (the Curvemaster presser foot), and Martelli (the Zipbind and other products) doing demos for eager customers. We missed our friends from Electric Quilt Company (Electric Quilt 6 software), who apparently didn’t come to Paducah this spring. At one bookshop booth, we encountered Meg Cox, with whom we’ve been corresponding by e-mail about her new book, The Quilter’s Catalogue, the hottest new quilting book on the market, number one seller in the quilting category on Amazon, as she informed us.

By noon Central Time our EDT stomachs were ready for lunch so we set out to walk to Grace Episcopal Church, where we had reservations for their annual Friday luncheon. Of course, we also had to check out the food offerings set up outside the Center. Backyard Burgers was busily grilling hamburgers and chicken breasts on huge grills, while BSA Troop 200 was dishing up mountainous strawberry shortcakes in great quantities. Paducah BBQ (run by Larry, Darryl and Darryl) also had a big trailer on site.

Lining up for food outside the Convention Center

In another area, corn dogs, ribbon potatoes and funnel cakes were being snapped up quickly. Nearby, fried Twinkies, Oreos and Snickers offered us delights beyond imagination.  Quilters were happily munching -- sitting not only in the covered picnic area that was set up, but also lined up on the low wall that runs in front of the Convention Center. There was the usual naturally occurring fashion show that always happens in Paducah -- sets of ladies in matching quilted attire, sometimes crafted just for this trip. Then there were individual entries, the beautiful one-of-a kind wearables that pop up when quilters gather. It’s almost a visit to a human botanical garden, if you can visualize that!

For many quilters, a trip to Paducah is an annual girls’ retreat, or even reunion time for mothers, daughters and sisters who share the bond of fiber fanaticism. Some professional quilters come just to enjoy the event itself, and don’t teach or take classes.

 We had parked right in front of Grace Church earlier, which at the time was not yet bustling on the outside of the buildings. Someone sat quietly knitting in the lovely courtyard, and there were few cars to be seen. Now things were hopping, and after our trek from the waterfront we were ready to sit at the pink draped tables among quilts hung high on the parish house walls. Volunteers in aprons decorated with painted dogwoods served us Festival chicken salad along with baby green and roasted fruit salad.

Our server was a recent retiree from General Motors who had moved to Paducah in retirement because it was his wife’s hometown. After an incredibly decadent Mint Julep brownie and ice cream for dessert, we bought this year’s recipe page to add to our ever-growing Grace Church cookbook.

After lunch we were off to what can only be described as “Camp Quilt in a Day”. Eleanor Burns had taken over the Exhibit Hall at Carson Park a few miles from the Convention Center, pitched some humongous tents and was doing her USO Quilt Shows that featured Eleanor herself as Rosie the Riveter and the Victory Quilt that is her latest quilt book. Earlier in the week, Camp QIAD hosted a class with Eleanor herself that took quilters through the steps to do the wallhanging version of this quilt. In addition to the show, multiple tents were home to Fabric Frenzy where gazillions of bolts at $4 per yard were being scooped up by eager shoppers.

Eleanor Burns as Rosie the Riveter

Since things are spread out at the quilt show, there are shuttle buses that run to the major venues, hotels and free parking at the Kentucky Mall. There are multiple routes, so you have to consult your show guidebook to know which shuttle to catch to get where you want to go. We returned to the main venue later in the afternoon for a final hour of quilt-viewing and vendor-visiting in some of the areas we had missed in the morning, and then we headed out for the Hughes residence.

When we arrived at the Hughes’, Lisa was preparing to participate in the Heath High School pre-prom photo shoot. Lisa is Heath’s media specialist, and she makes a DVD of events during each class' senior year as a graduation keepsake. So of course she had to get a picture of each senior prom-goer for inclusion in the video. We jumped at Lisa’s invitation to accompany her on the gathering at the nearby Technology Center Park.

After a fun time watching all the students in their beautiful gowns and their Mr. Penguin (the local men’s formalwear store) finery, we decided that we better head home or be drenched by the storms that threatened. When we expressed surprise that they would schedule a prom during quilt week, it was observed that the unavailability of hotel rooms because of the event was viewed as a plus by many Paducah parents!

Saturday morning our first stop was the famous Hancock’s of Paducah fabric store. There were several tour buses in the lot, and tons of cars. There were huge signs telling customers to please wait outside for buses and friends due to fire marshall regulations. Busy does not describe what was happening inside. The efficient, plentiful help kept things moving in the front area, where thousands of bolts live. However, true fabric mania had taken hold in the rear, where mounds of flat folds were heaped, on sale for $2.98 per yard. The pieces were about 1 yard each, so if you were smitten with one piece and needed more, the proper etiquette was to hold the piece aloft over your head and holler “I need more of this! Anyone got some?”

Mayhem at Hancock's

If, indeed, you located another piece of the same fabric, you should then yell back “Here comes! Everybody heads up!” and heave the chunk of fabric toward the appropriate quilter. Sometimes intermittent tosses were required, but apparently everyone understood the protocol and responded accordingly. Measuring and checking out went swiftly, again thanks to cheerful clerks.

Then we were off to the AQS Park Avenue Merchants mall, a new venue set up several miles down the road. There were lots of folks there, and some quilts on exhibit as well. Our friends from Cheryl Ann’s Design Wall were there, and as always the product was getting lots of attention from shoppers. Next on our agenda was something new to us, the Rotary Club Antique Quilt show. Imagine our surprise when today’s ticket-taker was the same gentleman who had served us lunch on Friday! We saw some lovely antique basket quilts from the Pilgrim and Roy collection as well as some vendors with wonderful old textiles and sewing machines. There was even a shiny blue Featherweight, something we had never seen before!

Next was the main center, where we revisited some rooms that had been a little crowded the day before. Something I had not remembered from previous years was the AQS silent auction, that included a wide mix of treasures from antique quilt blocks to baskets of local edible treats. Just a little way from that was the “Men’s Den”, which featured a big screen TV and computers with internet access to amuse any husbands who might be weary of all the quilts and quilters.

Then we tromped down the street to check out Eleanor’s permanent store in Paducah, just a stone’s throw from the Convention Center. It was fabric galore in there, and I was lucky enough to get some backing for a quilt for a total of $12! Additionally, the colors of the day were pink and green, so my pink border selection qualified for an extra discount! On our way into QIAD I had noticed a sign for Serenitea, a new restaurant and events location the next street over. Since it was lunch time, we hopped over there and had a super yummy lunch. Formerly the Elk’s Club, owner Erin Gwinn is restoring the old building and converting it into a fabulous events facility and restaurant. I had homemade pimento cheese along with freshly brewed flavor of the day iced tea.  Service was very friendly and quick.

Serenitea carries a lovely line of teaware and other gifts

Of course we checked out the building and were totally taken by the little girls’ tea party room, complete with decorated child-sized chairs and accessories for dress up! Renovation of the upstairs ballroom is in the works, and Erin hopes to host some quilt-related events at Serenitea next year.

Fortified by a great lunch, we still had some ground to cover. Almost every empty storefront had been temporarily converted to sell quilt related merchandise. The Guild, a permanent shop, had lots of lovely smocking supplies, children’s items, knitting goodies, great gift items, embellishments and of course, fabric. My favorite item was a T-shirt that declared “What happens in Paducah, stays in Paducah”. We did a whirlwind tour of the downtown area, made one last visit to the Convention Center to buy those things we just HAD to have.

Finally we hit the Kentucky Oaks mall, which was also full of quilt vendors. Quilts, quilts everywhere. By now, we were running out of steam and it was time to head back to home base. After all, that evening was the Lowertown Home Tour, and we had to rest for a moment to be ready for that.

Lowertown is an older area of Paducah, right near the Convention Center (and the mighty Ohio River) that had suffered over the years from flooding (until the town built its colorful flood walls) and from a lagging economy. In the 1980s the city began a program aimed at revitalizing the area that encouraged artists to populate it by giving them abandoned properties to restore and use as studios and homes.  The results have been spectacular. Many artists (including quilt artists, such as Caryl Bryer Fallert) have taken up the challenge and converted the area into a thriving art colony. The home tour we attended with Ron and Lisa featured many of these studios, which often had living quarters upstairs. The restorations are magnificent, and the comeback of the area has allowed Paducah to become a destination even when it’s not Quilt Week.

A renovated manse in Lowertown, Paducah

Finally, as we were strolling around Lowertown in the lovely spring evening, it became clear to me: Houston is the Home Show and Paducah is the Tour of Homes.  The International Quilt Festival comes into Houston and the George Brown Convention Center, builds its own city for a little while, and then moves on. It is arranged for maximum convenience and exposure. Paducah invites quilters into their pre-existing town and lives, and quilters have to work around it. Traffic flow may not be optimal, and things may not be all in one place and systematically laid out. But each one of these national shows has its charms, and each one is the best of kind, despite their different approaches. That is why they are both not to be missed.




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