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The Traveling Quilter: Houston Quilt Market, 2008

The line to get into Sample Spree the evening before Market rivaled the lines to vote this year.

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Quilt Market and Halloween are my two favorite things about October. Even when the day we were to fly to Houston from Atlanta was super soggy, there was nothing that could dampen my spirits. This included the irate man who boarded the airport shuttle berating the driver because he believed that she had deliberately driven past him, while he was standing sans raingear in the downpour. After all, I had MY umbrella!

Houston itself was beautifully sunny. We spent some time having the traditional post-flight lunch at Central Market, then poked around the Heights area for a bit. A funky, re-gentrifying neighborhood, the shopping district has such delights as the Yale Avenue Drugstore which still supports a soda fountain and luncheonette in addition to housing Purple Moon Emporium. Purple Moon mixes fun, new, girly stuff with eclectic antiques all at sensible prices. We picked up a few Halloween items at Grace Hart Antiques, and ended with a stop at Casa Ramirez to peek at the altars being prepared for Dia de los Muertos.

We made a quick stop by the Brown Convention Center to pick up our credentials, then went to the hotel to rest up for Sample Spree that night. The most notable event there was paying just 60 cents for parking at a meter! We left just as a huge all-female crowd left the Toyota Center where they had been attending an inspirational religious gathering.

Arriving back at the center a few hours later, we did give in and pay $10 to park at the Toyota Center lot. But it was Friday night in Houston, after all! We made a quick stop by the Bernina/Brewer reception, just long enough to sample the mini chicken cordon bleu, beef Wellington, and boursin-stuffed mushrooms, along with some bruchetta, spinach-artichoke dip and chocolate dipped strawberries! Quite a nice gathering, but we had Sample Spree ahead of us and didn’t allow ourselves too much time to be sidetracked.

Standing in the line at Sample Spree is something I look forward to. I always meet super shop owners, and learn what the hot Schoolhouse sessions have been. This year the line was shorter than usual, probably an indication of some of the effects of the economy on Market. However, we ran into Dianne Springer (of Quilt-in-a-Cup fame) who helped us while away the time by talking of her art trips to Bali. Folks seemed more polite this year, even when the doors were flung open at the magic 9 o’clock hour for the traditional running of the quilters. As has been the case for several years, Moda was the reigning monarch of the Spree, with their adorable “Bake Shop” line totes in an all-over light green cupcake print dominating the scene. Other standout items that went quickly were Tammy Carlson’s adorable Santas and the Fiber Goddess’ Diva Cordmaker and of course, anything fabric!

Opening day at Market dawned clear and sunny. The usual crowd was assembled in front of the doors at the bottom of the escalator, many rolling Tuttos. This year someone had halted traffic down the escalator to ensure the safety of all until after the group had passed through the main doors. Our plan was to head to the far end of the hall and methodically work our way back. We did allow ourselves a minute of diversion when we saw Fabri-Quilt’s great jungle exhibit, which featured a jumbo stuffed elephant, giraffe and zebra crafted from their featured fabric.

This year’s booths from the fabric vendors seemed somewhat subdued. There were no life-sized King Kongs or princesses greeting us. The celebrity factor was there, however: Marie Osmond was slated to appear for her fabric line at Quilted Teasures and Jay McCarrell from Project Runway was signing autographs as well. Snacks (it’s always about the food!) were pretty much along the traditional trick or treat lines, except for the ginger snaps at Moda’s “Bake Shop’, the Slim-Jims at Fiber-Co and the Pez from Henry Glass. (Pez is one of their new fabric lines, too!)

Not that I’m complaining, of course. Cutest and cleverest giveaways were the headbands with neon colored pigtails attached, which echoed the colors of the “Komfycush” cushions themselves as well as the outfit of Kenzie Liegh who was dressed as a little girl who then sat in a giant chair like Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann. At Kenzie's request, Rob wore his bright green pigtails all day, and talked to more women (and men) than he has in the last five years. The faux orchid leis from Island Batiks were another standout freebie.

As always, the displays are oh-so-artful. We were quite taken with Alexander Henry’s white and neutrals displays of white pumpkins, pine cones and white gourds at the end of one aisle. Bali’s artfully arranged “Sushi Rolls” were a clever takeoff on the Jelly Roll craze. Timeless Treasures dressed their chairs with fabric bows, while Windham Fabrics went all-out with fully fluffed chairs sporting lovely fabric. Michael Miller was arguably the most completely done with white carpeting, hydrangeas, cherry blossoms and gossamer fairy wings on the backs of the chairs. It was really a walk through spring.

Clothing was very evident at Market, as were new software items.

We were completely captivated by the sweatshirt jacket designs of Londa Rohlfing. She has cleverly captured her techniques for shaping the boxy shirt to a more figure-flattering fit on an instructive DVD, then embellished (pun intended) the information by adding the instructions on how to add collars, cuff, trims and all sorts of divinely artistic goodies to the basic design. The beauty of much of this is that a DVD is much more efficiently stored than the huge paper volume that this prints out to be, and has lots and lots of photos of every step of the process. It’s like going to a class and then bringing home photo notes!

Londa also has individual patterns that sort of “snap on” to the basic program and book to help you become an instant art wear designer. The part I like is that by starting with the basic garment constructed, you spend your valuable time doing the fun stuff much sooner!

We chatted with Barbara Groves and Mary Jacobson of Me and My Sister, and thanked them for developing that wonderful gizmo, the Sidewinder. So many bad words have gone unsaid because of them! Me and My Sister had a lot of new patterns this year.

Fabric Studio, a clever new piece of computer software, lets you make custom fabric in a flash. You design fabric using already loaded motifs or your own photos or whatever and then hit print to go to a printer loaded with fabric. Magic! The motifs can be tiled, swirled, and otherwise manipulated and personalized items can be cranked out with no trouble. The Fabric Studio booth had several quilts that mixed commercial and quilter-designed fabrics, and you couldn't tell the difference.

One of the most inventive and easiest new products was the Diva Custom Cord Maker. The brain child of Fiber Goddess Connie James, this simple device makes artistic looking cords out of any seven (or more) fibers you chose. The most difficult part is winding the fiber on the flexible spools and then counting to three! The cording works up quickly, but be warned—doing this can be both soothing and addictive! Quilters were introduced to this invention via the April issue of McCall’s Quilt magazine where inch-wide fabric was made into a custom corded tote-bag handle. You can see our video demonstration of the product on YouTube.

For all you Featherweight fanatics out there, a company called Featherweight Rx introduced a comprehensive 3-1/2 hour video of how to maintain your treasured machine without putting it in the hands of strangers. There is also a made -to-match seam guide that mimics the black and gold hallmark finish of the Featherweight, so your baby will not only feel good but look good, too! A companion book on Featherweight maintenance is also offered.

We noticed that bias binding was on many items this year, as the look of the 40’s and 50’s is still strong in clothing. We have also noticed that few people truly enjoy cutting bias binding, nor is the ready-made stuff always available in exactly the fabric you need for custom work. ( And it’s sort of pricey, too.) A new specially designed ruler called “the bias tool" helps you make quick work of this least favorite chore. Just match its edges with those of a half yard or fat quarter, and cut away. For the most frequently used 2.5 inch binding, just cut along both edges. Or if you need it slimmer, there are marks at each quarter inch to guide your positioning on the cut edge.

Another product that wowed us was the “Honey Guy” Waterblocker hand cream. Made from the wax of bees that reside on the family farm in Texas, this hand cream is all natural, greaseless and waterproofs your hands for the whole day. It won’t leave a reside on fabric, but soothes dry hands despite frequent washings. It's also great for corns and calluses, diaper rash, chapped lips, burns, and raw skin from blowing your nose too much. Now that cold and flu season is upon us, this product will get a lot of use from me.

Right across the aisle from Honey Guy was the Tutto sewing machine luggage booth, and they were doing a brisk business. We placed a big order for Christmas, and got a look a their new products, which included two new colors of the machine-on-wheels carrier, turquoise and chocolate brown. Unfortunately these new colors won't be available until mid-December.

We did take an hour or so to commune with the quilts, which is why there is Market in the first place! There was a nice mix of traditional and contemporary styles. The traditional selection was highlighted by a selection from the DAR Museum collection of early American quilts. Rural American was another theme, with a collection of quilts sponsored by Country Living Magazine. And appropriate to a historic election year, the Political Patchwork exhibit drew much attention, particularly the quilts designed by Ed Larson, a folk artist in New Mexico, and executed by Fran Soika of Novelty, Ohio. These mural-like quilts skewer politicians on both sides of the spectrum with commentary on controversial issues that have emerged in the current events of the last decade or so. The Houston Chronicle even carried an article on these particular quilts. Other politically inspired quilts featured interesting portraits of the presidential candidates, including an impressionistic rendering of Barack Obama using Tami Bowser's Quilted Photo Deluxe software. The Hoffman challenge fabric this year was a peacock pattern, so the dolls and quilts from this were quite colorful and imaginative.

Just a quick note on food: The convention center offered its usual $3 bottled water and other standard large exhibit goodies, of couse. We ventured out to our favorite Mediterranean bistro Chatters on Saturday night and were not disappointed. We also had a great tamale courtesy of the opening of the Dia de los Muertos altars at Casa Ramirez. We rediscovered cheddar, jalepeno and sausage kolaches at the Kolache Factory. So, all in all, it was good eating.

Registrations at Quilt Market this year were down from earlier boom years, but the fervent buying activity by the eager quilt shop owners and staff members who were there was encouraging. Despite the stock market and the news media, quilters will find a way.

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