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The Traveling Quilter: Houston Quilt Market, 2009

By Lynn Holland

Looking down on the floor through the porthole as vendors set up for market.

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This was an anniversary year for both Quilt Market and for Planet Patchwork. For QM, their thirty-fifth; for PP our tenth; we first started reporting on the doings in Houston in 1999. Like all relationships, things change over time; and there were some instances that were different from the start.

First of all, it was raining. In our ten previous trips, we have seen nothing but glorious weather in Houston. This time we encountered the monsoon. Our plane rides have been calm. Even though we saw a rainbow out the window early in this year’s flight, we had a plane ride straight out of a scary movie, with the plane bouncing and falling several hundred feet included. Plus, we had Planet Patchwork’s own official Tweeter, the Daughter Person Pamela (DPP) along for her first Market ever. Next, Market was two full weeks earlier due to a city-wide event planned years ago for its usual slot, which apparently is the ONLY force more powerful than Quilts, Inc. in Houston.

But some traditions held. We went to Central Market for lunch and Chatters for dinner before Sample Spree. Despite all the construction in downtown Houston, a fabled Market stalwart, Josephine’s Italian Ristorante has survived. We of course went early in the afternoon to check out the scene at the convention center and pick up our credentials. The Media Room held birthday cake and another surprise. One of our fellow plane passengers turned out to be Janet Klaer, columnist for Sew News, who was there to cover Market. Bob Ruggiero, the ever calm and collected Public Relations Director of Quilts, Inc, was there to greet us along with his assistant Rhianna White.

When we went upstairs to see what classes seemed to be most in demand on the “class wanted” board, Pat Sloan’s Georgia bag was clearly the front-runner. We were impressed by the changes in the George R. Brown Convention center area. A new underground parking garage (with 1600 spaces) is now open, and Discovery Park has replaced what used to be the parking lot. Peeking through the second floor porthole windows inside the convention center, we watched a cluster of P&B Fabric reps having a “last chance” prep meeting down below. The loud speaker warned that all boxes and obstructions should be moved from the aisles in preparation for the sweepers. Wanting a few minutes to rest before the evening ahead, we departed.

When we returned that evening, we were taken aback to see that there was no ”without tickets” line for Sample Spree. This is the backup line for those who had not prepaid for admission. Typically they are granted admittance about an hour into the Sample Spree session. In our ten years at Market, that has never happened before. We have seen impromptu parties and family reunions in the queue, costumes and portable chairs, but never no line at all. The lack of a line was more spooky than our earlier plane ride!

Nevertheless, the storm surge of quilters was significant. Moda bags are usually the most visible Spree trophies; this year they were a blue and cream design. Another huge draw this year was Happy Hollow’s tall, thin stick characters, pieced using a fusible grid. The Santa, witch, and kitty samples and patterns were being snapped up quickly. There were a few super cool items of which we took note so that we could more fully explore them at Market. Purchases were limited to a chunk of batik fat quarters, although the guys with handmade sandwich signs at Quilter’s Gate were mighty persuasive about their lovely prints.

The next morning the rain had stopped temporarily, and we headed off for the opening bell. We parked in the deck and immediately began interviewing the driver of the car next to us because we were totally captivated by her quilted steering wheel cover. The driver and cover designer is Patti Tipps, who works with Sew Many Things of Montgomery, Texas. She developed her spiffy insulated cover to combat the hot Texas sun after getting totally frustrated with the shield thing-ys that take on lives of their own in the summer. Super creativity, and we hadn’t even crossed the street to GRB yet!

Demos were cranking up as we entered the center, always a big favorite of the Traveling Quilter. We stopped at Clover to watch Theresa Pulido give a mini-lesson on her hook, loop and lock techniques that looked like lots of fun. We even walked away with a copy her latest book (Hook, Loop and Lock) and some new inspiration.

As longtime Traveling Quilter followers know, I like to pick out certain “best of kind” things at Market and tell about them. The DP Pamela was particularly interested in the best snack category. Scrupulous in her selection process, she insisted on actually sampling each offering. Although I was partial to Quilt Gate’s crunchy Japanese snacks (the reps with the sandwich signs at Spree) and Clover’s hard candy with the cute clover design in the middle, it was Studio e’s (http://www.studioefabrics.com/) red-sprinkled mini cupcakes that, well, took the cake. To celebrate their first birthday, the Greenville South Carolina firm had decided that cupcakes would be appropriate. However, they had to scramble at the last minute when they arrived at the bakery from which they ordered way in advance to discover the cupcakes were full size, not the minis they desired. Obviously the scrambling was well worth it, as the lovely red-sprinkled minis were a feast for the eyes in their cake stands and one for the taste buds as well. We loved their fabric, too, and we were hard pressed to decide which was the favorite collection, although we were both mighty fond of Urban Angel and the Essentials Black and White. Honorable mention in the creative snack choice category goes to Amanda Herring’s Swedish gummy fish from her The Quilted Fish Designs. Her darling Quiet Books (activity books made of fabric) would make a darling present for a child or grandchild, too.

Most consistent theme was Michael Miller’s “Luck of the Gnome” trailer park. They had great toadstools, gnome chair covers, a draft stop—and even a real live gnome who would let you play the “Luck of the Gnome” game for a prize. The gnome was kind enough to let me beg a bottle of water from her, too, which a had a customized gnome label on it!
Most fun interactions of the day came from the Lucky Duck game in the booth of Me and My Sister designs. They had a tub of floating rubber duckies from which you could choose and perhaps pick the duck who had a prize item written on the bottom. In the event a contestant started to select a duck that did not reveal a prize, one of the sisters would strongly suggest that the contestant reconsider her choice of duck! I won a pattern for a 1-2-3 quilt that is simple enough I might actually make it. These ladies have a reputation in my book for keeping us quilters happy; after all, they are the inventors of the Sidewinder bobbin winder!

Jazziest booth decoration honors were a tie between Riley Blake and Alexander Henry. Riley Blake’s “Eye Candy" gets kudos for the beautiful candyland they created in the aisles. Super cute, too, was the Utah firm’s fabric catalog that contained project directions using their fabric lines along with some yummy treats to cook. Most notable of their designs in my mind was the Wanna Be a Cowboy, available in two colorways -- pink and brown or blue and brown. This would be darling for children’s clothing or bedrooms. Alexander Henry’s “Sew Spooky” was way over the top as well, with a life-size witch and all of her pals -- crows, skulls and spiders. I couldn’t help but realize that much of my favorite Halloween fabric in the last few years has been thanks to this fabric group. Cutest dress-up mention should go to Bunnie’s Designs' Alice in Wonderland and her husband, the Mad Hatter. It took us a full day to catch a glimpse of the hatted one because he preferred wandering the floor to staying in the booth , but he was worth the search.

The cleverest giveaway was Warm and Natural plastic bracelet which held a jump drive loaded with the company’s catalog! Have to love the creativity. However, Shannon Fabric was handing out mini-blankies made of their soft cuddly fabric (some with the famous minky dimples and some not) and they sure were popular. Many of us walked around feeling our nice mini-throws as we walked the aisles. Their catalog lists so many colors, prints and soft textures that I’m sure shop owners needed comfort as they tried to chose among all the soft, cuddly fabrics!

Chair covers this year did not seem as inspired as they might have been, although I was sort of partial to Henry Glass’ “Whimseyland” covers with appliquéd backs. Windham Fabric’s school house theme ( I think all my years in education may have resulted in my not totally loving it) was very nicely done, complete with math-problems on the chalkboard. The chair covers there were pretty awesome, especially the cushioned seats!
Most unusual at the Food Court had to have been what appeared to be Chinese vegetables atop corn chips. I overheard someone comment “Fusion? That looks like Asian nachos!” However, after some Googling, I suspect that we were not viewing corn chips but wonton wrappers, which, in retrospect, sounds pretty good. Otherwise, it was pretty much what you expect -- Quizno’s, hot dogs, Southern stuff, BBQ potatoes, fudge, nuts, and lots of sugar-laden baked goods. I stuck with my protein bar!
As much as we love Market, Market is really all about business. Shopowners have important decisions to make about what and how much to buy, which tends to be stressful. Although the quilt display is there, it is the icing for attendees, not the cake. They visit the exhibit, but usually not until they have done much of the work they came here to do. For that reason, I always love to be sure to spend some time in what I call “the Quilt Cathedral”. The dimly lit (to minimize possibility of light damage) cavernous hall with the hush that comes from few people in the high space seems to mirror a giant church. And of course, being in the presence of all the artistic beauty is a pretty awesome experience.

However, all the rules change on the second week for Festival. Market is business, and Festival is Fun. Since we had not stayed for Festival in several years, we decided it was time to treat ourselves to some fun. Festival was, as DP put it, “The quilters’ equivalent of a bachelorette party”. Quilters tend to go there in groups, perhaps to provide moral support for our fabric purchasing decisions.

The night of premiere, there was momentary panic (and fear of traffic) when we realized upon checking in at the hotel that there was a U2 concert in Houston, but a quick check on the Blackberry (Thanks, DPP!) revealed that this was happening at the Reliant Center, a good ways away. We had scoped out the GRB earlier to get our credentials. However, never really good at detail or reading carefully, we arrived at the Media Room to find it CLOSED! However, the amazing Rhianna White materialized out of nowhere and gave us our badges so we could get in that night! We never cease to be amazed at how smoothly the massive event that is Market and Festival is run.

We wandered around to see what changes had been made to the center in preparation for the onslaught of festival goers, and they were pretty significant. To accommodate the needs of those who might have forgotten an essential item for a class, there was a mini-quilt shop set up with every imaginable notion and need, from freezer paper to Excedrin. A festival employee was speeding up and down the aisles in a motorized cart, checking on the needs of instructors. The Education Office was up and running with decorated tables and lots of Texas hospitality. The food service had been expanded from the main floor, with many more options and venues.

Much of the fun of premiere is the line to get in, and it did not disappoint. We got there maybe 30 minutes before the doors opened and the line was massive. Surprisingly, there were a good number of men who had come with their wives. We couldn’t decide if they were there to protect the safety of their wives or their bank balances, but there they were. It was a warm night, and the man in front of us was fanning his wife who looked like she might be ready to pass out. Right behind us was a woman who was by herself, proudly sporting earrings in the shape of American Express cards. Once the doors opened, it was indeed a premiere night!

Vendors on aisle 100 had turned their row into a block party, including a working slot machine. By 7:31, we saw a worker sporting a purple bandage to cover the night’s first injury by rotary cutter. Some of the crowd had swarmed the souvenir booth, with people waiting to snap up commemorative items.
We were totally captivated by Pamela D’Amour’s dog, Chrissie. Chrissie started as a service dog but has clearly evolved into a show dog, as evidenced by her charming costumed appearance during premier night. Pam is the Decorating Diva who markets a line of window treatment templates and instructional DVDs to help those of us coordinate our curtains with our quilts. All of Pam's products are extremely reasonable and comprehensive. She also does cruises! http://www.pamdamour.com/

The morning of Festival, the lines were AWESOME. The police had them running six rows deep at each entryway. We had luckily snagged one of the last parking spots in the garage across the street. In front of the garage, parking advisors on bicycles stood at the ready to cycle down the lines of cars to tell quilters where they could find available parking. Although the doors opened at 10 am, by 10:20 we were still working our way to the door. Interestingly, there were still more men than I had remembered from before, even though it was Thursday and a workday for most folks.

We decided to begin at Quilt University (where a make and take it was underway) and work our way around the place. In front of Quilt U was a board for fabric trading cards, where you could take one and leave one.

We also saw our good friends Penny McMorris and Dean Neumann and their team at the Electric Quilt booth. Like many of the vendors who also sell to a retail market, Electric Quilt stays the entire length of both Quilt Market and Festival, a span of 11 days. And we think we're tired after only a day-and-a-half!

Most quotable quotes overheard while walking through the aisles:

“I bought new tennis shoes, got a pedicure at my aunt’s beauty salon and told my boss I was going to a wedding.”

"I see you have baskets with firm bottoms- can you do something for mine?”

Grandmother, referring to adorably decked-out toddler, ”She’s just going to have to scream. I’m not stopping every time she doesn’t like something!”
“I DID buy that pattern last year. I wonder where it is now.”

“Beware the wheel chairs- they’ll run over you.”

At the Bernina booth: “Since I’m not spending $7000 going to India, I figure I might buy a great new machine.”

“We serve a lot of salsa in this country- quesadillas are everywhere!”

“The more you do it, the quicker you get through it!"

By the time I reached the back of the GRB floor, I was ready to try out some of the comfort vendors that had set up shop in the back row, offering Z coil shoes, ventilated inserts for better back supports in chairs, hand held massagers and while you wait foot massages.

Let’s talk about the really important stuff now: products. The thing we are completely in love with is Roberts Manufacturing's cheval mirror that – I still can’t believe it -- is a CUTTING TABLE! For those of us (me) whose sewing room doubles as an extra bedroom, this is totally awesome. (http://www.robertsmfg.com/model_99/) It is super easy to maneuver and very attractive. Available in white and natural wood finishes, it is truly one of those super clever ideas that should really appeal to many quilters. And it's made in the USA, to boot.

Steady Betty was another great product, designed by, of course, a quilter who wanted something to keep her small pieces from getting distorted by the pressing process. The most popular size, I’m told, is the 12-inch- square pressing board, although ironing board covers and other sizes are available. Made of what is best described as soft fine grit sandpaper fabric , it keeps pieced pieces and appliqué parts from the bad influences of an iron that tend to stretch and distort them. This is also great for ironing binding, bias and otherwise, which is so easily mangled accidentally in the pressing process. Not to mention those pieces that going flying off the board onto the floor now will not be going anywhere.
We loved Yazzii’s jewelry cases and sewing cases that are beautifully made and have lots of storage space. Those of us who are always packing up and moving out will appreciate the soft sided packability of these accessories. I’m thinking about keeping a case with the basic sewing supplies packed and ready to go for classes, just like I have my toiletries.

We watched Magnet-Ficent’s demo of their magnetic quilt hangers at least three times. These are perfect for those people who rent and will have to pay for every hole they put in the wall, the persistent redecorators (let’s hang it over there for a few days and see how we like it), and for those who hang multiple quilts for the holidays, but have other art the rest of the year. Or just for those of us who have concrete walls in some places (I’m thinking teachers and basement owners) for whom putting something on the wall is a major event.

One of the most interesting items was a notion that can make your clothing into an ipod dock. It was a little hard to envision this having a large appeal to quilters, but it was a clever idea.

Major trends this year: A definite move toward contemporary and retro, not repro, fabrics. Quilting in multiple formats other than bed. Kids clothing and home dec, and home dec in general. Bags and totes. Well engineered labor-savers and repetitive stress relievers. Software to expand your design capabilities and your horizons.

Although not connected with Market or Festival, I have to give a mention to a clever concept that we discovered in the Heights district of Houston. Not unlike the paint-your-own-pottery places, Sew Crafty specializes in “Make and Take” sessions for those who want to explore new techniques or just whip up something adorable without messing up their house. Everything you will need from start to finish is available on site, along with instructors to help you complete the project. Billed as a craft studio and sewing lounge, it’s a wonderful opportunity to fool around and create without having a huge time, money or hassle commitment. There are structured classes scheduled, such as Sewing Bootcamp and knitting instruction, with kid’s classes offered in hour and a half chunks, with the project finished by the time the child leaves. Yay, no homework! And for those who, as the website says, don’t want to “lug that beast” of a machine across town, there is a tricked out sewing studio complete with machines, so it’s really prep free. Folks can host parties there, too, and have a fun time doing something creative with friends. Loved it!

Although it was an exhausting week, it’s a ritual I love. Now we need to get the products up in the store so we can share them with you. And, um, how many days until Paducah?

To see more photos from Quilt Market, go to our gallery!

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