International Quilt Festival: It’s Not Just for Quilters

Oh, my, no. You could have absolutely no interest at all in quilts and still have an amazing time. I’m not a quilter. I’ve made a lot of art quilts, but I don’t consider myself a real quilter of any kind. It doesn’t matter–there is something at Quilt Festival for almost everyone, and that’s where I’ll be this weekend, at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, walking for miles and miles without ever leaving the building. I read somewhere that there are over five miles of exhibits and vendors, and I believe it. I’ve tried in vain, year after year, to walk every aisle in just one day, and it’s impossible. Oh, I supposed if you kept a quick pace and never stopped to look at anything or buy anything (good luck with that) or schmooze in the middle of the aisle (yeah, we all grumble about that, but who can resist when you’re running into people you haven’t seen since last year?), you might be able to get through the whole show in one day. But why try? If you’re going to go, you owe it to yourself to take at least two days. Eh–go ahead and make it three.

This is why I included Quilt Festival in my book, Destination: Creativity, about mixed media art retreats. It’s got tons of inspiration for people like us, and, for me, it’s got the added bonus of being in my home state. (It also has other incarnations elsewhere. Go here to find out more.)

Quilt Festival kicks off every year with the quilt market, open to the trade only. I’ve never been to that part of it; the second half is the quilt festival, and it’s the one we go to every year. The very first year I went, I went with friends. Sounds like a good idea, right? No. They were Normal People, people who like to look at things for a while and then take a break, get a snack and sit down somewhere. It drove me crazy–we had only a couple hours, and I wanted to see it all. Everything! Like that was even a remote possibility.

I vowed right then to come back the next year and do it right, and I’ve been back every year since. I’m lucky to have a spouse who’s perfectly content to walk and look at things with me, never mind that he has no interest in sewing. He has fond memories of the quilts his aunts made for him and his eight brothers when they were kids, so quilts feel like home for him. Even if he didn’t like quilts, though there would be plenty there to look at.

What is there besides quilts, you ask? Well, in the exhibit hall (the building is divided into two areas–one for the exhibits and one for the booths), there are the quilts (duh) and then there is the Treasures of the Gypsy Booth, with all the art doll entries for each year’s contest. (Gypsy Pamela (Pamela Armas) also has a fabulous booth in the vendor area where you can buy anything from exotic coins and charms and beads to metallic-sparkled fabric and dolls accessories.) There’s also wearable art, although I don’t know how much of that will be there now that the Bernina Fashion Show is no more.

On the vendors’ side, you can shop hundreds of booths for everything from wearable art (coats, jackets, hats, scarves) and jewelry to long-arm quilting machines, sewing machines, glitter, fabric markers, buttons. My favorite vendor is Sandy Schor and Company, whose booth takes up half a dozen spaces and is filled with everything from old glass chandelier prisms to buttons and jewelry to vintage beads. Ivory. Old game pieces. Bakelite. You could spend all day long at just that one booth and not see everything.

In the past, Tinsel Trading Company has been there from Manhattan. Other booths have fabulous fabrics you can’t find in stores. Bags. Foot massage machines. Stuff some of us can’t even identify. What is that tool? Just ask, and half a dozen women will step up to explain and show you how it’s used.

Don’t forget the workshops–there are classes from top-notch instructors teaching everything from beadwork to basket weaving to dyeing to painting on fabric.

You get the idea.

So that’s where I’ll be this weekend, checking out the quilts and art dolls, visiting with old friends, and–of course!–shopping. Woo-hoo~~


Ricë also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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