Craft Industry Alliance special correspondent, Maeri Howard, attended The Festival of Quilts which took place in Birmingham, England on August 10-13th. She brings us this show report.
The third week of August is a very important week for the British and European quilters as this is traditionally when the most prestigious event on the quilting calendar – The Festival of Quilts – is held at the NEC in Birmingham, UK. For those who haven’t been, it is a combination one-stop shop for quilting and sewing related products, exhibitions, events and workshops.
It is an international event, and when you look at the Exhibition Catalogue, this is reflected in the variety of contributors from all over the world. If you want to see the diversity of different styles of quilting on offer, this certainly is a good place to start.
I originally went to FoQ three years ago and was mesmerized by the volume and creativity of quilts. When I last went, the well-known names were Amy Butler and Kaffee Fassett and they drew the big crowds. This year, I recognized many more of the names on the list of those exhibiting and I wanted to see if I could speak to several of them to find out their impressions of quilting and attending an event like FoQ.
Victoria Findlay Wolfe
I stopped by well-known American quilter Victoria Findlay Wolfe’s display as part of the Galleries exhibition and asked her what her impressions were on her first time experience at FoQ. “The amount of space that I have been given to display my quilts is amazing – it is more like being in a museum than in the traditional quilting events in the US. The large white walls are really striking, and it makes the quilts stand out”. Asked if she would come again if the opportunity was given, Victoria didn’t hesitate in saying yes.
Jean Wells, who has authored over thirty books and traveled the world sharing her works, was another well-known American quilter with a display in the Galleries section. She too commented on the amount of space that she had been given to display her quilts. “We don’t have anything like this at the shows in the States. You feel like you are in a museum and that each quilt is part of an installation, which makes it easier for people to want to stop and look at it and ask questions”. When I stopped by to chat with Jean, she had laid out pieces of fabric she was working with and was taking the time to talk to those who were interested in her project. I also noticed that one of the women thanked Jean personally for taking the time to come over and share her time and knowledge, which I thought was very touching.
Michelle Gregory, who attended for this first time this year, owns a shop that sells knitting related items but wanted to attend FoQ as, like many other creative people, she was curious about quilting. She came way from the event inspired as well as impressed, “I spent way longer there than I had planned because there was so much more to see than just the shopping – which would be a good thing for other shows to consider because I definitely bought more than I intended because I could take a break from shopping, look at quilts and go back. Overall it was a great show which was not as shopping oriented as some of the knitting shows I’ve been to. It also looked like they had great workshops on offer which I will definitely look at going to next year!”.
Dolapo James of Urbanstax
The retail section was also a chance to find all of the latest quilting and sewing related paraphernalia, which for those who don’t have a local quilt store (I might be a bit presumptuous but I suspect that is a majority of the people who attended from the UK) was a big draw. In walking through the retail section, I noticed Urbanstax, a store specializing in modern African fabrics, which stood out amongst the usual variety of quilting fabric patterns that you would find. I asked Dolapo James, who owns Urbanstax, if she felt that the quilting community was embracing the smaller, more niche fabrics like the ones she had on offer, “Yes, absolutely. There was an episode of the Great British Sewing Bee that featured African fabrics and this type of main stream exposure certainly helped. But the marketplace is constantly looking for new and different influences, which our fabric and the colours we use offer this”. Her experience of FoQ was a very positive one as well.
Due to time constraints (I was only there for one day) I was unable to take any of the workshops. But the listing that they had on offer was impressive with what appeared to be for every skill level and one I would suggest that attendees take advantage of. I liked the way in which they have separated the workshop listings into either Quick and Easy (the average workshop length was listed at one hour) to the more advanced Quilt Academy workshops where you could take a workshop three days in length (though the average was half days workshops).
My overall impression of this event is that it remains true to its quilting and patchwork roots but manages to stay relevant by curating quilts and quiltmakers who reflects subtle changes in what is popular, year on year. I would highly recommend this as an event to attend and would suggest that you set aside more than a day to ensure you have enough time to take all the quilts and workshops in.
Maeri moved to the UK from New York 25 years ago and now combines her degree in marketing, her role as a small business cheerleader, and her love of making to start a home-based craft business on a beautiful canal outside of Manchester, UK, called The Make and Do Studio. In 2013, The Make and Do Studio was chosen by the BBC as one of 20 top small companies using the Internet to help their businesses stand out. As well as writing for the crafting industry on both sides of the water, Maeri has spoken at various industry events about the changing face of creative businesses and how they can co-exist in a digital world. She also works with woman-owned small businesses to help them become more digitally confident.