Many people consider the International Quilt Festival, held yearly in Houston, TX to be the Mothership of all quilt shows. It’s certainly the largest, most diverse gathering of quilters in the world. As a long-time teacher in the industry, I’ve had the privilege of attending a number of times and have met quilters from all over the United States and around the world. Who knew there were quilters in Greece and Turkey? This time around I ran into friends from Australia and New Zealand, Europe and South America. It’s truly a place where I can find my tribe in all its glorious diversity.
There are always shenanigans on the show floor. Many quilters use Festival as their own cosplay event.
International Quilt Festival is a conference for quilters, started in 1975 by Karey Bresenhan and her cousin, Nancy O’Bryant Puentes, owners of Quilts, Inc., the company that also puts on the industry trade show, Quilt Market. Festival now houses the International Quilt Association’s yearly competition that gives away thousands of dollars in prizes from many different sponsors. The vendor floor and competition, plus about 49 special exhibits, take up seven football fields worth of space inside the George R. Brown Convention center in Houston. Thousands of visitors come each day the festival is open.
This year the show hired 132 teachers for classes that began while Quilt Market was still running on Monday and ran through Sunday afternoon. Nine of those teachers were international, coming from Japan, Australia, India, Canada, England, and Brazil.
Attendees view The Power of Women special exhibit curated by Leslie Jennison and Jane Dunnewold.
As always, there were hundreds of women (and a few men) who were lined up outside the doors Thursday morning when the door to the hall opened. They were waiting to visit the vendors and see things they might not be able to find at their local quilt shops. I know many an international quilter who shows up with an extra empty suitcase fully intending to pack it to the limit for the return journey. I watched from the second-floor windows as everyone poured into the aisles. It seemed that the majority were there to shop because the exhibit floor remained relatively uncrowded for most of that morning.
$7,500 Founders Award, Sponsored by the International Quilt Festival went to Over the Waves by Setsuko Matsushima of Otsu-shui, Shiga, Japan. A full winners list can be viewed here.
I talked to a number of large and small vendors, some new and some well established. Richard Kennair of Global Artisans was vending for both Market and Festival. He said that his business had a record-breaking Market although Festival was slower than usual. He mentioned that the unusually late date forced local attendees to choose whether to take grandma to see the quilts or to attend the Houston Ballet’s very popular fundraiser that year.
The Just Wanna Quilt booth, was always crowded. A booth full of welcoming soft seating and charging stations probably helped!
Every smaller vendor mentioned positioning, which appears to be randomly assigned, is key to how well their business does during the show. Of course front row, or corner booths on the central aisle do well. This year though, almost every one of them mentioned very good sales, often selling out of many items in the first couple of days. Malka Dubrawsky of A Stitch in Dye was doing well with her hand-dyed batik fabric, patterns, and precuts from her current commercial fabric line.
Bernina has been a vendor at Festival for decades and their large open spaces were constantly full of people looking at, and purchasing, new machines. I was pleased to learn when interviewing Jeannine Delpit, Director of National Events at Bernina, that one of the main reasons (besides sales) that Bernina attends Festival is to get a good take on what customers are asking for. She takes requests directly to the engineers, who she says aren’t always thrilled to hear from her. But she assures me, they do take customer feedback seriously. It is true that there is a constant conversation between Festival vendors and attendees.
Open Studios was packed throughout the show.
This year Open Studios, an area where four different artists at a time demonstrate their work processes for two hours at a time, was packed every time I walked by. It was in a prime location along the central aisle, the first thing you see if you enter the vendor area from the exhibit floor. Another area to check out is Meet the Teachers, a stage set-up where teachers get 30 minutes to teach or pitch their methods. Meet the Teachers was set up in the food vending area, at the far end of the hall. It’s the perfect place to rest your feet after hours of walking, have a snack, and see what new things you might be able to learn.
I found there to be a good deal of energy on the floor for the first several days, but that feeling petered out earlier than usual this year. The vendors were upbeat and the attendees usually had multiple bags and totes full of loot.
Watch several more video interviews of vendors, attendees, exhibitors and vendors on Lyric Montgomery Kinard’s YouTube channel.
Lyric Montgomery Kinard is an award-winning artist with a passion for sparking the creativity that she knows each of her students posses. With playful support and gentle encouragement she will take you through your first steps on a new path, seeing the world through the eyes of an artist. As an artist, author, and educator she transforms cloth into art in her studio and timid spirits into confident creatives in the classroom. Lyric’s work can be seen at www.LyricKinard.com