QuiltCon Together, the Modern Quilt Guild’s first virtual show, took place February 18-22, 2021. Meg Cox attended and brings us this show report:
Quiltcon Best in Show winner “Blooming” by Émilie Trahan. Image courtesy of the Modern Quilt Guild.
The five full-time staff members of the Modern Quilt Guild had a Zoom call on noon of the last day of QuiltCon Together, this past Wednesday. The occasion called for hugs and high fives, but like everyone attending this virtual event, they could only connect via computer screens. That didn’t lessen their euphoria.
I spoke to MQG executive director Karen Cooper shortly after that staff call to ask whether the event did as well as the guild hoped. “Absolutely, and 100 times more!” she replied. “We wanted to make it as grand as a regular QuiltCon. We didn’t want it to feel like half an event.” And it didn’t.
More than 7,000 people registered for QuiltCon Together, from all 50 states and 39 countries, down from the peak of 8,500 in past years but sensational for a virtual event. There were 1,000 quilts entered, down only slightly from a normal year, and 450 of those were accepted into the show. The event included 180 hours of pre-recorded workshops and 39 lectures. And while there were a few glitchy moments, most attendees were thrilled with the experience.
“The quality of the instruction was incredible,” said Gay Bitter, a New Jersey MQG member. “I signed up for 4 workshops and 4 lectures, way more than I would attempt at a live venue.”
I’ll add that my experience was similar to Bitter’s. I rarely take workshops at big quilt shows because I’m there as a journalist and don’t want to spend hours in a classroom when I might have a great conversation, get blown away by quilts, or discern a fresh trend. This time, I took three workshops and really learned a lot. While I liked the immediacy of taking a live Zoom workshop in January at Craft Napa Uncorked at Home, the ability to pause the video, cook dinner and then come back was extremely useful. I could try a technique, fail at it, then come back and ask the instructor a question and rewind the video as well.
Left: Quilting Excellence winner “Still not” by Chawne Kimber. Right: People’s Choice winner “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mid-Mod World” Pieced by Julie Limbach Jones and members of the South Bay Quilter’s Guild. Images courtesy of the Modern Quilt Guild.
Expectations had been high, partly because MQG decided way back last April to go virtual, and because “the group was born online, they were already native to presenting and connecting online,” said Luana Rubin, co-owner of eQuilter.com, an event sponsor. But many virtual quilt events turn out clunky and the guild had the misfortune of record-breaking bad weather the week before when they had lots to do. Director of Events Elizabeth Dackson was forced to move into a nearby hotel to assure access to power and the internet during the event. Add all that to the fact that executive director Karen Cooper was running only the second QuiltCon in her tenure: after doing this once, she had to completely re-invent how it works.
QuiltCon worked with a platform called Cadmium which developed the app they used for past events, so there was already a comfort level although the mission was much expanded. A kind of dashboard was created that functioned as a home base for attendees: from there, they could click on a box to see the quilt show, another for access to their workshops and lectures, another for live demos, another for vendors, etc. Although everyone missed the spontaneity of running into friends or meeting strangers walking through the convention hall, great care was taken to create more personal moments. Like having an Awards Ceremony where the first place winners had been recorded reacting to their wins. And the fact that close to half the quilters accepted into the show recorded an audio file about their quilts.
Left: Small Quilt first place winner “Watercolor Study No. 6” by Audrey Esarey. Right: Piecing first place winner “Everything All At Once” by Maria Shell. Images courtesy of the Modern Quilt Guild.
Vending is one of the hardest things to do at a virtual show, but again, QuiltCon provided some valuable tools to vendors. One of those that reaped the rewards was Cherrywood Hand-Dyed Fabrics, whose owner Karla Overland told me that her investment in “putting our business and logo in front of as many attendees as possible” really paid off. Overland wanted to replicate the experience of showing customers kits, patterns, and fabrics, so she spent nearly two hours in her showroom holding those things up, during a Facebook Live event. That event was promoted both on FB and on the QuiltCon space: people had to go to QuiltCon to get the code for a 20% discount. Normally, Cherrywood does not offer discounts, but since she was saving all the costs of physically attending herself, this made sense.
Not only that, Cherrywood paid to sponsor the Lecture Hall Chat room so that when people stopped by for a “little chit-chat between lectures, Cherrywood would be there.” She also paid extra to do an on-demand demo and used that time to interview previous Best of Show winner Peter Byrne, who is now a Cherrywood Ambassador.
“QuiltCon was amazing for us! We’re still digging out from under all the orders,” Overland says.
The quilt show
So, what about the quality of the quilts this year? Reviews are good. Sponsor Luana Rubin spent a lot of time looking at the quilt show online and selected more than half to keep as a record of her favorites. “This was real artistry and unique design on display, not just big versions of traditional blocks in solid colors. The branches of the modern quilt movement tree are growing in many different directions and what I see in this group of quilts is joy,” she told me.
The MQG has lots of time to plan for 2022, but even in the immediate aftermath, some lessons were clear. “This went so well that we’re talking about having a major virtual event every year going forward, but probably a different time of year from QuiltCon,” Karen Cooper says. “We heard from so many people who had never been able to attend, like the woman who wrote that she is a full-time caregiver to a husband with dementia.” Also, attendees at this virtual show attended way more classes and lectures on average than they do at live QuiltCons, partly because they couldn’t do all the things they love to do in person, like shop, hang out and spend hours looking closely at amazing quilts. This may result in some tweaks to the live experience.
“There is no final decision, but we may put a heavier emphasis on education in our virtual event and build in more times and ways for people to be together at the in-person show,” Cooper told me. “It’s going to be even more important to relish that together time when we finally get it!” Next year’s live QuiltCon will be in Phoenix and the 2023 show will be in Atlanta.
Go here to see the full list of winners from QuiltCon Together.
Editor’s Note: This report appeared first in Meg Cox’s newsletter, Quilt Journalist Tells All, and is reprinted here with her permission.
Author and quilter Meg Cox is a sought-after speaker at guilds and museums and a staff writer for Quiltfolk magazine. Her journalism has been published by dozens of national magazines and the Wall Street Journal, where she was a staff reporter for 17 years. A past president of the national nonprofit Quilt Alliance, Cox serves on the advisory board of the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. She has published her monthly newsletter Quilt Journalist Tells All! since 2008.