International Quilt Market 2017
From May 19th through May 21st, I had the pleasure of attending the International Quilt Market in St. Louis, Missouri. Armed with a single-spaced page of questions compiled by members of the Olympia Quilt Study Group, I was ready to experience one part of the business side of the world of quilting. I couldn’t help but compare my adventure to the escapades of George Plimpton, well-known writer and editor in the second half of the twentieth century, who was famous for “participatory journalism”. In this style of journalism, he would actively take part in an occupation he knew absolutely nothing about – and was obviously not qualified to do – and then write about his experiences. My goal this spring was to participate in the “to the trade” marketing of goods for quilt arts and textile crafts for the year ahead and then share it with West Coast AAFCS members. Most of us, no matter how interested in sewing or quilting we are, will never get the chance to experience this part of the textile trade unless we take a turn at being a quilt shop owner or employee, or become a wholesaler or representative for a textile company.
Anxious to look like I knew what I was doing, I traveled into downtown St. Louis to America’s Center the day before the opening of Quilt Market. Scouting out the convention venue, I was able to find out where and when I could pick up my media credentials the following morning and locate which Center levels and rooms would be housing Market activities, and where the essential escalators and restrooms were situated.
Early Thursday morning, I checked into the Media Room, collected my guidelines, Buyer’s Guide, and market badge emblazoned with a bright green MEDIA streamer, and made my way to the Ferrara Theatre to hear an enthusiastic welcome from International Quilt Market founder and director emeritus, Karey Bresenhan. She, in turn, introduced us to Jenny Lister, curator for 19th Century Furniture, Textiles & Fashions at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Jenny was attending Market to announce Moda’s newest line of fabrics directly borrowed from English textile printer William Morris’s most iconic designs. Hanging along the apron of the stage were four lovely reproduction quilts incorporating most of the 100% cotton fabrics from the highlighted line. As a major sponsor of the Market, Moda’s mini-exhibit was informative and influential. Full page ads in the Market’s Buyer’s and Schoolhouse Guides would have me returning time and again to the look at the fabric and the reproduction traditional medallion quilt featured in the ad.
Leaving the theatre, we were handed an information sheet with the results of the most recent quilt survey, sponsored by Quilts, Inc. and five other major quilting industry companies. Not surprising were the survey findings that most active quilters are over the age of fifty with quilt-top-making skills which 2/3rds of the sewers categorize as confident beginner or intermediate. It was also noted that quilters begin quilting at all ages, but those in their 40s, 50s and 60s devote more time and resources to quilting. Most quilters will travel up to 30 minutes to their most-visited quilt shop, but they are willing to drive an hour to a shop that really appeals to them. When fabric selection can entice a quilter into a quilt shop, hands-on education will attract and keep the customers returning to a shop. Finally, 70% of today’s quilters will use their mobile phones to access the internet for online inspiration, motivation and information. This survey made it perfectly clear that today’s quilt shop must have an online presence, especially for the over half of all quilters who regularly purchase tools and notions online.
At a few minutes before 10:00am, the business of being a serious quilting information scholar began as I joined the attendees in the Schoolhouse sessions which would continue until almost 6 pm. With the Schoolhouse guidebook in hand, I was off to find the first of fourteen classrooms I would visit in this busy first day of Market. It was during the next hours that I was introduced – in person – to the educational styles of Jinny Beyer, Jamie Fingal, Marti Michell, Tula Pink, Lori Kennedy, Edyta Sitar, Patrick Lose, and Victoria Finlay Wolfe.
The remaining two days were spent visiting the Exhibit Hall. I returned four times to the American Quilt Retailer magazine booth which was manned by publisher Heidi Kaisand and her staff. I was impressed by the variety of quilt artists she scheduled to demonstrate their trademark techniques as they were live-streamed to independent retailers who couldn’t attend the Market. I learned about reverse hand appliqué, hand embroidery with various novel threads, making quilted table toppers and runners, and embellishing quilts with novelty buttons, yo-yos, and other three dimensional items. During each demonstration I got to talk one-on-one with the artists.
The Exhibit Hall was wall-to-wall excitement, abuzz with textile talk, where shop owners placed orders, vendors explained the benefits of their tools, notions, or fabrics, and textile and quilt designers promoted their newest lines of designer fabric. Manning booths were long-time designers like Patrick Lose, Sharon and Jason Yenter, new designers like Alison Glass, Amy Gibson and Christopher Thompson, even a returning designer Nancy Halvorsen. Washington-based businesses were well represented with booths from Clothworks, Warm and Natural, In the Beginning Fabrics, American Made Brand, and KAI Scissors. California companies abounded also, with the best known being C & T Publishing, Clover Needlecraft, Inc., Cotton & Steel and RJR Studios, Hoffman California Fabrics, Alexander Henry Fabrics, Laundry Basket Quilts, and Renaissance Ribbons. Oregon vendors included Maywood Studios and McKenna Ryan Designs both from Portland. Vendors from coast-to-coast and such locations as Canada, Japan, Australia, and France were also present.
Who did I see in the Media room or on the Exhibit Hall floor? Everyone mentioned above plus Nancy Zieman, Alex Anderson, Sue Spargo, and relative sewing newcomer, Ellen March.
While it’s fun to rub shoulders with the who’s who of quilting, what’s “new” in quilting and fabric is also important. I was astounded at some older fabric constructions being marketed this year. I saw barkcloth being offered in 1950s and 1970s designs and colorations for clothing and totes. I saw children’s garments and women’s blouses made of gauze and a newer construction called double gauze, printed with frivolous designs, with many bolts of fabric bedazzled by a new technique that prints metallic designs on the most delicate or gauzy fabrics.
The Modern Quilt Movement is alive and well and every fabric line and designer seems to be designing fabric and showing sample quilts which shine with the simplicity of stark white or black backgrounds and over-sized traditional block patterns or basic geometric shapes sprinkled sparingly over all sizes of quilts. The MQM seems to be here to stay, while continuing to evolve in a dance where the modern and the traditional styles have a lot of fun playing with and against each other. To accommodate this, almost every designer or fabric company has a line of solids or tiny prints that come in a complete rainbow of colors.
So what has taking a sneak peek inside the business of quilting taught me? As a sewer or quilter you DO need to tell your quilt textile retailer what you like and what you are interested in, in textiles for quilts, garments, accessories, or home decorating. If you like purchasing and participating in Block-of-the-Month (BOM) sewing, let them know. If you strongly prefer the prints or batiks from one or more specific manufacturer, let them know. If you like taking classes, let them know and plan on enrolling and attending the offerings as often as you can. If you don’t tell your valued local shop owner what you like and want, they will not be able provide it for your projects. It is their job and they want to be able to supply what you need no matter how big or small your projects.
Special thanks to Donna Graham and Rene’ Ketchum who wrote letters of assignment to support my media credential application to Quilt Market with the agreement that I would write an article for the state newsletter and apply to present at Conference. THANKS for your support of participatory journalism! LynDee Lombardo