International Quilt Festival: What’s a Modernist to do?

by Weeks on 14/04/2006

in Quilting

Among quilters in North America, the semi-annual International Quilt Festival is a Mecca of sorts. There are several quilt shows on display sponsored by sewing industry giants, technical classes offered by teachers and a whole slew of vendors with seemingly endless trays of fat quarters and short-cut gizmos. We went last weekend because the spring show is half an hour from our house and there’s a part of us that thinks that this is the year, unlike previous years, we’re going to find something or someone interesting. At least this year there would be the added appeal of seeing our student Mary Beth Clark’s prize-winning entry about the loss of her mother at age eight in the “I Remember Mama” competition on display.

Some of the quilts, like Mary Beth’s, are unforgettable, but there are a whole lot that are excellent technically but uninspiring in terms of design. For reasons I don’t understand the show organizers will not allow images of the quilts featured to be published anywhere else so I cannot include the memorable ones here.

The show always makes us feel a bit lonely, wondering whether or not there will ever be a critical mass of really interesting quilters at one of these shows. There are some contemporary quilts on display but few vendors carrying fabrics or books we would buy. Mostly there were a whole lot of versions of 19th century patterns and predictable novelty fabrics one might expect to find used in pediatric nurses’ uniforms. Need any tea-stained lace? How about a CD you can stick in your sewing machine so it can automatically embroider a Disney character onto your quilt? Lonely, very, very lonely. And yet we always wonder if we should set up a booth there to offer a different voice? As artisans and business owners it seems like a bad gamble or is it an opportunity?


Marcia Derse detail
Marcia Derse of Text Tile fabric and design decided to take the plunge. She had an exquisite little booth, elegantly designed and filled with her hand-dyed fabrics. She’s using the show as an opportunity to learn and we admire her bravery. Surrounded by other hand-dyers with neon colored, rainbow dyes or the “Look! I used every color I could find all at the same time” aesthetic, Marcia’s fabrics were a breath of fresh air. Amid a lot of screaming fabrics, hers whispered poetry. She doesn’t have a website yet but you can email her at if you are interested in purchasing any of her fabric.

In the community of our students, several great quilting blogs out there and whipup and amid the thousands of visitors to our website every month we feel as though there is an incredibly exciting new generation of quilters on the horizon, but when we attend these shows, it’s hard not to wonder whether or not it’s all a mirage. At some point I wish we could all just get together in one place just so I know it’s for real.

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