Monday, February 27, 2017

6 Things I Saw at QuiltCon


I'm home from Savannah, and my brain is overflowing with inspiring images and ideas. I hardly know where to start when someone asks about my weekend, and I find myself trying desperately not to forget any of the people or feelings or quilts from the show.

There are far more than six things I saw at QuiltCon, but these are the ones that made me turn off my podcast and contemplate them all the way home. 

1. Light and Space - By now I think we all know that Modern Quilting, by definition, plays with light and space, and this was evident throughout the show. It was interesting how far it went, not only in the layout of the convention center, but also in the choice of Savannah as the host city. I don't think I've ever been to a quilt show that didn't have black drapes behind the quilts; here they were a pale gray, linen-looking fabric that made the entire room feel lighter. Additionally, the rows were farther apart than what's typical, and they were laid out in a zigzag pattern instead of the frequently used U shape. The room felt less crowded, and there weren't so many claustrophobic moments when too many people were trying to look at the same quilt at the same time. It was much more like an art exhibit with white walls and open space than a traditional quilt show.


I heard someone comment that they could have accepted more quilts had they laid out the rows differently, but I think it was the right choice. For one thing, I don't know how many more quilts I could have mentally processed! But I also think it carried the modern feeling into the room and brought a sense of calm into the excitement.

"Fly Away" by Suzy Williams

Savannah itself is beautiful, with natural light off the river flooding the convention center. The historic part of the city is dense, with narrow streets in a grid, while the convention center is on an island, apart from the rest. It reminds me of a common modern quilt design where a component or block floats away from the traditional grid. 

Photo Credit: HollyAnne Knight through my sunroof

Each day, as I drove across the beautiful bridge, I felt myself physically and mentally breaking away to a magical place filled with color and light. 

"Vertigo" by Elaine Poplin
2. Illusion - Quilts featuring optical illusions were definitely a trend at QC17. Some of them were very basic play with contrast and straight lines, while others dove deep into the geometry. 

Again, this trend carried through the show. In addition to the lighter drape and the wider spacing of the rows, the angles of the rows - some diagonal and some horizontal, up against the vertical and horizontal vendor areas - helped add the illusion of even more space. And again this reduced the sense of being trapped in a crowd and felt more like floating along a lazy river of quilts. While all of the rows led to the vendor areas, there was never an "exit through the gift shop" feeling of being funneled into one place.

3. Technology - Of course technology pervades our every moment these days, so this one is no surprise. From the online booking of our rental house to the navigation app I used to get to Savannah and move around the city; from the text messages we used to stay in touch with roommates and dinner companions to the quick swipe of a card and a finger on a screen to pay for fabric, technology was, and is, everywhere. While I know many of us cursed the technology that let us down when registration first opened up, it really is amazing what we can do with it. The QuiltCon app let me pull up my supply list in JoAnn's while shopping, reminded me of the classes I had signed up for and the demos I was interested in attending, and gave me the opportunity to review the instructors right from my phone. 

Angela Walters signing my copy of her book on longarm quilting

The computerized longarms and sewing machines would seem alien to quilters from just thirty or forty years ago. Thomas Knauer did a fascinating demo about how he uses the computer attached to his longarm to embed messages into his quilts, with text, Morse Code, and even Braille. I found these quilts to be so powerful and moving, even when the words weren't clearly visible. 

"Tea and Skittles" by Thomas Knauer
Of course, the social media posts were fast and furious. Instagram followers who expect to see some quilting mixed in among the pets and food must have wondered what was going on down in Georgia. A friend from home remarked this morning that my feed looked like a teenager's with so many selfies, celebrity sightings, and group photos. 

4. Maps - Maps were all over the place at this show, which made me smile at the irony. Maps are an old fashioned thing, like quilting. But in this very modern quilt show, where probably no one used a paper map to find their way to Savannah, there were a lot of map quilts. 

"Gotham Transit Authority" by Catherine Jarrett

I wonder if quilters like the idea of knowing where they're going, of finding the way and showing others, and putting things into perspective. Or maybe maps are just graphically interesting.

"Austin Quilt" by Gina Pina

5. Politics - This one makes me laugh a little, mostly because of the amusement my coworkers expressed when I told them I was going to QuiltCon. I got a lot of lame jokes like, "What do you wear to QuiltCon? A Betsy Ross costume?" I think they were picturing a bunch of white haired conservative Christian ladies who got up out of their rocking chairs to visit the quilt show.


In fact, there was a lot of pink and purple and green and blue hair at QuiltCon. In fact, there were a lot of tattoos at QuiltCon. In fact, there were a lot of twenty or thirty-somethings there - both men and women. While there were some little old ladies, and while the ethnic and racial diversity is not quite as broad as it might be, and while I know there were some conservative folks and some Christian folks, there were an awful lot of young people with some left leaning politics there. 

Detail of "Emanuel: At the Intersection of Hate and Guns" by Thomas Knauer

Maybe politics isn't the right word. Maybe it would be better to say there were a lot of statement quilts, quilts that spoke out about a wrong in the world. There were no fewer than three rape quilts, commenting on consent and legitimacy and how we treat victims. There were quilts about gun violence, including an incredible display of prayer quilts for the victims at Emanuel AME in Charleston, and a huge tribute to the Quilts for Pulse collection sponsored by the Orlando Modern Quilt Guild. There were many quilts that didn't seem particularly political, but whose descriptions mentioned finding the light or unity or coming together after the election.

"Implied Consent" by Colleen Molen

I think the one that spoke loudest to me was the one called "Still With Her." It was originally a quilt with Hillary's campaign logo, which the maker had cut up in grief and dismay after the election. She eventually pieced it back together, seeking the hope and optimism with which the original top was constructed. You can see the damaged, broken areas, and the new connections that join them back together. The emotion in this quilt was palpable and moving, especially as it was just a few rows down from the Lincoln quilt that won the Viewer's Choice award. Isn't that what America is about? Finding the connections and the things we have in common after a rift to build something better for the future?

"Still With Her" by Liz Harvatine

6. Community - Which leads us to community, the overarching theme of the show, and certainly what I loved most about my weekend. Communities were represented in the guild and bee group quilts for charity lining the walls of the lobby. The quilting community joined together to bring comfort to victims and speak out against injustice. The Quilt Alliance had a booth where they were documenting quilts in an effort to keep the traditions and memories alive. Communities from all over the world were represented in the show.

Frances, Pam, and a Quilt Alliance Volunteer

The Modern Quilt Guild has been through some growing pains. In its infancy, it had many supporters. It was cute and unthreatening. As a teenager, there were some Mean Girls moments. This weekend, as I watched Jacquie Gering on a one woman mission to make every quilter feel welcome, wanted, and at home, I began to think the guild has matured. 

Me with Jacquie Gering
Our online community of quilters is an amazing thing. I know these people - I know their dogs' names and their favorite colors, what books they read and movies they watch; I know if they like to cook and what worries them about their kids. But I haven't met most of them in real life. Spending time with so many of the Twilters in person - Pam and Lynn, Frances, HollyAnne, Daisy, Tina, Roilyn, AJCaro, and Jen - was like finding old friends. Frances and I sat up late every night having profound conversations that belie the fact that we had only ever spent one day together before deciding to share a house in Savannah. HollyAnne joined us seamlessly, despite being half our age and in a completely different season of life. I recognized Tina and Daisy by their voices before I even saw their faces. Some of us are night owls and some of us were in our jammies by eight are early birds. Quilts brought us together, and my time with them is what I will always treasure when I think of Savannah.

HollyAnne, me, Tula Pink, Pam and Lynne



4 comments:

  1. Sounds like such a wonderful time, I really hope to get to a Quilt con someday. It always fascinates me that modern quilts have some really old technology themes... cursive, writing letters and snail mail, black desk phones, etc. I am happy that the community is pulling together and that everyone was welcomed!

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  2. Great recap! Thanks for sharing. Maybe someday I will make it there.

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  3. THANK YOU for putting names to faces... I know a lot of these people on line but now I can recognize the faces. GREAT REVIEW

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  4. What a beautiful list and recap! I really love your interpretation of QuiltCon and the themes you drew from it. Thanks for sharing your insight! <3

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Thanks for joining the conversation!

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