It’s been almost a decade since I’ve made it to the Austin quilt show, largely because my favorite arts festival friend Milli moved to New Mexico. (Art is better appreciated when you can ooh and ahh with a like-minded buddy!) However, joining the AFA has refocused my attention on the fiber arts world and besides, the Palmer center is right across from work. I knew it would be a good show when I passed my just-leaving friend Elicia and got the big news that her hand quilted ‘Broken Star’, in progress when I met her in ’97, was FINALLY FINISHED and hanging inside. Then I saw several AFA members and felt right at home, so I prepared to enjoy the show.
Here’s an understatement: It was a big exhibit. The partitions were set up to maximize display area but it made navigating the show more challenging. I used the ‘follow one wall around til done, then move on’ method but got confused a few times all the same. I also realized rather late in the game that scrutanizing closely quilt to quilt means you’re not standing back and taking in the overall effect. Looking around, there were quilts I thought I had missed until I got closer and recognized the details I had seen before. I hope the hangers identified the quilts that needed to be viewed from a distance and put them where there were lines of sight for them. Certainly the miniatures could be tucked into cozy corners to save the ends for the big ones, but I don’t know if this was done.
My first big surprise: quilting may honor generations-old traditions, but there have been noticeable changes in quilting since the last time I went to a show. I found the colors to be brighter, widely (and wildly) varying, and following more contemporary fashions than before. Work was more precise- better techniques are more widely used. I feel that quilters are more more confident in their own tastes and creative abilities and are designing for themselves instead of recreating history or following a well-known designer, but at the same time are better informed and more accurate when doing the historicals. In other words, I think we’ve grown. However, I could have done without the avalanche of pinks and purples, and I hadn’t realized how much we’re hostages to the whims of the fabric companies.
There were a few standout quilts that I will remember long after leaving the show. I found the pumpkin colored ‘Fiesta’ quilt, that was largely plain fabric except for the aztec-inspired design, to be fresh and livable- it’s gotta look great in someone’s bedroom. I found the art quilt entitled “Gone”- a fluttering mother bird watching her nest fall and eggs drop out- to be VERY disturbing. It was beautiful, well done, and won awards, but I could not live with that quilt on my wall. The quilter’s writeup said it was inspired by noticing the nest that she had watched a bird build was gone after a storm, and maybe she was commemorating the bird’s effort in the only way it be lasting, but still, I could not have done that quilt myself without crying the whole time. Finally, there was “Jason’s Garden”, with flowers and bugs of all sorts done with crazy-pieced appliques that had so much detailed embroidery and interesting beads and findings, that I could have looked at it for hours. One of my childhood friends’ mother had a finely preserved Victorian crazy quilt that remains clear in my memory decades later- this quilt will replace that one as my standard for amazing one-off detailing. And this quilt too commemorated a loss- her nephew Jason had been murdered- but I felt the commemoration honored the positive spirit that was left behind. Jason’s Garden got my Favorite Quilt vote.
I enjoyed reading the write-ups while looking at the quilts. So many people have senses of humor about their work! Many quilts have interesting stories behind them. I was also encouraged by how long some were in the making. I have an unfinished Grandmother’s Flower Garden that my great-grandmother started probably in the 30s and my mother worked on maybe in the 90s. I didnt know it had been passed along. If I mean WHEN I finish it, I’ll enter it into a quilt show, just to get it’s story out (it’s not particularly noteworthy otherwise).
If I had stuck to looking at quilts, I might have seen them all. However, I got distracted by the auctions and bid on a half dozen items, since I’d be there to pick them up. At the end, people were buzzing around the bidding table like bees, and I ended up winning only one of my bids- a BIG basket of fat quarters. It’s not that I don’t have enough fabric, it’s just that what I have is not varied enough- that’s what I told my husband when he asked what the heck I needed more fabric for. However, the best part of the show was standing in the middle of the room, looking round and round and knowing how many thousands of hours that were spent with passion and skill and resulted in such beauty.