Three Things I Learned after My Third QuiltCon

As I sit down to collect my thoughts on QuiltCon 2019, it is raining. Again.

Last week, thousands of quilters got a taste of Tennessee’s historically wet winter as they descended upon Nashville for The Modern Quilt Guild’s (MQG) annual show. Mobile phones announced flash flood warnings, repeatedly interrupting lectures and workshops. But the halls of Music City Center were high and dry. Filled with quilts, they provided a much-needed punch of color.

It was Ann Hurley’s orphan block that I cut up and incorporated into my “Felicitous Pickle” quilt.

It was Ann Hurley’s orphan block that I cut up and incorporated into my “Felicitous Pickle” quilt.

My “Felicitous Pickle” hung in the show’s Negative Space category, and soon it will travel the world as part of The MQG’s Best of QuiltCon exhibition! It was also featured in the 2019 edition of QuiltCon Magazine. That’s pretty exciting, considering the quilt’s story began with an abandoned orphan block. (You can read more about that here.)

Over the past three years, I’ve made it my mission to attend as many quilt shows as possible. I want to see what’s out there, get a closer look at the quilts being made around the world, and gain a better understanding of the quilting industry (to which I am a relative newcomer). I’ve been fortunate to attend QuiltCon in Savannah and Pasadena, as well as International Quilt Festival in Houston and AQS QuiltWeek in Paducah.

There’s something unique about QuiltCon. There’s a feeling in the air that’s just… different. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it boils down to community.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years.

1) Unscheduled time is a precious gift.

It’s easy to pack your days full of workshops, lectures, and sightseeing activities. But doing that leaves little room for what I believe is the best part of the show: serendipitous invitations to connect IRL with all of the Friends In My Phone and forge deeper relationships. This happens with complete strangers, too!

This year, I was interviewed by one of Nashville’s local television news stations about ChattMQG’s modern basket quilt. I had the opportunity to join Kitty Wilkin, Audrey Workman, Hilary Jordan and Erin Sampson for an urban run through the city. I had a beer with Love More founder Erin Davis. Over a hot chicken sandwich, I delved into a conversation about copyright and creativity slumps with Michelle Bolt, Melissa Everett and Emily Doane. I ate breakfast and walked the show with quilt historian Merikay Waldvogel, who gave me a detailed look at her piece. I cried as I listened to Sam Hunter tell the story behind her “Why I’m a Feminist” quilt. I chatted with fellow SAQA members Maria Shell, Cindy Grisdela and Daisy Aschehoug.

And that only scratches the surface! Of all of those interactions, only one (the run) was planned before the show; the others happened at the spur of the moment, often because I happened to be in the right place at the right time. If my schedule had been jam packed, I wouldn’t have been able to make so many meaningful connections. Give yourself the gift of unstructured time at QuiltCon, and don’t be afraid to reach out to people who interest you.

2) Maybe workshops aren’t for me.

At least not in the quilt show environment. There’s just so much going on that I have a hard time buckling down and focusing on a class for several hours. That’s a bummer, because QuiltCon always features an all-star lineup of interesting, knowledgable teachers.

Lectures, on the other hand, are right up my alley. Because they’re presented in short, 45-minute chunks, I’ve found lectures to be my preferred way of learning new things at QuiltCon. At least for now. My favorite one this year was Laura McDowell Hopper’s talk on quilt preservation basics. I walked away with tons of great tips!

In October 2018, the MQG sent out a survey to members that asked, “Would you attend a non-quilting workshop [at QuiltCon]?” The list of possible answers provided indicates the guild may consider adding surface design, bag-making, and garment construction workshops to future lineups, depending on member interest. If options like this are added to future conferences, I might take another stab at workshops.

3) Leave any expectations at home.

Some people come to QuiltCon expecting to take home a ribbon (I’ll admit, I had my fingers crossed this year). Some plan to say hello to sewlebrities they follow online. Others hope to network and drum up customers for their businesses. All of these are admirable goals, but they’re not always achievable in the whirlwind of the QuiltCon environment. There’s SO much going on and SO many people around that it can be difficult to focus on a particular “mission,” per se.

I’ve found the best way to enjoy the show is to let go of my expectations and just enjoy the ride. The serendipity is part of the fun!

What’s your take?

HollyAnne Knight of String & Story has some great observations on her blog, and I love how Steph Skardal dove into the numbers to document the number of quilts that hung in each category.

What were some of your QuiltCon highlights? Is there anything you learned that you want to share? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear what you thought of this year’s show.