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Don’t Forget Your Walkin’ Shoes: Quiltfolk Goes to QuiltCon

The day before QuiltCon 2023, Quiltfolk boarded a plane at 5:30 a.m. in Eugene, Oregon, and landed at our destination in Atlanta, Georgia, at 9:30 p.m., equalling a total of 13 hours of travel. Immediately upon stepping off the jetway, I realized that there was a quilt at our gate, and I quickly beckoned over Emily Pillard (our marketing coordinator and my partner in crime for the weekend). There were four quilts total on display at our gate, including one from Jane Burch Cochran, who was featured in Issue 12: Kentucky.

“Do you think they’re on display for QuiltCon?” Emily had asked. We eventually surmised that they weren’t special for the event, as most of the gates we passed seemed to have an art installation of some sort, but I would bet if you asked Quiltfolk Publisher Mike McCormick, he’d say: “It’s the simulation, Bre. You guys were meant to exit at that gate!”

Quilts on display at the Atlanta International Airport.

Eventually, we navigated to the corner of the airport where travelers can summon Ubers and Lyfts to take them to their destinations. While waiting for ours to arrive, we spotted two young ladies in front of us, one with a small English paper pieced hexi on her backpack. Though we were fairly certain they were there for the conference, Emily and I debated if it would be weird to approach them. In the end, we chickened out. 

Fortunately for us, the convention center at which QuiltCon was being hosted was conveniently located directly across the street from our hotel. But, unfortunately, the following morning we over confidently embarked on a quest to find a local breakfast spot. Though our breakfast was wonderful, we quickly discovered that we had wandered a ways away from the convention center. This would result in us entering through the furthest entrance possible, and, folks, this building was huge. While cautiously attempting to navigate our way to the event, hoping that at some point a sign would direct us where to go, I spotted a woman with bright purple hair and a QuiltCon lanyard, along with her young daughter. I hustled up to her and asked if she could direct us toward registration. 

“We’re headed past there. You can follow us,” she’d said. Over the next five minutes, her daughter looked over her shoulder several times, making sure we were close behind and reminding us that she’d definitely get us where we needed to go. So, we dutifully followed her sparkly gold shoes and purple metallic scrunchie. As we rolled into the event, there was no doubt we were in the right place. Though registering was easy (we’d prepaid) finding the line to enter the show was a whole different story. 

Quiltfolk Editor-in-Chief Breanna Briggs (left) and Marketing Coordinator Emily Pillard at QuiltCon 2023, hosted in Atlanta.
QuiltCon 2023 Best in Show: “Bullseye.” Pieced and quilted by Barbara Strick of Mill Valley, California.

Remember that game Snake from the 70s that was preloaded onto every Nokia phone in 1997? It was a bit like that. The line went round and round, looping past the bathroom, back and forth through the halls, and even down the stairs. (When we decided to attend QuiltCon, I worried that perhaps, since the pandemic, attendance would still be down. It definitely wasn’t.) I wondered what it looked like from the vendors’ perspectives near the entrance, hundreds of eager quilters lined up, bouncing on their heels, waiting to get in. 

We only had two days at the event, so we set to exploring right away. The first two floors were for vendors while floor three was all quilts. Though some of the booths were tight at times, navigating down the aisles was mostly comfortable. I only bumped into someone once (and I’m still very sorry, red jacket lady). Each booth was like a mini version of the vendor’s store, every one with its own unique style and aesthetic. We cleared floor one by lunch before proceeding to floor three. (We didn’t intentionally skip two, we just ended up eating lunch there.)

Booths bustling with people during the 2023 QuiltCon.
1st place in Minimalist Design “Aura No.1.” Pieced and quilted by Audrey Esarey of Louisville, Kentucky.
Stacks and stacks of colorful fat quarter bundles at the Crimson Tate booth.

Truth bomb time: We could’ve spent a full four days on floor three. The quilts on display were nothing short of amazing. From Audrey Esarey’s Aura No. 1—this year’s 1st place winner in the Minimalist design category—to Julia Benediktson’s Flowers in the Cretaceous Time Period in the Youth Quilts section—okay, we might be biased there since Julia’s hands are featured on the cover of Issue 16: Family, and fun fact: She’s currently the only person to be on a Quiltfolk cover. Needless to say, leaving for the day was hard.

It took us most of the second day to get through floor two. For one, we decided to participate in Cotton and Steel’s onsite projects. If you completed one, you were given a passport with which you could go to participating booths, get a stamp, and a mini charm pack. And if there’s ever been a girl who loves a good scavenger hunt, it’s me. Though our finished project (luggage identifiers) left much to be desired, we earned our passports and set out on our stamp quest. We did, in fact, get all of them.

Sewing stations set up at Cotton and Steel’s booth for their onsite projects.
Quiltfolk Marketing Coordinator Emily Pillard working on her luggage tag.

The other reason floor two took so long was that we were trying very hard to meet up with all the folks we knew. And it seemed like any time we popped into Instagram, there were more people on our feed posting about being there! We did find a few familiar faces who’d graced the pages of Quiltfolk, like Vanessa Vargas-Wilson, Latifah Saafir, Sandra Johnson, and Heather Kinion. And we managed to meet up with Quilfolk writer Teresa Duryea-Wong, who led us to a few of the folks we met at the 2022 AQSG show, including Carolyn Ducey and Tara Miller. 

We also met a few people for the first time, like Genesis Hall, a 13-year-old quilter from North Carolina with an extraordinary quilt called Flights Circuits. We spent some time at the Modern American Vintage booth chatting with Chris Hanson about his handmade heirloom quilting tools. We “oohed and ahhed” over the dress that Kate from Brew Flowers was wearing as well as at the stunning eight-point star duster by Lauren Vlcek from Quilting Outside the Blocks. And though it took a minute to find a restaurant that could seat us, we caught lunch with Aurifil Creative Director Erin Sampson and braved a few precarious revolving doors. And, folks, we ended up crossing paths with the stranger wearing the EPP hexi bookbag from the airport: Samantha AnnMarie and her friend Shelby Larkin, who we chatted up while admiring some quilting notions!  

Though it was a very fast two days, we enjoyed every minute of it. Our takeaways for next time:

  1. Wear comfy shoes. Emily and I both sported some cute sandals on day one, and boy were our dogs barking by the end of the day.
  2. Bring a bag large enough to carry the goodies that you’ll collect as well as the sweater you’ll inevitably take off. 
  3. Pack some return address labels for all the giveaways you’ll enter. It saves time and keeps your hand from cramping up.
  4. Snack and hydration breaks are a must.
  5. Talk to everyone. They’re all excited to be there too!

About the Author

Breanna Briggs joined the Quiltfolk team in 2016 and has worn many hats over the years. She is now the Editor in Chief of Quiltfolk magazine.

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