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Quiltfolk report: QuiltCon 2018

by Mary Fons

As I hugged friends and colleagues and took in the gorgeous quilts at QuiltCon a couple of weeks ago, I thought about the question my favorite graduate school professor asks whenever we’re about to critique another student’s writing:  

“Where is the energy in the work?”

The energy in the work is where the richest content lives, where the creator seems most excited about what she’s creating. You can usually tell where the energy is right away.

I believe the question can be applied to all kinds of things — including the quilt world. Where is the energy in the quilt world? Where are the places where our community seems most energized, most excited? Where are we at our best, at our most inspired?

Quilt shows. That’s my feeling, anyway, after being around the quilt world for a while. From modest regional shows organized by guild associations to the gigantic exhibits at Quilt Market and Quilt Festival each year, wherever there is a quilt show and quilters are surrounded by quilts, pure energy abounds.

QuiltCon has its own specific electric crackle. This year marked the fifth anniversary of the show and the 10th anniversary of the Modern Quilt Guild, which formed in Los Angeles in 2008. And you could feel a kind of “We got this” attitude in the lead-up to the show.

You could sense this mix of excitement and efficiency in emails to members about the QuiltCon app, in frequent posts to the MQG Instagram feeds, and in the volume of information filling the QuiltCon website. I delivered two lectures at the show this year and, as a faculty member, I felt welcome and taken care of before I even left for Pasadena.

Walking the show with our incredible Quiltfolk photographer Leah Nash meant that it wasn’t too hard to lure people into talking with me: Who wouldn’t like their picture taken by a woman whose credits include the New York Times and National Geographic? As Leah clicked away, I got to chat with a number of quilters about their quilts and their experience with the Modern Quilt Guild.

Carson Converse, an artist trained in sculpture and interior design, was one of our subjects. Carson, who is based in Western Massachusetts, had two quilts in the show. One of them, Harvest, became a top-three favorite of mine at QuiltCon 2018. With a fine-tipped Sharpie marker, Carson drew thousands of tiny fine lines on rectangular patches pieced together.

“I was trying to create my own stripes,” Carson said in her quiet, thoughtful way. Harvest won first place in the Minimalist Design category.

I also talked to Tricia Royal, whom I happen to know from Chicago. Tricia and her family recently moved to the Los Angeles area, so this year, she was local.

“I created this piece when I was an artist-in-residence at the Lillstreet Art Center [in Chicago],” she said about her Totem quilt. Totem features thrifted vintage fabric overdyed with indigo using a shibori technique. The resulting piece has an “inadvertent hippie vibe” according to Tricia. I’ve always found I can tell a Tricia Royal quilt from a mile away: Her bright, saturated color palette is a dead giveaway. “Yeah, this one is typical me,” Tricia said with a smile.

I learned from Tricia and Carson that times have changed since the first QuiltCon in Austin in 2013, when only a smattering of vendors filled the convention hall. “I heard there was a waiting list this year,” Tricia said as we walked around the vendor hall. Talk about energy: People milled from booth to booth, squeezing past each other to snag fabric, notions, books and more. Those MQG tote bags looked mighty full.  

I got to chat with Mary Clare Schuller whose quilt, Elemental, hung in the sunny gallery that everyone at the show referred to as “The Church of Quilts.” Mary Clare told me the back of her quilt was the side that got picked for the show, even though the front is what she started with.

“I think I kind of like the back better, myself,” she laughed.

As I was about to leave “church” to be interviewed for Craftsy by fabulous longarmer and industry personality Angela Walters, I was stopped by Derek Victor, a quilt aficionado and partner to quilter Seven Victor. Our conversation, thought-provoking and earnest, was one of the reasons you go to quilt shows in the first place.

Derek and I talked about the controversy that surfaced two years ago at QuiltCon when a male quilter received backlash over a project he presented off-site. This artist had hired quilters to help him complete 50 Log Cabin quilts and many people felt he hadn’t given proper credit to his freelancers. The heated conversations became a springboard to examine the role of men in the quilt world: Do men get more attention solely due to their gender? Should quilting be a “safe space” for women?

It’s a fascinating topic, Derek and I agreed. I could have talked with him for much longer and hope I can one day. The good thing about a quilt show is that you run into people and make connections, and then that’s it: you’re connected and the conversation can continue, either over the internet or at next year’s show. Derek and I both mused about the possibility of a panel at QuiltCon 2019 to examine the men-in-quilts topic in a formal setting.

For this year’s QuiltCon, I had the honor of curating an exhibit of AIDS quilt panels and leading the discussion on the panels during a walking tour with Lisa Ellis and Nancy Bavor of the Studio Art Quilt Association (SAQA). QuiltCon 2018’s special exhibits were remarkable — another way in which the event fostered energy and inspiration.

Next year, QuiltCon will take place in Nashville and you can bet I’ll be there. Even though I’m not a modern quilter as such, I love the moderns with all my heart. The energy they bring to the quilt world is impressive and growing — and this inspires us all in our work.


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