For the past several years my friend Earleen Brister and I have attended the International Quilt Festival in Houston. This is a REALLY BIG DEAL among quilters around the world and to the city of Houston. I have been told that it is the largest draw, including conventions and sporting events, for the city of Houston. Of the 853,500 square feet of exhibition space at the George R. Brown Convention Center, about half is used to display quilts and half is made up of merchant booths selling an unimaginable array of items.
The display quilts normally number anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000. If you are not an avid quilter or quilt lover, you may wonder how in the world there could be that many different quilts to hang in one place. Most of us think of a quilt as the patchwork blanket we snuggle under on the couch or thrown in the corner of the garage for the dog to have a warm place to sleep. Quilts have always been much more than that, and are constantly evolving. Now there are "Art Quilts" that are meant to be hung on a wall, never to be used as a cover, and never, never washed. There are also what are, basically, quilted paintings. One of these quilted paintings won the big prize several years ago and ignited a major controversy about what, exactly, IS a quilt. The truth is, there is nothing new under the sun—even the humblest quilt is an art quilt in my estimation, and painting on fabric is nothing new. The only quilt I saw this year I would have deemed "not a quilt" was a piece of painted and embellished fabric stretched on a wooden frame a la painter’s canvas. It did have a few stitches here and there, but I would not say it was quilted.
The top prize winners this year were all beautiful quilts that would impress even traditionalists. Sharon Schamber of Arizona won the top prize: a Best of Show designation and a check for $10,000. Her quilt was white and shades of red with some very intricate cording around the outside edge and attaching the borders to the center medallion. All of the top prize winners were primarily appliqued quilts. Applique involves cutting out shapes and applying them to a larger background.
Besides competition quilts, there are several special displays of quilts, handmade dolls, clothing, and other items that fit within the textile arts genre. One of our favorites was the "Art Bras" display—embellished bras meant to honor breast cancer survivors. At the minimum, the bras were beautiful, and some were pretty funny. Another special display was "Trash to Treasures: Pineapple Quilts." Author and teacher Gyleen Fitzgerald had challenged quilters nation-wide to make pineapple quilts (a very old-fashioned patchwork pattern) out of scraps and old clothing. I love the old quilts that were made out of necessity using whatever bits and pieces could be obtained, so this display really appealed to me. My favorite was the giant pineapple—one quilter made her pineapple squares into a giant pineapple shape and made the spiky green leaves at the top out of quilted fabric, too!
Baltimore Album quilts are apparently very popular again, as one of the top prizes along with one of the special displays were Baltimore Album quilts. These are appliqued quilts, typically made up of twelve or more blocks, each with a different design. There are colors and motifs that are considered traditional, but quilters are creative so liberties are taken. I especially enjoy the more creative album quilts with original designs and the quilts made by Japanese and Korean quilters as their hand-work is amazingly intricate and their color palettes are so different from Western color palettes.
The following URL will take you directly to the top prizes and pictures of some beautiful quilts: