So, as the kids say, that happened.
Five (okay, four and a half) days at the International Quilt Festival in Houston. Five days of meeting and making friends. Five days of showing off “Crocodylus Smylus” and “Kaloli Moondance” the the rest of the “Specimens” collection of quilts. Five days of answering questions about technique and inspiration.
It was thrilling and exhausting having an exhibit at the largest quilt festival in the world and (according to one cabbie) the largest convention held in the city of Houston.
My husband Tom and I arrived in Houston on Tuesday afternoon. We checked into our hotel, the Hyatt Regency, at which the service was outstanding, I must say. Tom was taken with the elevator which rose up through the open central architecture of the hotel to our room on the 26th floor.
After settling in, we walked the ten blocks to the George R. Brown convention center to pick up our badges for the show. It was then that we first got to see the exhibit. They had placed the quilts in a prominent spot, with “Crocodylus Smylus” and “Kaloli Moondance” facing “Main Street,” the red-carpeted thoroughfare running through the special exhibit space.
The remaining nine quilts were arranged on the back of the curtained walls. Below is a brief walking tour video.
This was my second visit to the show and Tom’s first. The size of the hall is amazing. And the fact that they fill the space with exhibitors and quilts is even more amazing. We would discover that our side of the hall—the special exhibits—was considerably quieter and less congested than the vendor side of the hall. Still there wasn’t more than a moment during the whole show that there wasn’t someone looking at the exhibit.
The Wednesday night preview of the show ran from 5:00-10:00 p.m. I had visits from teaching friends and signed lots of Specimens catalogs (now for sale on my website) for blog followers and fans. There were so many that I talked non-stop the entire time. By the end of the evening, I was already hoarse and was wondering how I would make it through three more days (I had to leave early Sunday to catch a flight to teach at Art Quilt Tahoe). Fortunately, Tom had overheard an announcement that another exhibitor would be at his display giving tours at a certain time. That gave him the idea to schedule times throughout the day when I would guide visitors through the exhibit. So, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I did talking tours at 11:00, 2:00, and 5:00. That gave me and Tom time to each separately sneak off for a BBQ lunch (him) or a little shopping among the vendors (me).
It was a pleasure to visit with so many acquaintances from around the quilt world. When fellow teachers, former students, and old friends stopped by, we naturally had to have our pictures taken together. Here’s a sampling (click on an image to open a slideshow):
Other visitors included several groups from a local gifted and talented academy. These young students were visiting the show as research for a school project, which would culminate with them making a quilt.
Aside from saving my voice, the scheduled tour of my quilts also had another benefit: it kept me from repeating the same answers a hundred times a day. “Crocodylus Smylus” especially inspires similar questions in just about everybody. We were of course happy to answer them as many times as necessary, but Tom and I joked between us that we should create Frequently Asked Questions text for viewers to read while they took in the show. So here you go:
How long did it take to make the crocodile?
We tried a variety of answers for this one, trying to keep it brief but make it satisfying to the questioner. Since I don’t punch a clock when I go to work there’s no knowing for sure how many hours I put into making Stevie. I started by saying that the quilt was on my pinning wall for two years, but that most of the work took place in about a year. Reaction to this answer was generally something like: Is that all? If the questioner seemed especially good-natured, Tom would occasionally answer: Her whole life. It took her whole life. Which is a cheeky way of pointing out that there’s a lot of life experience that goes into making any art. In my case, “Crocodylus Smylus” was inspired by a nature encyclopedia I read to my son Sam 15 years ago. It took me five or six years to collect croc fabric. Then there’s the experience I gained by making all the quilts prior to this one. Even if I could calculate how many hours I spent cutting and gluing, it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Of course, I couldn’t go through this spiel each time someone asked, so I often just said “About a year.”
How do you do it?
This question had many variations: Do you sew the pieces down as you go? Do you plan it out on a computer? And so on. Explaining that it’s fabric collage and that I use glue was a good start at an answer for many people. During my tours I went more into detail. It was also a good time to tell people that if they want to know more about how I do what I do, they should visit and sign up for my blog. When I wasn’t doing a tour, Tom especially often took the opportunity to answer the question by showing them the time lapse video (below) of the making of “Crocodylus Smylus” that we had running on a computer, a (moving) picture in this case being worth more than a thousand words.
Where does the croc live when it’s not in a show?
AKA: Where was it made? Where do you have a wall big enough to display it? In my studio on my pinning wall is the simple answer. This was another case where it was appropriate to guide them to the time lapse video, in which they could see my studio. In the video, you’ll see that I had to extend my 14-foot pinning wall first to 20 then to 24 feet to accommodate the quilt.
Where will it go from here?
Home, at first. But Houston is, hopefully, merely the first stop for this collection. I intend to find other venues throughout the U.S. for it to be displayed. The attention it received at IQF will help, I think.
How big is the croc?
Twenty feet tip to tail. Twenty-one and a half feet overall.
Why make it so big?
Making Stevie life-size was the point. I wanted to reproduce the awe I felt when I first read about saltwater crocodiles and learned that they grow to an average of twenty feet long.
I tell my non-quilting friends that IQF Houston is the Super Bowl of quilt shows. I feel very honored to have been included among the very best of the best. If I wore a hat, it would be off for the organizers and volunteers who run the show. Just the Special Exhibit part of the show must be like planning an invasion. Then there are the scores of vendors in the Quilt Market.
The attention to detail is remarkable, so I will remark on it. When I wanted to post a schedule for my tours of the display, I added a sheet between the quilt information sheets already attached to a music stand. These papers had been attached with velcro dots. I had to move the existing sheets of paper in order to place my schedule there, which caused them to hang crookedly. When I arrived the next day, one of the volunteers had added more velcro dots and rearranged the pages so they were all straight. It’s this kind of commitment that makes IQF the best in the world.
My special thanks go out to Becky Navarro and Deann Shamuyerira who invited me to submit a proposal for a special exhibit. They have been helpful and encouraging throughout despite their workload. I hope my show reflected well on their efforts. And I wish them a few well-earned days off once the quilts have all been shipped back to their owners.
My reception by the visitors at IQF was immensely gratifying. The praise of such knowledgable viewers is all one can hope for. As this show represents fifteen years of work, it will undoubtedly be some time before I have another show in Houston like it. But there are other venues in other cities where “Specimens” may find a welcome. Who knows? Stevie the crocodile and her friends may someday be coming to a location near you.