I started my trip from Crathes to Houston at 4am in the dark and everything ran smoothly. I was worried that the superstorm that was due to hit the eastern seaboard would impact upon my transatlantic flight but we flew around it and it was only mildly bumpy. The plane even arrived more than an hour ahead of schedule. There were several other quilters from the UK and further afield on the flight and it was easy to arrange a shuttle bus into the downtown hotel area.
The Magnolia Hotel is a "boutique" hotel, not part of a major chain and so far I am very impressed, apart from there typically being no kettle or milk for morning tea, of course;) I had a plate of nachos with jalapenos and olives in the bar then watched dramatic weather reports as “Frankenstorm” unfolded causing severe flooding, fires and snow in the North Eastern states.
I took a taxi ride to the Galleria Shopping Mall which was absolutely huge. I wandered around aimlessly for a few hours, becoming confused that there were two separate Macy's department stores. I got the bored beautician at the beauty counter to tart me up a bit for the Winners' Circle event in the evening. I decided that two slurps of Starbucks pumpkin spiced latte were more than adequate as it was incredibly sweet. I headed back to the hotel mid afternoon and met up with Ellen who has been touring around the States solo like one half of Thelma and Louise.
After a stiff gin and getting changed into a new posh frock we set off to the prize giving ceremony. The audience of 1000 was more than I had expected and my category was near the end so I found myself getting a little nervous and glad to chat to another rookie entrant from New Zealand, Melissa who won second place for her pictorial quilt of a blacksmith. The winning quilts were gradually revealed from behind black curtains and they were absolutely stunning. The Best in Show by Sherry Reynolds was simply awesome. The winning quilts were also shown on large screens around the room. It gradually began to sink in that I had joined a small elite group of quilters who have won prizes at Houston. Odin's Trilogy was awarded third place in Merit Machine Quilting at the most prestigious quilt show in the world.
Following the prize giving it was great to meet up and have supper with Norma Klimpke and Louella Doss from the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts.
On Wednesday morning we had a leisurely start before heading to the vast convention centre. There was a formal luncheon with speeches and amazingly, the Quilted Yurt was mentioned by IQA Founder, Karey Bresenhan, in her opening speech.
It was a hot afternoon so we sat in the park with a beer before attending the preview night. It was amazing how many quilters attended an early look at the quilts and began their shopping. I was introduced to some very Important People and ogled some big stars of the quilt world. Frankly, I felt exhausted after such a lot of excitement so we did not stay late, deciding to return in the morning with a plan to look at quilts and look at vendor booths in a logical order. I wonder how long those good intentions will last?
I woke ridiculously early on the opening day of the show and was bowled over by lovely comments on Facebook from all sorts of quilters, including some of my idols. We walked downtown the eight blocks to the George R Brown Convention Center and it was above 80 degrees F before 10am. The snaking lines going into the show moved fairly quickly as the biggest quilt show in the world opened its doors for the first day. Ellen and I decided to work very systematically through the floor-plan of the exhibition. The good thing about this was that we kept each other from wandering off, getting side-tracked and stopping periodically for coffee. We were very disciplined, marking down booths that we wanted to revisit for possible purchases after browsing the every single vendor. It was great to check in at the Quilted Yurt every so often to answer questions and have a sit down. It is always wonderful to hear people's comments and explain what possessed me to undertake such a project. I also received many compliments about Odin's Trilogy that looked spectacularly shiny under the show lights. We went for a mimosa champagne cocktail in the park around 5pm and enjoyed relaxing in the late afternoon sun before attending the "Quiltapalooza" social event with raffles and silly contests. It felt great to get back to the hotel later in the evening, put our aching feet up and enjoy a large gin & tonic to plan our route around the exhibits on Day Two.
Miraculously, Ellen and I stuck to our plan of methodically going up and down every single aisle of quilts and vendors without deviations to ensure that we saw absolutely everything without becoming diverted. We have never been so disciplined or focussed at a quilt show before but it paid dividends in that we marked off everything that we wanted to return to later on the floor plan. We decided that we would not even buy anything until we had seen the whole show. I can't believe we had the willpower not to go off on any detours.
I chatted to the people on the Craftsy booth about their online classes and even plucked up the courage to tell Alex Anderson that I found her book about teaching kids to quilt invaluable when I was a novice piecer. She asked how old I was when I learned to quilt and was slightly surprised to hear that I had bought it as an adult as its format was so simple and easy to understand. I saw a few famous faces wandering around the show but most teachers were busy in classrooms or lectures. I still find it exciting to see the celebrities who have authored books or made fabulous show quilts. Many people commented on my name badge that had the prize winning ribbons attached and asked which pieces I had in the show.
I spent time at the Yurt with Norma and Louella from the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts and continued to explain to astonished visitors why someone would undertake such a large project. Several people asked if there was book about the Yurt and it made me more determined to pull all of the almost finished chunks and chapters together and finally get it published. From time to time I wandered over to see Odin's Trilogy and explain to show visitors what fabrics and techniques I used. IQA really does a fantastic job of displaying the quilts. They are well spaced out, brightly lit and all exhibits have a large notice about each quilt and its maker.
In the evening we took a taxi out to Goode's Texas BBQ and enjoyed a delicious supper of ribs and beans on canteen trays seated along rough hewn benches. There were bison and deer heads on the walls so it felt like an old style cowboy eatery. Next door was a huge glittery armadillo statue with Texas long horns. I wonder how fun it would be to quilt one of those?!
Saturday was a busy day at the show but our shopping plan meant that we did not take long to pick up what we wanted and did not seem to make any impulse buys. We had plenty of time to look around the exhibits again and do guided tours of the Yurt. The Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts may decide to take the Yurt down to one of the other IQA festivals next June since it is only about two hours south from Cedarburg. All sorts of people came to see the Yurt and all were very impressed, especially when I proudly told them that this was the second, smaller version. I kept being asked about "The Book" and availability of patterns so I really need to do something about that finally. A Turkish lady asked if I had considered making a Dolmen tent, a fabric vendor was so blown away that she became quite emotional, small children gleefully ran in and out, someone suggested adding a hot-tub and one visitor was concerned about the use of animal horns over the door until I reassured her that they were plastic and I had bought them at Michael's Craft Store.
We had a lovely meal in the evening at Ibiza Restaurant, sitting outside on the terrace enjoying the balmy air which would be unheard of in Scotland, even in summer.
Sunday was a little quieter at the show and just after midday Norma and Louella left for the airport. They had manned the Yurt since Quilt Market began, telling visitors all about their fantastic quilt museum in Wisconsin. I visited the Fairfield batting booth to see a quilting demonstration by Caryl Bryer Fallert and was formally introduced. I was thrilled when she came over to the Yurt later on and complimented my work. As a member of the Board at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, she expressed an interest in having the Yurt there as an exhibition. I am truly honoured that my idols from the quilt world have complimented both the Yurt and Odin's Trilogy - I was told that my quilting is "exquisite". I could not be more delighted by such praise and I will use this massive confidence boost to work on some exciting new ideas, hopefully putting the supply teaching on the back burner unless I need to earn some money for a quilt adventure, of course.
I enjoyed a Mexican style supper and wicked frozen margarita at Peppa Jack's then could not keep my eyes open when I returned to the hotel. Typically I woke up around 4am which at least gave me time to read and pack although I did not buy much fabric apart from a lovely selection of plains that I cannot get in the UK.
I spent the morning mooching around Downtown Houston and discovered a couple of places that I will remember for a future trip: there is a super deli and cafe called Phonecia two blocks from the convention centre and there was an interesting, reasonably priced selection of clothes in Dress Barn. I found a small jeweller in the Houston Center and the two very pleasant assistants helped me to pick out a Pandora style charm bracelet to commemorate my prize at IQA Houston. I chose a silver quilt, lone star and silver state of Texas to go alongside a couple of other beads. I wanted something special to remember my first award at such a prestigious international show that will spur me on when I have moments of doubt in my talent.
The flights back to Aberdeen were uneventful apart from the fidgetty lady with sharp elbows and a bag full of samosas who sat next to me on the transatlantic route. The entire journey, door to door, only took around 15 hours. The weather at home was cool and grey - a far cry from hot and humid Houston. I was in no hurry to unpack as that meant that my amazing quilt trip was definitely over. It will probably take a day or so to come back down to earth, make new lists, note down contacts and maybe even work on a project. The phone rang almost immediately offering me some supply teaching but I have decided that I now need to refocus on my quilting career and try to push the school teaching back to a minimum. However, first of all, I need to brew a strong jug of coffee and finish off the last of my shiny M&M candies...