Fall International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas

by Shannon Stoney
Traditional and contemporary art quilts are on display at the International Quilt Festival in Houston.

Traditional and contemporary art quilts are on display at the International Quilt Festival in Houston.

Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

The Fall International Quilt Festival in Houston,Texas, is a must-see for the quilting or fiber arts enthusiast. This huge extravaganza of all things quilting began in 1974 and is usually held on the first weekend in November, a pleasant time in Houston, when the Texas heat has abated and the skies are often a brilliant clear blue. The festival includes a huge market and classes in addition to the magnificent show of quilts.

The Main Event

The main focus of the International Quilt Show is a huge display of quilts that takes up about half of the floor space in the George R. Brown Convention Center. Quilters compete for over $90,000 worth of prize money; the Best of Show prize is $10,000. Some of these quilters are famous textile designers, such as Kaffe Fassett, who entered several pieces in the 2010 show. He conducted a tour of his quilts and answered questions from festival attendees. Many of the quilts in the show are made by ordinary hobby quilters. In the fall of 2001, shortly after the 9/11 disaster, a wall of quilts commemorated the event, mostly assembled in a few weeks by quilting guilds creating one of the most memorable quilt festivals in recent history.

Types of Quilts

The quilts are displayed at the festival by category, including traditional pieced quilts, of course, as well as many contemporary art quilts depicting landscapes, people, flowers and animals. The style of quilt art has evolved a great deal since the festival began. Quilters are no longer confined to abstract geometrical patterns; they may use photographs and computers to generate their imagery; and the use high-tech machines to quilt the surface in interesting textures is permitted. Quilters today also paint on fabric and dye their own materials to create very personal fiber art statements. Embellishments include beads, buttons and sparkling embroidery thread. These are not your grandmother's quilts!

Wearable Art

In addition to quilts that hang on walls or cover beds, the festival exhibits examples of pieced wearable art in the show. Wearable art, in this case, includes clothing in which the sleeves, back piece and front pieces are assembled in the same way that a quilt is made. Some wearable art pieces are quite stunning: quilters have made long coats, short jackets and vests using patchwork, hand-dyed and hand-painted fabrics, and quilting techniques. Fashion shows at the International Quilt Festival have featured some of these wonderful clothes.

The Market

A favorite part of the International Quilt Festival for many fiber art enthusiasts is the enormous market that covers the remaining half of the convention center floor. In 2010, there were 546 exhibitors and almost 1,000 booths. The exhibitors include sewing machine companies, fabric shops, quilting supply shops and antique heirloom textile sellers. Many fabric aficionados buy the fabric for clothing and quilts they'll make in the coming year, as the selection of fabrics at the festival is unsurpassed. You will find handwoven fabric from Africa and Asia as well as fabrics designed especially for quilters. A couple of aisles are devoted to embellishments such as beads and buttons. It's fascinating to watch the demonstrations of the long-arm quilting machines that can literally "draw" patterns with a running stitch on the surface of your quilt. Attendees can test-drive these complex machines, as well as smaller home versions.

The Classes

You can learn a lot about quilting and fiber art simply by wandering around the International Quilt Festival floor, but for a more formal learning experience, take a class. In 2010, almost 5,000 people participated in the Quiltmaking Academy. The Academy includes 70 classes, lectures and events that cover every aspect of quilting, including hand-piecing, fabric dyeing, digital design and mixed-media art. Some classes last only a couple of hours, while others continue for several days. A print catalog of offerings for the fall is available in late June and can be ordered from the quilt show website. The schedule is available online in early July.

Where to Stay and Eat

The George R. Brown Convention Center is in downtown Houston, close to several hotels. The Hilton Americas Hotel is connected by a covered walkway to the convention center. Other nearby hotels include the Hyatt Regency, Double Tree, Four Seasons, Embassy Suites, and the Crown Plaza Downtown. All are within easy walking distance of the convention center. Discovery Green, a downtown park In front of the center offers restaurants, such as the Grove that overlooks live oak trees. The Lake House, is a more informal choice overlooking a small lake, where diners eat outside and watch children play with the remote-control sailboats on the lake, or in the fountain. Discovery Green is a great place to spend a few minutes outside in a green space and take a break from the crowded convention center.

About the Author

Shannon Stoney holds a B.A. in English and comparative literature from Princeton University, as well as an M.F.A. in visual art from the Maine College of Art. She has been a fiber artist since 1985 and a fine artist since 1998. Stoney is also a writer and editor, with work published in magazines such as "Cite," "Spin-Off" and "Permaculture Activist."

Photo Credits

  • Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images