Quilters Descend on Houston

Houston’s second largest annual convention is underway — with in excess of 50-thousand people at the show. It might surprise you to hear what’s drawing so many people to the area — it’s the International Quilt Festival. Laurie Johnson explains.

quilt winnerInside the cavernous halls of the George R. Brown Convention Center, there are thousands of women, and a handful of men, ogling new sewing machines, fine fabrics and of course the quilts.

They’re really amazing. Some look like watercolor paintings. Others look like stop-motion photographs. There’s even a Michael Jackson quilt.

“Quilters can take inspiration from, as you can see, color, design, or the Bad album, which really was an under-rated album of Michael’s.”

That’s Bob Ruggerio with Quilts, Inc. All joking aside, he says what a lot of people don’t realize about the International Quilt Festival is the amount of artistry on display.

“These quilts are not meant to be on a bed, they’re all meant to be hung like in an art gallery. The aisle we’re going down now, you can see is some of the pictorial quilts we have. And I mean just looking at that, it looks like a photograph of a parrot but it’s all made with fabric and hand-dyed items. So you can see that’s not something somebody would sleep under.”

One of those quilts, called The Gift, looks like a painting from a distance. Draw closer and the resemblance to a painting is even more striking. The tiny, intricate stitching looks almost like pointillism.

Textile Artist Hollis Chatelain says the inspiration for the quilt came from an encounter with a young woman on a cruise.

“I went to her for a massage. When she gave me the massage, I could just feel that she was really worried about something. She wasn’t talking, but I eventually asked her what it was and she opened her heart to me.”

The scene is a young Fillipino woman, gazing at the ocean. She’s surrounded by tropical flowers and green mountains, with crumbling shacks in the background.

“The reason she was so worried was because she didn’t like her job and she was going to quit. And she supported her parents and her two brothers at home with this. So that night, I had this dream in blue. And the way I interpreted it was when I think of the islands, like the Phillipines and many of those beautiful islands, I think of flowers and the beautiful ocean. But when she thinks of the Phillipines, she thinks of the shanty-town that she was raised in.”

Folks come from all over the world to see quilts like The Gift. Bob Ruggerio says there are groups from more than 30 countries, from places as far away as Japan and Australia. It’s the largest quilt festival in the world, and vies for the title as largest convention in Houston.

“We always battle it out with OTC in terms of attendance, but I’d be careful about the quilters because they have sharp instruments and the oilmen don’t.”

About 53,000 people will visit the Quilt Festival this weekend. The Greater Houston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau estimates all those folks spend about $50 million dollars over the course of their stay on things like hotel rooms, cab rides, meals and, of course, quilting paraphenalia.



Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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