Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Festival of Quilts
Part 1

I love the Festival of Quilts, having been very involved in its early days.  Unfortunately my mobility issues meant I had to stop attending several years ago and I really miss it.  There came a point when I realised it was not a good idea to be driving round the countryside on my own and as I have always got sick on coaches, going with a group was not an option.  I used to say the event was like a school reunion!  So I am quite envious of those of you who are there this week.

I know the first Festival was held in 2003 which was when I was on QGBI’s PR committee.  Actually, I remember the first time I heard about it was when Andrew Salmon addressed the Guild AGM to tell us what was proposed.  I guess that was in 2002.  I suspect many people did not realise then what a major event it would become.  I had one great advantage in that I lived an hour’s drive away from the NEC so it was ‘commutable’, particularly early in the day.   As a committee member I got some perks including being able to view the exhibits in the hour before the punters were let in and a chance to get to know many of the stall holders.  I also learnt a great deal about how shows are run as I spent time on the Guild stand and was involved in setting up and breaking down.  The stand that was designed to attract members was situated at the front of the Hall so you could see everyone arriving.

I entered quilts in the competitions a few times although they were not particularly good ones.  In some cases they were very derivative and each time I had trouble wondering what class they should be going in.  Was my effort an ‘innovative’ quilt or just ‘contemporary’?  I used to dither about this but at that time so did lots of other people so I knew I was not alone.  I enjoyed the whole process of getting the entry to the NEC and of collecting it at the end of the Festival.  I always insisted on hand delivery and collection because I had heard so many stories about quilts getting lost.  This is At the Bay, my 2003 entry which was about the New Zealand landscape. As you can see, it is very much a product of a workshop, in this case an Alicia Merrett one at Bramble Patch.

I used to drive to the industrial estate somewhere on the edge of Birmingham where the couriers were, with my quilt in its approved wrappings.  I would try and do something else in the area to make the trip a day’s outing.  One year I found two National Trust properties on the edge of Warwick and visited both.   Collecting the quilt at the end was another interesting experience.  As I was on the main Guild stand at the front entrance I can remember standing there for hours being able to see my quilt but not collect it!  Later the collecting process was moved to one of the other halls which made things easier and a bit quieter.

In 2004 I entered Misty Morning which I had made in silk fabrics given to me after our house fire by a woman who ran a wedding dress business in our village.  It was a whole packer's box and I never managed to use all of the fabric although I almost ran out of some 'colourways'.  In the end I gave the remainder to Penwith College.

When we moved to Cornwall in 2006 I obviously had to rethink how I got to the NEC.  First I had to take my quilt to the carrier’s depot near Truro. As I remember it was quite difficult to find the depot and the firm who did the carrying turned out to be one whose lorries we were familiar with from driving up and down the motorway and which we had always associated with cauliflowers!

This is Colours of the Coromandel based on the trip I had made to New Zealand earlier that year.  It began as a Journal Quilt and then I did a bigger version.  I seem only to have a photo of the journal quilt version.

The week of the Festival I would drive up to visit my sister in Shropshire for a few days.  I needed the car for all the shopping! This would enable us to visit the exhibition at the Minerva Arts Centre in Llanidloes as well as exploring the Shropshire countryside.  In return I would run a session for her village craft group although that was quite a challenge as only one person was a quilter and people had different interests and levels of skill.  Rotary cutters were new to almost all, for example.  I had never taught quilting although I worked in adult education for many years and I quickly learnt some basic principles about how to deal with beginners who want something ‘finished’ at the end of two hours.  I would teach them how to make small objects such as book covers as this did not require you to be a quilter.

 My sister and I usually then went to Festival for the first day by train.  From where she lives this could involve three trains: one to Shrewsbury, a second to Wolverhampton and possibly a third from there to the NEC.  The trains were always full of people going to the Festival although as this was a very different part of the country I rarely knew anyone.  Of course, it also depended on the trains running smoothly.  There was one year when on the way home we broke down in the middle of the countryside for some considerable time.  I remember learning a lot about sewage systems because the young woman sitting opposite us worked for a waste management firm.   Once at the NEC we would join a very long queue even though we had bought tickets in advance but I always saw people I knew so it was very sociable.  After Day One I would spend another day with my sister and then drive back on Saturday morning to have two more days.  I developed strategies for dealing with the crowds.  Always do your shopping first and look at the quilts later as most people ‘do’ the quilts first and then the shopping.  With three days available rushing through things was not such an issue.

I would then have another day with my sister and first thing on Saturday morning I would drive back to the NEC for two days.  I know one year I stayed in Meriden and another in one of the hotels at the NEC.  That was better in a way as it meant I could meet up with other quilters and then get to and from the Halls by coach.

I plan another post on the activities I did in the years I went and I have recently found a lot of my 'shopping', some of which I have never used, so I will try to photograph thins.

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