My head is still spinning.
I made my first modern quilt in 1987 while living in Tokyo. I had never met a quilter in the US or Japan and was just kind of doing my own thing. In 1999 Bill and I decided to see if we could bring modern quilt design mainstream. Although we have designed over 100 fabrics and written 5 books, it always felt as though we were still on the fringes of the quilting world. “We don’t have customers who would buy this,” is a phrase we’ve heard for many, many years from shop owners.
Somehow it feels as though everything changed at Market in Kansas City. It was very interesting to talk with shop owners about their perception of what will sell now. Some already have a modern shopping clientele and were buying more aggressively. Others with more traditional shops came to our booth, looking confused and wanting help understanding “the whole modern thing.” “So what’s your definition of modern quilting?” they’d ask. Or “I don’t even know where to start” they’d say when trying to figure out what to buy to attract modern quilters. For us the feeling was two-fold. I really was excited to have an opportunity to explain to shop owners what we hear when we teach and lecture and what sells well for us. There was also the immense relief that maybe there’s some acceptance — or possibly even appreciation? — that we’re trying to offer a different way of thinking about and making quilts.
Quilt Market was grueling, leaving the hotel at 7:15 for breakfast meetings before Market opened and sometimes two post-Market events to attend before I was able to get back to the hotel. One day I ended up being unable to eat from 7:30am until 11pm. It was clear while in KC that the tides had changed and I was both excited and overwhelmed. Standing on a street corner in Kansas City on my way to a meeting I called Bill on my cell and said, “We’ve got to hire more help. Now.”
I got back to Chicago on May 22 and I have been processing orders, signing contracts and answering phone calls and emails 12-15 hrs a day ever since (hence a blog post written at 11:45 on a Friday night). I haven’t touched a sewing machine. Certainly it’s a great problem to have but it’s so sudden after all of these years. I’ll tell you more details as I am able but we have a very exciting, if exhausting, year ahead.
I wish that reality TV could have chronicled our business over the past 13 years for young people just starting out their careers. It’s the opposite of the Cinderella reality shows where you go from being a waitress one day to the chart-topping Kelly Clarkson 6 weeks later. Year by year, trying hard to blaze a new trail. We found success in the design world (there was that one awesome week when we had quilts in Oprah’s magazine, TIME magazine and the cover of Country Living) but the quilting world was a much harder nut to crack. We dealt with lots and lots and lots of rejection and more than a little envy but realized in the end that it’s about running your own race. I remember someone asking me in 2004 when Amy Butler had just begun to take off, “What can you learn from Amy Butler that would help your business?” Ouch! I responded honestly, “That we’re not Amy Butler. That we don’t have her skill set. We have our own and we just have to keep trying to find an audience for it.” A trusted shop owner who has known us since 2003 recently said, “You were too early.” So true. Our work is just starting to get the audience we always worked for. I wish it had been faster but I’ll take it.
So this was the moment that I’ll always remember about Quilt Market. I wrote about this on Facebook but I know not all of you go there. So I’ll repeat it: Amy and David Butler stopped to admire some quilts in our booth. — I’ll pause while you gasp like I did. — I had met Amy in 2003 before she was a household name but everyone wants a piece of her now so I’ve tried not to “remember me?” her. I wasn’t sure what David would think of our Best of Both Worlds quilt made with his fabric but channeling my late mother-in-law (who said that you should always tell people when they’ve done something well) I thanked Amy and David for transforming the quilt world and for raising the bar for everyone at Market. It was a seriously frumpy show before they came along and showed people how to merchandize their work. She paved the way for a lot of us and I’ve always felt indebted to her for that.
Amy thanked me and then very graciously told me that she had always found our work inspiring. Tears welled up in my eyes. She told us about a speech that we wrote that she heard 7 years ago that has stuck with her because she thought it was poetic and beautiful. I couldn’t speak. I just thought,” I wish Bill were here to hear this. I don’t ever want to forget this moment.” Kinda like Michael Jordan telling you, “You got game.” That conversation will be creative Red Bull for me for the rest of my career. Now if I had only had my wits about me enough to take my picture with her before she had to return to her booth. But David stayed another moment and we got this shot with my quilt and his totally cool business card-beer coaster in my hand. Gosh I needed that.