Quilters to blanket Chattanooga for convention

Quilters to blanket Chattanooga for convention

April 18th, 2013 by Joan Garrett McClane in Local Regional News

DiAnna Dekle, left, learns how to use a long arm quilting machine from instructor Margo Clabo, right, while at the Bernina Sew N Quilt Studio off of Shallowford Road early Tuesday afternoon. The American Quilting Society , a large quilting organization, is expected to be coming to Chattanooga for their yearly convention.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.


This story is featured in today's TimesFreePress newscast.


Tickets, registration, and hotel reservations will be available well in advance of the event. Online registration for tickets, classes and special events at AQS QuiltWeek™-Chattanooga is expected to open June 9, 2014.


The American Quilter's Society is the largest quilting membership organization in the world. For almost 30 years, AQS has been the leading voice in quilting inspiration and advice, through a broad suite of products--magazines, books, live events, contests, workshops, online networks, patterns, fabric, and catalogs. At AQS, we believe that with inspiration and advice, the creatively minded can take their quilting projects beyond what even they had imagined. That is why inspiration is central to everything we do. The leading authors in quilting choose to publish with AQS; the best in quilt artistry select AQS events to display their work; the newest quilters learn from the knowledge and inspiration of AQS members. www.americanquilter.com

Chattanooga's biggest convention

* Who: American Quilter's Society

* Event: AQS QuiltWeek show

* When: Sept. 10-13, 2014, similar shows in 2015 and 2016

* Expected attendance: 20,000

* Economic impact: $30 million over three years

* Where: Chattanooga Convention Center

Her grandmother did not teach her to quilt. Neither did her mother.

The moment Jody Burch decided to start patching and stitching and topping was when she turned off the lights at the end of a quilting show last year, put on by her chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.

For a moment she was the only person in the room, and looking at the walls she felt emotional. She thought of the years the quilts took to make, the changes the families went through as the patterns took form.

"It just overwhelmed me, the love that was there," she said.

Quilting is deeply personal. It can take a lifetime to finish a single one. Patches are collected for years to be collectives of memories, to serve as memorials or to hang as art.

And quilting, like any creative venture, begs to be shared. The best quilts in the world are put on display at yearly conventions run by the American Quilting Society. For years, quilters from the Tennessee Valley have traveled across the country to attend shows in Lancaster, Pa.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Des Moines, Iowa; compete fiercely for best of show; and shop for new equipment and fabric.

For the first time, the group is coming to Chattanooga, and quilters are beside themselves. The shows means the best quilters in the country will be in their backyard.

"There are a lot of quilters in this area, and it will expose them to big names making new patterns and new styles," said Kim Thomas, owner of Chattanooga Quilts.

The American Quilter's Society announced that it will bring its quilt show to Chattanooga for each of the next three years -- the biggest convention in Chattanooga's history. The annual events, starting in September 2014, are expected to attract 20,000 quilters and family members every year. Over the next three years, the conventions are expected to pump $30 million into the local economy.

"Securing this group is a testament of our commitment to invest in our community and provide top-notch meeting facilities, accommodations, attractions, and restaurants," said Bob Doak, CEO of the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Our hospitality partners are committed to rolling out the red carpet and doing everything we can to ensure that the quilters have a successful show."

Shows, like the one put on by the quilters group, have been pivotal for the craft. New methods are taught. The strangest quilts are shown off. In 1989, Caryl Bryer Fallert's machine-pieced quilt called "Solar Eclipse" won best of show. It was the first time a quilt like hers had received such major recognition.

For years, long arm or machine-assisted quilting was looked down on by those who hand quilted. They saw it as utilitarian, not artistic. Not any more, said Margo Clabo, a long arm quilter from Cleveland who won best of show at the national meeting several years ago.

High-tech machines can create dozens of patterns. The stitching can be hand directed for all kinds of swivels and swirls. Threads can be thick, thin, multicolored, even glow in the dark.

At Bernina Sew N Quilt people rent time to use the Handi Quilters, a long arm quilting machine. Some buy them for between $9,000 and $20,000, said store owner Bill Klingensmith, who quilts with his wife.

"There are a lot more gadgets, magazines and patterns," he said. "Fiber arts are so unique, so beautiful."

Some quilters use a mix of techniques. Some don't.

Some finished quilts tell a story. Don Locke re-created Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" with 51,816 pieces of fabric. It took him more than two years to finish.

In Ringgold, Ga., the owners of Sew Bee It, which was destroyed in the tornado several years ago, made a quilt of fabric found in the rubble. The overall picture showed tornadoes spawning from one.

Some quilts just catch the eye. Vista Mahan, a North Georgia quilter, said she has seen quilts hand beaded with thousands of crystals. Another colored in crayon.

Still, some of the most interesting pieces don't even get honorable mention, she said.

"People are trying to outdo the other one," said Klingensmith. "I'm sure there are a lot of tears [after AQS]."

But local officials announcing the city's biggest convention were all smiles this week.

"Not only does it bring new money to our community, it enriches the lives of the locals," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said.

Bonnie Browning, executive show director for the American Quilter's Society, said her group was "impressed with their thriving and vibrant arts scene, museums, galleries, and all the other activities scattered throughout the city.

"When we looked at Chattanooga, we felt they truly wanted our business and their facilities were a perfect fit for our show," she said.

Staff writer Dave Flessner contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Joan Garrett at jgarrett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6601. Follow her on Twitter at @JoanGarrettCTFP.