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Quilting, $3.5 billion industry, seeing bolder colors, bling and recycled-bottle batting

Gone are the days when quilting was only a cottage industry

Published: Sunday, May 22 2011 10:50 p.m. MDT

Quilting is certainly an art — an art, a craft, a hobby, a pastime, an outlet for creativity, even a form of therapy.

But in today's world it is also an industry — an industry that recently returned its annual International Quilt Market to Salt Lake City for a second time and drew hundreds of people from around the world to the Salt Palace.

Not open to the public, the show brought together people in all aspects of the industry, from fabric, thread and notion manufacturers, to book and magazine publishers, quilt shop owners, quilt designers and pattern-makers and more, to give them a chance to see what's new, what's exciting, what's going on in the world of quilting.

Gone are the days when quilting was only a cottage industry, when quilts were only made out of necessity. Today, it is a $3.58 billion industry in the United States with 21.3 million quilters, nationwide. Fourteen percent of U.S. households are home to at least one active quilter. But quilting is also popular all over the world, and Quilt Market attendees came from Germany, Belgium, Australia, Japan and other countries.

Utah has a strong presence in the industry, as well. Of the more than 530 booths at the show, 64 were Utah companies, ranging from individual designers to fabric manufacturers and sewing machine and equipment makers.

According to a survey commissioned by Quilts, Inc., sponsor of the annual trade show, and Quilters Newsletter magazine and released in connection with Quilt Market, the number of quilters is down slightly since 2006, when the last survey was taken; but expenditures have increased.

"I admit I was concerned that the news might not look good given the economic realities," said Kaye Bresenhan, president of Quilts, Inc. "But as a fifth-generation quilter myself, I should have known better. Nothing keeps quilters from enjoying something that allows them to explore both their talents and their creativity."

She attributes the strength of the industry largely to "dedicated quilters," who represent 6.2 percent of quilting households, but are responsible for generating 69 percent of quilt industry spending. Dedicated quilters tend to be female, older, well-educated, affluent and have been quilting for an average of 16 years.

The International Quilt Market returned to Salt Lake City for only the second time in its history, but not the last, say folks at Quilts, Inc. "We love this venue," said spokesman Bob Ruggerio. They love the tours of local quilt shops, a chance to see historic quilts at This Is The Place Heritage Park, as well as other side-offerings.

A walk around the convention floor proves there's truly something for every taste, every style, every level of expertise. These are some of the major trends:

1. Fabric. Quilting tools and machines are getting more sophisticated. There are lots of new gadgets to help quilters do their thing. But it all starts and ends with fabric. And this year, expect that fabric to be bright, big, bold and nostalgic.

"There's a trend that when things are down economically, colors get brighter," says Susan Neill, vice president of marketing for fabric manufacturer Benartex. "This year, you'll see a lot of bright, saturated colors. Designs are larger; there are a lot of novelty prints — fish, toys, birds are very big." Turquoise is a popular color, especially in combination with brown and pink.

Fabrics of the '30s has been popular for years, but now retro designs from the '50s are coming on strong. One of the Moda company's top sellers at the show featured little girls hula-hooping.

Batiks are among the fastest-growing fabric lines, according to Adam Dewar of Island Batiks. "There are so many colors and values; batiks are the biggest-selling thing in the industry at the moment."

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