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."
The price of cotton is expected to increase this year, due to flooding and other agricutural problems. Moda's Joseph Galza thinks that might have a slight effect on sales. "But you have to remember that quilters are making heirlooms; something that will last for generations. If they don't use excellent product, they are wasting their time and money."
2. Beyond bed covers. Quilts now decorate walls, tables, chests, couches and more. But quilting techniques are also spreading into other areas. Quilts purses and handbags are hugely popular, as are quilted clothes.
Quilters are also borrowing techniques from other craft areas. Making Memories' Slice machine, used for die-cutting scrapbook shapes, also works on adhesive-backed fabric, providing easy, uniform pieces for applique. Salt Laker Cody Mazuran has a line of aprons, children clothing and quilt ruffles that incorporates piping. Barbara Warholic, a pottery maker from North Carolina is using fabric-covered clothesline and quilting techniques to make bowls and pots and has a new book called "Sewing Pottery by Machine," (Martingale, $22.99).
3. Rise of the Modern. Hip young bloggers have started a trend that began online and is spreading to mainstream quilting, says Konda Luckau, of Payson, who is one of them. It started when young mommy-bloggers saw quilts online and thought, "I can do that." "They just started making quilts, making up the rules as they went along," Luckau says. "Now there are a lot of free, online tutorials. Many of the quilts are kind of wonky, but fun."
Modern quilts tend to use lots of solid colors and feature wide-open spaces, white backgrounds that make colored blocks pop. "I'm a math teacher, so I've always liked patterns," Luckau says, "and it's fun to make them up.'
Amy Ellis, who lives in Heber, is another modern quilter and has recently published a book with Martingale called "Modern Basics." She wanted to start quilting, "and about three years ago, I found this wonderful, supportive online community and jumped right in." Hers is the first book on modern quilting for Martingale, one of the largest publishers.
But elements of modern quilting have been popular in Germany for years, says Martin Nusken, with Zen Chic, a Germany company that is now making patterns for the American market. They feature contemporary art designs "that fit well in the modern home."
4. Shortcuts. Quilters are always looking for quick and easy. Jelly-rolls (rolls of 2 1/2-inch fabric strips) and Charm packs (stacks of 10-inch squares) are very popular, as are books with patterns using those, says Christine Boyle, an editor with F&W Media.
They are very popular, says Tom Rice of Anthology Fabrics, "but we package them a little differently. We call our 2 1/2-inch strips "Story Strips" and our 10-inch squares "Story Books," because we believe every quilt tells a story, everything quilters do tells a story. There's a story in the making of the quilt and in the sharing of it with others."
5. Bling it on. Quilters are adding everything from buttons to rick-rack to embroidery to beads. And as long-arm machine quilting gets more and more popular, so does using thread itself as an embellishment in fancy designs, says Donna Morales-Demig, with Aurifil Thread. "The actual quilting doesn't necessarily have to match these days."
6. Green and scrappy. "Quilters are the original recyclers," says Kathy Thompson, of Quilter's Dream Batting. "They've always been interested in using up and making do." But now there's a new trend in batting, with a polyester batting that is virtually indistinguishable from other polyester battings, except that it is made of recycled pop bottles. "Each pound of batting rescues 10 bottles from the landfill," she says.
Also along that line, says Mary Green, an editor at Martingale, is the popularity of books for "scrappy" quilts, which use small bits and pieces, so that nothing goes to waste.
7. Heritage. Every quilt tells a story, but some tell a story of the past. With the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, quilt patterns and reproduction fabrics from that era are more popular than ever, says Martingale's Green. They have a book by Kathleen Tracy, "The Civil War Sewing Circle," "that we can't keep in print. It talks about importance of the sewing circle, both in the war and in the rise of women's right."
Equally popular is "Every Barn Tells A Story," by Ann Zemke and Diane Entrikin, which details the phenomenon of painting quilt blocks on barns that is huge in the midwest as a tribute to not only Amish but other quilters, as well.
8. Art and creativity. No matter what else happens with quilts, the artistic aspect will always be important, says Traci Marvel, of Bigfork Bay Cotton Company, based in Montana. Her company licenses fine-art artists and translates the designs into fabric. There are designs from nature (which is always big, she says), whimsical folk art, contemporary pieces and more.
They feature fusible raw-edge applique, which is huge right now, Marvel says. "But what is also fun is that people shrink our patterns to do needlepunch and enlarge them to make hooked rugs. It's a way to get more value out of our patterns, and we all want that."