International Quilt Festival Chicago Entry #3 – Quilters

Quilters are an interesting breed.

I consider myself a casual quilter. I enjoy the playing of colors with patterns and quilting designs, developing a pattern, looking at the thousands of fabrics that are available and sometimes just enjoy the solitude and monotony of piecing and/or quilting. It certainly is a form of meditation. I do not do enough of it to really consider myself an expert at all the different techniques, as I’m well aware, that consideration would only come from experience and practice. I can however appreciate the dedication, commitment and extreme creativity these sewers have. If ever there was a bright spot in the home sewing industry it is in the quilting world.

It sounds rather strange, doesn’t it, to say that? While fashion sewing, at least in the United States, has every characteristic of a dying market sector, quilting has exploded. Quilters don’t bat an eyelash at spending thousands upon thousands of dollars for fabrics, high-end machines, cutting tools, tables, special ergonomic chairs, long-arm quilting machines, special hand creams, stainless steel thimbles, French made needles, every color of thread, complete fat-quarter sets of a manufacturers line. The list is nearly endless. I mean Thousands and Thousands of dollars.

For example, let’s take a look at a typical quilt on display and lets just analyze the cost of making the quilt and you’ll see what I mean. Okay, let’s just pick one, how bout this one titled Solar Magic by which was in the exhibit The Sky’s the Limit? Good? Okay…

We’ll start with the obvious, the fabrics. Let’s look at the number of fabrics that are in the quilt. It might be hard to count since these photos are a little small, but just guessing from a distance I’d put it close to 60. There’s some hand dyed and some prints but there’s a lot of different colors and textures so my conservative guess is about 60. Now you all know when you go to the store to buy fabric you don’t walk away from the counter without getting either a 1/4 yard cut or more. So let’s just be conservative and say that over time this quilter had put into her stash 60 different fabrics at a minimum 1/4 yard cut at the average price of $7.00/yard (maybe a little high, especially if found on sale…but there’s a lot of hand dyed fabrics in this quilt and those are usually a little more). That is about $105 for the collection.

Then there’s the backing fabric. I didn’t see behind the quilt but based on the size, about 60″ x 60″ (152.4cm x 152.4cm) there’s about 3-4 yards of fabric on the back. Add an additional $28.00.

Now the batting. Add in another $15.00, just a hunch that it was made using a low loft cotton or cotton blend. Then there’s the thread. This quilt is loaded with thread. Thankfully thread really isn’t that big of an expense but you gotta figure there’s at least a few spools, so add in another$10.

Now add in all those things you don’t see, the tools of the trade. This was machine pieced and one of the techniques was paper piecing. Add in another $10 for the paper. Most likely those half square triangles and quarter square triangles were rotary cut so add in a rotary cutter, mat, ruler ($35). And of course the sewing machine and quilting hoop/frame or whatever was used…could be a lot. I won’t count that here…so just figuring the cost of the materials without the machine equipment we’re at an estimate of $203.00.

It’s a lot, and the place was packed with quilters just gobbling up the goods. I’d just listened to a report on the news about Alan Greenspan declared the U.S. economy was in a recession. Yeah, our gas, food, housing and all that is expensive but I tell you there wasn’t any indication we were in a recession at this festival. I would say the average consumer was over 50, retired (or close to it), and had lots of income ready to spend in pursuit of a passion. Sounds like the aging Baby Boomer market doesn’t it? You bet.

I did see some younger ladies here in there but very few. Most of them were going up the stairs to the Gem and Jewelry Show being held at the same convention center. Beading and jewelry making is a bit more popular with the younger set. Not as much technical skill to make a basic drop earing or simple necklace. Equally as expensive but easier and quicker to satisfy the creative urge I suppose.

One thing since I got to talking about age is something I happened to notice, there is definitely a direct correlation between age and intricacy of the quilts on display. The older the quilter the more intricate and mind-boggling complex the quilted masterpiece. A younger quilter just isn’t going to spend the time to accomplish one of these. The patience, skill, and time must come with plenty of maturity. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these two:

Here’s The Supper Quilt by Donald E. Locke D.D.S. of Waxahachie, Texas

And this quilt titled: Mother Earth and Her Children by Sieglinde Schoen Smith
of Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Just say it with me…    WOW!

Believe it or not The Supper Quilt was Don’s second quilt.  Both of the makers were at the show signing either the companion children’s book (Mother Earth) or postcards (Don).  These were just wonderful to admire and to just sit back and imagine how they must have been made.  There’s hope for me yet that someday I too will have a masterpiece hanging on display.  I bow to the masters!

2 thoughts on “International Quilt Festival Chicago Entry #3 – Quilters”

  1. Loved the quilt pictures! Good commentary. I too have wondered at the expense ladies go to in todays world to make a quilt, and then I am mortified to see the book cover I made out of quilting cotton has faded to the point of “time to get rid of it” and it is only 2 years old! To put all that time, effort and money into a quilt you are proud of and then have to hide it in a dark place in acid free tissue… what a waste. My book cover is also frayed and worn and this makes me think the same would happen if you tried to use the quilt.


  2. Thanks Mom! Yes, these quilts need to avoid light or be made with some kind of colorfast fabric that isn’t going to fade easily in order to keep their brightness.

    All of the natural fibers are biodegradable and do break down. Just as anything would. We’ve all seen a silk antique gown that is in shreds because it is naturally breaking down. Linen would probably hold up best (think Egyptian mummys and the Shroud of Turin) but don’t see too many quilts made out of Linen.

    It’s a tough call. But I think these quilters make these quilts because they love it, like your book cover, and not so much because they think it will last indefinitely.


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