posted in: Quilting, Work 0
Quilt Market is like this hedge maze, except with more booths, more people, and people at the doors who won't let you bring in your coffee so you have to smuggle it in your purse. Not that I've ever done that. (Photo: Stan Shebs.)
Quilt Market is like this hedge maze, except with more booths, more people, and guards at the doors who won’t let you bring in your coffee so you have to smuggle it in your purse. Not that I’ve ever done that. (Photo: Stan Shebs.)

For the next four days, I’ll be deep in the labryinth of International Quilt Market, Extreme Fall Edition.

Quilt Market is a crucial event for folks with serious business to do within the quilt industry. It occurs every year at the end or tail end of October; you could set your desk calendar to it and most industry people do: Market is where the biggest deals are done, where shop owners plan their strategies, where new careers are unveiled, and many meetings are taken in which one is advised to take notes.

From the time we were old enough to register the lives of our parents, Quilt Market was important in my life and the lives of my two sisters. Mom went to Market every year, and how we knew it was important was because Mom usually bought something new to wear to it and she didn’t do much shopping back then (still doesn’t, but back then it was because the family financial situation was mighty precarious.) We were also well aware Market was held in Houston, and this was strange in our young minds because our paternal grandparents also lived in Houston and we only had poor memories of those grandparents. We were dimly aware that Mom and our estranged dad had met in Houston and gotten married there. So Houston was an emotionally charged place for us (or maybe just me) and every year, Mom went there for work. Maybe it sounds irrational that her annual trip would cause us anxiety, but kids’ emotions are complex, especially when there’s been a painful schism in a family.

And now I go. This is perhaps my sixth Market? Something like that. I love it. I love the energy, the concentration of hundreds upon hundreds of talented people in one place. I love the effort that everyone puts forth to make this Market the best Market ever. The color in the place is dazzling. And at the heart of it all? Quilts. Well, money is also at the heart of it. But the quilts come first and the money follows, so quilts win. Isn’t that something? A Nebraskan quilter who had a name but is now only remembered as “Anonymous,” stitching along on a Log Cabin quilt in 1880 had no idea that what she was doing would yield all of this.

She’d be amazed. She’d be excited. She’d probably want to upgrade her sewing machine. At Market, she could do that. She could do a lot more than she could in 1880, that’s for sure. “Anonymous in 1880”? This Market’s for you. I will dash around in heels with my notebook and make deals and further the love of quilting in this country in the name of your anonymity. Together, we’ll help pull the next one up.**

*“Pull The Next One Up” is a brilliant poem by my friend Marc Smith, founder of the poetry slam. Google the poem and prepare for goosebumps. I love you, Marc. 

“A Quilter and a Voguer Walk Into a Lobby…”

Vintage Vogue. Horst, 1939.
Horst, 1939. Vogue magazine.

If you want to work in the quilt industry — and with a $3.5B+ annual market valuation, a lot of people do — you’re going to need to go to Quilt Market. Anyone doing serious business in the quilt world is there and though there are many shows throughout the year that serve the industry, when people ask you, “Will I see you at Market?” they mean either International Spring or International Fall Market, whichever comes next on the calendar. The answer to the question should be, “Absolutely.”

At Market, you see what’s new. You get the V.I.P. scoop. You make predictions. You discover new designers, new talent. You see who’s hot, who’s tepid, and who isn’t there at all. You make deals. You make friends and faux pas. If you want to be in the business, you have to be at Market because please. Everyone who’s anyone, darling.

Really, going to Quilt Market is a little like being in New York City. Everything happens here first. If you’re not here, you’re just gonna have to find out when everyone else does: later.

I’m staying in an East Village hotel while my NYC living situation sorts itself out. At 4:00am this morning, I woke with a stomachache and couldn’t get back to sleep. (When you don’t eat much during the day and then you eat steak, these things happen.) My hard and fast rule about insomnia? Get up. Tossing and turning is unacceptable. Just get up. Read something or clean something. If you’re in my situation, pad down to the lobby with your computer and talk about vogueing with Zachary, the night porter.

I was scamming some tea from the not-technically-open tea and coffee station when Zachary appeared. He startled me and I instantly regretting not combing my hair or at least putting on flip-flops. I looked like a barefoot, homeless crazy person.

“Please don’t throw me out,” I said, sleep-deprived and thieving. “I just knew where the honey was. I-I’m a good person,” I spluttered.

“You’re fine,” said Zachary, dressed in black skinny jeans and a cap, laconic and cool in that way that early twenty-something New York kids are laconic and cool.

“Thanks,” I said. “I couldn’t sleep, so I’m awake.” Even in the middle of the night, I am excellent at stating the obvious. It’s a talent.

We started chatting. I told him about being a writer and a quilter; he told me about a nearby gallery that is currently exhibiting quilts. I asked him what he did when he wasn’t working at a small hotel at 4am. He told me he graduated last year with degrees in art history and publishing, that he was also a writer, and that he is holding a panel discussion on ballroom culture on Thursday.

“Ooh,” I said, “Tell me more.” Because Zachary wasn’t referring to tango clubs or waltzing, and I knew it. Ballroom culture refers to the dance-centric, underground LGBT subculture that brought us such touchstones as vogueing and the “house” system, a way of forming alliances/collectives within the underground drag and dance community. Mainstream references to all this include the seminal Paris Is Burning film (1990), Madonna’s “Vogue,” and RuPaul’s “House of Love” and Lady Gaga’s “House of Gaga,” though one must note the mass-appeal versions of these things look different from the ground-floor ballroom world Zachary knows.

What he shared with me about the evolution and current state of ballroom culture was fascinating. I was getting the story, that Market-style scoop.

Vogueing has its roots in 1960s Harlem, it became vogueing in the 1980s and 1990s. But it’s been twenty-five-ish years since Paris is Burning and a whole lot has happened in the scene in that time, no surprise. There’s femme voguing (extravagant, feminine, beat-centric) and “dramatics” (jerky, hard, battle-centric) and those styles are already waning to make room for what’s next. The music has changed a lot, too; less wailing diva house, more crunchy, techy beats so fast and frenetic the standard measure of “beats per minute” ceases to be applicable. The Internet happened in there, too, so now the good DJs are instantly hot across the country, as opposed to how it happened in the old days: slowly, while mixtapes were transported from NYC to Chicago to San Francisco and back. Dance styles are instantly mimicked and adapted. We watched YouTube videos together for some time and Zachary showed me the vibrant and vital community of people who are keeping ballroom alive, well, and just as competitive and snatchy as ever. That’s a compliment, by the way.

Anything I’ve gotten wrong or weird in my report is to be blamed entirely on me and my lack of sleep, not Zachary. He knows his subject, he dances, he is more than qualified to host his panel on Thursday.

This is why you get up when you can’t sleep. There’s so much to learn. There’s so much to see, even at 4am. And in the center of the world (that would be New York City), it’s ever-so-slightly more true.