Gnome Goes to Quilt Market

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A few people asked me in the lead up to my trip to Houston Quilt Market why I was going, and that’s a fair question. Quilt Market is an industry event (which means it’s not open to the public and you have to provide verification that you’re working in the Quilting Industry to get your show credentials) and I think people were a little confused about why I’d spend around $10k to fly to the other side of the world to attend something like this. The answer has many parts to it.

Firstly, I have to promote my book at Quilt Market next year and so I wanted to attend and see what it’s all about and get the excitement and nerves out of the way before I have to do it for myself. Secondly, I wanted to see whether I have what it takes to make it in the Quilt Industry. Whether what I saw on social media and the interaction I have on a daily basis were truly representative of the Quilt Industry. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, I wanted to step out from behind my screen and actively participate. I wanted to see if this dream I have could be a reality and I wanted to make some hard decision about my way forward.

It was going to be my tipping point. I was going to go and soak it in, meet all the people I could, talk about all the things I’ve been wondering about and decide whether I was going to continue on this hard path to making my own business or whether I was going to head back into the workforce and just go back to having a hobby. So, how did it all pan out?

The Quilt Market

Quilt Market itself is a massive juggernaught of an event. It was held at the George R. Brown Convention Centre in Houston. I wish I could blow your mind with statistics about how big the show hall is, how many exhibitors were there and how many people attended, but I don’t have them. (If I find them I’ll be sure to share them.) Let me just say this – it was massive! There’s no way I saw every exhibitor or even every quilt that was hanging there for Quilt Festival. I averaged around 15,000 steps per day and I was only at Market from 10am to 5pm per day.

Quilt Market is set up primarily for store owners. The focus is on promoting upcoming fabric lines, notions, products, patterns and services. It’s about providing store owners with an opportunity to learn about what’s coming, what they can do to help their customers and how to get the most out of the next 6 months (before the next Market event). Attendees can participate in classes, attend Schoolhouse and mingle on the Market floor with exhibitors.

For an idea of how big the event is here’s a link to a list of all the Exhibitors – click here to see the list.

The Schoolhouse

On Friday the Market floor is still being set up so Attendees get to go to Schoolhouse. It’s like being back at University. The day is filled with sessions where you can go and hear people promote what they have coming for the next release cycle. It’s a great opportunity to get up close and personal with designers, authors, product developers and companies. Sessions run between 15 – 30 minutes and there’s multiple sessions run at the same time. This is great, but it meant that I missed some of the people I would have liked to have seen and supported because I was at other sessions.

I was really interested in seeing how Schoolhouse played out because I’ll have to be a part of it when I promote my book, so it was good to see things and to start thinking about how I’ll make the most of my session. It’s a really long day of running from one session to another. I also hadn’t factored in just how much swag would be given at these sessions and so by the end of the day I felt like a pack horse.

Left: Queue to get into Sample Spree (we were in the middle and there was another line on the other side.) Right: Sample Spree fabric purchase.
Left: Queue to get into Sample Spree (we were in the middle and there was another line on the other side.) Right: Sample Spree fabric purchase.

The Sample Spree

This was the one event that I was probably most excited and nervous about from a purely selfish point-of-view. Sample Spree is where businesses provide attendees with an opportunity to purchase samples of upcoming products so that they can use them to make items for display in their stores and help to grow excitement and interest in what’s coming. The legend of Sample Spree is that it’s akin to our Boxing Day sales. Imagine hoards of people pushing and fighting to get fabric.

I didn’t find it to be like that. Sure, the line to get into Sample Spree is huge. But that gave us an opportunity to catch up and meet new people while in line. Sure, at certain tables the lines are deep and you have to wait to be served, but again it’s not that big a deal and in a lot of instances it meant that we got to chat with other people.  I didn’t find anyone to be pushing or shoving. I didn’t miss out on any of the items I wanted – in a number of instance there were still items left the next day for purchase at pop-up stores.

In hindsight I wish I’d just relaxed and not bought into the hype. I found myself at one stage so worked up at the thought of missing out that I was having a little bit of a panic attack and that’s just silly because there was no need for it. I left Sample Spree with a pure gluttony of fabric and no bruised ribs.

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[All Names are Left to Right] A. Nicole (@snippets101), Alice (Editor of Love Patchwork & Quilting – @lpqalice) and me. B. Shari (@doohickeydesigns) and me. C. Kristi (@schnitzelandboo) and me. D. Anna Maria Horner (@annamariahorner), Nicole and Jen Kingwell (@jenkingwell) [Pictured with Nicole’s Gypsy Wife Quilt (Jen’s pattern) and made with all Anna Maria Horner fabrics.] E. Nicole and Michelle (@michellebartholomew). F. Kerry (@kidgiddy) G. Shari, me, Broke (@sillymamaquilts) and Sally (@sallykeller814) [This was for the famous #selfiewithsally!]

The People

This was the big drawcard for me. I wanted to meet all the people that I talk with daily via social media and emails. I wanted to see whether the same positive experience I have online would translate into the real world. I got so so lucky. I could go through and name drop everyone I met and rave about them all, but I’m not going to do that. Mainly because I’ll undoubtably do an Oscar’s Speech type incident and forget someone important and there’ll be this awkward moment where I try to explain to them that I didn’t mean anything by it and really, ain’t nobody got time for that. So let me just make this big statement; everyone was lovely.

Seriously. It was freakish how amazing everyone was. People who I’d talked to online were just as amazing and friendly and crazy. People that I met for the first time were welcoming and generous and fabulous. By the end of the first day I had such a sore face from smiling and laughing so much. It was brilliant. I was so worried about being alone and like a social outcast and it wasn’t like that in the slightest. I left Houston feeling like I had met all these amazing people and I wanted more time with them all.

I’m so slack at taking photos so I’m really thankful and appreciative of the photos that others took for me or reminded me to take photos. I met so many more people and I just don’t have photos of it happening. It was so surreal and amazing and it’s really one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

The Roommate

I had originally planned to stay by myself but an opportunity to use peer pressure to convince Nicole (of Snips Snippets) to come to Market and who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth? I told her she could come and be my roomie if she wanted to come to Market, and blow me down she took me up on the offer. (Which I’m sure she’s questioning the sanity of now!) I have to confess I was really nervous about it. We’d only had a relationship online and while we joke that we share the same quilt designing part of the brain, I wasn’t sure whether sharing a room with a practical stranger was the best thing to do. Turns out it was totally the best thing to do.

Don’t tell me husband, but Nicole now holds a part of my heart. I had such a good time with her (not sure how good a time she had) and she put up with my weird jokes, my inappropriate ear lobe fondling (weird moment where I was so tired I forgot she was a person and while thinking “Gosh, those are nice earrings.” I reached out and touched her ear to look closer at those nice earrings. It was in the middle of Tula Pink’s Schoolhouse session… awkward!) and the fact that I really played on the fact we were sharing a room together. (I’m convinced some people left Market thinking we were a couple.)

She let me eat pie on our first night together, she carried some of my Sample Spree purchases home (for the “quick” nine block walk) and she made me laugh. I’m so excited about the things we have planned for 2017 and for sharing a room with her again at the next Fall Market.

If you get the chance to share a room with someone you’ve clicked with online, take it. Worse case you’ll need to find alternate accomodation. Best case you come out of it with an alternate life partner. *wink*

Ninja like packing skills; all my sample spree in my hand luggage.
Ninja like packing skills; all my sample spree in my hand luggage.

The Fabric

This is where I get my nerd-level-excitement on. I work with fabric, fabric is where I have my fun and this was a funhouse of fabric. I was so excited to see all the new releases coming in 2017. I left the Schoolhouse session so inspired and excited to make all the things. It was so exciting to get up close and personal with the fabric designers and hear their inspiration and motivation behind their collections. I fell in love with fabrics I wouldn’t have normally even looked at because I got to see them up close and personal. I got to meet the people that make and sell the fabrics, to hear the stories behind the companies and to see what others were excited for. It was thrilling.

I’ll confess that I spent a good number of days just looking at it all too afraid to cut the bundles open. But that’s passed and I’m now starting to use it and I’m loving it. I’m excited again about creating and that’s something that’s been missing for me of late. I’m excited to see what others will do with it all and I’m so very excited to be able to play again. I’ll be sharing the fabrics and projects I make from them on my Instagram account and here over the coming months.

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1. House of Pies – burger and fries. 2. House of Pies – Lemon Meringue Pie. 3. House of Pies – me! 4. Einstein Bagels – Turkey Sausage Breakfast Bagel. 5. Schoolhouse Quilt Market Lunch Box. 6. Hyatt Lobby Bar – Burger, Fries and Prawn Tacos. 7. George R Brown Convention Centre Cage – Burger and Fries. 8. Hard Rock Cafe Houston. 9. Hyatt Room Service – Pizza, Fries and Brownie. 10. Lone Star Taco Company Downtown Houston. 11. Stocked Tacos  12. Lone Star Too Company Tacos.

The Food

I love food (as my Doctor will tell you!). I’m not very adventurous with my food however and usually when in the company of people I don’t know very well I order what I think won’t make me look like I’ve never seen food before. Not this trip. I went into this trip with a very specific order to myself: try it all.

I’ve grown up watching American television. I now watch so much American television I sometimes forget I live in Australia. I wanted to have an “American” experience. I spent more time googling food options before I left then I did anything else. It was crazy, but I’m so glad I did.

I normally wouldn’t force my opinions about what we’re going to do on people, and I’m guilty of having many an unending conversation that basically consists of “I’m easy”, “Whatever you want to do.” and “I don’t really care.” Not this time. This time I said, “I want to go to House of Pies.” I said, “I want to eat Tacos.” And in a move that is so out of my comfort zone it’s not funny I went and ate by myself so I could try what I wanted to before I left.

The only thing I didn’t get on my hit list was BBQ. We tried, but it didn’t happen and instead we stumbled upon the best tacos I’ve ever had. I know someone out there is going to be shaking their head and judging me on this, but I just don’t give a duck, I had a really good time eating my way around Houston. We didn’t even touch the tip of the Houston food scene, but I really enjoyed playing food blogger for a week.

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The Houston

I’ve got to be frank, I feel like I didn’t really get to experience Houston. The event and our Hotel was in Downtown Houston and so we pretty much stayed Downtown. I would have loved to have just hired a town car and had them drive me all around Houston so I could look at the houses. Next trip.

I spent the first two day annoying Nicole (my roommate) by saying every 15 minutes how clean the place was. Seriously, it was spotless. Whenever I go to Sydney or Melbourne I feel like the place is covered in grime. At the end of the day I want to have a shower just to wash the feeling of being in the city off me. But not in Downtown Houston. The place is clean and green. There’s so much manicured greenery around it’s easy to forget it’s part of a massive city.

Everyone we met was friendly and for the most part I felt safe. There were a couple of dodgy cab rides that made me question people’s adherence to the road rules and whether I’d end up buried somewhere – but it’s all part of the adventure.

I still find it hard to comprehend how prevalent security was. There were Police everywhere, the convention centre had Security everywhere and I get to chat with a couple of friendly Sheriffs before I left. They were everywhere. I don’t know if that’s normal, or whether they were there for the event, but it was noticeable.

On my last day in Houston it cost me US$80 in cab fares trying to find a store that had the Jurassic World Lego and a Pickachu soft toy for our son. Rookie error on this one and I’m sure if I’d spent some time talking to someone about what I was trying to do it wouldn’t have been such a cluster, but the upside I got to go for a bit of a drive around Houston. The cab driver I had took me through one of the nicer suburbs on the way to the shopping centre and it was so cool to see the houses dressed for Halloween. I wish I’d been smart enough to take some photos. I was really surprised at the complete lack of shopping in Downtown Houston. I feel like in Sydney there’s a 7/11 on every corner, but it’s not like that in Downtown Houston.

The American Experience

I found tipping really unsettling. I hate talking about money and I felt like the entire time I was focused on money and rating everyone’s performance. Normally I’d only notice if someone’s service was above or below “normal”. But I felt like tipping made me evaluate everyone’s performance and I hated it. I hated having to try and work out whether I was being unintentionally insulting or whether I’d just given too much to the wrong person and no one else would see it. I am so very thankful that we don’t have tipping here in Australia. I feel like next time I need to make a card up to leave with each bill explaining that I thought they were fabulous and I hope my tip reflected that and if it doesn’t I’m Australian and really poor at math so could they please forgive me.

I loved being in America. I loved the people and I loved seeing a tiny tiny slice of the country. I loved the size of everything. A standard drink that’s the size of my head. The cars that have a wheel hub taller than me. Seeing all the things I’d seen on television in person. I loved it. I loved it more than I thought I would. It was silly little things like the light switches which were just like they are on television. It was going to Target and having it be half a grocery shop and half a target. It was asking for a Pharmacy and then having to explain I wanted a Chemist.

I did find by the end of my time there that I was so over hearing my own accent. I wouldn’t say that I have a coarse Australian accent, but I would hear myself and think “Oh gosh, who is this Australian person that sounds so rough?”. There were times when I stopped speaking because it was literally hurting my head to sound so Australian.

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Images of and from planes. If you look close on the top right photo that’s the Hollywood sign!

The Travel

I have to give a big shout out to Virgin Australia. It was my first time flying internationally with them and it was such a great experience. I paid extra and flew Premium Economy and it was worth it. The extra leg room, the extra attention and the access to the pantry made it so worth while. It’s a really long flight and it was great to arrive without feeling like a pretzel.  It’s still air travel (which I don’t like), but it was so much better than I thought it would be.

I spent a lot of time worrying about whether my luggage would go missing and if I’d get stopped at Airport Security. I upgraded my domestic flights to fly First Class because it was cheaper than paying the excess luggage. It was only worth it on one leg (because I got to use their lounge for five hours before my flight) and really I’m not sure I’d do it again. However, it was great for luggage purposes (and on the way home I needed that) because I got more than the normal seating allocation and unlike Australia, they really monitor the carryon bag situation.

They really will throw you off the plane. On my flight from LA to Houston a man in front of me in First Class nearly got ejected from the plane for disrespecting a member of the Cabin Crew. We were taxing to take off and the Cabin Crew Member was seriously going to turn the plane around had her colleague not stepped in. I swear if the plane had been turned around I also would have been in trouble as I would have let the guy responsible know in no uncertain terms the countless ways in which he was a blight on humanity. (I may have been severely sleep deprived…..)

I slept for an hour on my flight from Sydney to LA. Not cool. I was so tired that I kept falling asleep and waking up with a fright on my flight from LA to Houston. It was horrible. I didn’t sleep much while I was away, but it was deep sleep. I usually wake during the night, but not while I was away. However, I wasn’t getting to sleep until 2am and then I was up again at 8am. I slept on my flights home, but it wasn’t very good and I kept being waken by people in the aisle on my long flight. The flights are long and I’m not made for air travel at the best of times, but I survived and it wasn’t horrible. Clearing security though, that sucked. I got patted down in Sydney and then in LA I got evil eye and a lecture from a Homeland Security lady because I talked across lines to help a lady find the line she should have been in. It doesn’t pay to be helpful when you’re trying to enter or exit a country.

The Lessons Learned

  1. Pack light. I would pack a third of what I actually packed. I’m a notorious overpacker and I thought I did well this time, but I went way too prepared for all types of things I didn’t need to worry about. I could have gotten away with just packing a carry on with clothing and leaving the big suitcase for bringing things home.
  2. Fabric is heavy. Seriously, heavy. I didn’t buy all the fabric I wanted and towards the end of the trip I was saying no to fabric samples because it’s just so heavy. I have to confess that I had to purchase a carry on bag because I didn’t take one. I ended up having to put all my fabric into my carry on and it wasn’t until I made it back to Australia and I was running late for my connecting flight that a helpful Security guard lifted my bag onto the security check point and declared it too heavy and it needed to be checked in. It weighed 19.8kg. Next time I’ll be researching how to get Sample Spree purchases home cheaply and without me having to pretend like my carry on is light as a feather!
  3. Take more photos. I didn’t take any photos really. I took way more than I would have normally because I made a rule with myself that I had to, but I still didn’t take nearly enough. And not enough photos with the people I met. I hate seeing myself in photos, but I really wish I had more of them.
  4. Chuck Taylors are comfortable, but you need sensible shoes. I packed 6 pairs (see above Travel section about my packing) of Chucks. I only wore one pair. I should have packed proper walking shoes. By Monday night my feet were cactus and it was purely from all the walking on hard concrete floors.
  5. Always check your seat allocation. I had selected all window seats when I booked my flights and normally I check when I confirm and get my ticket, but on my last leg from LA to Brisbane I didn’t. Big mistake. They put me in the middle section on the aisle and it wasn’t pretty.
  6. Don’t book classes at Market. I booked classes and didn’t attend one of them. Same with evening events. I got so caught up in other things that I didn’t attend any of the events so it was a complete waste of money. I won’t be making that mistake again.
  7. Be friendly. I made a deal with myself that I was going to be a little ray of sunshine even when the airports were sucking my will to live. It was such a great decision and I’m sure this is a big part of why my trip was such a great experience. It’s so easy to let traveling get you down but when you smile and be pleasant the chances are the person who’s just as tired as you are responds in the same way.
  8. Be open to the adventure. I was such a different traveller this time around. I left the hotel room when I could have easily stayed in. I accepted the invitations which I normally would have said no to out of shyness and fear. I took the opportunities as they presented themselves and I had a brilliant time because of it. I put my fear behind me and embraced what was going on around me. Who cares if someone didn’t get me – I wasn’t going to let fear of what they might think keep me back. It was a great decision and I its one I’m going to try and implement in our day-to-day lives (same as number 7).

I feel like the momentI touched down in Houston I was swept up into a riptide of adventure and my feet didn’t touch the ground again until I got back to Australia. It was fabulous and exhilarating and I’m recharged and ready to take on 2017. I got my questions answered and more. I know myself better because of the trip and I’m even more confident about my decision and chosen path. It was worth the $10k just for the people I met, but it’s worth so much more because of the things it’s taught me about who I am, what I want to be doing and the place I’m creating for myself in this world.

If you want to see more photos of Quilt Market then check out my Instagram account by clicking here. You’ll have to scroll back in the feed to find them, but you’ll know once you hit them.

This has been my personal account of Quilt Market, if you’d like to read about my experience, thoughts and recommendations about Quilt Market from a business point-of-view then be sure to check out the December issue of Make Modern. It will be available as a digital fownload on 16th December 2016. Click here to subscribe.

If you’ve got a question about Quilt Market that I haven’t answered or covered let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer or point you to someone who may be able to answer it better than I.

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