Quilty Pleasures
Memoirs of a Non-Quilter

Many years ago, an enthusiastic quilt show producer named Rita Barber came to Lancaster. I remember her talking about her Quilters' Heritage Celebration and the possibility of bringing it here. Amish Country seemed like a natural location for a world-class event of this nature, and I was excited at the prospect of such a show.

That first Celebration was a revelation. While I am not a "student" or practitioner of the art of quilting, I have always admired Amish quilts. When I was living in Japan, I discovered that quilting was popular there, too, sometimes using the marvelous designs and colors of Japanese textiles.

But the first Quilters' Heritage Celebration expanded my definition of "quilts" through the sheer variety of quilt expression and creativity. The colors, the designs, and the techniques were amazing. I truly believe that an interest in quilts is not necessary to enjoy this show. If you appreciate color and creativity and artistic expression, you will be enriched by a visit to the Celebration.

Each year the show has expanded and improved, and it seems all of Lancaster County gets caught up in "quilt mania" for a few days. By 1998, the Quilters' Heritage Celebration was named one of the Top 100 Events in North America, a prestigious honor bestowed by the American Bus Association. In addition, the show ranks as one of the Top Ten quilting events in the world.

By the year 2000, the wonder and excitement had not diminished. Each year also brought a new theme exhibit, and I figured something special would be in store for the new millennium. Well, folks, it had to be "Quilt 2000: State of the Art." The exhibit, exclusive to the Celebration, featured quilts and other artifacts, both old and new, that demonstrate the development and current status of quilting both here and in cultures around the world.

There were also other smaller displays and exhibits, including the traveling sections of another great show, Quilt National. But the main attraction is always the juried and judged show, with hundreds of amazing quilts of all sizes. The creatvity and quality put into these quilts is encouraged by the $12,000 in prizes donated by local and national sponsors.

Some of my favorite exhibits in the show are the "challenges." Companies specify certain fabrics, and quilters must use only these fabrics to produce their designs and quilts. Rather than putting a limit on creativity, as one might suppose, these challenges often spark flights of fancy and imagination that are a joy to behold. And, while most of us think of quilts as large enough to cover a bed, there are also many miniatures and even "Post Card Quilts." These exhibits not only broaden our perception of what makes a quilt, but also of what quilts are made from!

Since this is one of the top ten quilting events in the world, attendees come from all over. There are nearly 100 classes and lectures by internationally-known teachers and experts on every aspect of quilting, and many are sold out months in advance. Naturally, there are over 75 merchants selling everything from books to fabric to sewing machines.

The highlight of the four-day show for many is the Fairfield Processing Corporation's Fashion Show. Don't let that name mislead you. The is a spectacular show of quilted dresses and garments, but of such colors, designs, shapes, and creativity that the show produces a steady stream of "ooohhs" and "aaahhs" from the audience. The one-of-a-kind fashions represent some of the most creative designers and quilters in America.

In between events, the Lancaster Host Resort is buzzing with the excitement that happens when thousands of people of like interest gather together in one place. Before and after the show, visitors travel the Amish countryside to quilt and fabric shops, special exhibitions, sales, even theater productions, all centered on the quilt. (Many of these businesses have placed special advertisements in this issue, and are open throughout the year.)

Perhaps you are still reading and thinking, "But do I really want to go and spend a couple of hours looking at quilts?" My answer is, "You sure do!" Just as you sometimes leave a Broadway musical humming the tunes and feeling happy, you will leave this show feeling uplifted and enriched by the colors, imagination, and sheer artistry that represent the best of the human spirit. The Quilters' Heritage event is rightly named for what it is, a Celebration.

NOTE: The last Quilters' Heritage Celebration was held in 2009. In march, 2010, the American Quilter's Society (AQS) brought its acclaimed show and contest to Lancaster for the first time. With more vendors and classes, the show moved into the new Lancaster County Convention Center and Liberty Place in downtown Lancaster. For dates of upcoming AQS shows go to their website: www.AmericanQuilter.com.

Amish Country News Cover Article by Brad Igou (2000)



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