Modern quilters unite at QuiltCon


When Austinite Angela Milliman traveled to Japan in 2006, she fell in love with Japanese fabrics. Milliman stumbled upon innovative designs, from whimsical to weird, that she struggled to find when she returned to the U.S.

So she launched Bunny’s Designs, which now imports one of the largest collections of Japanese fabrics in the country, at a time when a growing group of modern quilters and crafters were eager to work with funky fabrics to create bold, contemporary pieces.

Today, as the indie craft movement continues to thrive, modern quilters are still pushing the boundaries and coming together to inspire each other at events like QuiltCon on Feb. 19-22 at the Austin Convention Center, where Bunny’s Designs will be among the more than 100 national and international vendors.

Organizers say QuiltCon “is for modern quilters what ComicCon is for comic book creators and fans.” Modern quilters from around the world unite at the popular event for the quilt show, exhibits, workshops, lectures and camaraderie.

QuiltCon’s featured presenters bring a dose of out-of-the-box thinking and inspiring stories, including the Quilts of Gee’s Bend. The women’s collective hails from a small and isolated rural African-American community in Alabama. According to Smithsonian Magazine, a collector who was working on a history of African-American vernacular art in 1998 came across a photograph of one of the stunning quilts and set out to track the quilter. It turned out that the women of the area were creating impressive pieces, which have now been exhibited in museums across the country.

The strength of the modern quilt movement can be seen in the more than 100 guilds around the world that now make up the Modern Quilt Guild, which presents QuiltCon. In Austin, modern quilting also continues to rise each year. Membership of the local guild, called the Austin Modern Quilt Guild, grew from 76 members last year to 110 members today.

“Everyone wants to be creative right now, and the modern thing just struck a chord,” says Milliman, who in addition to running Bunny’s Designs also serves as president of the Austin Modern Quilt Guild.

It’s a crafty community that’s largely connected online, especially through Instagram. So QuiltCon participants like fabric designer and author Alison Glass are looking forward to meeting fellow modern quilters in person. Glass, who will be teaching a QuiltCon workshop on appliqué and signing copies of her latest book, “Alison Glass Appliqué,” says she’s noticed that several quilters who have signed up for her class are some of her Instagram followers whom she hasn’t met yet.

QuiltCon’s quilt show also displays the latest in modern designs. Glass, who grew up in Austin and now lives in Virginia, won QuiltCon’s 2013 People’s Choice quilt.

“Modern quilters are more willing to take risks with color, use different variations of fabrics, play with negative space or take traditional patterns and make them modern,” says Milliman. But modern quilters, like artists, can also create thought-provoking pieces.

Several past QuiltCon designs sparked discussions about topical issues like gun violence and cancer, Milliman says. Pop culture and technology also influence many designs. “Whether people want to think of quilts as art or not, to me, the point of art is to bring forth an emotion.”

Bastrop-based quilter and natural dye artist Maura Ambrose will also lecture and teach a workshop at QuiltCon. Ambrose forages indigo, pecans and goldenrods for her natural fabric dyes. She launched Folk Fibers, a handcrafted quilt company, in 2011, and was recognized with the Martha Stewart American Made Award.

“You can just feel the energy and creativity around you at QuiltCon,” Milliman says. “You leave with all these ideas and goals. It’s like a huge hug.”



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