It is a fair indication that if I go to bed without reading a couple of chapters then I am really tired! This year FOQ felt incredibly busy – there was an energy about the show, with more quilts than I have seen in a while, many of which were of an incredible standard. It took a good two days to set up the imposing Bernina stand which was bigger and grander than ever in order to accommodate 2 full sized Q24 longarm frames and 3 Q20 sit-down tables. Machines had arrived from London, Cardiff, Steckborn and New Orleans so there were many boxes to unpack amidst electricians, carpenters and a guy with a paint roller. In addition to UK chief technician, Alan and his willing helper, Chris, we had Aggy from Switzerland and Regina from Germany in the set-up team to make sure that everything was done perfectly.
I was timetabled to teach up to 10 x 40 minute slots of sit-down quilting each day to a pair of students. Most of those sessions were fully booked and I barely had a chance to look up and wave at passers-by. My teaching background came in handy as my pupils were of all ranges of ability, age, nationality and character and I had to put all of them at ease with free-motion quilting, ensure they had fun and maintain a jolly demeanour throughout. After a while I decided that I could easily apply for a job on a shopping channel and talk enthusiastically for hours about any kind of gadget until the producer switched off the cameras.
Her Majesty’s quilt looked fantastic under the spotlights and it was great to hear more about the block makers and their inspiration. I was complimented on my quilting, particularly the border and binding so I was both relieved and delighted. My Mother came to visit for the day on Saturday so I was able to give her a brief tour of the show between my classes. She was impressed to see so many incredible quilts and enjoyed meeting all of my international friends.
Before the show opened I had a gloomy feeling that my quilts did not stand up to some of amazing entries. “Touch the Pickle” obviously did not belong in the Contemporary category but I had deliberately put it there to cause more discussion than it would have in Quilted Creations where the audience expects the unusual. There were viewers who did not realise that it was a series of washable sanitary pads, some looked affronted but it got many people discussing the issue of how lack of sanitary provision affects the lives and education of girls and women in other countries. “Tartan Tattoo” seemed to have been hung too high so its centre was above eye-level and it did not look as good as it should under the NEC’s orange-tinted sodium lighting. “Pretty Hippy” really only went for an outing as it was never intended to be a competition quilt.
I scrutinised the quilts in the Fine Art Masters gallery to see what qualities they had that “Purdah” may have lacked. The entries were interesting – some simple, some weird and certainly “arty” but I felt that Purdah really could have fitted in there and nobody would have questioned its provenance. It was actually hanging on a white wall in an area of the Art Quilts without good lighting and the first time I walked by someone screwed their face up and simply said, “Why?” All I could think was that I had wasted months of my time creating something that had no appeal to the public. However, later on I was told that an amazing steward had started to give “guided tours” of Purdah that were pulling in crowds of people. Before long, the stewards were timetabling themselves 15 minute slots to take it in turns to reveal the hidden layers. When they were asked why it had not been displayed to show all of the layers separately, they explained that the POINT of “Purdah” was that the chador shawl was designed to make you consider what could be underneath. I was delighted that so many visitors the grasped what it was all about. They were able to interpret it in different ways, some thinking that what was hidden was about women’s oppression while others considered that the chador could be providing a type of protective liberation. This was exactly the kind of thinking that I had hoped to provoke. Some viewers were emotional as they told me about their responses and said that they had put “Purdah” forward for the Visitors’ Choice Award. I took a wee video on my phone of one steward and love hearing, “Oh, Wow!”
On the whole, everyone was pleased with the selection of FOQ winners this year although there was some discussion about whether quilts using non-original patterns should be “allowed” to win prizes. The best in show was a fantastic cream whole cloth by longarm quilter, Sandy Chandler. As usual I found that judges’ comments on my quilts were incredibly varied despite supposedly having the same criteria applied. One judge noted that “Tartan Tattoo” had superb and skilful quilting but only scored that element as “good”. One of “Purdah’s” judges advised me to improve my piecing and scored it as “satisfactory” which just made me laugh. Because the scoresheets were so inconsistent and thanks to the wonderful reactions of visitors to the show, I have finally decided to stop worrying about how the judges see my quilts!
Of course, in the evenings it was great to eat out with friends and unwind. The international ambassadors for Bernina came out for a Balti at my favourite authentic Indian restaurant house and enjoyed a selection of curries and poppadums. One evening I was given a lift back from the pub in the cargo section of a van which only had 3 cab seats and we just laughed about the silliest things. Kay is a great room-mate because I can be angst ridden one minute then excitedly coming up with obscure ideas on how to win that elusive Fine Art Masters the next. We stayed up far too late drinking wine or gin then woke up for tea and shortbread around 6am ready to start another day. Even though it is mentally and physically hard work to be on a booth at a major quilt show, we are always sad when it is all packed up and time to go home so she has already booked our room for next year!