Saturday, April 12, 2008

quilting in Paducah

From Meg Cox in the WSJ, an article on quilting in Paducah...

First, knitting; now, quilting? No, I'm not running a fever...

What Italy provides for people who love food is what Paducah does for quilting. A small Kentucky town on the Ohio River halfway between St. Louis and Nashville, Tenn., Paducah has become one of the prime destinations for quilt tourism, 21st-century style.

In late April every year, the American Quilter's Society draws 35,000 quilt makers and quilt lovers to Paducah for one of the biggest quilt shows in the country. The niche craft has been used as an economic engine to revive this once-declining town. The story of Paducah also helps demonstrate why quilting is now a $3.3 billion industry, with an estimated 27 million enthusiasts.

When I first came here in 2002 to research a book about the modern quilt world, I was stunned by the enormity and sophistication of the AQS show. Similar to this year, there were about 400 contest quilts on display in the convention center, more than 250 vendors selling quilt supplies, 150 classes and loads of lectures. The intricate quilts ranged from traditional appliqué and patchwork block patterns to striking original designs such as portraits and painterly abstracts. The cash prizes given to the winning quilters totaled $100,000.

This is the handiwork of Bill and Meredith Schroeder, who decided to turn Paducah into "Quilt City USA," a name they trademarked after creating the American Quilter's Society and staging the first show in 1985. Along with publishing a quilting magazine and how-to books, they founded and funded a $2.2 million quilt museum in 1991, building it just steps from the convention center. The museum's year-round quilting exhibits and classes help make Paducah more than a seasonal stopping place.

Shrewdly, the Schroeders stipulated that the annual show's top prize-winners would get a hefty cash prize only if they gave their quilt to the museum. Now the museum is among a select group "that not only have strong and expanding collections of quilts, but are active forces in making these collections accessible for research and educational use," says quilt historian Marsha MacDowell, curator of the Michigan State University Museum in East Lansing, home of the Great Lakes Quilt Center.

During the show, quilts decorate almost every shop window in town -- for the first time this year some of the contest quilts will be for sale at the show -- and an annual exhibit of antique quilts fills the Civic Center. Locals rent out rooms to visitors. When the show ends each day, quilters crowd into Market House Square, the heart of the restored downtown. The most-popular eateries are those with the television tuned to the Quilt Channel: During this week, Channel 17 on local cable runs programming and interviews about the quilt show every day until midnight.

Gerry Montgomery, who was mayor 20 years ago, says the downtown died after a big shopping mall opened out of town in the early 1980s. But after the quilt show began, vendors starting opening in the vacant buildings in the center of town. "Locals and out-of-towners saw quilters walking down the street with shopping bags and soon had ideas on how to bring a ghost town back to life," she says.

As quilters boosted the local economy, the town's planners started an Artist Relocation Project in 2000, practically giving away derelict downtown buildings to artists and crafters willing to turn them into living spaces, studios and galleries. There are now 50 artists living and working in the Lowertown arts district, and 18 art galleries. Tourist dollars flowing into Paducah grew to $276 million in 2006 from $66 million in 1991, the year the quilt museum opened....

Paducah's success in quilt tourism has spawned a rise in big quilt shows across the country. In 2000, the AQS added a summer show in Nashville, and in October it will inaugurate an annual fall show in Des Moines, Iowa. Even bigger than the Paducah show is the International Quilt Festival, which takes place every fall in Houston....

The article even includes a planner's guide for traveling to Paducah!

Getting There: There are multiple flights in and out of Paducah's Barkley Regional Airport daily, but all are routed through Memphis, Tenn. St. Louis, Memphis, and Nashville are each within a three-hour drive.
Where to Stay: There are many major midpriced chains and a wide selection of local options. The Fox Briar Inn at River Place has loftlike suites in a series of renovated riverfront warehouses. Rates are $155 to $275 a night. ( Or, during the show only, visitors can call 800-PADUCAH and ask for the Home Bed & Breakfast service to stay at the house of a local for $35 to $50 a night.
What to Do: The AQS Quilt Show runs April 23-26. Admission is $11 a day (less for AQS members or in advance). Preregister at The quilt museum, the Museum of the American Quilter's Society, is close to the convention center ( Go to the renovated Lowertown arts district for galleries. For more on local sites, such as a Civil War museum, and special events, go to Eleanor Burns's Quilt in a Day shop is at 119 N. Fourth St. (, and Caryl Bryer Fallert's Bryerpatch shop and gallery is at 502 N. Fifth St. (

--Meg Cox


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home