International Quilt Fest has a wide range of items including a $ 13,900 Bernina sewing machine

Quilting is more often associated with grandmothers than with gadgets. But for craft dwellers, the International Quilting Festival is an opportunity to examine the latest and greatest in sewing technology and techniques.

After a year-long hiatus, the quilters returned this weekend to the George R. Brown Convention Center, where vendors had staged a stunning array of merchandise. Some, like Tina Brown, came to test out the latest sewing machines – like a $ 13,900 Bernina she compared to “the Cadillac of the quilting world.” Others, like Leticia Allred, have come for more modest pleasures.

Allred and her teenage daughter Brisa traveled to Houston from Lake City to marvel at the quilts on display, but diligently avoided stalls selling fabric for fear they would be tempted to buy some. Their little house is already full of bolts, Allred said.

“My husband knows that if the sewing machine is broken we will not be eating at the table this weekend,” she said on Sunday.

A teacher, Allred mainly makes quilts in the summer when she is not at school. She teaches her four daughters to sew because she wants them to be self-sufficient; know, she says, how to fix buttons and shorten hems.

“And that makes me hang up my phone,” replied Brisa, 17.

Nearby, Paul Ryan was sitting in a folding chair leaning against the wall outside the convention center. He was known to be one of the few men present. The reason for his presence was clear: he kept his wife’s four bags of folded squares of fabric – known to quilters as “big quarters” – in every color imaginable.

He said the transport “a drop in the bucket” compared to his wife’s fabric stash, tucked away in their North Carolina home.

Nashwa Aleem did not come to shop, but to be inspired by her own work. The Houstonian makes art quilts, creations she compares to “paintings made of thread.”

As she wandered the aisles, she took pictures on her smartphone. She stopped to take a photo of a quilt featuring the image of a horse, her body surrounded by rhinestones falling like rain.

“The appliqué work is impeccable,” she said. “That’s what I’m looking for: texture, color and movement.

Approaching a quilted black-and-white portrait of a man wearing a cowboy hat, Aleem cried out in amazement.

“Look at this detail! It’s thread painting at its best, like a sketch with a needle, ”she said.

She started quilting 11 years ago to raise money for her boys’ Montessori school. In the first year, she made three quilts and sold them for $ 2,000. His quilts have gotten more elaborate since.

Hundreds of quilts, in styles ranging from traditional pieces to modern threads, were on display in the cavernous convention center. The judges rigorously evaluated each submission and awarded a total of $ 52,750 in cash to entrants around the world. Best of the show went to Japanese seamstress Sachiko Chiba for her elaborate floral mandala design.

A few dozen historic quilts were also on display. Gloved sentries like Nikita Gallien stood ready to show curious festival-goers the detailed hand stitching that sets old quilts apart from machine-made new ones.

Gallien walked over to the oldest quilt – a pink and blue star pattern from the early 1800s – and slipped under the rope protecting it from visitors. With a white-gloved hand, she carefully pulled the corner to reveal the delicate stitching on the back of the quilt. As a new quilter, she says she is still learning all of the elements that go into making quilts.

“I learned not to call them blankets,” she said.

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