QuiltWeek is finally back on in Kentucky
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
People from around the world are flocking to a small Kentucky town. It is QuiltWeek in Paducah, an event that's been on pandemic pause for two years. Now quilters and residents are welcoming it back with open arms. Derek Operle with member station WKMS reports.
DEREK OPERLE, BYLINE: Paducah has a long history with fiber arts. It's known as Quilt City USA and is home to the National Quilt Museum and is just one of two UNESCO creative cities for crafts and folk art in the U.S. Simply put, QuiltWeek here is like a big music festival but with sewing machines instead of amplifiers, and it temporarily doubles the population.
The quilters are here to see the best the art form has to offer, checking out art quilts and specialty fiber art exhibitions, local fabric shops and the latest top-of-the-line sewing machines. That's where you'll find Marlene Beeler, standing next to her award-winning quilt Some Enchanted Evening.
MARLENE BEELER: There's 1.6 million stitches in the blocks - OK? - and in the center. And then this here is a border print.
OPERLE: The quilt took the Sutter, Ill., resident more than 500 hours to make. It's a sparkling blue, black, gold and purple floral work named after a song from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "South Pacific," and it's done entirely in metallic thread. Oh, and she made a jacket, pants and purse to match.
BEELER: And it's embellished with 23,000 Swarovski crystals in seven colors, and they are put on one at a time.
OPERLE: Twenty-three thousand crystals, each no bigger than a pea, stitched in by hand. Beeler is just one of the thousands of quilters milling around the city's convention center. Most of them are over 50. And when you look around the crowd, you still see a few wearing masks. Chris Shimizu came here from Carmichael, Calif.
CHRIS SHIMIZU: I think this was a bucket list for all of us, and...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes.
SHIMIZU: ...We haven't been able to go to a show in the last two years.
OPERLE: Shimizu has been quilting for 30 years, but this is her first time in Paducah. Here she is talking with her friend Catherine Anderson, a quilter from Bend, Ore. They both bought their tickets nearly a year in advance.
SHIMIZU: This is where you go to appreciate the art because some of these, I wouldn't do in a million years, would you?
CATHERINE ANDERSON: Not only appreciate, but to get inspired, don't you feel?
SHIMIZU: Yes. Yes.
OPERLE: This event provides a massive economic boost for the city, with an estimated impact of more than $25 million.
Bill Schroeder III runs the show's parent company, the American Quilter's Society. Though he's younger than a lot of the attendees here, he's probably been to more quilt shows than almost any of them. His grandparents started that group nearly 40 years ago, and he acquired the family business last year.
BILL SCHROEDER III: I bought this company for this week. And I know what this show does for the community, and I didn't want to see it die.
OPERLE: Of the estimated 30,000 attendees, more than 4,000 people from 48 states and eight countries signed up for classes here this week in fiber arts. Schroeder takes that as a good sign that interest in the often-overlooked art form may be on the rise, despite the two-year hiatus before this week's event.
For NPR News, I'm Derek Operle in Paducah, Ky.
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