‘Connecting threads’: Austin’s modern quilt convention combines tradition with art


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thousands of quilters from across the world are expected in Austin over the next few days to celebrate their contributions to a centuries-old tradition.

QuiltCon 2020, the annual event from the Modern Quilt Guild, returns to the Austin Convention Center Thursday. The inaugural QuiltCon happened here in 2013, and it’s been five years since the event came to central Texas.

karen cooper showing quilt
Karen Cooper explains the modifications a modern quilter made to a classic pattern in this quilt on display at QuiltCon on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

Karen Cooper, the Modern Quilt Guild’s executive director, said modern quilting relies on many of the same patterns and techniques that generations of quilt-makers have developed. But this new wave of creators celebrate color and play around with scale and negative space, much like modern art.

“We still have the hearts of quilters, we still care about quilts,” Cooper said. “But it’s just a lot brighter, a lot more fun, a lot fewer rules.”

More than 600 quilts will be on display through Sunday, turning the Convention Center into a modern art gallery. A panel of experts selected about 430 of the works from a pool of 1,700 submissions to feature in the juried portion of the show. This year’s winners were crowned in a ceremony Wednesday night in various categories, including machine quilting, handwork, and improvisation. (See last year’s winners here.)

‘Tie to the past’

Amanda Hines Bernay has been making quilts for the last nine years after noticing a coworker’s handmade quilted bag. “Even beginners can make something really beautiful,” she said.

One of her quilts, a series of colorful triangles arranged on a black background, went around the world with a traveling quilt exhibit, stopping in South Africa, India and France.

She sees her work — cutting tiny pieces of fabric, sewing them together into blocks, sewing those blocks into a unified quilt top, then stitching that together with a layer of batting and a back — as “keeping certain traditions alive.”

A close-up of the spiral stitching detail in a quilt on display at QuiltCon 2020. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

The best part, she said, is giving away the finished product. The weeks, months or years it takes to complete a quilt is a labor of love for the people in her life. “It’s like a hug in cotton,” she said.

“Obviously, I don’t need to do this,” she said. “You know, we can always go buy something. But there is the beauty in something that is handmade, not only for the maker but for the receiver.”

She’ll be teaching classes at this year’s convention, and she now works for the Modern Quilt Guild, an organization with 212 local chapters across 39 countries boasting about 15,500 members worldwide.

Their work might not look like the quilts your grandma gave you, “but it’s still my tie to the past,” Cooper said. “It’s still my tie to what my mom or my grandma or my great-grandma made.”

“It’s a little cheesy, but you can think that there’s connecting threads.”

Texas quilt
A quilt on display at QuiltCon 2020. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

QuiltCon 2020 details

This year’s event is open to the public Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tickets are $12 and provide access to the gallery of modern quilts on display, as well as vendors and open lectures.

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