Quiltcon Together 2021
Quiltcon was fully virtual, an entirely new experience this year. In many ways, Quiltcon Together, held during the last week of February, was still Quiltcon, people connecting, sharing inspiration, admiring show quilts. In many other ways, obvious and not after a year of the pandemic, it was different. Friends existed in rectangles on my computer screen. Quilts were flat and static. I wore pajama pants on video chat.
My quilt Taking Up Space (Do the Work) won second place in the Handwork category, which was a real delight because that piece is so personally meaningful. I taught two classes, one on my own and one with the brilliant, delightful Anne Sullivan. I participated in a bucket-list quality panel discussion about improvisational quilting with Anne, Chawne Kimber, and Yvonne Fuchs. I did IGTV interviews with Kelly Spell from Curated Quilts and Steph Skardal and Isabelle Selak of Scant Quarter Hour. I even snuck into the second half of my virtual guild meeting.
More importantly I wanted to recap the internal experience of attending an online convention. I was shocked at the normal-feeling level of connection I felt among the community in the virtual format. I think that I had adopted a policy of connecting with people sparingly and thoughtfully in the last year, with the understanding that lots of people are coping in different ways in the pandemic. But during Quiltcon, it was understood that we would be in a similar headspace, trying to connect and get nerdy in the best ways about quilts. This made it easier for me mentally to reach out without armoring up.
I find that when it comes to online engagement, it helps me to opt in to different communication styles according to how big or small I want my world to feel. A bigger world can feel like too much sometimes. Too much stimulation, too many voices, not enough introspection. I had been keeping my world small while dealing with the enormity of a global crisis, and it was fun to open it up, to feel like a part of a group again. There are so many excellent and inspiring humans in this particular group.
By opening up my world and connecting with students, with friends, with other quilters, it was obvious how many of us have been using quilting to express ourselves and cope with isolation, trauma and grief. In our joint class, Anne and I taught a method that used storytelling techniques to guide improvisational choices, and the stories that people chose to tell were intensely personal. I couldn’t help but marvel at how this creative medium gives us the opportunity to turn our hard feelings into softness and comfort. This was wonderfully affirmed in the Improv Through Many Eyes panel, where quilters who I admire so much also talked about how improv helps them find connection to themselves, other generations, and other quilters. I have said for years now that quilting can be what you need it to be. It’s big enough and soft enough to handle it.
Speaking of comfort, besides the aforementioned pajama pants, Quiltcon Together offered some rare (for Quiltcon) amenities. I had my own bed to lie down in whenever I got tired and my dog and family to hug between events. Many educational elements were conveniently recorded so that people could watch on their own schedule (though there were accessibility issues that were both preventable and not). It is a huge accomplishment on the part of the MQG to have organized and executed a convention at this level. But I also noticed the ability to stay comfortable in the types of content that I engaged with. In-person Quiltcon makes us face quilts and people that challenge us, and I fear that like the internet in general, a virtual event allowed people to only look at things that were pleasing or that reinforced their existing world view. I especially missed the way the quilts of the Social Justice Sewing Academy spark discussions of the world outside the convention center walls, and I know they will be back next year when the event is planned to be in person again.
I find that after I have an experience that makes my world feel bigger, especially when it comes to quilting, which I hold intimately close to my heart, I need to adjust my ideas about who I am as a quilter and how I consider my place in the community. When I’m alone with my stitches or on my Instagram feed, I live in a world that I have built for myself rather than one based in reality. An event like Quiltcon challenges the ideas that we have about what the community is and where we fit. Things that happen at Quiltcon change our ideas about ourselves and others. This happens every year, and I find that I come out of it learning something new each time. I also notice other quilters doing the same, and sometimes acting out because of it. Then I shrink my world back down and get back to work, exactly how I did with Taking Up Space.
Just as quilting is big enough and soft enough for all of us and our experiences and our feelings, the community is big enough for all of our individuality and uniqueness. Quiltcon is an event and a tool for us to expand our worlds, in real life and online, learn and observe, change and grow. This year’s experience for me was a positive one, and a welcome break from the pandemic doldrums. I am grateful to everyone who was a part of that week.