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American Quilter's Society Show
Paducah, Kentucky
April 2000

"One of these years, we'll have to do Paducah." We'd said this for a number of years, even before there was a  TVQ. But since it came so close on the heels of spring break for our children, it just never seemed to be the right time to actually visit the famed American Quilters' Society show in this small, western Kentucky river town. 

That is, until the newsletter came. 

Our local shop, Dream Quilters, in Tucker, Georgia, had arranged for a charter bus to the quilter's Mecca and there were spaces available. Even a trip to the fabled Hancock's was included. Without hesitation, we made the call and signed up. There was just one catch, though: the entire trip was to be completed in 26 hours! But hey, we were going to Paducah and what's 14 hours on a bus when there are quilts and fabric?

So there we were at 5 a.m. on April 14, lined up with 60 other people, accompanied by tote bags, blankets and pillows. The ladies behind us had just gotten their seats the day before due to a last minute cancellation, so they were a bit more hyped than the rest of the crowd. We were all pretty sensibly dressed, knowing that this was going to be a day when comfort would be more critical than high style, but four ladies who are quilting buddies were wearing matching applique jackets whose cleverness put most of us to shame.

Wearing a jacket with the name John, our driver announced to us that his name was Bill and he would be chauffeuring us to Kentucky and to the fabled show in Paducah. He was a bit amused to be the driver for so many women, and trotted out
most of his bus driver jokes about the female of the
species. We climbed aboard for the first of many times that day, and our journey began.

We had hoped to get a few moments of sleep on the way up, but had not reckoned on the movie "How to Make an American Quilt" being shown a few inches above our heads at 6 a.m. Nor had we envisioned the festive slumber party atmosphere that would instantly emerge from a busload of relative strangers.

"Hoffman . . . custom done in just three weeks . . . new Bernina . . . stupid UFO . . . rotary cutter in one hand and the tip of my finger on the floor . . . great website . . . appliqued borders. . . ."

The way to Paducah from Atlanta is freeway all the way, north through Nashville and across the long skinny expanse of western Tennessee. At a rest stop just inside the Kentucky border, the welcome station was ready for the annual onslaught. They had maps and brochures of all the events, and by the time we got back on the bus, some of us were clearly salivating with anticipation. Just another
short ride and we would be there!

Shortly before lunchtime, we reached the convention center, which is the Executive Inn. On the banks of the mighty Ohio River, this hotel and conference facility is clearly the biggest in town for this sort of event. As we piled out with all the other eager stitchers, it was also plain that it is not big enough! There were people everywhere, many
sitting outside the front door on the embankment, talking, eating, or just resting their weary legs. As we made our way from the bus dropoff to the convention center we tried to take it all in. Outside the hall was a specially-set-up mobile branch of the USPS so you could ship your goodies home. There were many outdoor food venues, with as many choices as you could possibly desire: Barbecue, ice cream, hamburgers, kettle corn, cappuccino, pretzels, with plenty of outdoor benches for hungry show-goers.

A bit overwhelmed and hungry, we joined the sea of people and went into the quilted kingdom, grabbing a reasonably-priced sandwich and can of tea on the way in.  

The foyer was clearly intended to help the city of Paducah wring every last drop of economic possibility out of this annual influx of tourists. Every church and civic group appeared to offer a tour or a specialty luncheon/dinner for the few weeks surrounding the quilt show, and there was even
a gentleman dressed as a Kentucky colonel who was available for photo ops. The show runs a free shuttle to the downtown area, and all the local restaurants had show specials. 

But that was just the foyer. The REAL show was down the hall, and upstairs, and in the annex over by the pool. And what a show it was! Although it was slow going to get up and down the aisles, it was worth the long bus ride. 

There was what seemed to be a disproportionate number of winning entries by quilters with Japanese names, and their precise yet imaginative work put much else in the shade. (The Japanese were also heavily represented among show visitors.) Among our favorite (non-Japanese) pieces was a realistic depiction of a blazing red Ford pick-up truck and a portrait of Sunbonnet Sue sitting in front of her laptop.

While these two stick out in memory because of their funky subject matter, the quality of the quilts, whether traditional or contemporary, was befitting this, "The Mother of All Quilt Shows." The stitches were way too tiny, the colors chosen through divine inspiration, and each and every work was awesome and certainly beyond my ability level. 

The only drawback was the crowds, which of course Paducah is famed for, a product of the mismatch between the event and the venue. It was difficult to give each quilt more than a moment of attention, with people crossing in front of you and bumping you from behind almost constantly. The situation was made even worse by the close proximity of busy vendors to the quilt displays. Elbow-knocking was clearly the order of the day! Many of our companions complained about this, wondering why AQS doesn't move the show to a bigger city, but it is clear the AQS founders have no intention of moving the biggest tourist draw of the year away from their home town. They ARE planning another show later this year, though, at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville the first weekend of September.

The vendors were all doing fast-paced business, and after about an hour of too much input, both visual and physical, we just had to get away a bit. We opted to take the shuttle bus downtown, which afforded us sort of a bird's eye tour of the town. Paducah has seen better days from the quick look we got, although it apparently revitalizes somewhat each year for this week in April. Storefronts that are obviously unoccupied the rest of the year were turned into temporary quarters for some of the larger vendors. One cavernous building housed a craft display in one end and a cleaning solution sales demo in the other. I stopped for the demo and wound up purchasing a bottle of Immacu-10.

A permanent shop had someone spinning wool in the window, and I came away with some too cute Christmas bags featuring Santas with homegrown wool beards. We saw more vintage UFOs and block sets that day than I see in a couple of years combined in Atlanta and there were antique quilts galore.

Downtown has some nice antique shops that live there year round, as well as a fine selection of restaurants and boutiques. My favorite building was the old theatre, which sports a beautiful blue and white facade, reminiscent of Delft china. There's just something amazing about a whole town turned upside-down over quilting.

We took the city bus back and caught the rest of the show and vendors we had missed, including a quick visit with a very busy Penny McMorris and Dean Neumann at the Electric Quilt booth. Weary by now, and getting within 90 minutes of our bus pick-up, we opted to walk over to the museum and just go through the gift shop. The museum itself is a low, graceful, modern structure set artfully in an expanse of grass with curving sidewalks, not far from the river. It has gorgeous stained glass windows and a quiet spaciousness inside that is in dramatic contrast to the noisy, crowded Executive Inn. It would have been a nice place to spend an hour or two, becoming familiar with their permanent collection, but since we didn't have the time we put it on our list for a future visit - probably at some time other than late April!

The last promised stop of the day was at Hancock's of Paducah, the famous local fabric store (not affiliated with the national chain). A couple of miles down the main drag from the convention center, Hancock's is in a warehouse-style building that seems to cover a couple of acres - all of it filled with fabric! Their sheer selection was overwhelming. Every possible fabric line was displayed, many in multiple bolts, and the prices, while not rock bottom, were reasonable. They also had a large selection of upholstery fabric at significant markdowns, and the famous "back room" where they sell their remnants, was overwhelming all by itself. Even with the large crowd of show-goers, the lines were not impossible, though we ended up not buying anything, dazed by so many choices. This store is another reason for a visit to Paducah, perhaps at a less distracting time. 

We boarded the bus again at about 8 p.m. to head back to Atlanta. The driver announced that because of our delays we wouldn't be getting back home until close to dawn, so the time for a snooze was definitely at hand. Except, first, there was another movie ("The American President") and lots of gossip and comparing of treasures bought this day. After a fitful night of dozing, we arrived home stiff but happy, just in time for the weekend!



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