Houston Is Mecca for Quilters Once Again

If it's fall, that can only mean one thing: Houston is the center of the quilting universe once again.

Now through Sunday, quilters and the people who love them can be found at the George R. Brown Convention Center for the International Quilt Festival -- a long weekend of classes, seminars, shopping and general appreciation of the craft.

"It's like the Mecca for quilters," said Libby Lehman. "Every quilter wants to come to the Houston show at some point."

Lehman has been coming to the festival since its inception 37 years ago. The Houston native is one of the best-known quilters in Houston, if not the country, or the world, thanks to her talent in decorative quilts that employ intricate, artful designs and stunning colors.

When Lehman started going to the festival, it wasn't the behemoth it is now, where it easily draws thousands of designers, dealers, and quilters the world over to make it the largest gathering of its kind.

"Right now I'm sitting with a Canadian, someone from Utah, Californians, Australians," said Lehman during a lunch break on Wednesday, leading up to the big opening night. "It's truly the United Nations of quilting."

Two styles to look out for, advised Lehman, include longarm quilting, a technique where the quilter moves the needle instead of the fabric to make quilts ("It's really developed into an art," said Lehman. "They're now doing fantastic things with longarm quilting"), and the colorful, decorative threads that are Lehman's current focus.

"I have tried all areas of quilt making, until I really fell in love with using the machine and the fancy threads," said Lehman. "That's really my passion now. It's what I love doing."

Lehman will be on hand during the festival to give lessons in how to use your machine to make decorative touches. It's sure to be a real treat, as Lehman is a master of the form. In addition to her pieces appearing in private, corporate and museum collections, her art quilt, "Joyride," was chosen as one of the Best 100 American Quilts of the 20th Century. When not hanging proudly in her own dining room, the piece will also be displayed in the soon-to-be-open Texas Quilt Museum in La Grange. But for now, you can find it at the festival, along with thousands of other quilt eye-candy.

The International Quilt Festival is now through Sunday at the George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida de las Americas. Tickets $10, $8 seniors, $35 for a full festival pass, and free for children 10 and under. For tickets and information, call 713-781-6864 or visit www.quilts.com.

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