Tours unite crafters in their passion for fiber arts.
The fiber arts, it’s a new name for an old tradition.
The term encompasses a lot of crafts, including quilting, knitting, crocheting, needlepoint and crossstitch. Felting, weaving, appliqué, clothes making, sewing, beading and other handicrafts join the mix.
Because the world of fiber arts is so broad, with such a deep history, people across the spectrum work on the fiber arts — suburban housewives, Brooklyn hipsters, Amish ladies and others from all walks of life enjoy these crafts.
Even people who can’t sew a straight line or thread a needle are part of the world. They have beds to cover, hands to keep warm in the winter and bodies in need of clothing. Their dollars help keep fiber artists working.
It’s all part of the circle.
“Fiber arts have been around for thousands of years; from handmade baskets and rugs in Egypt to bedcovers and decorative objects,” said Jim West, founder and CEO of Travel Alliance Inc. One of the niche markets that his company serves is fiber and fabric aficionados.
He likens the fiber arts to comfort food.
“These days, we are looking for a little comfort and gentleness in our lives,” he said. “Whether it is something we wear or use to decorate our homes, it makes us feel good.”
Birds of a feather
West divides his time between Ireland and the office in Spring Valley, Ill.
His company operates tours for specialty markets such as Sew Many Places for quilters, ScrapMap for scrapbookers, Stonewall Tours for gay and lesbian clientele, Busy As a Bead for people who do beading, Away To Crochet for knitters and Travel West for independent travel planning, along with the International Quilt & Craft Festival of Ireland.
The International Batik Festival in Bali and the International Fiber Arts Festival will be launched in 2015.
“Creative people are a breed all their own. There is never a dull moment with crafters,” West said.
In many ways, crafters want to be the same as any group, but they do have some specific needs.
“People in general still want good value for their vacation dollar, no matter what kind of group it is,” West said. “So, the hotels we choose, the bus we travel on, the tour guides and everything else better be top notch.
“Crafters, more so than anyone who travels with us, are vocal if things are not organized or up to par. So we make sure that T is crossed and every I is dotted.”
Gab and gather
One of the things that quilting does well is draw people together.
When everyone shares an interest, the bonds are strong even if the passengers are strangers when the trip begins.
“There are no ice breakers necessary,” said Scott Brodsky from Country Heritage Tours. “Everybody already shares an interest,” he said.
Brodsky works with his mother, Chere Brodsky, the founder and owner of the Amherst, N.H.-based tour company. The duo is passionate about quilting tours — and providing a place for fiber artists to connect.
“We were one of the first companies to do quilting tours 27 years ago. One of my missions when I started the company was to create a program that the independent female traveler would find comfortable,” Chere said. “It’s a way for that traveler to make a trip on their own.”
Besides independent females, many mother/daughter or sister teams travel to the fiber arts hot spots in the United States and around the world, she said. Men are welcome, but most of the fiber arts’ travelers are female. Many times, their first tour is the first of many.
“Quilters can get together and have a fun time, and it’s a very social environment,” she said. “It’s the type of craft that people who have a lot of experience or are just getting started can enjoy.”
Both she and her son have seen several of their regulars begin as a solo traveler, make friends on the trip and become longtime travel partners.
A destination for quilters
While it’s easy to find the fiber arts wherever you go, some places seem especially fine-tuned for fiber. The entire commonwealth of Kentucky welcomes the work of artisans. Quilters are an important part of this world.
The fiber arts are flourishing in many places in Kentucky, but no place embraces them more warmly than Paducah. Located at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, Paducah proudly wears the moniker of Quilt City.
“Every place has its own story to tell. Here, the visitor encounters an authentic cultural experience,” said Fowler Black, sales director for the Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Paducah has done well at preserving its identity while creatively adapting to the times.
“It’s a real struggle to do both sometimes since preserving and adapting naturally hold tension with each other,” he said. “But if your city can do it, you’ve maximized your authenticity!”
Paducah, home of the National Quilt Museum draws quilters year-round. In April, the American Quilter’s Society QuiltWeek brings even more fiber artists to town; some years as many as 30,000. Quilters also come to shop at Hancock’s of Paducah, a fabric shop reportedly with no equal, take workshops from veteran quilters and soak in the atmosphere of the creative environment.
And some invite Quilt Man on their tours!
The caped crusader — Black’s alter ego — does more than welcome groups to Paducah. He makes connections that visitors will not soon forget.
“I might only have one chance to make an impression on a visitor,” he said. “This is my attempt at making sure they’ll never forget it, however funny or bizarre it may be. It begs engagement and people remember engaging experiences.
“Quilt Man could be called a fabric enforcer,” Black said, “but his true purposes revolve around the visitor experience.”
Place to connect
There’s a natural impulse to meet with people of similar interests, and fiber artists are no different. Quilt shows, knitting expos, harvest-time fiber festivals, cruises and other events draw like-minded people and suppliers that produce the wares needed to make even more crafts.
For more than 25 years, Mancuso Show Management has been creating places for fiber artists to gather. The company started in 1987 in back of an antique store in New Hope, Pa. Brothers David and Peter Mancuso started small, but didn’t stay that way for long.
Fiber, textile and wearable art have always been part of the company’s events, said Mary Claire Moyer and David Mancuso from Mancuso Show Management.
“Over the years we have had many special exhibitions that have highlighted all of these arts. However, now is a particularly good time for the fiber arts because we are seeing this art form overlapping into the other genres,” Mancuso said.
Upcoming events include The Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival XXV, “Celebrating 25 Years – A Silver Lining,” returning to the Hampton Roads Convention Center in the Greater Chesapeake Bay/Williamsburg, Va., area, Feb. 27– March 2, 2014.
The World Quilt Show – Florida V returns to West Palm Beach with new dates. The fifth edition of the festival, Jan. 9–11, is moving to the high season for southern Florida tourism.
These festivals and the others on the calendar feature a merchant’s mall, special exhibits and contests.
“Those who attend quilt shows are very enthusiastic about all of these fiber art forms,” Mancuso said. “Most try their hand at creating and many have an endless stash of material to draw on.”