SLC hosts quilting show
One participant hails it as the 'Disneyland for old women'
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Participants set up hundreds of booths at the International Quilt Market, held this year in Salt Lake City for the first time ever.

For Utah's quilters, the bustling International Quilt Market that wrapped Sunday at the Salt Palace Convention Center was a chance to see old friends and sell new patterns.

But Jan Wilde of Bluffdale has another term for it.

"This is like Disneyland for old women," said Wilde, waving an arm at the hordes of middle-aged quilters strolling the aisles of the sprawling, three-day trade show. "I have a hard time sitting in my booth. It's just so much fun to see the new products and see what the new trends are."

New trends - in quilting? Yes, even this hand-crafted form of functional folk art has entered the 21st century with new technologies such as computerized sewing machines and quilt pattern-designing software. All of it was on display at the International Quilt Market, the only trade show for the quilting industry, which was held in Salt Lake City for the first time.

The event, which was closed to the public, attracted more than 6,000 people - including Marie Osmond, who showed up Friday to plug her new line of fabric - from as far away as Japan, New Zealand and South Africa.

Designers and shop owners came to buy and sell designs, fabrics, threads and accessories while taking classes with names such as "Embroidery 911."

While the Midwest is generally considered the hotbed of American quiltmaking, Utah has a thriving community of quilters, many of whom sell their wares from home. More than two dozen Utah entrepreneurs operated booths at the show under such cozy-sounding enterprises as Buttercup Quilts and Bunny Hugs.

"I don't know if people across the country realize how good we have it here," said Laurie Bird of Holladay, who believes Utah's quilting tradition stems from the Mormon patchwork quilts that pioneers brought with them across the plains. "We have a lot of quilters and a lot of quilt shops."

Bird has been selling her sunny quilt patterns for eight years through her business, Rose Cottage.

For that she can thank her sister, Michelle Blackhurst of Salt Lake City, who got her into the hobby and who marketed her own quilts from a booth next door. The side-by-side booths were not a coincidence.

"We're together all the time anyway," Blackhurst said. Like other Utah quilters interviewed Sunday, Blackhurst said she appreciates how quiltmaking styles have evolved. Many quilts today boast abstract designs and are closer in spirit to fine art than to bedcovers; others incorporate such nontraditional flourishes as buttons, ribbons, sequins or even photographs.

"Nowadays there are no rules," Blackhurst said. "You do whatever you like."

For Wilde, that means framed panels stitched with such goofy aphorisms as, "If It Walks Out of the Refrigerator, Let It Go."

For Cody Mazuran of Salt Lake City, it means a new line of "comfort quilts" for people who have lost loved ones. Customized with sayings or scraps of clothing, they have memorialized dead family members or even soldiers injured in the Iraq war.

"The stories behind them are fascinating," said Mazuran, who has been sewing since she was 5. "I think it helps with the grieving process."

And for Janet Selck, whose West Jordan-based quilting business is called Scraps of Time, it means exploring an artistic side she never knew she had. Selck's quilts showcase classical designs with a touch of whimsy, such as a boy's quilt with an airplane on it. But when she started sewing quilts 16 years ago, she wasn't confident.

"I never thought I was creative, because I'm left-brained. Growing up, in math class I was a whiz. But in English class I was terrible," she said with a laugh. "I wasn't sure I could do it [design quilts]. So I forced myself. It just makes me feel good."

griggs@sltrib.com