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Quilt Market Booths Over the Years: 8+ years of trade show booth designs!

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**Warning: this is a long one!!** The weekend before Halloween was the International Quilt Market in Houston, and for the first time since the pandemic, it felt strange not to be there. Thinking about it sent me on a little walk down memory lane, and I realized that I had never really looked back at how our booths had changed over the years. Quilt Market was truly the driving force behind my business, as it added goals and deadlines and structure to my deliveries that kept me firmly on the hamster wheel on schedule. But it also added such an element of busy-ness that once one was over I didn’t look back – I was on to planning the next booth.

So it was really interesting for me to look back at the 8 years that I attended Market (almost) every 6 months, and see how our displays evolved, and how we tried to solve the hurdles of how to design a complex and interesting booth and get it made and shipped without breaking the bank. I’m not sure I ever hit on the perfect solution, but we did have some successes. I never felt quite legit enough to invest in a permanent booth, as many of the bigger companies do – these need to be professionally stored and shipped, and the investment always seemed a bit too great for us. The upside of that is you don’t need to reinvent the wheel every 6 months, but also, you don’t have quite the same creative project, and you know I like a creative project.

I thought it might be fun to take a look at our booth development, with a few comments about what we learned over the years.

Our First Quilt Market – May 2011, Salt Lake City

I had very little idea of how to design a trade show booth at this point, but I had walked the show in Pittsburgh two years before when I was licensing with Robert Kaufman Fabrics, so I had an idea of what they looked like. Unfortunately, I had seen (and fallen in love with) Amy Butler’s booth that year, so I had some unrealistic goals. I barely managed to get all the samples sewn and source lights (very important), trade show-appropriate flooring (I have thoughts…), and flame-retarded curtains (no one ever checked the paperwork), let alone build a whole room. But the booth we made did the trick, and we had a great show! We were showing my first 3 collections: Monaco, Marin and Anika.

While the Fall Market is always held in Houston, the Spring Market rotates among 5 different cities. This year it was in Salt Lake City, and since that isn’t too far from the Bay Area, we decided to drive to the show. I remember the drive being gorgeous, and it allowed us to carry the booth with us, so I didn’t need to figure out how to ship it for a few more months.

My daughter was just about a year old at the time (that’s her little foot in the photo on the curtain), and she was still breastfeeding, but there were no children allowed on the floor, so I had Dave cover the booth while I dashed out to a rest area to meet my mom and the baby every few hours. Luckily, I believe they do allow babes-in-arms these days.

Fall Market, October 2011 – Houston

Our first Houston show! The Fall Market is often considered the bigger show, though I didn’t usually notice much difference in our audience. We have the great good fortune of having family in Houston – Dave’s parents live in Katy – and I honestly don’t know what we would have done without them. Both of them have been amazing, but my father-in-law has been the rock star of our fall markets, even building a whole booth (!!!), but also helping with setup, takedown, physics analysis (how much support do we need in that corner to keep the walls from falling down??), hardware store runs, transportation, storage (even now, our booth lives rent-free in their attic), succulent care, Ikea furniture building and bartending once we were back home. It also allowed me to ship the samples, sign, our few newly-purchased vintage props, flooring and rug to them in advance, rather than having to get them there just in time or warehouse for a fee, which are the options otherwise. My best piece of advice for Quilt Market booths is to convince family members to move to Houston. (Thank you, mom and dad Miguelucci!)

This booth was pretty simple, and looking at it, it seems like it should have been a breeze to set up. It was not. The whole idea for this display was based on using fishing wire to hang props, quilts and sign from the overhead bars, and that proved to be maddeningly difficult. Fishing wire stretches really easily, and it’s hard to get – and keep – everything level. I do not recommend fishing wire if you have any other options.

This was also the show where we discovered the beauty of Ikea. If you’ve never done a trade show before, Ikea is a great source for simple, inexpensive furniture for your booth. A lot of companies will return the items after the show, but we were almost always able to reuse it (thank you, family attic), or pass it along.

Spring Market, May 2012 – Kansas City

For our third Market, we introduced our Fox Hollow collection, and gave a preview of the upcoming Havana collection. This booth design was one of those ideas that worked much better in my head than in reality. I had visions of a clean, minimalist forest scene with a whimsical twist, but it ended up looking a bit like a garage sale (probably due in part to all the little frames that I bought at an actual garage sale). Still, I had a lot of fun designing it, cutting out those trees and finding all the little forest critters and gnomes! The gnomes lived on in our garden for years, and we still have the bunny, fox and hedgehog tucked around the bushes.

This was the first show that I had to ship the samples, and I remember that the trees were a challenge, but they made it there, thanks to FedEx. Unfortunately, the darling dresses that were made by the insanely creative UK author and sewist Kirsty Hartley (of Wild Things Dresses) DID arrive at the hotel, but then disappeared before I received the box. I was crushed, but luckily had some backup garments that we were able to use.

I mentioned that I had thoughts on flooring. The first couple of shows we used click lock flooring from Home Depot, and while it looked really good, it was a nightmare to put together. For this show, we upgraded to trade show flooring – big 2×2′ squares of firm, click-together foam, and it cut our setup time by at least an hour (or four), plus it’s nicer to stand on.

Fall Market 2012 – Houston

For this market, we decided to step up to a more solid-wall look, and discovered the glories of foam core. My father-in-law, Ed, built us a fabulous frame, and I had a box of foam core panels shipped to Houston, along with a sign and a couple posters that we had printed at Kinkos, and a couple bolts of fabric. Then we went to work in the garage with several cans of spray mount and exacto knives. I remember it being a lot of work (especially because I chose two linear repeating prints that had to be lined up just right), but it came out looking pretty great. We were showing the Havana collection that we had previewed at Spring Market, and also Modern Home.

Here’s a little peek behind the scenes… this is how the sausage is made! 🙂

Spring Market, May 2013 – Portland

Introducing Raaga and Free Range! We got to drive to this market again, so we decided to spring for real wooden walls, and we had a carpenter who was working on some house projects for us build this booth. It was sweet, but super heavy, so only one we could use if we were driving. FYI, that bump out at the center allows for storage of all the catalogs, business cards, order forms, water bottles, extra sweaters, snacks, aspirin and a back up supply of pens. We packed it all up in a U-Haul truck, and were lucky enough to have our friends Pete and Kathy host us and help us with setup.

We also went from a 10×10′ booth to a 10×20′ booth, which was a huge change. Lots more space to fill, lots more samples to sew, and more space for buyers.

It’s 10 years later, and all of those pillows as well as the Diamond Affair quilt in the front by Punkin Patterns STILL graces my daughter’s bed, and those (real) potted tangerine trees are right outside our kitchen door to this day. Kind of weird how we have all these vestiges of trade shows past…

Fall Market, October 2013 – Houston

The debut of Urban Patch, Meadow, and our first two knit collections, Woodland Knits and Raaga Knits. To be honest, I don’t remember why we decided to use chalk to make our sign, but I remember Dave scribbling it in with a sense of panic, so I think it must have been damaged in transport. We ended up liking it, and used it for the next market too, so I guess it was a happy accident.

This year, we used the frame that Ed (father-in-law) had made the year before, and he helped me make some wooden shingle panels that I hoped blended the woodland and urban themes. My lasting memory is that they were a pain to make, and three pains to carry, because they were shingles attached to plywood with about a bazillion copper nails. Live and learn. As I write this, the overarching message is that my father-in-law is a saint.

We also drove around Houston to scavenge the wooden pallets that we needed for our urban chic vibe, and we made the light fixtures out of hardware and old mason jars. Many succulents were purchased from Home Depot, and then cared for by my monther-in-law for years thereafter. The quilts here were made by Melissa Lunden of Lunden Designs, and the lovely ladies at Sassafras Lane.

Spring Market, May 2014 – Pittsburgh

Now that I think of it, we are blessed to have family in 3 out of 6 of the Quilt Market cities, and 2 of the remaining are within driving distance. That is very lucky. Dave’s Aunt and Uncle lived in Pittsburgh, and they generously let us ship our booth stuff to them in advance. Dave’s parents and sister’s family drove up from Houston, so not only did we have help, but we also got a family reunion out of the trip.

At this market we introduced our Haven collection and Under the Sea, as well as our first sewing patterns, and I remembered being relieved to go back to curtains for this market. I had painted some sign murals in advance, going for a sketchy/arty look, so this one was quick and easy.

Start here:

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Fall Market, October 2014 – Houston

Houston again! We trotted out the trusty booth frames, and used the fabric on the foam core panels again. I have to say, those were the easiest because they were light – when you don’t have your booth shipped to the site in a crate, shlepping from the parking area to your booth site is a consideration! . The signs were attached with heavy duty stick-on velcro, and we used clamps that were attached to the booth frame to hang the quilts.

We added another table this market, because we needed another space so we could both hold meetings at the same time – this was definitely helpful!

Spring Market, May 2015 – Minneapolis

This was our first Quilt Market in Minneapolis – my home town. We introduced the Haiku collection and the Juicy collection at this show. Quilts were by Sassafras Lane, Field Trip Quilting and Kirsten Jaglo, and garments by Monaluna, Oliver+S and Olive Ann Designs. Furniture almost entirely by Ikea. Plus we had some cool posters from Kinkos.

Fall Market, October 2015 – Houston

In fall of 2015, I had just acquired my new studio/shop space, and I was working like a madwoman to get it ready to open. for the first time since starting the company, we decided not to have a booth, but we still went to Houston and walked the show.

Spring Market, May 2016 – Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City again – 5 years later! We debuted Wanderlust and Bloom, and also showed Anya and Anya Knits, which had arrived the fall before. This was possibly my favorite booth, because I was able to really get playful with the props and create a mood. Also, the Wanderlust collection was inspired by a very meaningful experience in my life, so I was able to really feel it. Because we were able to drive, we used our wooden booth again, plus a bunch of props we found at the Alameda Flea Market (Oh, yeah, and a random cow skull I found on etsy.com).

Oh, and what’s this, you ask? This would be me, trying to finish my samples the night before setup in the hallway of our hotel, because all the power went out for hours and the only lights were the emergency lights in the hall. Always expect the unexpected.

Fall Market, October 2016 – Houston

This was by far the pinnacle of our booth designing career to date. I really wish I had taken more and better photos – you can’t even really see the murals I painted on sheets for the interior of our little shop. We introduced three collections at this market – Simple Life, Cottage Garden and Haiku 2 – with Simple life displayed in the middle, and vignettes of the other two on the sides. Our friend and creative genius Warren Jackson made the booth for us from really lightweight wood, including the fully functional door, window boxes, awnings and peek-through windows. We made little props on sticks, so people could get their photo taken inside the window with scissors and glasses and sewing machines. It was so fun! We ended up winning a booth award for “Most Creative”, which was really nice.

This time, we had a crate built and picked up at our warehouse, and then delivered to Houston early enough that it could be stored in their warehouse facility. It’s an expensive way to go, but also much easier, as they deliver the crate to your booth and take it away, so there’s no hauling things from the parking lot. We also had fun with little brand samples, with temporary tatoos and some cool little charms.

For the flooring, we used linoleum from Home Depot, going for an outdoor cafe kind of look, but that stuff is incredibly heavy. We could only do it because it was shipping in the crate – otherwise out of the question. Incidentally, the linoleum is now lining our chicken coop. Recycling, you know.

By this time, Mindy Moore (no relation, unfortunately) had started working at the Monaluna shop, and she started going to market with us. SUCH a huge help. That’s her in the last few photos.

Spring Market, May 2017 – Kansas City

This was a very small showing for us. We didn’t have a new collection – just a follow-up on the ones we introduced the previous fall, and a few new kits. I used some of the furniture we had from the shop, and shipped everything wrapped on a palette for the first time. That worked well, probably at the end of the day the easiest way to go. Dave wasn’t able to go to this market, but my mom flew in and met me there, saving the day. It’s hard to do these shows solo!

Fall Market, October 2017 – Houston

We tried something new this time! We were introducing our Journey collection, and also showing the Simple Life Knits – two really different vibes – so we decided to make our 10×20′ booth into two rooms separated by a half wall, so you could have two different spaces. We also tried new “walls” – basically thin wood sheets that we found at home depot, and we joined them together with metal bookbinder rings. It gave the booth a natural, Southwestern feel that worked really well with the collection full of cacti, succulents and coyote.

Spring Market, May 2018 – Portland

Back to a small booth again. We had two new collections coming, Magical Creatures and Saturday, but the sample fabric hadn’t yet arrived, so we had to mock up on paper. The Journey quilt was May Chappell’s Blooming Dresden pattern, beautifully designed and sewn by Janet Johnson.

Fall Market, October 2018 – Houston

I’m not sure if I knew that this would be our last booth for years, but I do remember feeling really overwhelmed by the demands of the shop, keeping up with the new collections, staying on top of wholesale orders and trying to plan, build and ship these displays every 6 months. In addition to, you know, life and family and all that. I knew that I needed a break. And then came the Pandemic, and then a shift in my own business such that I don’t need to do wholesale shows any more. So here it is, our last Quilt Market booth (to date, anyway), and the introduction of our Festival collection. We used the same booth frame, recycled the foam core and painted it, and made foam core flowers and leaves covered with the new prints. Mindy Moore made the quilts for the booth, and we painted our foam flooring white to give it a fresh pop.

This concludes my very long walk down memory lane. I’ve decided that it’s pretty useful to look back at the arc of your work, and see all that you accomplished in a set period of time. Before I took on this post, I had almost never looked back at our booth photos, certainly not sequentially, and it’s pretty interesting to see. I made a lot of stuff, and definitely learned a lot, over those years.

Now that I’m designing for Windham Fabrics, my work is showcased at Market in their booth, but I play a much smaller role in the display process (I did make a couple cool samples for this show, though!) I hope I get to experience the whirlwind and camaraderie of Market again some year, but for now I’m content to be behind the scenes.

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