For years I’ve wanted to go to the quilt festival in Ste. Marie aux Mines, in the diagonally opposite corner of France, near the German border. We had thought of taking the camper van and making it part of a two week trip, but there was too much going on in the garden to leave it for that long; so we went in the car and booked an hotel.
We set off at 6.30 on Tuesday morning; with a little over 1000km to do, we needed an early start. Only stopping for natural breaks and to swap drivers, we made it in 13 hours and found the F1 hotel in Colmar, near the Statue of Liberty roundabout, the small replica statue constructed to celebrate the life of its designer, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a son of Colmar.
It was 40km to Ste. Marie, so the following morning I dropped Nick off part way there; he was going to spend the two days cycling in the Vosges, something he’s long wanted to do, and I headed for the show. It’s held at 19 sites in four villages with buses shuttling visitors from one site to another; with 20 000 visitors you wouldn’t want all of them driving back and forth all day.
There were over 1000 quilts on display, so there was something for every taste, from the very traditional to contemporary to 3-D installations; quilts made by Americans and Canadians during the second world war, for refugees in Europe; incredible “thread painted” quilts which could easily be taken for photos and a huge quilt, made entirely by hand of tiny pieces of fabric, over the last ten years; though one had to ask “Why?”
There were exhibitors from all over the globe; Japan, Korea, America, Canada as well as many European countries. The visitors were mostly French and German, but lots of English, Italians, Dutch and other nationalities whose languages I couldn’t place.
The work of one artist particularly caught my eye; she was doing a workshop on the technique of fabric manipulation, but not till after we’d left. I went back for another look and asked if there were still places at the workshop, if I could persuade Nick to stay another night; yes, she said, but she could do me a workshop the next morning if I wanted – I didn’t need asking twice.
By the evening, I was exhausted, having walked around over half the show in the day; I wasn’t impressed at receiving the first speeding ticket of my life on the way back to the hotel, when I was so busy looking for road signs telling me my route that I completely missed seeing a village sign, or the two gendarmes hiding a few metres behind it.
We went to Colmar for dinner; not the choucroute Nick had been looking forward to, but ate in a Yugoslavian restaurant. We didn’t manage choucroute the following evening either, but ended up eating a superb mezze in a Lebanese restaurant. Colmar is a beautiful city, with an ancient centre which buzzes in the evening.
The morning of day two was spent at my workshop, learning to do what turned out to be a modern form of smocking; I was delighted with the result and will be able to pass on the technique to the rest of the women in the Art Textiles group. In the afternoon I managed to get round the rest of the show; you could easily spot quilters by the end of the day – weary looking women, mostly laden with bags of fabrics, buttons, rulers and surprisingly often accompanied by their other halves, some in a capacity as photographers, others clearly bored and wondering how much longer they’d have to stay, but a few genuinely interested in the art on display.
The following day we left early, it was a long, hard drive home, wet for the first ten hours; but the trip was well worth the effort, I loved the show and Nick thoroughly enjoyed his cycling.