Friday, 14 November 2014

Houston International Quilt Festival - what I have learned on my first visit

I have been wanting to go to Houston for as long as I have been quilting, but have never had the opportunity, until this year. I had planned it since last year and as soon as I had mentioned it to a couple of friends, I was told to get my accommodation booked as soon as possible, as the hotels get booked up almost immediately the dates become available. I was very lucky to get a room at the Hilton Americas and hope to go there again next year.
Things I have discovered from my first trip to Houston:

The IQA have several official hotels, where you can get a discount if you mention that you are going to IQF, have a look on the website
The Hilton Americas is right next door to the George R Brown hall where the Quilt Festival is held, and is in fact connected to the centre through a short skywalk on both level 2 and 3 of the hotel.
I had no breakfast included in my package (I don't know whether they offer this in any package) but there is a restaurant in the lobby which does excellent cooked breakfasts, you might have to wait a little while to be seated as it gets pretty busy in the mornings, so need to allow enough time for this. Alternatively, there is the Java Jive shop directly opposite the entrance to the restaurant, where you can have a lighter/ smaller continental style breakfast, they have a good selection of pastries, cakes/breads, wraps, yoghurt  and fruit as well as hot or cold drinks. There is not a lot of seating in this area, but just outside the hotel, to the front, if it is not too cold, are some lovely rattan chairs where you could eat. There is a small gift shop too, where you can buy cereal bars or chocolate if you are in a rush.
Wi-fi is free in all the public areas of the hotel. There is a UPS shop in the Business centre on the 3rd floor of the hotel, very useful if you have ordered items and requested them to be delivered to you at the hotel. The UPS staff will leave a message for you once your parcel has arrived, although when they are very busy, it is worth asking them as they might not have updated their systems yet. It is very helpful to them if you can provide your tracking number. Parcels can be posted from here too, they can provide boxes and other packaging materials here, very useful if you have to fly home and do not have enough space in your bags.
The Hilton is close enough that during an hour lunch break, I could walk to my room to leave my shopping bags and pick up a sandwich from Java Jive before getting back to my classes in the afternoon.
Please do pick up a form detailing how to go about booking again here for next year if that is your plan, before you check out, it is notoriously difficult to rebook and get a room if you do not!
Friends have stayed in the Hilton Doubletree, which is too far to walk to the George R Brown centre, but they loved it and found the hotel much more 'friendly' than the Hilton Americas. As a bonus, it was the first pick up point for the free shuttles that run to the convention centre in the mornings and so you could always find a place to sit.
Other friends have stayed in the Magnolia, they loved it so much that they will be returning here. There is 'happy hour' every day with free drinks between 5.30 and 6.30pm every day and cookies and milk. Breakfast is included here.
If you are planning on doing any self catering, then do go to the Phoenicia, which is on Austin street,         it is a small grocery store that sells just food stuff. They have the usual stuff like cereals and pastas etc but also the most amazing variety of teas and coffees. You can order hot take outs like pizza or wraps from here and make up your own salads from the salad bars. Fresh fruit and vegetables as well as lots of healthy nuts and other snacks. If you are not in a rush, you can sit down and eat in. It is a real little gem and the staff are very helpful. It is a very short walk away and just long enough to give you a bit of fresh air when you have been inside all day. Open till 8pm on Saturdays and Sundays, open till 9pm the rest of the week.
If you are doing classes all day, you will only have an hour or maybe two for lunch. If it is only an hour, you will not have time to go to the food hall which is on the ground level near hall A, your options are a bit limited. You can either bring your own lunch or get something from one of the vendors on the corridor near the class rooms on level 3, there were 2 vendors here this year, one selling Mexican food, the other wraps and sandwiches. Only cold drinks are available here. You could go down to level 2 to Starbucks, which is immediately underneath, but queues were long here. If you were desperate for a hot drink though, this is where you would go.  There is also a vendor selling croissants filled with cheese and ham on level 2, they also did coffees.  There are plenty of tables to sit at on both levels 2 and 3 and as a bonus, you can enjoy free wi-fi here.
If you had enough time, you could go to the food hall on ground level. Be aware that food is not allowed in the exhibition halls or where the vendors are, so if you bought food here, you will need to consume it here.  There are water fountains on all the corridors between the class rooms, so you do not need to bring water with you.
When you are booking your classes, have a list with your first choice and your second choice next to you, as you need to list them both on the application form. You need to submit your application form and will not know for certain whether you will be doing those classes until you receive confirmation a few days later. You will only be charged for the classes that you actually get allocated.
If you subscribe to IQA, you will be allowed a day 'free' entry into the show (I used this on the Sunday).
This will also entitle you to go to the Prize giving ceremony on the Wednesday evening, which is a highlight not to be missed. You will be able to take photos after the ceremony of all the winning quilts.
Don't book so many classes that you do not have time to enjoy the show. You will need at least one day clear to see and enjoy all the quilts in the exhibition and another full day to go around all the vendors.
You will need to produce your official receipt at the start of every class, so do not forget to bring this with you!
Registration opens on the Sunday before classes start, at 3pm, but you can do registration at any time before your classes start. This is on the second level of the convention centre, near the escalators. You will be given a booklet with detail of all the quilts on display in the exhibition, location of all the vendors, and a map of the halls, a list of classes and their locations and a badge holder. You will also be given your pins and shopping totes if you have ordered them.  If you are from outside the US, you will be given a self adhesive ribbon stating that you are an International visitor and if this is your first visit to Houston IQF, a ribbon that stating that you are a first visitor. these are glued onto your badge holder.
Some classes may have become available and there is a counter where you can sign up for these and other classes that are not fully booked.
The organising of it all is done exceptionally well and the volunteers who do it all are extremely helpful.
Rolling trolleys or cases are not allowed in the halls, but you are able to leave your shopping at special booths and pick them up again later. You can also purchase boxes where you can pack all your purchases in to be posted back home. Cash and cards are accepted everywhere. I have been advised not to use debit cards, just credit cards as it lessens the likelihood of fraud (I guess you have more of a guarantee if things go wrong too with credit card companies and you are not likely to be out of cash then). Also, do not put your bags down while looking at things, there are some organised groups of unscrupulous people (not quilters) that are on the lookout for opportunities to take what does not belong to them. An Australian lady had her bag taken containing her passport, travel documents and off course purse!
Last but not least on this subject, SAVE all year, because when you get here, you are not going to believe what choices you have and what wonderful things you are going to see.
Exhibition of quilts
You will need a full day to appreciate all the wonderful quilts on display here, please be aware that some quilts are not allowed to be photographed. Stick to the rules, if seen taking photos, you could be asked to delete those photos or even to leave. Not worth the unpleasantness. Far better photos than what you can take, will be somewhere on the internet, if you take a note of the maker and title of the quilt, you can always research it later when you get back home. In stead, take the time to look at the detail that does not show up on photos and just enjoy being there. It is such a privilege to be so close to so many wonderful quilts made by masters of their skill.
 Texas is warmer than you think for this time of year. Much warmer certainly than England at this time of year. BUT, you will be spending most of every day inside, in the exhibition halls you could get away with wearing the same as what you would wear outside, that is late summer clothes (with a cardie or lightweight jacket) but if you are in the classrooms where they have air-conditioning turned on, you will be very cold. Bring warm clothes for the classrooms. It can be a bit cooler in the mornings or at night, so if you are planning on going out, worth having something a little warmer.

Working on my photos at the moment, will be doing a post on this next week ;-)

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