The quilt show isn’t the only reason Pauline Jewell traveled halfway around the world to Paducah this week.
“Even if there was no quilt show, I would come to Paducah,” said Jewell of Jakarta, Indonesia, who uses a wheelchair. “I just love the area. I feel it’s welcoming and relaxing, and everyone is really helpful, especially being in the wheelchair. People go out of their way in a way I don’t find anywhere else in the world.”
In past years, Jewell has traveled from her former homes in Shanghai, China, and Hong Kong to Paducah. “I enjoy the atmosphere,” she said. “It opens your mind to different ideas. I learn what’s new, and there’s the shopping. Let’s not forget the shopping.”
Foreign accents are common in the halls of the Paducah Expo Center as the American Quilter’s Society Quilt Show & Contest is becoming an international destination.
International quilters had 137 entries in the show this year, with 89 from Japan, nine from Australia and eight apiece from the United Kingdom, Canada and Turkey.
Salinder Gammage of Cardiff, Wales, Rosemary Burton of South Yorkshire, England, and her “mum-in-law,” Pearl Burton of West Yorkshire, England, traveled to Paducah with a tour group of 45 quilters from England, Scotland and Wales. They visited St. Louis and the Amish in Iowa before coming to the quilt show.
“Everybody assumed we’re going to Florida,” Rosemary Burton said. “I said, ‘I’m not going to Florida. I’m going to Kentucky.’ Oh, then there was a change of subject.”
Gammage said cheaper prices meant they could afford to take home more fabric and souvenirs. “We had to buy extra suitcases,” she said.
Helen Van Loon of Forest, Ontario, walked around the exhibits wearing a small Canadian flag stuck in her straw hat. Van Loon and friends from New York and Mississippi, whom she met through an Internet group called “Quilting Around the World,” are visiting Paducah together.
“I’ve been having a ball,” she said. “It’s been just a riot. Two buses I know about came down to Paducah from my area.”
Heinui Hanere, a Tahitian now working as a vendor for Roxanne International of Lathrop, Calif., spoke Japanese to several Japanese quilters who strolled by his booth. “I speak it a little bit,” Hanere said. “Every year people come from all over the world — Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and even France.”
Christian and Christine DuFrix of Bordeaux, France, are taking photos of quilts for an article Christine is writing about the show for France Patchwork magazine. “I came two years ago, and it was very marvelous,” she said. “That’s why we came back. But it’s very difficult to find a room. We had to stay in Cairo (Ill.).”
Tadako Nagasawa of Nagano, Japan, who has entered a quilt in the contest for five years, brought her husband, Mitsuru, to the show for the first time — literally. She does all the driving. “I cannot drive,” said Mitsuru Nagasawa, president of Toyota Technological Institute in Nagoya. “I lived in St. Louis 45 years ago, so I have many friends in St. Louis. They are coming here.”
The Nagasawas are going to meet their friends today in front of her quilt, “A Memory of Sicilia,” which recalls a trip to the Palace of Palermo.
Japanese quilters who don’t speak English received help from translator Seiko Dickson, a Paducah resident who is from Okinawa, Japan.
Dickson, who wore a traditional Japanese kimono made by her mother, also served as a white-glove hostess.
Americans “think I’m the one who made the quilt,” she said. “Japanese don’t think I’m Japanese. They just think I’m a volunteer. They can understand English a little bit, but they don’t speak it. I like to meet them and help them.”
Lorraine Downey, a quilt shop owner from Sydney, Australia, is in Paducah this week helping a vendor, Paper Pieces of Sycamore, Ill.
“It took me 24 hours door to door (of traveling time), but it’s worth it,” Downey said.
“Australian quilters love to come to Paducah. We’re amazed at how the town makes you feel so welcome, and we feel safe here. When I go home, I say, ‘Hi, y’all,’ and they know where I’ve been.”