These Are My People: An Ethnography of QuiltCon
This thesis presents the first ethnography of QuiltCon, the annual fan and artist convention for quiltmakers who identify with and participate in a social phenomenon called the Modern Quilt Movement (MQM) within the 21st century quilt world. QuiltCon (QC) is one product of this movement. This study considers the following questions: What kinds of people attend QC, and what types of experiences and encounters do they expect at the convention? What needs are met at QC for this subset of quiltmakers who attend and for the greater community of Modern quiltmakers? What role does QC play in cementing the identity and core values of Modern quiltmakers and the MQM?
This cultural description provides a snapshot of the MQM and QC through the eyes of a long-time quilt group whose members identify as Modern quilters, traveling from another state to attend QC 2020 in Austin, Texas, USA. As a member of this group, I am a practicing Modern quiltmaker or cultural “insider,” both observing and experiencing the convention as a fan. In fan studies, this hybrid status is referred to as an “acafan”: An academic researcher studying the phenomenon of which she is a part. This social scientific and anthropological study utilizes qualitative research methods, with an arts-based, constructivist/interpretivist epistemology within the critical framework of quilt history, women’s studies and fan studies.
QC 2020 attendees participated in an in-person fan pilgrimage as a physical manifestation of an online community, which included demonstrations of communitas, permission and validation, as well as several examples of celebrity interaction. QuiltCon as a girlfriend getaway included feminist actions through self-labeling, play, the politics of display, and the consumer business of Modern quiltmaking. Results include a discussion of QC’s evolution to an iconic, peak experience for enacting and reflecting the ethos of the MQM (defined as a person, a style, the approach, and the community), particularly for those who attend, irrespective of tension-filled and/or perceived cultural definitions by which Modern quiltmaking practice is or has been defined.