Finish Line Jan/Feb 08

It’s showtime! For longarm quilters, going to a major show is almost as good as Christmas.

It’s an opportunity to take a break from an isolated life with our machines and
mix and mingle with other longarmers, take stimulating classes with national teachers,
shop till we drop at the vendor mall, test drive new machines, and view the breathtaking machine quilting competition. Life doesn’t get any better. But alas, just like Christmas, this long-awaited event is quickly over. To get the most out of both your time and your cash, strategic planning is in order before you arrive at the show.

First, determine your main objective for
attending and let that be your guide as you
peruse the catalog. Remember, you simply
can’t do it all at once. Evaluate your needs for the near future and plan on attending either this show or another major show sometime soon. For professional longarmers, this may be tax deductible as a continuing professional education expense.

Here’s what I recommend:
Wannabes: Spend time on the machines and test drive as many as you can. Consider taking a basic class to see what’s involved in operating a longarm, such as loading a quilt and keeping it square on the machine. Sit in on a maintenance class to see if you really want to get your hands dirty. There’s a lot of maintenance
involved on a regular, even daily basis
with these machines, and you can’t be afraid of tools and making adjustments to machinery. Also valuable are classes on batting, thread, needles, and tension to broaden your knowledge and help you know where to spend future dollars wisely.
Newbies: Take the same classes as the
wannabes with a focus on mastering the fundamentals before worrying about special techniques. The more you know about your machine, the better, so definitely schedule an in-depth maintenance class and pay particular
attention to timing and tension. Basic classes on pantographs, borders, and introductory freehand are good investments.
Intermediate and Above: You’ve mastered the basics, now it’s time to take your quilting to the next level. A hands-on class with one of the industry’s best will energize you and your quilting. Be adventurous–try some different technique classes. Innovative quilting, art quilting, or advanced filler or drawing classes will spark your creativity.

Computerized Machine Owners:
You still need to be familiar with the basics of machine quilting, so don’t neglect those classes recommended for the wannabes along with an in-depth maintenance class. In addition, take any machine-specific classes that strike your fancy and don’t neglect the digitizing classes. Even if you prefer to buy patterns rather than digitize your own, I highly advise taking an introductory digitizing class so you understand what’s involved in designing a pattern and will be able to make minor adjustments whenever needed. Knowledge is power, and digitizing classes make a big difference in the way you evaluate patterns and understand how they actually sew out.

For Those Exploring or Starting a Business:
Be sure to include business-related classes, such as those that address customer consultations, difficult clients, payment issues, and worksheets. Business classes that discuss licensing, insurance, contracts, and marketing will prove invaluable. Make time for one of the business software classes. Several are specifically designed for longarm quilters and save an incredible amount of bookkeeping time.

Established Professional Longarmers: Now’s the time to evaluate your business and decide what’s next. With so many new quilters entering the field, don’t rest on your laurels. Take a marketing class to learn new strategies for attracting and, more importantly, keeping clients. If business is booming, then a timemanagement class or a tips-and-tricks class is just the ticket. Starting to feel overwhelmed? Consider adding a class on avoiding burnout.

IT’S YOUR SHOW Now that you’ve evaluated yourself and your needs, review the catalog carefully. Scrutinize the courses for skill level and content. Notice that different teachers teach similar topics. Take classes from various teachers to learn an array of methods and tips. Often the same tips are repeated in different classes taught by the same teacher. If you’re going with a group of friends, take different classes so you can gain new perspectives during the questionand- answer or brainstorming periods.

Try not to overschedule yourself. It’s very easy to fill your schedule with back-to-back classes. If you do, your brain will feel like it’s on overload. Besides, there’s so much more to do than just attend classes.

Allow time to attend the demonstrations. Not only are they free, but they provide good information and keep you up-to-date on the latest products, tools, and techniques.

Another way to keep current is to schedule time for the vendors. This is a wonderful opportunity to talk with them about their products and services and establish accounts. There’s nothing like being able to put a face with a name when you’re on the phone placing an order or requesting assistance.

You’ll also want to save time to network with other quilters and meet the longarmers you’ve exchanged information with on the various Internet lists.

Above all, allow time to view the quilt competition! Digital cameras make it easy to take photos, but I highly advise signing up to buy the show photo CD. You’ll save time and have photos of far better quality to use as a reference for inspiration and ideas.

The evening events are entertaining, educational, and inspirational. I’ve found them to be relaxing and a good way to meet other quilters. I’ve also learned to more fully appreciate other areas of longarm quilting–garment quilting, for example–thanks to fun events such as the fashion shows.

Classes and events fill quickly, so register early. The hands-on and maintenance classes always fill first. As soon as your catalog arrives, select your classes and send in your registration form. Don’t delay making hotel reservations, either, especially if you want to stay in the same hotel as the show.

When it comes to packing, less is more. The dress is casual, even the evening events, and comfort is the first priority, especially for shoes. Pack interchangeable clothes. You’ll mostly be indoors, but include a sweater or light jacket for cool classrooms.
Don’t forget your business license to get wholesale pricing and establish business accounts with the vendors. Bring your digital camera, but only take photos in the classroom with the instructor’s permission. Definitely pack notepads, several pens, and highlighters. You’ll also want a good supply of business cards to exchange.
If you’re a member of any of the online longarm lists, don’t forget your list pins. You’ll want to wear them so other members can easily identify you and introduce themselves. Post to that list if you need to obtain one.
I’ve learned to pack my clothes in a small suitcase and put that into a larger suitcase that rolls. That way, I have an empty one for purchases and handouts. Have small bills accessible for tips–airport, taxi, and hotel.

The January/February 2008 issue of Quilters Newsletter contains two related articles of interest.

This month’s Finish Line column addresses the importance of continuing education for the professional longarm quilter.

Showtime lists the 2008 major quilt shows and contact information. Classes may begin earlier than the dates listed for the general public showing. The longarm-specific shows include the Home Machine Quilting Show (HMQS), Machine Quilters Exposition (MQX), and Machine Quilters Showcase (MQS).

Another growing show is Innovations, held in Tacoma, Washington, during September; 253-854-3362, mqinnovations@aol .com, mqinnovations .com.

Once you arrive, expect a whirlwind of nonstop activity. To keep going, here are a few of my favorite survival tips:

Budget for $500 - $1,500 at the vendor mall. (Plan on the higher end if you’re a newbie.) Don’t spend it all the first day as you’ll learn about a lot of neat items in classes. Sometimes, you may find a good deal on the last day as the vendors pack.

Carry lots of change and dollar bills for tips, vending machines, and small purchases at the vendor mall.

Take extra pens to class. Inevitably, your favorite will run out of ink. Be open minded and listen thoughtfully. Even if a class isn’t what you expected, you can learn something if you focus on the message and don’t allow your mind to wander.

Speak up. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and when appropriate, please share your tips and ideas. We’re all there to learn and help each other.

Meet as many people as possible. Mix and mingle. Make an effort to introduce yourself to others. A great ice breaker is to wear your list pins.

Enjoy short breaks. Sit down and watch others be in a hurry. Better yet, go outside for some fresh air.

Drink water, water, and more water. It’s easy to become dehydrated, which will make you feel tired.

Eat lunch. It’s a long day, and depending on how evening events are scheduled, you may not have time for dinner. Save time and order the box lunch if it’s offered.

Carry snacks. Granola bars are lifesavers, pack well, and don’t take up a lot of space. Use room service. Depending on the show, eateries may not be close by and dining room seating is limited. It’s a great option for breakfast.

Get some sleep. It’s fun to party, but morning comes early. The next day is going to be just as busy.

Put all receipts in one envelope. Transfer the receipts from your bags into this envelope as soon as you get back to your room so the receipts don’t get lost or thrown out. Don’t forget receipts from snacks or meals and annotate any tips. When you pack to leave, make sure to put this envelope in your carry-on bag and not into your checked baggage in case your luggage gets lost.

Have fun. Enjoy the experience and relax. It’s a long time until next year.

And please, if you see me at one of the shows, come up and say hello. I’d love to meet you!

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