Mongolia 2014

In August, I returned to Mongolia to assist with the Second International Mongolian Quilt Show. This year was the 10th Anniversary of the opening of the Mongolian Quilting Center and hosting a quilt show including quilts from Mongolia, USA, UK, Japan and Australia was a fitting way to celebrate. I was thrilled to see the progress that the Mongolian women have made in quilt making and product development and so proud of what they have done. I taught basic quilting skills ten years ago to these women who already had good sewing skills. Other teachers have also volunteered and now the women are making beautiful applique silk wall hangings of horses, Mongolian scenes and contemporary designs.

Our days were filled with preparing for the show - organizing the quilts and making labels for them all plus a variety of other signs, working with a translator so the signs could also be in Mongolian, creating a poster about the organization and Quilting Center, and a multitude of other tasks including working out the logistics of hanging the show and purchasing necessary items. Seven ladies from Japan arrived a few days before the show and were a tremendous help in preparing packs of four half meter pieces of silk to sell (cutting, folding and bundling after I chose the color combinations) and pricing the Mongolian products. Also in on the action, were Nancy and John Watts, and Vicki Schmall all from Portland, OR and many Mongolian ladies. Boogii, the manager at the Center, was very well organized and extremely hard working. I don't know what we would have done without her.

The quilt show took place in The State Department Store in the center of town. At the 2006 show in the same place, we tethered the quilts with safety pins to beds in the furniture department on the 4th floor. This year we had a fabulous location on the second floor in a large space between the escalator going up and the escalator going down. People could see the quilts as they went up and down between floors. The picture shows the view from the third floor. Hanging the quilts was challenging. Selenge's brother owns a furniture company and his company provided large heavy wooden panels which stood on bases. These had to be covered in cloth after they were erected so that we could attach the quilts. It worked fine, but the problem was the length of time it took to put them all up. We began hanging half of the room at 5.00 p.m., but the second half wasn't ready until 8.30 p.m. The quilt hanging went quickly with the help of the Japanese ladies. As soon as I got the go ahead, I decided where to put each quilt and we pinned them up. On the first side we hung all the quilts from USA and UK and the three from Australia. It wasn't quite clear how many Mongolian quilts we would have, and not all of them had labels. The Japanese brought eight small quilts and about 15 beautiful hand-made purses. They made a nice display area for these. By good fortune, the spacing worked out fine and all the quilts were hung by 10.30 p.m. We retired to bed and left the Mongolian women arranging their products until 12.30 a.m.

The quilt show opened with much pomp and ceremony the next morning. At 10.00 a.m., the time at which people were invited to the opening ceremony, balloons were being blown up and a bed was being constructed in one corner to display quilts for sale. Products were still being arranged in the sales area and there was much activity. We began at 11.00 a.m. with some Mongolian music. Then there were speeches from Selenge, me and Ogawa-san Hiromi from Japan with translations. A fashion show of amazing dresses followed, all designed by Shiilge Bat-Ulzii, one of the Mongolian designers at the Center. The show was declared open after an elaborate ribbon cutting ritual. Four of us participated including me and were each given white gloves and scissors that came on a silver platter, I was joined by Selenge Tserendash, the Mongolian Minister of Labor (who also presented Selenge with certificates) and Ogawa-san Hiromi from Japan. After we had cut the ribbon, the silver platter reappeared with four fancy champagne flutes filled with milk for us to drink. Traditionally this would be airag which is fermented mare's milk and not a delicacy that I would choose to drink! Fortunately, they used ordinary milk! I just copied the others and drank about half of the milk. TV and radio people were there and a good number of people watching and there was much applause.

The quilt show was well received and we sold many quilts and Mongolian products. This view shows the main wall that was the backdrop for our opening ceremony. The wonderful crazy patchwork horse made from silk scraps was designed and executed by Shiilge Bat-Ulzii. It was especially popular with the kids who attended the show. Shiilge also made the stunning black and white quilt on the left. The top center quilt of the three horses, Mighty Three, was designed and hand appliqud by Byambalaa Lhagvansuren. Nancy Watts and I judged the Mongolian quilts and this one was the Best of Show. Byamba won a Singer sewing machine, donated by the Singer shop in Ulaanbaatar. Byamba also designed and made the quilt hanging to the right of the Mongolian couple and the three horse quilts in the earlier picture. Her work is absolutely gorgeous. My Tribute to Mongolia hangs on the right.

By the end of the six days of the show, everyone was very tired after the long days of hard work. We had to have workers there from opening at 9.00 a.m. to closing at 10.00 p.m. The quilt show took 15 hours to put up and only 2 hours to take down! The next day we had a barbeque at a ger camp just outside Ulaanbaatar and about 18 of the Mongolian women came. There was much merriment and laughter and they presented me with one of the lovely horse quilts. I hope that in the next ten years and beyond, the Center will continue to thrive and extend their influence to help even more Mongolian women.

There are additional photos of the quilt show and from our amazing week of traveling in Eastern Mongolia in the area around the birth place of Chinggis Khan.