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Running a Quilt Show

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It’s important to have realistic expectations when organizing a quilt show. A full-fledged independent quilt show usually requires a year or more of planning, and costs can easily go into the tens of thousands. A good way for newer guilds to test the waters is to put on a smaller-scale show or exhibition, rather than mounting a full-size show in a convention space.


If you are looking for a space to hold the show, consider partnering with a local arts or educational organization. Some art galleries allow their spaces to be used by nonprofits between commercial exhibitions. Outdoor events like fairs and farmers’ markets are also an option. You can also see if your local quilt shop, coffee shop or library will let you hang a carefully curated exhibition.


Also consider the length of time that you would like the show to be open. Most shows won’t need to last more than a day or two. Unless you have a packed schedule of demos / lectures / workshops, there’s really no need for more time. Don’t forget to account for the time of year. If you live in a beach town that’s known for its surf culture in June and July, February might not be a great time to try and draw a crowd.

When putting on an independent show, consider alternative venues. You don’t have to rent an expo hall or convention center. Consider a church or school with a large gymnasium. Also consider a venue with several smaller rooms or galleries. Quilts don’t all have to be within eyeshot of the entrance.


Not all shows have to be judged. With smaller shows especially, an exhibit-only event can encourage participation from those who might not be willing to have their quilt scrutinized by a professional.


A qualified judge can also be a rather large expense, especially if travel and lodging are involved. One option is to have someone from outside the quilting community judge the show — a local artist or celebrity perhaps. The downside here is that a non-expert can deter serious competitive quilters whose work might otherwise raise the overall quality of the show.



Most shows offer quilters a number of categories or sections that exhibitors can place their quilts into. The more categories you have, the more prep work you have to do, especially after receiving the quilts. It can also be confusing for attendees if quilts aren’t hung in a clear-cut order or signage isn’t obvious. One advantage to having a large number of categories, though, is that it makes each one less competitive and could encourage submissions from hesitant quilters.



Consider who will be eligible to enter quilts into your show. Will the show be open to submissions only from guild members? A few local guilds? Anyone in the state or province? Your greater regional area? The entire country or continent? If you do accept entries from outside your immediate region, consider whether you are prepared and have the resources to accept and return entries by mail, or whether all entries will have to be dropped off or picked up in person.


Smaller contestant pools can encourage participation from those who might shy away from stiff competition, but also limits the interest level of outsiders. Even large guilds can only draw so many people if only member quilts are on display. A larger contestant pool also leads to better overall quality.

One option for guilds who aren’t quite ready to open the floodgates for entries is a youth category that’s judged separately, if at all. If nothing else, it’s a guaranteed bump in attendance as the parents and family of the quilters are likely to be guaranteed attendees.




Consider how participants will submit an entry into the show. Will there be a submission fee? If the show is open to outsiders, will there be a discounted (or waived) fee for members?

Electronic submission are generally ideal for juried shows. There are several different online tools and softwares available that vary greatly in price and quality. Research what suits your needs best. If the show isn’t juried, and especially if it’s only open to members, a hard copy form is usually fine.

Consider how you will keep track of all of the quilts to make sure that your electronic or paper records match the number of quilts that you accepted, and that each quilter receives back the quilt(s) that they submitted. Asking each quilter to sign a drop-off and pick-up record is a good idea, as is some form of identifying each quilt through a quilt number or code.


Storage can also be an issue if you are accepting quilts before the show is ready to be hung. Most groups will need a few days with the quilts prior to the show. If quilt intake is at a location other than the venue, storage for the meantime needs to be arranged, as well as transportation of the quilts to the show venue.



In order to successfully put on a quilt show, many tasks will be need to be done. Does your guild have enough members to perform the labor needed? Set up and take down can be especially difficult, as members who have full-time jobs may be able to volunteer on a weekend, but may be reluctant to take on weekday tasks.

Most quilt shows have at least a handful of vendors, and this can be a major source of income and help you balance your budget. Long-arm distributors especially love doing quilt shows, which generate a substantial portion of their customer base. Balance is key here, though. Attendees are there to see the show, and if the vendors outnumber the quilts they may not  consider it worth the price of admission.


Charging attendees admission will offset some of the costs of putting on the show. If your show is in a public place like a quilt shop or farmers’ market, charging admission may be difficult because of the public nature of the space. If you’ve paid to rent a large expo hall, you’ll likely need to charge admission. The amount of money that you can charge should still be in balance with the size of the show. The largest national and international shows rarely charge more than about $25. Local and regional shows are usually in the $10 range, so be realistic when expecting members of the public to pay for admissions.