The Grumpy Quilter and the Changing Face of Quilt Shows

Last week I wrote about how the entire quilting dynamic is changing. The “average” quilter is now 63 years-old. Memberships in guilds and bees are declining. Now let’s take a look at how quilt shows are changing — because this area of the quilt world isn’t the same as it was even ten years ago.

I love going to quilt shows for several reasons.  The first reason is the quilts.  I love looking at them and being inspired by their workmanship and beauty.  Of course, I love all the vendors and the shopping.  The added bonus to the quilts and the shopping is that I usually see some of my quilting friends there and it’s a great time to catch up.  Quilt shows are wonderful and I go to every one that I can.

However, I also will be the first one to tell you that quilt shows are a lot of work.  I chaired my guild’s 2017 show and it truly was my second full-time job.  From vendor contracts, to the quilt judging, to set-up and take-down, it was a great deal of hard work, sweat, and sometime tears (some of joy, some of sheer frustration).  And it’s not just the show chair that has to work hard, it’s the guild members that work equally hard.  If the guild as a whole cannot, will not, or is unable to put in the labor that a successful quilt show needs, then the show will not be successful. 

Before I go any further with the change in quilt shows, let me throw in a personal example.  I belong to the High Point Quilt Guild.  It’s my local guild and I love this group.  Our members work hard with our charity quilt program and everything else we do, including our bi-annual shows.  In 2017, when I chaired our show “Reach for the Stars,” I can’t say enough good things about our membership.  Our members showed up for the judging, show set-up, the days of the show, and take down.  And our net proceeds tell the story of just how hard everyone worked. 

In short, we made bank.

Our show was a huge success in every way and I eagerly anticipated the 2019 show. 

Then our calendar rolled over to 2019 and our membership halved.  The numbers wrote a reality check that our guild had to cash.  Twenty-six to 30 members would make it difficult to put on a successful show.  Now if all of us were in great physical shape and ten to 15 years younger, I would have suggested we still do the show.  However, I would imagine (and I’m far too respectful to ask) that most of our members are around that average 63-year-old mark.  I’d even fathom to say that a good number are above average.  That means that there are more knee replacements, hip replacements, and aching backs among us.  In short, since we didn’t have the strength or the man power, we decided (wisely in my opinion) to cancel the show.  It would be far better not to have a show than to have a show that is poorly run. 

Now budget-wise, this may bite us in the hiney in a year or so, but we know that, and have plans to deal with it then.  But if we put on a show that was horribly organized, chances are that vendors would not return to sell at our show again.  We knew that, too. So, we returned vendor deposits and will soon decide if we will have a show in 2020 or 2021.  Or if we will have another show at all. 

And I imagine that guilds everywhere are facing similar predicaments.  Even larger guilds are dealing with the fact their members are older and are either unable or unwilling to put in the time a quilt show requires.  So, where does that leave us in the quilt show circuit? Fewer local guild shows and more large quilt shows put on by large quilt organizations (if you’re thinking AQS, MQG or MQX, you would be correct).  And there is nothing wrong with these organizations or their shows — as long as a quilter, you’re well aware of a few truths:

  1.  At least one of these organizations is a for-profit business.  They need to make a profit, and their shows and classes are more expensive. 
  2. These are large shows, which means while nationally known vendors will be there (Hobbs, Warm and Natural, Superior Threads, etc.,), the shows are too expensive for a lot of  “mom and pop” quilt vendors.  Those vendors depend on local quilt shows as part of their annual revenue. 
  3. As a whole, the quilting component of these shows is juried.  So, while getting the green light to enter your quilt is a great honor and winning any ribbon in one of these shows is a life-time achievement, your average quilter will never make these ranks.  Therefore, quilters like you and I may have a difficult time getting an evaluation from a quilt judge. 

In short, not only is the quilt world aging, but our guilds and groups are losing members and the face of the quilt show universe is changing. 

I’ve always challenged myself to embrace change in my life – I’ve learned the hard way that if you don’t, that change can break you.  It can leave you breathless and heartbroken.  It’s far better to see the places that change can take you – better than the place you’re at now.  And in some circumstances, embracing change can be difficult, because change can sometimes mean a great loss.  I feel like that’s where the quilt world is now.  We’re losing LQS’s, but we’re gaining some really good internet shopping, as lots of smaller quilt stores are developing their own web sales.  However, I will admit I am dumbfounded on any positive experience that will come from smaller guild memberships and shrinking quilt bees and the death of local quilt shows. 

Maybe time will prove me wrong.  I sure hope so.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

One reply on “The Grumpy Quilter and the Changing Face of Quilt Shows”

This is true all over and it is very sad. I am hopeful that the new generation of environmentalists and “repurposers” will eventually take up the quilting addiction, but while they have energy they are by-in-large strapped for time as they work like crazy just to get by under student loans, contract work and housing costs. The one thing about quilters that gives me hope is they are historically persistent, whether they manage to make money or not.

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