The Celebrating the Great American Quilt is a rich tradition that brings together quilters from all walks of life to appreciate the art, craft, and community of quilt making. Quilting has been an integral part of American history and culture for centuries, with quilts serving both practical and artistic purposes. Today, the Celebrating the Great American Quilt continues to honor this great folk art and bring people together in celebration of creativity, self-expression, and community.

The History and Significance of Quilting in America

Quilting came to America in the late 17th and early 18th centuries along with English and Dutch settlers. Women brought quilting skills with them to provide warm bedcovers for their families in the harsh new climate. Early American quilts were primarily functional and sewn quickly out of necessity. As the colonies grew and prospered, decorative quilting became more common. By the mid-1800s, quilting had evolved beyond bed covers into a widespread social activity that brought communities of women together.

American quilts evolved distinct styles and techniques from their European counterparts. The abundance of cotton fabric due to the slave-labor plantation economy made all-cotton quilts more affordable. Regional styles began emerging that reflected cultural heritage and local aesthetics. Amish communities in Pennsylvania became known for bold geometric designs. African American slaves developed elaborate quilts called story quilts that reflected their experiences and traditions. Native American women incorporated imagery from their culture into stunning Star Quilts.

As America expanded westward, pioneer women used quilts as a portable means of bringing beauty and comfort on the journey. Quilts told stories and expressed values through their designs. They memorialized major life events like marriages. Quilting bees brought women together to swap skills, news, and friendship. America’s quilting tradition bonded communities and recorded our nation’s rich cultural heritage.

Today, quilting remains one of America’s most treasured folk arts. Quilts made hundreds of years ago provide an artistic record of our past. Modern quilters carry on traditions while pushing boundaries with innovative new techniques, materials, and designs. Quilts contain the threads of our shared history and continue to bring people together through a common interest in creativity and craftsmanship. The Celebrating the Great American Quilt honors this great tradition.

Where and When the Event Takes Place

The Celebrating the Great American Quilt takes place each year in March in Paducah, Kentucky. Paducah is located in western Kentucky on the Ohio River and has been a hub of the American quilt making tradition for generations. The first Celebrating the Great American Quilt was held in Paducah in 1985. It has now grown into a giant annual event that welcomes around 40,000 quilters and quilt enthusiasts from across the country and globe.

The Celebrating the Great American Quilt spans a full week in March, starting on a Wednesday and running through the following Saturday. Exhibitions, classes, contests, lectures, and merchant mall shopping fill each day from early morning to evening. Attendees come from across the United States and around the world, traveling to Paducah for the shared love of quilts and sense of community. The event transforms Paducah into a mecca for all things quilting during the week. Local businesses and residents join in celebrating quilts and welcoming the enthusiastic influx of out-of-town quilt devotees.

Choosing March for the event coincides with the beginnings of spring. The cold winter months are ideal for quilters to work indoors on their latest projects. As spring approaches, they can look forward to sharing their new creations at the Celebrating the Great American Quilt where warmth, friendship, and community bloom amidst thousands of vibrant quilts.

Notable Exhibits and Showcase Quilts

A centerpiece of the Celebrating the Great American Quilt is the juried quilt show displaying hundreds of quilts from master quilters across the country. Works span traditional to modern designs and exhibit the highest levels of artistry and technique. Ribbons are awarded across dozens of categories. Many of the showcased quilts also compete for top prizes and cash awards.

Some notable exhibits and award-winning quilts over the years include:

rosa’s quilt

Rosa’s Quilt by Louisiana quilter Rosa Sinclair won Best in Show in 2018 with its elaborate floral medallion design crafted over five years incorporating a variety of techniques from applique to embroidery. The quilt is hand quilted with 100 different thread colors and 1,040,000 total stitches.

double wedding ring quilts

In 2017, an exhibit of vintage Double Wedding Ring quilts drew attention and acclaim. The display featured early 20th century quilts from across America sewn in the cherished Double Wedding Ring pattern of interlocking rings. Many were made by groups of community quilters at the time of engaged couples’ weddings.

African American story quilts

The 2015 show spotlighted African American story quilts from the Harlem Renaissance era. Vibrant quilts featured imagery depicting the experiences and culture of African Americans during this 1930’s artistic awakening in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood.

Amish quilts

Quilts from Ohio Amish communities are celebrated frequently. Features include graphic Star quilts as well as figural Amish quilts incorporating shapes like people, animals, and buildings in whimsical vignettes – uncommon in traditional Amish culture.

modern quilts

Modern quilts with graphic colors and designs mingle with historic and traditional styles. Innovative quilts made with improvisational methods or modern materials like digitally printed fabric often take top prizes. The diversity of quilting approaches on display is part of what makes the show so exciting for attendees.

miniature quilts

Miniature quilts measuring less than 24 inches per side comprise their own special exhibit. These tiny textile gems showcase astounding precision, design, and needlework skill in their petite packages.

The juried quilt show provides inspiration, education, and celebration of quilting excellence across styles and eras. For many attendees, it’s the highlight of the Celebrating the Great American Quilt experience.

Classes and Workshops

In addition to exhibits, a wide slate of classes and workshops allows attendees to learn new techniques and develop skills during the event. Between forty and sixty different class options are offered each day taught by nationally-recognized quilt instructors. Workshops span beginner to advanced levels and cover diverse quilt making topics including:

  • Traditional quilt blocks and patterns
  • Piecing and applique skills
  • Quilting and embroidery methods
  • Use of color in design
  • Painting on fabric
  • Using technology like digital printing
  • Modern quilting improvisation approaches
  • Quiltmaking traditions from around the world

Multi-day intensive workshops allow participants to work on in-depth projects from conception to completion under an expert teacher. Covering specialties like fabric dyeing, garment sewing, or machine quilting, these immersive workshops let students focus and create in a supportive hands-on environment rarely found in regular quilt classes.

Fun one-day workshops offer bite-sized experiences for exploring new techniques. Recent examples include paper piecing, turned-edge machine applique, and painting whole cloth quilts. Different skill-building workshops are available each day of the event on topics like hand quilting, embellishing, quilt photography, and fabric manipulation.

The workshop schedule caters to diverse interests and skill levels. Attendees enjoy devoting themselves fully to learning and creating alongside others excited to absorb new quilt making knowledge and techniques. Workshops facilitate growth as artists and build lasting bonds between students.

Quilt Contests and Awards

One of the highlights of the Celebrating the Great American Quilt is the quilt contest awarding over $100,000 in cash prizes across many categories. Top awards include Best in Show ($15,000), Best Hand Workmanship ($7,500), Best Machine Workmanship ($7,500), and Best Original Design ($5,000). Ribbons are also awarded in categories like applique, mixed techniques, pictorial quilts, abstract, group quilts, and art quilts.

The annual “My Favorite Quilt” contest invites attendees to vote for their personal favorite from among the hundreds of quilts entered in the juried exhibition. The winner takes home a $2,000 cash prize and coveted bragging rights.

For kids and teens, the annual Youth Sewing awards provide prizes across five age groups recognizing excellence in quiltmaking and needlework projects. The youngest age group starts at children under age 8. Seeing the skills and creativity of junior quilters on display is heartwarming for many attendees.

Quilt guilds from across the country enter group quilts in a special contest. Winning quilts showcase what can be achieved when quilters pool resources, skills, and creativity. The collaborative spirit of quilting shines through in these stunning group efforts.

The contests and ribbons cover a range of styles, creators, skills, and techniques. Competitions are friendly with a focus on encouraging participation and inspiring others. For many exhibitors and attendees, the welcoming community and recognition means as much as winning.

Merchant Mall Shopping

No quilting event would be complete without fabric and supplies! An extensive merchant mall occupies a large arena with hundreds of vendors selling fabrics, patterns, sewing machines, notions, finished quilts, wearable art, and other irresistible goodies. As the largest quilt-focused merchant mall in the country, it is a shopper’s paradise.

Vendors range from major manufacturers like Janome sewing machines and Moda Fabrics to small specialty sellers of unique hand-dyed fabric, patterns, or sewing notions. Retailers travel from around the country to set up shop. Local quilt stores also exhibit their wares to eager crowds. The vendor list changes yearly to provide variety for repeat attendees.

Along with all the fabric bolts, patterns, stencils, needles, threads, sewing machines and gizmos to covet, the merchant mall features other specialized booths:

  • Book sellers with hundreds of quilting volumes covering techniques, styles, designs, and patterns. Perusing the books provides inspiration and learning.
  • Sewing furniture dealers displaying ergonomic chairs, cutting tables, storage systems, and notions organizers to outfit your quilt studio.
  • Groups and guilds offering information on classes, retreats, meetings, and other membership opportunities.
  • Raffle quilts from guilds and nonprofits raising funds for charity. Visitors can purchase chances to win stunning donated quilts.
  • Craft food & drinks like specialty quilted fabrics printed with photos of vintage sewing machines along with booths selling fabric-themed gifts and home decor items for the quilter who truly has everything.

Between all the fabric bolts and colorful notions, shoppers tend to be overwhelmed with creative inspiration mixed with indecision. Many attendees budget extra luggage space for fabric purchases which the merchants can conveniently ship home. The extensive merchant mall is an attraction all its own for both serious shoppers and browsers alike.

Special Exhibits and Events

Alongside the juried quilt show, classes, and merchant mall, special exhibits and events enhance the Celebrating the Great American Quilt. These rotating extras spotlight different elements of quilt history, culture, and craft. Some past favorites include:

quilt turnings

Quilt turnings provide a close-up look at antique and historic American quilts. Experts “turn” back the layers of quilts and provide details about craftsmanship, materials, age, style, and origin stories while attendees gaze at intimate views.

quilting demonstrations

Demonstrations allow visitors to see quilting techniques in action. Watch an expert quilter hand stitch intricate feathers or quickly assemble a quilt top on a sewing machine. Take advantage of the rare opportunity to see quilting skills in action.

guided museum tours

Behind the scenes tours of the Museum of the American Quilter provide a curator’s perspective. Learn about extraordinary historic quilts in their vault and see conservation practices that preserve quilts for future generations.

quilt appraisals

Certified quilt appraisers examine antique and vintage quilts brought by visitors and provide free verbal estimates of fair market value and replacement cost for insurance. Visitors learn about their quilt’s history and construction.

quilt renditions

Quilt renditions recreate historic quilts from the past using modern materials and techniques while honoring traditional designs. See how historic patterns translate to new fabric palettes and styles.

quilt shows

Mini quilt shows spotlight certain styles such as Amish quilts, silk quilts, toiles, crazy quilts, or signature friendship quilts. Focused shows allow you to immerse in specific genres.

historic reenactments

Costumed reenactors portray quilters from times past and demonstrate period quilting methods. A folk musician and storyteller recount tales of early American quilters and their importance to frontier and pioneer life.

quilt apprasials

Visiting appraisers provide free verbal estimates of insurance value replacement cost for vintage and antique quilts. Learn about your quilt’s origin, materials, style, and monetary value.

  • Festive organ concerts held at a historic downtown Paducah church feature the pipes playing quilting melodies in a unique music and textile fusion.

Extra events like these enrich the quilt immersion and provide even more ways to experience America’s quilting heritage. Whether your interests are scholarly, creative, or just plain fun, additional happenings at the Celebrating the Great American Quilt have you covered.

Community and Friendship

Alongside all the exhibits, shopping, classes, and special events lies the heart and soul of the Celebrating the Great American Quilt experience: the warm community and friendship that develop around this common interest.

For most attendees, the connections made with fellow quilters are what makes the event truly special. Friendships form as quilters talk passionately about their craft over lunch in the exhibit hall cafe. Veteran attendees reunite for quilt show walks and fabric shopping excursions, catching up like old friends. Classmates exchange blocks and addresses, promising to stay in touch beyond the event.

Small acts of kindness help create a welcoming atmosphere – holding a spot in line, helping transport bolts of fabric, giving gentle tips to less experienced stitchers. Laughter and support ripple through the crowds, along with some happy squeals when long-awaited fabrics or supplies are finally spotted.

This “family reunion” feeling comes from quilters sharing a common “language” and deep appreciation for the art form. Quilters feel at home in the company of like-minded makers who understand this need to create, appreciate design, and work with fabric. And all visitors share gratitude for the countless unnamed quilters before us who shaped American culture with needle and thread.

The relationships spawned at the Celebrating the Great American Quilt often become lasting bonds. Attendees look forward to this annual mecca to once again experience the inspiration, joy, and kinship that blossom within the quilting community. Whether you’re new to quilting or an experienced stitcher, the welcoming spirit and lifetime friendships make the Celebrating the Great American Quilt an unforgettable and heartwarming experience.

Planning Your Trip

The Celebrating the Great American Quilt offers a full immersion into the quilting world for both newbies and experts. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your trip:

Register early – Sign up online for classes and events you want as soon as registration opens, as popular options sell out very quickly.

Book lodging – Reserve hotel rooms a year in advance since they fill up fast. Campgrounds and RV parks are budget options. Sharing rental houses works for groups.

Budget extra luggage space – Leave room for all your fabric and souvenir purchases to come home with you. Or have them shipped from merchants.

Wear comfy shoes – You’ll be on your feet all day visiting exhibits and vendor booths. Leave the fancy heels at home.

Review the schedule – Plot out your must-see classes, exhibits, lectures, and shopping stops. Print schedules to carry.

Download the app – Apps like Quiltweek have schedules, maps exhibit and class details, notifications and more.

Pack snacks and water – Being well fueled and hydrated helps you keep going all day. Food concession options are limited.

Carry minimal valuables – Leave unnecessary cash, cards, and valuables safe at home or your hotel. Carry necessities in a crossbody pouch.

Network and make friends! – Talk to your seatmates and people admiring the same quilts. Swap tips, stories, and contact info.

With smart planning and an easygoing attitude, you’re guaranteed to have an amazing time at the Celebrating the Great American Quilt surrounded by quilting, shopping, classes, and thousands of kindred spirits! Immerse yourself in this beloved community and American folk art tradition.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions about the Celebrating the Great American Quilt:

When and where does Celebrating the Great American Quilt take place?

The Celebrating the Great American Quilt is held annually each March in Paducah, Kentucky. The weeklong event runs Wednesday through Saturday.

What goes on at the event?

There are quilt exhibitions, workshops, contests, lectures, shopping, and special events. Attendees learn, shop, participate, compete, socialize, and immerse themselves in the quilting community.

How can I sign up for workshops?

Workshop registration opens online in November prior to the March event. Sign up ASAP as popular workshops sell out very quickly.

How much are tickets to attend?

A full event registration is around $60 for entry Wednesday-Saturday. One-day passes are also available for purchase.

Where do people stay during the event?

Attendees book hotel rooms and rental homes a year in advance. Camping and RVs are budget lodging options. Everything fills up quickly.

What should I pack for Celebrating the Great American Quilt?

Bring comfy shoes, extra luggage space, your sewing machine if taking a workshop, snack food/water bottles to save money, a backpack or tote bag, minimal valuables, the event app, and pool together for cab rides.

How can I exhibit or sell products at Celebrating the Great American Quilt?

Artisan vendors can apply online for booth space in the Merchant Mall. Quilts and other textile items can be entered in exhibition and contest categories.

Is Celebrating the Great American Quilt fun for kids?

Absolutely! There are youth contests, hands-on demonstrations, scavenger hunts, and craft activities perfect for b