The Peace River Quilt Festival opens next Thursday (Feb. 21) at the Charlotte Harbor Event Center in Punta Gorda. Quilt show season is underway in Florida. If you’ve never been to a quilt show, don’t know why you would want to go to one, here’s a rundown of what you will find at a typical quilt show, what goes on behind the scenes; and why you might just get your socks blown off if you go expecting not to get bitten by the quilting bug.

A quilt, the noun, is defined as two layers of fabric with a filler material in between with stitching to hold the layers together. To quilt, the verb, refers to the process of stitching, but has come to mean any of the hundreds of processes used to create quilts today. Quilters are the artists who create the masterworks you will see at a quilt show. If the word quilt conjures up an image of a tattered assemblage of well worn scraps, you really need to take in a show to see what quilting has become today.

Quilting is a multibillion-dollar industry, and at a quilt show you will see some of the paraphernalia that goes into the making of quilts. Quilters gather in groups, often referred to as guilds, and the guilds put on the shows as a way to appreciate and share the efforts of their members. Quilters are giving people, and most groups have a community service project to which members donate quilts.

Guilds typically do a raffle quilt as a fundraiser to help put the show on. Plus there may be a silent auction or raffle of handmade items or baskets packed with quilting or other goodies. Some of the displayed quilts are for sale, and usually there’s an area of consignment quilts and a boutique area selling various projects the ladies have made. If you’re a quilter, at minimum you will take home lots of ideas. If you aren’t crafty at all, it’s a good place to shop for a special hand-crafted gift. And because most of the makers are usually in attendance, you can meet the maker and learn the story behind the creation. Vendors selling a variety of quilt material—plus all the gadgets and tools so necessary for putting it all together—come from near and far to tempt you with their wares. Workshops or demonstrations of tools are popular with show goers. Shows often engage the services of a professional appraiser who can put a value on that antique quilt you have stashed away.

The displayed quilt projects are grouped in categories according to their size, construction and quilting techniques. There’s even a category for novices who have not entered a show before. An accredited judge from the National Association of quilt show judges is engaged and the judge uses a scoring system to evaluate the entries on things such as composition, use of color, construction, and a myriad of other details. Typically, no monetary awards are given, the ribbons and honor of having your quilt on display is reward enough for these gals (and guys). From the first place winners in each category, a best of show award is chosen.

A few weeks ago I dropped in at the Highlands County Quilt Guild show in Sebring the day before it opened to get a behind-the-scene look at what goes into putting on a show. Instead of the organized chaos I expected to find, most everything was in place, the quilts had been judged, a team with a list was putting up the award ribbons, while commercial vendors readied their booths.

It was their 25th anniversary show, and the members were honoring their founding member, Shirley “Dee Dee” Bedard, owner of Crafty Quilters in Sebring. Before I could get to ask any of my questions, they made certain to introduce me to Julie Johnson and her special project. Julie coordinates quilters both in Florida and back in Illinois to make quilts for warriors being treated at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a triage center where injured military personnel are treated and stabilized before returning to the states. It’s her own take on the “Quilts of Valor” project, inspired when her son-in-law, a military doctor, was stationed there. He suggested quilts sized to fit the gurneys the soldiers are transported on, and in red, white and blue for their journey home. Last year, she shipped 52 quilts, and the gals are busy making more. You can reach Julie at, 863-370-7260.

I met co-presidents Linda Downen and Nylene Henry. Linda is also show co-chair, along with Carolyn Ritze. Elaine Huff handles a lot of the details of keeping track of entries and award recipients. About two dozen other ladies each are assigned specific tasks, and the show goes together with the precision of a well made quilt.

This group of about 100 quilters puts together a show of about 220 quilts. The show is held biennially—every other year—so while you’ll have to wait two years to catch this show, there are more quilt shows coming up in the area.

Upcoming shows

Feb. 22–23, Charlotte Harbor Event Center, 75 Taylor Street, Punta Gorda. Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat., 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Feb. 27–March 2, AQS Quilt Week-Daytona Beach, Wed.-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p. m., Sat., 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Ocean Center, 101 North Atlantic Ave., Daytona Beach.

March 8-9, Sarasota’s Robarts Arena, 3000 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota. Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat., 9 a.m.-4 p.m.


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