Last updated on July 11th, 2020
Once again this year, I have an article in the Sept-Oct issue of Quiltmania. This article is all about the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show that I attended this summer in the town of Sister’s OR.
Sharing my article as well as additional content from my Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show experience.
A Day of Sharing at the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show
The sun is shining. A soft breeze keeps the temperature comfortable. Not far in the distance, the snow capped Three Sisters mountains glow in the early morning light. It is the second Saturday in July in Sisters, Oregon in the USA, and there is a festival-like atmosphere engulfing this small hamlet. A week of diverse quilting events and activities have been the prelude to this single day – the day of the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show.
The Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show is unlike any other quilting event in the world. For only one day, about 1400 quilts (give or take) are hung up on the outside of buildings throughout the center of this small town. Unlike many other quilt shows, this one is purely about the sharing and celebration of quilts.
There are no categories. There are no judging panels. There are no competitions. There is just a community coming together to share their love for quilts. Big quilts. Little quilts. Traditional quilts. Modern quilts. Simple quilts and elaborate quilts. Quilts that look like pictures and quilts that celebrate geometry. Every color under the rainbow is represented.
Anyone who wants to can enter their quilt and have it displayed in the show as long as they register before the maximum number of entries has been reached. This inclusivity means that you are likely to see a beginner’s quilt displayed next to one made by a master quilter.
The day’s excitement begins to build very early in the morning as an army of volunteers collect labelled and organized bags of presorted quilts and methodically move around town, quickly hanging up their allotted supply according to a preassigned design layout.
The local volunteer firefighters also get into the act. They use their long ladders to festoon a collage of employee made quilts to the side of the two storied Stitching Post quilt shop, the organizers of this day’s event. By 9 AM everything is hanging up and the celebration officially begins.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. For Jean Wells, growing the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show to its current popularity would not have been possible without the whole-hearted support of her local village. Jean started the Stitching Post quilt shop in 1975 as a resource for teaching patchwork. That first year, she hung out a dozen family quilts as a day of sharing the art with her community. The second year, it was 50 quilts.
The community has clearly valued this artistic display, because forty four years later, the whole town continues to be involved. The show is now capped at 1200 entries plus a few hundred additional quilts displayed in special exhibits.
Forty four years have also not dulled Jean’s enthusiasm for quilting or teaching, and she quietly confides that she still needs the occasional “student fix”. The artistic quilting gene is clearly a dominant one in her family. Jean’s sister, June Jeager, is also a long time quilter, designer and instructor. Jean’s daughter, Valori Wells, is equally talented, both as a quilt designer and a fabric designer for Free Spirit. Among the three of them, they have impressively authored over 50 books.
Jean’s artistic sensibilities have inspired a visual cohesiveness to this quilt show from the very beginning, and it continues to be a prime directive for the show organizers to this day. Walking up and down the streets, the quilt exhibits are an exciting feast for the eyes.
The town of Sisters has maintained an Old American West look to its architecture and having quilts hanging on the wooden facades just seems to fit the historic looking setting.
But it doesn’t take long to realize that they are not haphazardly displayed. Similar designs and colors are hung together. Quilt patterns and colors are combined to complement the buildings and spaces where they are hung. It is a curated outdoor gallery dedicated for just one day to the art of quilting in all its forms.
The quilt show is the climax to a week’s worth of quilting activities that take place in and around the town of Sisters. The Stitching Posts hosts a series of diverse classes all week long that include big name instructors like Rob Appell and Elizabeth Hartman just to name a few.
The local garden club puts on a Quilts in the Garden tour that takes you through some of the area’s beautiful homes and ranches where quilts are artfully displayed and where you get a chance to peek into the local lifestyle.
There is a separate quilt show at the Black Butte Ranch where quilts are exhibited with the resort’s breathtaking lake and mountain views as a backdrop. These are just the additional big events. There are lots of other quilting related experiences as the whole community shares in the quilting spirit.
All too soon, it is 4 PM. The afternoon sunlight grows softer. The crowds slowly dissipate and the volunteers come back and quickly and efficiently take down the quilts. The cones that have kept the traffic off the main street are removed and cars are free to drive through town again. The quilts may be gone, but the community quilting spirit lives on as the cadre of volunteers start all over again to prepare for next year’s Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show.
The Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show is always on the second Saturday in July. You can find all the information regarding schedules and events at SOQS website.
This is a very popular event. To get the most out of attending and participating, be sure to read my Tips for Seeing the Sisters Quilt Show.
Hope you enjoy your Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show Experience as much as I did.
Thanks for visiting.