Last updated on July 11th, 2020
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 and there is a festival-like atmosphere engulfing this small western town. A week of diverse quilting events and activities have been the prelude to this single day – the day of the Sisters Quilt Show.
The Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show (SOQS) is unlike any other quilting event in the world. For one day only, about 1400 quilts (give or take) are hung up on the outside of buildings throughout the center of this picturesque central Oregon 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.
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.
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 this historic looking setting.
It doesn’t take long to realize that the quilts 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 of its forms.
If you are considering a trip to the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, first start with the SOQS website to become familiar with all the events, activities and information related to this unique show. I am also sharing my tips after attending the show and writing about it for Quiltmania magazine, to help you get the most out of the week long programs scheduled around this one day outdoor show.
Start planning early
- Start planning your trip to Sisters, OR for the quilt show as early as possible, even up to a year ahead of time. The show always takes place the second Saturday in July and as many as 10,000 people attend on the day of the show. As a result, local accommodations fill up quickly, especially the budget friendly ones.
Where to stay for the Sisters Quilt Show
- Two very nice local lodging options also take part in the greater quilt show festivities. Black Butte Ranch is in a beautiful setting just outside the town of Sisters and has gorgeous views of the Three Sisters Peaks. They often take part in the overall program with a separate fund rising quilt show event of their own.
- Conveniently located in the town of Sisters, the Five Pine resort also hosts the special SOQS Sunday event that features a lecture and quilt exhibit throughout the property by a well known quilter.
- If you are having trouble finding accommodations in Sisters, then consider looking a little further away. Bend, OR is an easy 30 minute drive and is a very cool central Oregon town with some great restaurant options. I stayed at the funky Old St. Francis School by McMenamins which is an old catholic school that has been saved and converted into a hotel and brewery.
- Besides hotels, also look into Airbnb and VRBO options, especially if you are travelling as a group of quilters and want something more spacious.
Plan to stay a while
- The actual Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show only takes place for one day on the second Saturday in July. However, there are a whole week of events and activities that take place beforehand.
- Businesses throughout town display quilts for a couple of weeks before the show day.
- There are numerous quilting classes offered by world class instructors throughout the week before the show.
- The Sisters Garden Club organizes a program of self guided tours through local homes and gardens that include quilt displays. This is a fund raising event and the proceeds go to help local civic organizations.
- Many other fun quilting related events are organized throughout the week before show day as the whole community gets involved.
Take part in the Sisters Quilt Show
- What makes this quilt show very special is its complete inclusivity. Any quilter at any skill level can enter a quilt and have it displayed – you just have to pay the entry fee. This means that you will see a quilt made by a beginner displayed next to a quilt made by an experienced instructor.
- Quilt entries are accepted until the maximum number of quilts has been reached. Seeing your own quilt hanging up in the show as you walk around town really adds to the level of excitement at being there.
- There are also various quilting related contests and raffles that you can participate in ahead of time so be sure to check them out on the website.
Consider being a volunteer for the show
- It takes a village as the whole community gets involved in the planning and execution of this one day event. An army of helpers is needed to put up the quilts early in the morning and then take them down again at the end of the day.
- The SOQS has had volunteer participants from all over the world, so regardless of where you are coming from, your help on the day of the show is much appreciated.
Visit the local quilt shops
- The Stitching Post quilt shop in Sisters, OR has been the organizer of this quilt show since the 1975. The popularity of this event keeps growing every year. As a result, quilters and quilt artists are drawn to the area which in turn, provides support for a number of other quilt shops within a short drive from Sisters.
- BJ’s Quilt Basket, Bend, OR has over 6000 bolts of fabric and a huge selection of Batiks’
- Sew Many Quilts, Bend, OR has a large gallery of quilts and over 5000 bolts of fabric to provide endless inspiration.
- Homestead Quilts and Gallery, LaPine, OR has over 5000 bolts of fabric, a variety of yarns for the knitters and an art gallery featuring artisinal crafts made by local artists.
- Material Girl Fabrics, Redmond, OR has a large variety of quilting fabric neatly organized by category in various rooms of a converted old house.
- The Quilt Shack, Prineville, OR has over 2000 bolts of quilting fabric that includes novelty prints, western themes, children’s prints and more.
Start the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show day early
- The show does not officially start till 9 AM, but it is fun to get there early and watch the firemen hanging the quilt collage on the side of the Stitching Post quilt shop. It is also impressive to see how quickly and efficiently the teams of volunteers hang up 1400 quilts throughout town.
- The streets are also much less crowded early in the morning which makes it easier to see and photograph the quilts.
- It will be easier to find parking early in the morning.
- The quilts are spread out throughout the town and it takes quite a while to see all of them. By starting early, you can look at the quilts when it is cooler in the morning and afternoon, and then take a break at one of the local restaurants during the hottest part in the middle of the day. Odds are that the restaurant may have a quilt or two hanging up as well.
Take time to explore the area
- Surrounding the town of Sisters are the Willamette National Forest and the Deschutes National Forest with lots of outdoor activities.
- Oregon is a great state to visit with lots of beautiful scenery and history. I combined my Sisters Quilt Show visit with a stop at Crate Lake National Park and a lodge to lodge rafting trip in the Rogue River Wilderness.
- If you have more time, explore Portland, the quilt barn trail in Tualatin Valley, the wine country and waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, Mt. Hood or the scenic ocean coastline.
All too soon, it is 4 pm and 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. See you there.
Thanks for visiting.