Steph Skardal QuiltsSteph Skardal Quilts

QuiltCon 2019: Trip Report

I'm still getting back into a routine after returning from QuiltCon 2019 last week (in Nashville). It was an overwhelming, positive, and overwhelmingly positive experience, but I needed a few days to process and summarize.

The quilts were great to see, and I enjoyed the one class I took! I really enjoyed the special exhibits in the quilt show. And the vendors were a small subset of what I understand to be available at other larger quilt shows, but I thought there was a nice variety of shops and manufacturers. Because I didn't attend any lectures this year, I can't say much about them, but I only heard good things. I don't think I got out of the routine of hotel and convention center time to enjoy Nashville, but that was more due to my travel companion.

It was my first time participating in the MQG mini swap, and that was fun (although quick!) - see below for photos. My favorite thing was connecting with friends IRL that I've been interacting with for a while now.

As usual, I have a lot to say. I've divided my thoughts into a few sections below:

The Quilts

Here are the quilty photos I took while I walked through several of the mornings:

Check out the #stephskardalquiltcon2019 images on Instagram!

The quilts were awesome. They didn't disappoint. I loved the tiny piecing and color in so many of the quilts. When I see my own quilts together, my color palette is pretty obvious, but seeing all the other quilts with a variety of color palettes is super-duper inspiring.

The Swap

I barely shared photos on social media with my mini swap experience because it was such a quick exchange, but I was happy to participate. My swap partner and I chatted a bit before QuiltCon and that was nice to connect. My partner even made a cool quilt featuring inset seams, which I must try out! And an amazing label! Here are two great photos of that swap:

On Bringing a Kid

This marks my third time at QuiltCon with a kid (and I plan to take a break from that next year). Sorry if I talked to you and told you that detail 400 times.

Why would I bring a kid? The short answer is mom guilt, but the long answer is that leaving husband at home with three little kids would be a handful. My husband will say he can handle it (he can!) and he tends to get less stressed out than I do, but bringing a kid for one-on-one time was a good compromise. Here are notes on my three experiences with a kid at the past three QuiltCons:

QuiltCon 2017 (Savannah, GA): With 3 year old Astrid

We stayed in Savannah for 2 nights and drove (~5 hours). We stayed at an unsponsored hotel close to downtown and had a short walk to the shuttle pick up, which brought us across the bridge daily. We were very excited to ride the ferry across the river, but it was broken at the time - bummer!

3 year olds are barely interested in quilts, so we ran through the show and she was over it in about 2 minutes. I have a couple terrible pictures of us in front of my two quilts in the show. She was more interested in riding the bus back and forth across the bridge (no car seat!) and visiting the candy store. And of course, 3 year olds are notoriously impatient, so any food or potty needs were immediate. There were meltdowns at night because a 3 year old does not yet have the self awareness to know how tired they might be.

QuiltCon 2018 (Pasadena, CA): With 10 month old Ingrid

We stayed for three nights at the host hotel. This was a different situation because I was invited to come, because of the circumstances. We flew into LAX during rush hour (my bad!) and had to take a long taxi ride to Pasadena, but the MQG folks were kind enough to book a taxi service with a car seat to accommodate Ingrid and me. Our walk to and from the convention center was only a couple blocks, which was nice.

The nice thing about bringing a 10 month old is that they take naps and are generally happy and easy if well fed or held. I let her crawl around at the back of some of the lectures, and she was happy about that adventure. I was able to visit many of the quilts and meet a lot of people, but it was a quick 2-day trip and a 3 hour time change, so I still felt like it was very quick.

QuiltCon 2019 (Nashville, TN): With a 5 year old Astrid.

Astrid and I flew out and back on early flights and stayed for 4 nights in Nashville at the non-host hotel and shared a room with local friends. She was a great traveler, and remained excited and patient. She was especially excited to look out the window during the flights and when she saw the blue WiFi light up on the airplane. The tricky thing with our hotel choice was it was about a 10 minute walk (downhill out, uphill back) and that was a lot of walking for little legs.

At almost 6 years old, her patience was much better than at 3 and we were able to wander around the quilt show and vendors quite a bit. If I made a game of things (e.g. collecting 100 treasures), it was a success! But as soon as the objective of the game was over, she wanted to go back to the hotel room. She had the self awareness to tell me when she was tired and napped a couple of times, and went to bed easily at night.

I signed up for one class and was prepared with snacks and movies on the tablet to keep her busy, but about halfway through the class she realized we were using glue sticks and wanted to "help". I could have maybe made it through one more class with her, but that would have been our max. And no full day classes for us!

On Judging and Subjectivity

I was very excited to have 5 quilts juried into the show, back when we found out in December. I was less excited to miss out on a ribbon, though. I shared that disappointment with a few friends, who I was surprised to hear did not receive recognition. On the flip side, I was so very happy to share the excitement with a couple of friends who did receive ribbons, especially because I saw those quilts come together before submission.

My disappointment quickly disappeared once I walked the show and saw the vast amount of creativity represented. There is so much variety and interpretation in how we express our creativity. Technical critiques aside, I saw some generalizations of what I think the judges subjectively preferred (i.e. more organic, improv, color saturation) with outliers, but then I remind myself that I don't make quilts for judges and it's not a good use of time to try to predict judge behavior and dynamics.

And a couple more thoughts: While I think there are some trends in what the judges preferred, there are definitely outliers in my generalizations. Also, I think it's completely impossible to predict how activism quilts might be judged against other quilts when they are in the same category – is the message being judged or the quilt design? Or is the effectiveness in communicating the message being judged?

What is interesting to me is how each category is represented in the show. Below is the breakdown (quadrouple counted from the eventScribe app). The numbers reported by the MQG were that 1,736 quilts were entered and of those, 23% were accepted. I don't believe the MQG publishes what the submission counts are for each category, and one of my quilty friends pointed out that it would be interesting to see that funnel (yes, it would!).

2019 Breakdown (387 total)

If you happen to have any resources on past QuiltCon numbers, feel free to share and I will link them up here, or I'll add them when I get a chance to research!


Outside of enjoying socialization with other quilters the most, what I did walk away with was admiration of those that do some amazing things with collaborative projects, hand quilting, improv, tiny piecing, and color. I can't say that social justice drives my own quilt aesthetic, but I appreciate those that channel their experiences into quilts. I'd like to challenge myself to get outside of my comfort zone of 1" strip piecing and color palette moving forward. I already had a few ideas for my next quilts going into QuiltCon, and the energy and quilts there only added fuel to the inspiration fire, which I'm happy to come away with.