Sunday, August 19, 2012


Quilt Shows, Attendance, and Publicity Ideas

I have had several conversations with quilters lately about quilt show attendance.  It looks like we’re in a “transitional time” for guild shows due to the proliferation of commercially-produced sewing/quilting/craft expos.  Local quilt guilds continue to hold quality shows in local communities, but they are having a more difficult time getting folks to turn out and enjoy the show. 
So here are some ideas that I have used, some that I have seen guilds use to their advantage, and some that I have not tested but sound pretty good to me!

Full disclosure
I’m a big fan of quilt guild-produced shows and I believe that quilters and quilt-appreciators should support them wherever possible.  The big commercial shows are nice but they lack the home-town flavor of shows conceived and executed by (your) family and friends.  Quilt guilds often use the proceeds from their shows to fund guild activities all year long.  This certainly includes the enormous amount of charity work that guild members do as well as bringing quality speakers to your town.  So I’m here to help spread the news about quilt shows wherever I can!
Let’s begin with the premise that people would like to attend your show but they have very busy lives.  So they need to be reminded often, to feel as if they are welcome to attend (even if they’re not quilters), and to relate something that is already important to them to your show.

1.  Remind them often
More is better.  The ideas listed below will work best if you use LOTS OF THEM.

2.  Make them welcome
The best way quilt shows “engage the public” is to use a People’s Choice voting mechanism and award lots of ribbons/prizes for the winners.  Tell attendees “we value your opinion” and give them a ballot and a pencil when they arrive.  Award at least some People’s Choice ribbons DURING THE SHOW so attendees can see results.  Say “thank you for coming” and use lots of welcoming signage at the show entry.

3.  Help them relate to the show
Quilters attend shows for inspiration and to see their friends’ work.  Use a labeling method              for the quilts that includes the quilter’s name, quilt’s name, cites the pattern source (commercial or “original”), and some text about the quilter’s reason for/inspiration for the quilt. 

Non-quilters attend shows to see Mom’s/Grandma’s/Auntie’s quilt.  Yes, and to see Dad’s/Grandpa’s/Uncle’s quilt, too.  They want to see it and vote for it.  They want to take a photo of the quilt with the quilter standing in front of it.  Possibly with the grandchild for whom the quilt was made.  Make sure that there is enough aisle room in front of your display to allow for good photos.  And we all know the value of choosing a show venue with good lighting. 

The pattern you’re seeing here is that PEOPLE ATTEND LOCAL QUILT SHOWS TO SEE THE WORK OF PEOPLE THEY KNOW AND LOVE.  Any way you can find to make that easier will make your show more popular and create more buzz. 

The Committee
Assemble a Public Relations committee for your show that works all-year-round!  This activity needs to be separate from what your (overworked) show chair is doing.  Create a written plan and schedule the publicity activities for your show. 

You probably have members in your guild whose professional life has included some kind of publicity responsibilities.  Even if they’re not the chairman of the committee, use their expertise and creativity!


Print Media
Traditionally, “print media” means newspapers.  Newspapers are profit-driven.  That means some important things to you:

·        Anything you can do to help the newspaper sell more copies/increase circulation will be welcome.

·        Your quilt show is not breaking news; so submit your articles early and make them short.  Every word counts. 

News releases – keep them short and crisp. Expect them to be rewritten by an editor (who will also be using the newspaper’s editorial standards, which you do not know).  Use PEOPLE’S NAMES in the article because that’s what sells the paper. 

Paying for publicity – consider buying a layout ad (for which you will need design services and will need to comply with the newspaper’s standards), or a classified ad (easier but buried in the classified section).  If you pay for advertising, the ad will be published on the day you choose.  If you send a general news release, the paper will choose the publication date.

Develop a relationship – with the editor of the section where quilt shows are news.  Take that person’s advice and learn how to make the editor happy.

Newspapers online – most newspapers have an online presence and many have an online “calendar of events”.  Your committee can upload your show’s details to the site.  Sometimes a review and approval is required.  Many newspapers take the data from these calendars to populate the community calendar in their print version.  Many newspapers outsource their calendar function to a subcontractor, who may spread the calendar details throughout the subcontractor’s network (regionally or nationally).  If you use an online calendar of events (and you should) be prepared to let go of the show information, as it will take on an Internet life of its own.

Some Samples
When publicizing other events held by your guild, take advantage of the opportunity to mention your show like this:

The Quipsters Quilt Guild will hold a day of quilting fun to benefit [local charitable children’s group] on November 10 at [this location] from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Guild members will be assembling and finishing small quilts to be donated.  Members of the public are welcome to attend and help.  Donations of fabric, batting, and thread are appreciated.  Guild president Sue Sunbonnet advised that members will display additional quilts at the QQG’s annual quilt show, June 1 -2, 2013.  For more information call Mary Smith at [this number] through the day of the event. 

Quipsters Quilt Guild president, Sue Sunbonnet, announced today a call for entries for the Quipsters’ quilt show June 1-2, 2013.  Categories include large, medium, and small quilts, as well as miniatures, wearables, and art pieces.  A special category has been created for quilts representing the show theme “Farm Life”.  Entries are due by May, 15, 2013.  Entry forms are available [here] or by calling [number].  Quilt turn-in day is May 29.  For more information call Mary Smith at [this number] or visit the Quipsters’ web site at [URL].

Photo caption:  Quipsters Quilt Guild member Claudia Sunbonnet holds her quilt as Mary Smith measures it for size.  This quilt and many more will be displayed in the Quipsters’ annual quilt show, to be held June 1-2, 2013 at [this location].  “Our show will be fabulous this year,” advised Smith, “with over 150 quilts displayed, a vendor mall, daily door prizes and raffles, and demonstrations of quilting techniques.”  For more information visit the Quipsters’ web site at [URL].

Publicize the show dates and some details early and often.  Refer the reader to a web site with more information. 
Here is your opportunity to distribute a piece of paper for people to keep (hopefully) and remind themselves that a great quilt show is coming!

Have a great poster or logo designed.  If you need to hire a graphic designer, do it.  Many charge very reasonable prices and you may be able to acquire a piece of artwork that you can use every year if you are budget-challenged.  A logo will help people identify your show with your group.  Ask a local printer how much your items will cost for printing before you commit to the final design, so you will know if you can afford color or black and white. 

This is important:  Get the graphic artist to provide the design to you in several electronic formats.  PDF format is un-useful for graphics.  Get the designer to provide the image with the highest possible resolution and in two or three formats (on a disc).  Your professional printer will be able to accept and handle them all.  You will also need a low-res version to use on your web site or as a graphic in e’mails you send.  Remember – high res is for printing, low res is for Internet.

Posters are great – If you have a particularly popular one, some of your members may want to buy a fresh one to keep as a souvenir (develop a price). 

Bookmarks (the long skinny handouts on card stock) are another great way to advertise.  Print information on BOTH SIDES; your show graphic and details on the front, including your sponsors, and your web site.  On the back you might put directions/a map to the show, a list of activities, a list of vendors, or information about a special event at the show. 

Flyers – many groups prefer a paper stock flyer as a handout; maybe a tri-fold with more information, like how to join the guild, or how to participate in their charity work. 

Postcards – these have come down in price and can be used in place of bookmarks but also mailed individually if you have that need. 

Make a list of all of the places to distribute your handouts, targeting the places where quilters and quilt-appreciators hang out.  Here are some ideas, but you’ll have your own!

  • Quilt/fabric shops (of course)
  • Other quilt guilds and quilt shows (your target audience)
  • Knit shops
  • Other needlework shops
  • General craft shops
  • Card and scrapbooking shops
  • Senior Centers
  • Senior living communities (contact the activities director, too)
  • Laundromats
  • Grocery stores (especially the mom and pop ones)
  • Restaurants (quilters love pizza!)
  • Museums (they may want to have a textiles exhibit in concert with your show dates)
  • Chambers of Commerce (and their web sites)
  • Hospital waiting rooms and employee break areas
  • Exercise clubs
  • Hair and nail salons
  • Pet grooming salons
  • Churches
  • Send a supply to your vendors!
Use a spreadsheet program to list all of the places you have thought of, and list them by city.  If you sort them by city and distribute the list, your members can sign up to take the posters, etc., around and you can keep track of who has already been to each place.  Personal contact at each location increases the likelihood that your items will be displayed.

The expense of the handouts will probably mean that you will distribute more of them closer to your show’s location and fewer as the shops get farther away.  But you know your region and you know how quilters travel to get to your show; consider the most common routes (like Interstate Freeways) and make sure that your items are strategically placed in shops with easy access routes to you!

Personal distribution
Encourage members to carry a few handouts with them and give them to friends, family, and strangers in parking lots.

Your VENDORS will take a supply of the handouts to each of the quilt shows they are attending before yours.  Other quilt shows will display your handouts on a table at the show for their attendees to review.  NOTE:  Plan to have a table just like that at your show, to advertise future shows and events!

Reciprocate:  Quilt guilds will distribute your handouts to their members at meetings and you can do the same for them!

JUST BEFORE THE SHOW:  About a week or two before the show CHECK BACK with the local quilt shops to be sure they have a supply of handouts, as their customers are your target market, too.  Keep a few extra handouts on hand for last-minute distribution, but don’t have any left after the show!

Broadcast Media
Radio and television stations (including cable) are a little tougher to crack but you can do it. 
Your biggest advantage in television is that QUILTS MAKE GREAT COLOR IMAGES ON TV.  That, coupled with the people hanging them (and maybe a cute kid for cute kid quotes) should appeal to a TV crew.   Contact them weeks before the show.  Explain that show-hanging days (or quilt-turn-in-day) are the best opportunities for video.  On show hanging day assign a guild member to be their exclusive liaison (read:  handler) so that they can get great video and get their questions answered.   Expect them EARLY in the day because they are on deadline.  Offer them coffee or a cold drink.  Have the show chairman and guild president standing by for interviews.  Be sure they have the liaison’s cell number in case they get back to the studio for editing and need more information.  Verify their spelling and pronunciation of people’s names.

If you can’t interest a TV station, at least get a guild member or guild friend to take some video and upload it to YouTube!

Radio stations don’t need video but they need great interviews, quotes, and sound bites.  Again, contact them early and assign a person to be their liaison.  What are the sounds of a quilt show being hung?  Who can explain what’s happening?  Who is articulate and speaks well? 
Even if a TV station or radio station is not interested in your quilt show, per se, there may be other activities going on in the area which they are covering.  This is why early contact is important and why a contact name and cell number on hanging day or the day of the show are important.  They may be able to incorporate a visit to your show on a news run to a nearby location. 

Finally, many TV and radio stations also have on-line calendars as part of their Internet presence (see print media, above).  Log on to their community calendars and enter your show information months in advance. 

I surely don’t have to discuss the importance of having a guild web site – or blog!  But there are additional options:  A web site or blog exclusively for the show, a social media page (like Facebook) exclusively for the show, other shops, guilds, or organizations that invite you to send them your show details for publicity, community calendars as discussed above, and so many more!  One of the dynamic things about the Internet is that things change and new ideas pop up all the time.  Keep surfing to find them!

EVERY ONE of your guild members should be posting information about the show on their Facebook or blog pages.  This is essential to creating a positive buzz about the show.

Publicity DURING the show – made possible by the Internet!
If you have a show or guild blog, post a few photos and some teaser information every day leading up to the show and every day of the show.  Build interest in attending!

Don’t assume that no one is reading your blog – you’ll be amazed at how many people do!

Local organizations
Chambers of Commerce are an excellent contact, because quilt shows bring visitors to town to shop.  Quilters will not only attend the show, but will eat at restaurants, shop at local stores, buy snacks, and buy gas.  Chambers of Commerce also have great web sites and e’mail distribution lists – get on them!  You don’t need to be a member because your show is benefiting their members and they need to hear about you!

Your members probably belong to other local groups, like service organizations.  Make sure they announce the show at a meeting just prior to the date and have handouts for the members. 
The cost of signage has also come down in recent years, so you can invest in signs; some for the current show only and some generic signs that can be used every year (“Quilt Show Here Today”). 

What kinds of signs?
Banners with grommets – attach with wire or cable ties.
Campaign-style signs – with frames that stick in the ground
Sandwich signs
Readerboards – reserve space with readerboard owners early
Handmade quilted banners
Flutter/feather flags – these are the ones that must be stuck in the ground
Magnetic signs – to display on members’ cars
Hand-lettered signs on posterboard, especially with kids’ artwork!

 Get advance permission to post signs on private or public property.  

Your members may have the perfect place to display signage at their home or business.  Use your internal resources!

Be sure to post signs at your show location in the 2-3 weeks prior to the show. 

Write contact information in small lettering on each sign with an indelible marker.  That way if the wind blows it down the street the person who finds it can give you a call.
Special show attractions
Adding a Featured Quilter (guild member or well-known professional quilter) to your show gives you new avenues for publicity and attracting groups of attendees.

What about a Featured Teacher?  Schedule some classes during your show, if you have the room.  Hands-on, lecture, or make-and-take classes can attract more attendees.

Demonstrations – guild members can demonstrate quilting techniques.  During the show hours and answer questions.  Frankly, these are the people who have the most fun during the show because they get to sit and sew the whole time!  And demos attract beginning quilters, wannabe quilters, and the friends of the demo artist!

Featured charity – ask a local group that makes quilts for children, veterans, or other good causes, to come and have a display and/or demonstration.  They will attract more attendees from among their friends and fans.  Be sure they have a supply of handouts prior to the show!

Member boutique – publicize if there will be finished quilts or quilted gift items for sale at the show.  This attracts folks who don’t want to quilt but who want to buy one!  There are many of these people!

Special guests
Invite a local group or two to be your special guests – with no admission charge – at your show.  Schedule them to arrive and assign them a show docent to take the group around and explain quilting.  This group can range from a kids’ class with teachers, to developmentally disabled adults with their caregivers, to a 4-H club, to local dignitaries (Economic Development Council board?), to whoever you think would make great guests and would go home that night and tell their friends and associates about your show.  Have them come on the first show day!  Or even to the preview party.

Although having vendors at a quilt show is a relatively modern trend, they can be a significant attraction for your show.  Many quilters follow their favorite vendors to shows around the region.   They’ll publicize your show on their web sites, calendars, and at previous appearances.  You also owe your vendors good quality publicity in your show literature – emphasizing that there will be vendors and listing them by name and contact information is good content for your handouts and web site. 

This category is for those wacky things you do that are probably different in every community and create buzz and the expectation of fun at your show.  Here are some quick ideas, but this is where you need to come up with your own!

Establish a quilt walk that ends at your show!  What about quilted footprints on the sidewalk?

Create a quilting scavenger hunt for kids to do at the show and award them a little gift when they turn in their completed sheet.  This makes your show a destination for folks who are looking for something to do with their kids.

Hold an event on National Quilting Day in March (like a flash mob parade…) and show your signs.

March in a local 4th of July or other parade with your show banner.

Invite a celebrity to attend your show on the first day and upload photos and details on your blog.  It creates the impression that “anything can happen” at your show and that people should be there to see what happens next!
Opening Day
Mornings at the quilt shows are the busiest times, so make sure you have multiple lines for collecting an admission charge (if you have one) to avoid making attendees wait.  You want to make the experience for them fun, welcoming, EASY, and exciting. 

Speaking of admission charges, many guilds set their admission charge based on their “revenue requirements” (my old career is showing – this refers to their costs plus the amount of profit they want to earn).  Also consider your admission charge relative to the VALUE you are presenting to attendees.   They want to see a lot of quilts.  They want good parking and easy navigation into and around the show.  They want to see their friends’ quilts and they want to be able to tell their friends about their experience at the show.  Most of all they want INSPIRATION.  Make sure you meet or exceed all these expectations.
These are but a few ideas for you on how to bump up attendance at your show.  Create positive expectations in the community and engage your quilters and quilt-appreciators.  Give them something as special as the quilts you have on display and you’ll have a great show!

Create the buzz!


  1. I just found this today, and our guild's show is in two weeks! We actually are already doing most of these things, but I would like to add a little to your list. Get involved in your local arts organizations. Quilting is not just sewing or a craft. We have participated in our local art walk, as well as, and this is invaluable, applied for quilt show grants from our town and county art coalitions. To borrow from the military, "Be all you can be".

  2. I agree. It is interesting to note that our community did not have an arts council until after our fourth quilt show, and they came to US looking for fiber artists. It works both ways!