State Fair Quilt Queens
Nancy Sloan with her 2004 State Fair of Texas Best of Show Quilt: Renaissance.
Between them, sisters Betty Shipley, 77, and Nancy Sloan, 74, of Forney, Texas, a small town about 20 miles east of Dallas, have won no less than 10 Best of Show awards with their quilts at the State Fair of Texas. That’s more than any other family can boast, and what’s more, all those awards were won in the same decade.
The State Fair of Texas began in 1886 and is now held annually beginning the last Friday of September, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors during its several-week run. A quilt competition has been part of the festivities almost from the get-go, with the Textile and Fine Arts Building having been built in 1907.
Betty and Nancy, however, did not start entering quilts at the fair until 2000, when Nancy took her first Best of Show award. She repeated that accomplishment in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2010.
Betty took home the honors in 2007 and 2009. That tally doesn’t include all the first place ribbons they’ve won, much less the ribbons of lesser placings. When these two sisters enter quilts at the Fair, the likelihood of them taking home awards is high, to say the least.
One might think that their relationship would be competitive, but to the contrary, the two could hardly be more supportive of one another’s efforts.
Theirs is a creative bond. Both are widows, and when Betty’s husband died, she moved in with Nancy. One of the first things they did after they joined households was to add on an 1800-square-foot sewing room and quilting studio with design walls and electrical outlets on the ceiling.
Each woman has her own side of the studio. They’ve lived together for 11 years. Their mother, Inez, also lived with them until she died in 2011 and the three would sew and quilt together.
In fact it was Inez who taught her daughters to sew when they were young, and Nancy especially took to all sorts of needlework. In the 1990s the sisters started watching Eleanor Burns’ “Quilt in a Day” television program on PBS.
Betty was still working at the time, but Nancy would draft the patterns featured on the show and when Betty got home from work, the sisters would each make the same block using different fabrics.
Eventually, they each had enough blocks to make a quilt. And when the quilts were finished, they gave them to one another. “I always liked Nancy’s blocks better than mine anyhow,” laughs Betty. Several hundred quilts later—many of them prize winners—both sisters still treasure those first quilts.
They began challenging themselves with more and more difficult quilting projects. “Nancy made a rule that if we started something, we had to finish it,” Betty recalls. “What a terrible rule that was! We struggled to learn Jacobean appliqué, but looking back, it was a learning experience that we still treasure.”
They saw a flier for a community quilt show and decided to enter. They won ribbons and so began entering other shows, finally working their way up to the State Fair.
The sisters are now State Fair royalty, so to speak, with boxes full of awards to their credit. When Oprah Winfrey visited the Fair in 2009, she asked to interview them. Although the interview was cancelled when the weather turned bad, Nancy and Betty still love to tell the story.
Their Fair experience has been fun and exciting for both of them. “It’s amazing what a woman will do for a little piece of colored ribbon,” jokes Nancy, paraphrasing Napoleon Bonaparte.
“And there’s not even any money involved! But we love to stand around and listen to people comment on our quilts. One time we overheard someone say, ‘That person must not have enough to do!’ The quilt they were looking at was appliquéd and heavily quilted. But the truth is, when you love to quilt, you always have plenty to do.”
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Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
Column 91: Grandmother's Flower Garden Comes Alive at Texas Quilt Museum
Column 90: Leitmotif for a Lifelong Love Affair
Column 89: Quilting in The Bahamas
Column 88: Joan of Arc: A Quilter's Inspiration
Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
Column 81: Why So Many Quilt Shops in Bozeman, Montana?
Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
Column 78: Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks
Column 77: Quilting with AMD
Column 76: Maverick Quilts and Cowgirls
Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
Column 74: The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
Column 73: Maximum Security Quilts
Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
Column 71: The Christmas Quilt
Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
Column 68: “Think Pink” Quilt Raises Funds for Rare Cancer Research
Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
Column 64: Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree
Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
Column 61: Louisiana Bicentennial Quilt
Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo Fly Pattern
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor
See other archived columns here