You’ve been invited to give your first quilt trunk show. Congrats! People are excited about your work, and they want to learn more about it. But how do you share your process in a way that engages and inspires your audience? Start with these tips by Kelly Spell, award-winning quilter.
Being asked to talk about about your quilts in front of a live audience is exciting. It’s pretty sweet to learn that someone out there loves your work enough to plan an event around it.
But for the uninitiated, an invitation can also make your heart rate spike with fear and anxiety. What will you talk about? Which format should you use? Will anyone be interested in what you have to say?
The answer to that last one is easy—of course they’ll be interested! There’s a reason most quilt guilds have show-and-tell sessions at every meeting: quilters love good stories, and they enjoy learning from one another.
So how can you make your trunk show engaging and inspiring? I’ll admit, I’m far from an expert on this topic. But as a two-time guild president with a background in journalism and communications, I’ve learned how to be comfortable talking in front of people. (It’s taken a lot of practice for this self-proclaimed introvert.)
Here are some things I learned after surviving my first trunk show.
Start with Your Origin Story
How long have you been sewing? When did you learn how to quilt? Are you self-taught, or did a close friend or family member give you guidance?
Let the audience get to know you. Sure, the fact that you’ve been asked to speak means there’s at least one friendly face or mega-fan in the crowd, but the majority of the people at your talk will probably be complete strangers. Start at the beginning and give them a brief overview of your history as a quilter.
I bought my first sewing machine in February 2014.
Reflecting on your journey is not only good for your listeners, it may reveal something about yourself or help you see connections in your work. As I was preparing for my first trunk show, it dawned on me that sewing came into my life at a time when I was in a creative slump. I was slogging through a series of uninspiring jobs, and I was bored, bored, bored. Everything changed for the better when I found an outlet to channel my creativity, but I never realized it until I looked back several years later.
Talk about Problem Solving
Your audience is keen to share your victories, but they also want to know how you overcome challenges. Be vulnerable and share your quilty kryptonite. And if something about your process is unique, tell people about it. Revealing one simple tip or trick can open a door to an entirely new way of thinking for your listeners. It’s also fun to see those light bulbs go off when people get it.
Share Your Inspiration
What gets your gears turning? Where do you go when you’re out of ideas? Maybe you take a hike, or turn on some music, or stroll through the halls of your favorite museum. We each see the world differently, and talking about what inspires you may set your audience off on a journey they never expected. And if you listen to their feedback, they may inspire you in return.
In 2016, I started a series of quilts inspired by animals at
Tennessee Aquarium, where I volunteer as a docent.
See more of this series on instagram!
Highlight the Passage of Time
When I asked my Instagram followers what they want to see and hear during a trunk show, someone said they like to see groups of quilts that progress in skill. If you still have access to the first quilt you ever made, now’s the time to show it off!
Take pride in the pieces you made when you had no idea what “scant quarter inch” meant, or when your mitered corners turned out not-quite-square. We all started somewhere, and sharing your humble beginnings helps build camaraderie with the audience. It may also be the confidence boost a listener needs to try something new.
The first quilt I ever made was for my sister’s first daughter.
The pattern is by See Kate Sew.
Ask People What They Want to Learn
Here’s something I didn’t do during my first trunk show that I wish I had: start your presentation by asking your audience what they hope to get out of it. Then, address those questions or topics during your presentation. Actively engaging your listeners throughout the trunk show will help ensure everyone leaves feeling their time was well spent. And that might lead to another speaking engagement.
Kelly Spell is an award-winning quilter whose work has been featured in exhibitions across the U.S. She’s the president of Chattanooga Modern Quilt Guild and she volunteers as a docent at Tennessee Aquarium. Follow Kelly on Instagram @kellyspell and #kellyspellquilts.
headshot by Frank McCains