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A Day at The Sisters Quilt Show

A first timer's observations of the iconic outdoor event

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The 44th Annual Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show kicked off July 13 in Central Oregon. Festivities started at 9 am, but by 8, traffic had already rolled in for the biggest
show anticipated yet.

What started with a quilt sewer and teacher displaying the quilts her students had made turned into a phenomenon and an international attraction. But despite the Quilt Show being a worldwide affair, it remains about family.

“My mother had no idea that it would turn into this,” said Valori Wells, daughter of the show’s founder. “People started bringing their quilts and it
just grew.”

Valori Wells (middle) with family; Braden, Olivia, Jason and Ross - TYLER ANDERSON
  • Tyler Anderson
  • Valori Wells (middle) with family; Braden, Olivia, Jason and Ross

Well’s mother, Jean Wells Keenan, was a sewing teacher for continuing education at Central Oregon Community College who wanted her students to show their work. To reduce the anxiety of her students, who were reluctant to put their quilts on display, Keenan brought in 12 family quilts for display. Her students’ confidence grew. By the next year, people started bringing in their own quilts and the show prospered from there.

Some 44 years after Keenan did that, people had submitted some 1,500 quilts for display for this year’s show, according to Wells. Submissions came from all over the nation—and the world—coming from continents including Asia and Australia. Wells and the organizers behind this year’s event spent time organizing the quilts to match the town’s buildings.

“We’re at max capacity for where we can hang quilts,” Wells says. “You only have so many buildings (in Sisters) and our volunteers go around and they wipe them down every year before the show.”

On what was a slightly cloudy morning that turned into a sunny afternoon, Wells mentioned that it only rained once in the 44 years of Quilt Show day. In the event of rain, the organizers are backed with a plan to work with visitors and quilt makers take down the hanging quilts.

One of the event highlights is the Teachers Tent, which showcases quilts made by students the week before. Renting out Sisters High School, 31 sewing teachers invited to Sisters run a combined 30 classes a day for five days to teach 1,300 students that come from all over the country how to sew and make their own quilts.

Freddy Moran's Display of Faces; at one point Moran was making as many as one face quilt a day. - TYLER ANDERSON
  • Tyler Anderson
  • Freddy Moran's Display of Faces; at one point Moran was making as many as one face quilt a day.

Also shown in the Teachers Tent were several quilts by Freddy Moran, an array of faces she were able to complete in as little as a day. Because July 13 was also her 89th birthday, visitors could write in a booklet wishing her well on her day.

Moran's Birthday Booklet; filled with notes of well wishes - TYLER ANDERSON
  • Tyler Anderson
  • Moran's Birthday Booklet; filled with notes of well wishes
“Red is a neutral,” a group of women in the Teachers Tent recalled as one of Moran’s most famous quotes. "Life is too short to sew with beige."

Another tourist attraction at this year’s Show was The Stitchin’ Post and the array of tents shacked up behind it. Kathy Deggendorfer, a local artist, was signing posters that bare her design for the theme of this year’s Quilt Show. In her sun hat, you could see her laugh heartily as she gleefully interacted with the people who came to see her. A long line followed her autograph table.

Other tents sold souvenirs and providing a shaded spot for visitors to momentarily cool their heads off the sun’s heat. In between tents, visitors could walk blocks for hours, checking out quilts that hung on buildings around downtown Sisters.

“We’re artists first and foremost,” Wells says. She emphasizes for herself, her mother and the people who send their quilts in, that passion is first.

Visitors can see the quilt works of Jean Wells Keenan and Valori Wells at the The Stitchin’ Post on West Cascade Avenue in Sisters through the end of July.

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