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Column #97

State Fair Quilt Queens

Nancy Sloan
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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Archived blogs:

Column 149: Rosie’s Redwork
Column 148: The Quilt of Belonging
Column 147: Kanthas—The Quilts of Bangladesh
Column 146: Patterns
Column 145: Suzy on Carolyn Mazloomi's Groundbreaking Quilt Exhibit
Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
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

See other archived columns here

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