One of the many hats I’ve been wearing for the last few years is that of exhibit assistant for three organizations. I donned this hat because I wanted to learn more about how an exhibit comes together and gets hung. I would like to share a little about what I’ve learned so far.
Let’s start with quilts with sleeves. We have all heard that you need a 4-inch sleeve on your quilt for hanging, as this is a requirement for all the big shows. Here is a link to directions if you need them: www.quilts.com/sleeeves.pdf. Making your sleeve at least 1 to 2 inches shorter than the overall width allows the hanging crew to nail the slat to the wall without accidentally hitting your quilt. If your piece is 3D, on stretcher bars, or involves some other creative hanging system, make sure you include directions for how you would like it displayed. For example, kimonos are popular right now—do you want yours hung on a bar or as a wall hanging? Don’t make the hanging crew guess how to display it.
Speaking of the slat, be sure it isn’t too long or too short. If you use wood, please sand any rough edges. Remember, if the hanging crew gets splinters, those splinters could also catch on your fabric. All items should be clearly marked with your name. It’s important that you have your last name and the name of the quilt on the slat. Think of a show with 30 pieces and 30 slats—it’s quite a puzzle to match slats to art without names. Sometimes a quilt needs a bottom slat; please label that as such. And be sure you include the slat unless the exhibit instructions say not to send it along. I have been guilty of forgetting the top slat. Luckily the quilt had a bottom slat we were able to use. All slats should have a hole on each end for the nail or other hanging system.
Label, label, label . . . or you might not get it back! The person unpacking your quilt at the show won’t necessarily be the one repacking it at takedown. You should have a label with your name, address, phone number, and email on the quilt and bag or container. Labels on the slat, noodle or tube, ties, or other packaging material need at least your name and ideally the quilt name.
If you roll your quilt, I guarantee it will come back in better shape if you provide something to roll it around. The pool noodles are a popular item for this. If you will be shipping your quilt, be aware that the noodles may outgas if left in a hot delivery vehicle. A cardboard tube is a better choice as long as it is covered in fabric or acid-free paper. The last quilt I sent to a large show I wrapped around a pool noodle. This was before I knew about the heat issue. The quilt came back nicely rolled on a paper-wrapped cardboard tube.
I had been in the habit of rolling my quilts with the face of the quilt to the inside, thinking it would better protect the quilt. At the first show I helped hang, I noticed that the bottom of my quilt hung away from the wall. It still held a little of the curl. I learned that day that when you roll with the face of the quilt to the outside, any curl it may have would flatten out against the wall. It also keeps appliqué or other embellishments flat against the face of the quilt and minimizes wrinkles on the front.
Cloth bag vs. trash bag? Only trash should go in a trash bag. If you put your quilt in a trash bag, you run the risk of it being tossed away. I know we all would rather put our time into the quilts, but think about the bag that is going to protect that quilt. Does it completely enclose your quilt? It doesn’t do much good if it only covers two-thirds of the quilt. There should be a way to securely fasten the bag so your quilt doesn’t fall out. That can be with ties or even by putting in a zipper. The hanging crew may be the only ones who see your quilt bag, but the more care you put into making it functional, the more care they will take with your quilt. Think about the journey your art is about to take: it goes from your hands to the exhibit crew, is thrown into the back of a car (think of all the other things that get thrown in the back of cars, including Fido), is pulled out of the car and stored in some “out of the way” place, is put back in the car to travel to the venue, is unloaded (usually on to the floor of the gallery), gets unpacked, and is finally hung. Your art needs to be protected.
Please, whatever else you may do, do not use peanuts or loose packing material for any boxed items. If there is a special way for packing, be sure the instructions are clear and positioned so they will be found and not lost.
Just remember that you are sending your baby out into the big, bad world. It doesn’t matter if it is headed to Houston or just across town. The more you value and treat it with respect, the more others will do the same.