As fiber artists, we have it pretty easy when it comes to shipping our work. We can roll it up, we don’t have to worry about glass, and the work is usually light and inexpensive to ship. However, we do have some responsibilities for preparation of the work that artists in other mediums don’t have to think about. Your goal as an artist is to make sure your work is hung as perfectly as possible. While quilt venues are prepared to hang quilts, don’t expect museums and galleries to have these specialized hanging systems. When you control the variables, your work is more likely to be hung correctly, since often you won’t be there to supervise.
Make sure the quilt is signed and has a label on the back with your name, the name of the work, and your contact information. Labels can be printed onto fabric and hand-stitched to the back of the quilt. (You can also use fusible web to attach the label, but fused labels have been known to come off.)
Most quilt venues have a hanging system designed to accommodate sleeves and slats. Most shows historically ask for a 4-inch sleeve, which is a carryover from traditional quilt shows. A 4-inch sleeve is not always applicable for smaller work, and 3-inch sleeves are sufficient for most hanging systems. Larger pieces can be further enhanced by adding a bottom sleeve and slat, which helps the work hang flat.
Sleeves should be at least one inch shorter than the width of the quilt to allow a half-inch on each side so the slat will not extend beyond the edges of the quilt. When attaching the sleeve, allow some extra room within the fabric tube to accommodate the thickness of the slat. If the sleeve is stitched too tightly to the back of the quilt, the slat will cause an unsightly bulge when the quilt is hung.
Slats can be made of various materials, but round curtain rods and dowels should be avoided. The thinner the slat, the less obtrusive it will appear when hanging. My favorite material for slats is aluminum bar stock, found at the hardware store. It comes in various widths and is about 1/8-inch thick. It’s very strong and very thin, so there is no bulging in the sleeve. It is easily cut with an electric saw or a simple hacksaw, and it’s easily drilled for hanging holes. It requires some simple filing to soften the edges. I find the aluminum much faster to prepare than wood, but it is a bit heavier to ship. Another option is plexiglass, which can be cut and drilled to order.
You should always ship the slats unless explicitly asked not to by the venue.
Before shipping, be sure to label everything that will go into the box, including tubes, bags, slats, ties, and even the box. I often tape business cards to the inside of the box.
The most common way to ship quilts is to roll them on tubes. Good choices for tubes are swim noodles, which are light and easy to cut to size, and tubes from home-decorating fabric, usually free from your local fabric store. Make sure your quilt is pressed and free of lint and hair. The quilt should be rolled with the front facing out to keep wrinkling to a minimum. (They are not likely to press your quilt at the venue.) You may put a tie around the quilt, or maybe your bag includes the ties.
Put the rolled quilt in a labeled quilt bag. It’s a good idea to then wrap the quilt in plastic to protect it from water damage. You can use a plastic bag or make your own heavy-duty bag out of 3ml plastic painters tarp cut to size and stitched along the side and bottom. Add a label with your name and address or attach a business card. Place the bagged quilt into a sturdy box, putting the slat on the outside of the bag. If there is extra room in the box, add filler to help prevent the box from being crushed during shipping. A substantial filler is upholstery foam, cut to fit as needed, or you can use bubble wrap.
To assist the venue in return shipping, you might tape return packaging instructions to the inside of the box, especially if you have special requirements. Add necessary paperwork and return shipping labels as required, and seal the box carefully.
Everyone has their favorite shipper. Most labels can now be completed on-line, including return shipping labels. Most shippers will charge you for insurance, so if you are shipping frequently, it might be time to buy insurance for your quilts. This insurance is relatively inexpensive and may even pay for itself over the year.
You want your quilt to arrive in good condition, ready to hang, and make the return process easy for the venue. Your shipment is a representation of you and reflects on your professionalism as an artist. Make sure you’re presenting a complete package.