Fall 2013 Newsletter
Photo cutline: 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 ten 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 1990's 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,” laughed 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 recalled.
“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,” joked 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.”
© 2013. A publication of Quintessential Quilt Media. No portion may be reproduced without the expressed written consent of Quilts, Inc.