White gloves at the ready!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that quilt shows must have invigilators of some sort. You see them at shows all around the world.


White glove ladies (and quiltmaker) at Melbourne Modern Quilt Guild, Australia (via)


Quilt angel at Houston show, Texas (via)



White glove helper at Road to California quilt show (via)

Taking up positions at Festival of Quilts, Birmingham, UK (via)

Taking up positions at Festival of Quilts, Birmingham, UK (via)

Call them white glove ladies, or quilt angels, stewards or quilt guardians – they are there to keep an eye on the quilts, to keep them safe. They can make sure no-one simply walks off with one (it has happened! remember this?) and that visitors obey the Do Not Touch The Quilts signs.


At Glendale, CA, quilt show (via)


These helpers also get to share their love of quilting in conversations with interested visitors. (They don’t even need to be an expert on the techniques as there are usually samples or statements that can be looked at and read for the details, to which visitors can be referred.) They might need (in smaller shows) to keep a tally of visitors, or take money for items being sold. When things are quiet, they have a chance to chat with other helpers and get to know them better.

That last consideration is important in a large regional or even national group, in which members don’t meet face to face very often. My own experience is of Contemporary Quilt in the UK – we communicate with each other through a yahoo group, and see other members mainly at Festival of Quilts each year. It makes a difference to be able to put a face to the name.

san diego

Men in tuxedos did the white-gloving at San Diego Quilt Show’s “It’s a Zoo Out There” Preview Night (via)



Kilted white glove helper at the International Quilt Festival of Ireland (via)


With all these positive aspects, and no training needed (you just need to smile, be pleasant, use common sense) – why are people so reluctant to volunteer to help out in this way?

Some, of course, live too far from the show, or have health issues or conflicting responsibilities that make this impossible. For shows in big national venues, the hassle of travelling to get there and the costs involved, and then the time that needs to be set aside, can deter volunteers.

Some are shy or afraid of the public; others don’t feel they know enough to be able to answer questions.

Some – usually the same people time after time – will help out at the drop of a hat and travel for one or two hours to do so.

What about the rest … are they lost causes? Is this reluctance to volunteer for a simple task a part of a general lethargy and apathy?  When stewarding slots need filling, how can these people be “incentivized”?

One incentive for doing several hours of minding the quilts is to get a day pass to the (large) show, which allows several hours of looking around at other displays and traders.

Collectible “quilt angel” pins are a tangible reward. For example, the“Roadie” bar is earned by volunteering four hours or more at the Road To California quilt show. Each year “Roadies” receive a year bar to add to their special pin. At Houston, the “quilt angels” earn an Angel pin for a three-hour shift, and if they serve two shifts, they earn priority registration for the next show.

The "Roadie" pin (via)

The “Roadie” pin (via)

A rather compelling incentive is pressure from others in the group – the sense that every member makes a contribution, not just of their membership fee but of something else, which can be helping run the organization or doing one of the behind-the-scenes jobs – or contributing by looking after the quilts at shows near them.




3 Responses to “White gloves at the ready!”

  1. 1 Sheila Barnes February 22, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    Oh come ladies. Quilt backs, especially on the more traditional quilts, can be as interesting and fun as the fronts! Some quilters put a lot of thought into them, almost as much as the front. Plus they are often designed to better see the quilting designs that may be somewhat hidden on the front. To some people, this is a great joy to see, me included. And often it is the label that is worth seeing. The backs of many quilts are not the equivalent to the back of a painting.

    But I can agree that some white glovers are a little TOO eager to show backs of quilts, whether the viewer is interested or not. I think they must assume most people too shy to ask or perhaps not aware that the gloved person standing there is provided for just such a service.

    I think the addition of the latex glove with the program booklet is a great idea, one I’ve run into, although many shows don’t have the funding or ability to produce any kind of program in which to slip one (although sometimes they are handed out all on their own). When a program has been provided, I figured out quickly that I could use it to slip behind the edge of a quilt to pull it back a bit if I was curious about what was underneath. My hand never touched the quilt although I am already bracing for a chiding of the harm the program might have done. 😉

    As for why it is hard to get volunteers? It may be part fear of not being able to answer questions or just a dislike of being on display with quilts not of one’s own making. There are probably as many reasons for people sitting on their hands when the call for volunteers is made as there are personalities. We all think we know our role and many are loath to expand beyond it. Incentives, though – yes. Those are the best for bringing people out of their shells and into the semi-limelight of white gloving.

  2. 2 sandrasart January 25, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    We solved this problem at our guilds show by including a non-latex glove in the program. Those who want to see may. Most of the time I want to see the front and I’m with Kathleen when I’m either at a local show or national show and a gloved hand flips up half of the quilt while I’m studying it I tend to get annoyed. On the other hand some people only want to do white gloves thus they don’t contribute to any volunteer jobs.

    For some reason (don’t know if it was a guild or county fair suggestion) they have white gloves but most everything is behind roped off areas so now these ladies are stretching to reach the corner to flip it up. Why????

    Good thoughts

  3. 3 kathleenloomis January 25, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    and then there was the guy who threw bleach on a quilt at Houston several years ago (he and the quiltmaker were in a business dispute)!

    My gripe with quilt tenders is that they encourage people to want to look at the back of the quilts (when arguably it’s none of anybody’s business, at least with quilt/art). Do guards at art museums say “would you like to look at the back of the Monet?”

    I’ve been standing in front of a quilt at a show, discussing the design and composition with a companion, when the quilt tender waltzed up, grabbed the corner of the quilt, yanked it back and said “do you want to look at the back?” When we said “NO! We want to look at the front! Put it back!” she was very miffed.

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