Each April, Paducah, Kentucky is filled by quilters from around the world to celebrate the art of quilting. While most quilt shows are contained mostly or entirely to a central venue, Paducah has quilt related exhibits, shopping, and events around town. This makes for an immersive experience, but it also means that planning ahead can help you make the most of your QuiltWeek experience. This week I am focusing on all of the areas and aspects of the big event- AQS QuiltWeek Paducah! Next week, I’ll share some awesome quilt related highlights around town.
(I have added some logistical tips including a few restaurant suggestions at the end of this post, just in case you want to make reservations now!)
The AQS QuiltWeek Paducah Show
The American Quilter’s Society’s QuiltWeek is the main attraction for the week. AQS is based in Paducah and this is the show that started it all. They also run QuiltWeek shows in several other cities across the country throughout the year.
You can find information about the 2023 AQS Paducah QuiltWeek on their website. I strongly suggest downloading the show book ahead of time to help with planning. It includes maps of the venues and part of the town, parking and shuttle information, and lists of vendors and participating quilts.
I download the show book to my phone too, so I don’t have to carry the paper copy with me each day. The tags on the show quilts don’t give the technique information, so I like to be able to look that up as I move through the show.
The main portion of the QuiltWeek show is held in the Schroeder Expo Center and Convention Center. The show is divided into four main locations. (Believe it or not, this is less than many past years!)
The Main Show Floor of AQS QuiltWeek- Large Quilts and Vendors
The main show floor includes all of the quilts in categories 1-9. These are the large quilts in the show that includes the specialty categories of Modern (category 9) and Group Quilts (category 5).
Many vendors are also located on the main show floor, including the vendors who are also sponsors of the event. The contest quilts are centered on the show floor and vendors are in aisles along either side and along the back of the floor.
The main show floor is the most crowded in the morning, especially if you are there the first full day of the show. If you would prefer a less crowded experience, I suggest starting in one of the other spaces first, and experiencing the main show floor after lunch.
In the center of the main show floor you will find the gallery of major award winners including Best of Show. These quilts are typically displayed so you can see both their front and back. Within each category the first, second, and third place winners are displayed together.
In the shows I have attended in 2015-2022 (minus the pandemic years) the quilts are displayed in groups of three with two sides and one quilt flat to the back and a chain in front to prevent people from getting too close. This does mean that quilts on the sides are challenging to photograph and the quilt in the back is hard to see up close. If there is something I can’t see well, I will often take a photo of the back quilt and then zoom in on the photo to get a better look.
Also know that this show does not have white-glove volunteers to help you see the backs of the quilts.
The Second Floor of AQS QuiltWeek- Wall Quilts and Vendors
Quilt show categories 10-16 are in the second floor room along with two sets of special exhibit quilts, and many more vendors.
When you enter the space, the show quilts are to your left and vendors are to your right. The quilts displayed in the upstairs room are smaller quilts that are all less than 60″ wide. Specialty categories in this space include Pictorial Quilts (category 14) and Miniature Quilts (category 16).
Along the wall furthest to your left is the special exhibit of the Graffiti Cherrywood Challenge. The Cherrywood Challenge generally travels in two sections. The EAST Side Collection is displayed at the show, but the WEST Side Collection is also in town- more on that next week!
There are two other special exhibits in this space along the back wall. The first is New Quilts From an Old Favorite: Shakespeare. For many years the National Quilt Museum sponsored a challenge to reinterpret a selected traditional block into a new format. In 2022 they decided to mix things up a bit, with the focus on a theme that allows participants to incorporate the traditional block of their choice. The first theme is Shakespeare, and as a theatre person, I am fully on board with that choice!
The final special exhibit is the I Spy Red Challenge in the vendor area.
To access the second floor of the convention center, you will need to take the stairs or the elevator. Since there is only one access point to the second floor, it can become congested. If you have mobility issues or are using something on wheels like a tote with class supplies, you will want to take the elevator, but otherwise the stairs are generally the best choice.
The First Floor- A NEW Lounge!
This space is across the hall from the lecture room and is sometimes referred to as the basement. If you ever attended the Paducah quilt show in the “old days” this room was called the basement because it was, shockingly, in the basement. When the expo center was added and the hotel was torn down, the configuration of the building shifted so that this area is now on the main floor of the convention center.
In past years this room hosted special exhibits and vendors. This year the space is lounge area sponsored by AccuQuilt. This is the place to sit for a bit, charge your phone, and try out the AccuQuilt system.
The Paducah Dome Pavilion- Vendors and Special Exhibits
Because this show is so big it can’t be contained in the main convention center, a temporary dome/inflatable bubble/marshmallow is put up for even more vendors and exhibits. This space is huge! It is a short walk from the main convention center, or you can take a shuttle between the two spaces.
A lot of people miss this part of the show, but you definitely want to make the effort to go to this area!
The AQS learning center is in this space and offers free presentations throughout each show day. It’s a fun way to take a break and sit down for a few minutes. The schedule of presentation is available on page 49 of the Show Book.
There are several special exhibits in this space for 2023:
- SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates): Light the World
- Baltimore Album Quilts: A New Generation
- A Renaissance of Hand Pieced and Appliquéd Quilts: Collection of Lori Allison primarily featuring Kaffe Fassett Collective Fabrics
- All-Star Quilts of Valor quilts created by leading quilt industry professionals
The descriptions of all special exhibits are available on pages 54-56 of the Show Book.
Note: This structure has some sort of pressurization that helps it stay standing. I have found opening my mouth while going through the revolving door eases the transition between indoors and outdoors.
The Dome Pavilion is not included in Preview night, but I have found that it has the lowest crowds if you go first thing in the morning on Wednesday, the first day of the show.
Special Events, Lectures, and Classes
There are way too many events to list here, so make sure you check out the Show Book! My favorite special events occur before the show even opens!
The Awards Ceremony
Be the first to know which quilts received awards! Even though there is very little information about each quilt on the tags and in the show book, during the awards ceremony you get to hear a bit more about the process and inspiration behind each winning quilt.
This is your chance to see the show with fewer crowds! If I had to choose just one special event to attend, I would pick this one. Hint: If you want even fewer crowds start with the exhibits upstairs and move downstairs towards the end of the night.
Classes and Lectures
Classes are divided into workshops, lectures, and special events. It looks like most of the hands-on workshops are filling up, but don’t be afraid to get on a waitlist if there is something you would like to do. Lots of lectures are still available, and they are often my favorites!
Working around the crowds
- If you want to avoid crowds, consider visiting the main show floor mostly in the afternoons
- All show areas are less crowded in the afternoon, so that tends to be a good time to take quilt photos
- The Dome Pavilion is practically deserted the first morning of the show, so that’s a great time to shop and see the special exhibits
Parking and Traffic
- I almost always park on the streets near the convention center.
- There are a few paid lots near the convention center and free lots closer to downtown. It looks like there is paid parking in the convention center lot this year. (In past years this was exclusively for handicap accessible parking.)
- There are several one way streets around the convention center- pay close attention to where you are going
- Traffic patterns to access the convention center and parking may change from year to year, so check the show book for details before you go.
- There are shuttles and trolleys that go around town, including the museum, downtown, Hancock’s, and many local hotels. Routes are available in the Show Book.
- There are food tents and trucks in front of the convention center. As a vegetarian/pescatarian, I rarely find much to eat there, so I typically go off site for lunch.
- If you eat at the convention center, try to eat at an off time to find seating. Otherwise, be prepared to stand or sit on a curb.
- There are several awesome restaurants downtown if you are looking for a good sit down lunch
A Few Paducah Restaurant Suggestions
Paducah has several fun restaurants, and you may want to consider reservations for more popular locations.
- My favorite Paducah restaurant is Freight House, and you definitely want to get a reservation now if you hope to eat there during QuiltWeek. Over the years it has become more and more popular, especially since Chef Sara Bradley came in second on Top Chef.
- You would never know by the taste that everything at Branch Out is vegan and gluten free. I’m sure I’ll be there once (if not more) during QuiltWeek.
- Kirchhoff’s Deli is a classic for a reason. The sandwiches are great, and the sweet baked goods are phenomenal.
- There is something about this quilt show that makes me want ice cream, and there are two good places to get it downtown: Craving the Curls, and Forever Sweet Creamery.