I have been quilting on-and-off for a few years and have made mainly bed quilts. However, I discovered a passion for wall hangings and have been designing and making my own for a couple of years. I am an avid reader of Popular Patchwork and have seen the Quilts in the Garden Exhibition advertised for the last couple of years so this year I decided to have a go and enter a quilt. This was quite a big step as I had effectively decided to put myself alongside some of the best quilters in the land. Arrogance or plain stupidity? Only time would tell!

Poppies by Angela Sullivan
Poppies by Angela Sullivan

This took a lot of planning because the application form, with description of quilt and techniques used (in 30 words!), had to be returned by the end of January. This meant I either had to have pretty well made my quilt or at least have a very good idea of what it was going to look like. Also, bearing in mind I have two young children and work part-time, I don't have a lot of time to actually make quilts (one big one a year or two small ones is good going). So the process started in October of the year before with the finished article ready in the middle of March just in time for the exhibition itself.

Then came the process of getting the actual quilt to the exhibition which is 150 miles away from my home. I had decided to drive up to Stoke on Trent (about 2 2 1/2 hours, depending on the traffic) with my two children and make a day of it. Ah, the best plans of mice and men! My youngest came down with a tummy bug the day before which meant I couldn't drive up to Stoke. This was during the Easter holidays; my husband was abroad with work, friends were away, what do I do? The quilt couldn't be rolled and had some quite delicate 3D flowers which I didnt want to be squashed so I had to invest in a very large portfolio case and a lot of bubble wrap. A very understanding Margaret McQuillen allowed me to have the quilt delivered a day late as only Parcel Force could deliver (Post Office couldn't oblige due to size) and could only pick it up from my house the next day. This was a frantic day with lots of to-ing and fro-ing to the local PO (who never answer their telephone) followed by a nail-biting four days worrying whether it had arrived intact.

The exhibition itself was over three days and I decided to go up on the last day when my husband was at home and could look after the children. I convinced a friend of mine, who doesn't even sew, let alone quilt, to come with me. On the day it was snowing heavily and my husband was very dubious about me driving 150 miles in such bad conditions but there was no stopping me. Armed with a flask of tea, several blankets and the phone number of the breakdown service, we set off. Fifty miles up the motorway there was no snow and the sun came out so the journey was actually very pleasant. I had enticed my friend with thoughts of shopping in the retail park at Trentham so we spent a lovely couple of hours browsing the lovely shops and enjoyed lunch outdoors, although it was very cold! As we went into the exhibition tent I had butterflies in my tummy and was quite nervous. I had no expectations of winning the wall-hanging category but was very nervous about seeing my quilt hanging alongside ones made by very accomplished quilters. Would it hold its own or would the flaws show up in contrast to the other pieces?

I had no idea where my quilt would be so rather than go and look for it straight away we decided to browse all the quilts and find it as we went along. When we came across it I was pleased as it had survived the journey but disappointed because it seemed so small compared to the others it was hanging alongside. It also seemed quite dark as it was hanging on a black background and the border was dark green. The difference between the quilt hanging on a wall in my home and it hanging in the exhibition was quite dramatic. A lesson for next year! Anyway, it looked fine and we took the obligatory photos of the quilt and me standing next to the quilt. The best, and most nerve wracking, time came when we were about to move on to look at other quilts and a couple of ladies came and stopped in front of my quilt. My friend and I stood a little way back but strained very hard to listen to what they were saying. Their comments were quite thoughtful and kind but very complimentary about the poppy leaves that I had made and embellished the quilt with. I felt very happy and went and bought several fat quarters as a reward to myself.

The exhibition itself was fantastic and well worth the effort of driving all that way. The most unexpected event, and probably the most valuable, was getting the judging sheet when I fetched my quilt at the end of the day. I had no idea that I would get this and it very gratifying to read the comments made by the judges and to look at the scores they gave, which were very respectable. This made me happiest of all as it showed that my quilt had actually done quite well and it gave me pointers to where I have to improve.

All in all, it was a good first experience of exhibiting a quilt. I always imagined that exhibitions had to be for professionals but having had the courage to have a go I will definitely do this again. My only comment about the experience, which I heard echoed by some other ladies at the exhibition, is perhaps there is room for an amateur or novice classification. The winners, who deserve the accolade, are obviously in a class of their own compared to quilters such as myself and it might be nice to think that 'average' quilters might be in with a chance of winning a category, even if the prize is a fat quarter.

Anyway, I am now planning my entry for next year and am already quite excited I would recommend it to anyone.