IQA Quilt Show: Poor Mailing Practices

Material Marquetry

Some shows will treat your precious quilts like you do and some won’t. Last week I received my quilt, Material Marquetry, back from the folks at Quilts, Inc., producers of the IQA Quilt Show in Houston, where it has been since August last year as part of the In the American Tradition VI special exhibit. So begins the promised rant about why IQA and Quilts Inc. are no longer on my list of “happy quilt shows.” First, a bit of background:

I’ve exhibited four quilts with Quilts Inc., either as finalists in the IQA Quilt Show, or through special traveling exhibits. The problems always begin when it comes time for them to return the quilts to me at my APO address. The standard process is for Quilts Inc. to ship the quilts back to exhibitors via Federal Express, using dimensional weighting, which means that they cram the quilt into the smallest box possible so that it costs less to ship. The bigger problem though, is that Federal Express doesn’t deliver to APO addresses, so I’ve had to ask them to return ship my quilts via US Postal Service Registered Mail which is where the problems start.

The first quilt I sent in, I decided to have return shipped to my mother in Utah, after speaking with the show personnel about the return shipping process, and having them tell me that they could do USPS Registered Mail, but they didn’t really know how, and couldn’t estimate the cost, etc., etc., etc. Since it just seemed too hard for them to handle the USPS thing, and I was going to be visiting my mother anyway that year, I just said fine, ship it there via the usual practice. This is how I know about the dimensional weighting/smallest box possible issue.

The second quilt I exhibited in Houston was returned to me via US Postal Service, but without any insurance or tracking information, and it was shipped Parcel Post, which takes 6-8 weeks to be delivered. I can tell you there were many phone calls to Quilts, Inc. about that quilt, and much worrying about whether it would ever show up at all. Without tracking information, if it was lost, it’s just lost with no way to find it, ever, and of course shipping without insurance is unacceptable in the extreme. And honestly, they weren’t even all that apologetic, and they acted like I was the one with the problem, since I had asked them to do something so totally out of their norm, and was then unhappy with the result.

After that debacle, I picked up the third quilt in person, since I was attending the show that year. But another interesting thing occurred at the show while I was there. That year, Quilts Inc. was providing a shipping service, so that you could mail all the loot you bought back home instead of cramming it in your suitcase. That would have been wonderful, especially considering the fact that I was carrying my quilt back home with me in my suitcase to be sure it arrived safely. I arrived at the booth with my goods in hand ready to have them packed up, and was told that, you guessed it, they would only ship the loot back to your home address via FedEx! They wouldn’t even begin to think about alternative shipping methods, that just might be cheaper as well.

Fast forward to the current issue: I mailed off Material Marquetry last August with special written instructions for return shipping the quilt via USPS Registered Mail, which they promised to honor. The quilt was exhibited at five or six Quilts Inc. produced venues over the last year, and it showed up at our APO box last week, without insurance or a tracking method, having been sent via Priority Mail. I was just astounded really. What happened to the instructions that I sent in with the quilt?

I emailed the special exhibits coordinator and her assistant to let them know that the quilt arrived safely, but that there were some issues that needed to be addressed. Why was the quilt not insured, and how could they send it without a tracking method? Their answer was that the quilt is insured under their Chubb Fine Arts Insurance Policy from the time it leaves my door until the time it’s returned. Okay, my bad, I didn’t see that in the original letter that I received about this exhibit. I am glad to know that if the quilt went missing, somebody would pay me the appraised value. (But that does beg the question, does that policy also cover quilts sent in for the regular show every year in Houston, and if so, why wasn’t I told about this policy when the other quilt went astray for six weeks without postal insurance? Interesting.)

As to the tracking method and the Registered Mail issue on this quilt, they insisted that they followed my request about Registered Mail (:?:), completed all the forms required by USPS for an APO address, Registered Mail, spent over an hour online with USPS shipping my quilt, and that it was shipped with a tracking method. First, they couldn’t possibly have followed my request or completed all the forms required by the USPS for Registered Mail, since there was no Registered Service on the box. We didn’t have to sign for the box to pick it up from the mail room (which we would have had to do had it been a registered mail package), and the tracking number they provided was the number off of the customs form attached to the box. When I put that number into the tracking system on the USPS website, the answer was “There is no record of this item.” Gee, I guess that’s not really a tracking number, is it, since if it was, it would show that the package was delivered to my APO and on which date it was delivered.

Actually, as I found out after a call to the Postal Service to check the facts, that number is able to be used to track the package if it is mailed to a true international destination, but not if the package is mailed to an APO Military address. In other words, if the package was lost, the only thing the Post Office could do is file a report, but there would be no way to find the lost quilt, ever. APO addresses are a grey area; mail is shipped to APO addresses as domestic service, but it requires a customs form because it’s technically an international destination.

I wrote them back and explained all that, and how the Registered Mail process really works and what forms are needed, again. I had provided all the Registered Mail information and instructions before when I sent the quilt to them last year. I do realize that shipping via USPS to APO addresses is outside the norm for Quilts, Inc., and I respect the time and extra effort it requires, which is why I included full written instructions as to how this should be done and what forms are required by the US Postal Service for Registered Mail, to make it as easy as possible for them to do.

You may be wondering why I don’t just use FedEx for all this, and have the quilts return shipped to my actual German address. Yes, I could do that, however, the last time I was investigating that method, I think it was going to cost me nearly $100 to have my quilt returned that way, as opposed to less than $40 to use USPS Registered Mail to my APO address, and that was for a not-even-twin-size quilt (not to mention that “dimensional weighting/smallest box possible” issue. Can you say “squished and wrinkled beyond recognition”?). Why should I spend $100 when I can spend $40? At just two shows a year, that’s $120 in fabric, or a trip out to dinner with the family, and some years, I send quilts to 4-6 shows. Other shows and museums don’t have this problem, and are happy to ship via USPS Registered Mail when I ask it of them. (There is one other notable exception, Quilters Heritage Celebration, and I don’t exhibit with them anymore either, after the first go round.) Heck, AQS even has “Registered Mail” as a return shipping option on their forms now, you don’t even have to write it in, or call ahead to ask if they’ll consider doing it for you as a favor.

Yes, the quilt is here, so all is good in the end, but I really think they need to understand that the method by which they shipped the quilt wasn’t “Registered Mail” or trackable either one. I’m afraid that I won’t be sharing my work through any venues sponsored or produced by Quilts Inc. in future. It’s fairly obvious that they just don’t care to do any little bit of extra work, no matter how easy and clear-cut you make it for them. Their system must be so finely honed that any minor deviation puts an instant nick in the blade. Seems like they like people because we all keep sending in fabulous quilts and spending our money at their shows, but they hate people when they actually have to deal with them or stoop to do anything out of the ordinary for anyone. I’m sorry, but they can’t give away enough prize money to make me take a chance with their mailing practices again.

Update: I received another reply from Quilts Inc. about this issue. They have acknowledged that they shipped the quilt incorrectly. Quilts Inc. has incorporated my instructions regarding Registered Mail shipping to APO addresses into their return shipping policies and disseminated the information to all staff involved in the return shipping process. They have also changed their contact policies and will email exhibit participants if Quilts Inc. has held the participant’s quilt longer than six months, to remind them of the return shipping schedule and check for address updates (I had that issue as well with my quilt, since I didn’t know it was time for return shipping and it was shipped to my old address). It’s been a seven year, three quilt battle, but perhaps it’s finally a victory.

Paisley Pavane goes to Ohio

Paisley Pavane is on it’s way to Columbus, Ohio, and will be on display at the National Quilt Association Quilt show June 19-21, 2008. At one point, I was planning on going to the show with the quilt, and with my girlfriend Dawn, but ITMan’s new job and the move got in the way. 😦

That’s okay, since that means I have some more time to finish up something really grand to enter in the show when I’m going to be able to be there too. Not that Paisley Pavane isn’t grand, it is, but I have some other things waiting in the wings that might be even better.

The funny thing right now is that in the midst of the pre-move craziness, I entered this quilt into two other shows as well, only one of which I can remember! So I’ll probably be getting a couple of envelopes at some point, with what I hope is good news inside, but I have no idea where one of them will be coming from or when to look for it. 🙂 This is a great argument for photocopying entry forms before sending them in!

I haven’t entered anything in a show for a while, and I’m really looking forward to some feedback from the judges on this quilt. Paisley Pavane was the Third Place winner in the New Quilts from an Old Favorite contest from MAQS, but even though the quilt gets published in the book and goes on tour and all, you don’t get any feedback in the form of critique or judging sheets from the judges at all. It will also be interesting to see how the quilt fares in a much larger venue than the MAQS contest, where it will be shown with and compared to so many more quilts.

If you’re headed to Columbus for the show, keep an eye out for Paisley Pavane. It’ll be the one sparkling at you from across the room, with it’s 3,000 Swarovski crystals!

Showing your quilts – Apps and shipping and judging, oh my!

Part four of a four part series about entering quilt shows, the jurying and judging process. This series is based on my experiences at quilt shows and classes I’ve taken about the quilt judging process.

The quilt is finished, the photos taken, and now it’s time to fill in the quilt show application. Most of what I’ll tell you here may seem like complete common sense, but I’m going to tell you anyway. Honesty compels me to note that for my very first quilt show app, I had to call the show coordinator and have her label my slides because I forgot to do it before I sent them off! Just slightly embarrassing!

Read the application thoroughly, even if you’ve entered that show in prior years. Rules and categories change, sometimes from year to year! One of the most important things you can do is choose the right category for your quilt. Often, this is the hardest part, because if your quilt could easily fit into more than one category, it’s up to you to choose the best one. If you’ve been to a quilt show, try to remember what types of quilts were in certain categories, and imagine your quilt hanging side by side with those others. Does it fit?

Most applications say to choose the category that represents your quilt’s most prominent technique, and quilts that combine two or more techniques (i.e. piecing/appliqué, appliqué/embroidery, piecing/trapunto, etc.) should be entered in a mixed technique category. Some shows reserve the right to move your quilt to another category if it is really out of place, while others don’t ever move quilts, and the quilts are judged in the category where they were entered whether they fit in or not.

Label everything you send with the application with your name and the quilt name, and anything else the show requires. Some shows are very particular about how they want the slides labeled, so look for a diagram that shows exactly how they want the labels and what information should be included on the slides. Check the deadline, and note whether it’s a “received by” deadline or a “postmark” deadline. Mail early for less stress! 😉 Read More

Shipping a quilt

Stars In My Hand Quilt

I had to take a break from my holiday recovery to repackage the Stars In My Hand quilt for shipment to the Road to California Quilt Show in January. When I received the quilt back from the IQA show in Houston, it was packaged in a long skinny box, rolled around a water noodle wrapped in acid free tissue paper. Very creative, that water noodle thing (and if you have no idea what a water noodle is, look here. We have a couple of the single noodles that the kids use in the pool at Garmisch when we go, but I had no idea what they were called. Google to the rescue.). Yes, you could roll the quilt around a cardboard tube from wrapping paper or something, but the water noodle is more stable, and won’t bend from the weight of the quilt when you pick up the roll to put it in the box.

I use the post office and have never had a problem. If I used UPS or FedEx, it would cost a small fortune to ship a box of this size and value internationally

This is one of those things that’s a bit scary, trusting the post office with an heirloom. I say “post office” because even though most folks ship things like this with FedEx or UPS since their tracking system is better (and maybe they have a better record of not losing things, though I’ve not seen solid stats on that), I use the post office because of where I live, and have never had a problem. If I used UPS or FedEx, it would cost a small fortune to ship a box of this size and value internationally, and if I declared it’s true value on the label, customs fees might be incurred either coming or going. Not cool to have to pay customs on your own quilt when it comes back from a show.

So the US Postal Service is the best option really, and it’s all in how you send the package. Read More