Road to California

The atrium of the Ontario Convention Center decorated with quilts for the 2019 Road to California Quilters’ Conference and Showcase

The Road to California Quilters’ Conference and Showcase, or “Road” for short, opened on Thursday, January 24th, at the Ontario Convention Center in Ontario, CA. The building was crowded with thousands of enthusiastic quilters and festooned with quilts, turning it into a sea of color and inspiration.

More than 40,000 attendees come to Ontario for this four-day show each January to see more than 1,000 quilts, take over 225 classes and shop at nearly 200 vendors’ booths.


As I strolled the vendor area of the show, some trends were notable. First, the number of tools for ruler work — for quilting on both longarm and domestic sewing machines — has exploded. In almost every booth, I saw rulers of all shapes and sizes designed to help quilters perfect their quilting. While at the Bernina sewing machine booth, I learned that they sold out of their #72 adjustable ruler foot the first day of the show last year, so they brought three times as many with them this time. Mid-way through the show’s second day, they were nearly out of them again.

Another item that was a novelty last year and seemingly everywhere this year was the felted wool pressing pad. These pads were sold in various sizes and promised to speed up the ironing process by conducting the iron’s heat — as if pressing on both sides of an item at once.

Competition Quilts

As for the competition quilts, the “Best of Show” ribbon and $10,000 award went to Janet Stone of Overland Park, KS for her quilt “Garden Variety Sampler.” The quilt measured 68” x 90.5” and previously won “BOS” at the 2017 International Festival of Quilts in Houston as well as at the 2018 AQS Quilt Week Grand Rapids.

Road to California winning quilt by Janet Stone

“Best of Show” winner: Janet Stone’s “Garden Variety Sampler”

In addition to the galleries of quilts competing for over $92,000 in prize money, the show had a large number of special exhibits. There were over 150 quilts from Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabrics’ “Prince” challenge. These all measured 20” x 20” and used the same fabrics to create compositions giving tribute to the music icon.

Road to California

Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabrics’ “Prince” challenge

Road to California

Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabrics’ “Prince” challenge

Another special exhibit was a throwback to the show’s roots, “New Quilts of Southern California.” The show used to only accept quilts from the local area. Now, quilts from all over the world compete for the show’s ribbons and prize money. In cooperation with the Southern California Council of Quilt Guilds, this exhibit showcased quilts in all styles made by members of the guilds that make up the council.

Road to California

Kathy Coleman Wilson’s “Dear Jane… This Was a Pain”

Road to California

An Burgess’ “School”

There was also an Elvis special exhibit where quilts of various sizes reflected inspiration from his songs as well as imagery of the iconic pop star himself. “Quilts of Iceland” was another special exhibit, featuring quilts made from fabric in the same earth tones found in traditional Icelandic sweaters.

In talking with attendees, I heard a lot of raves about the quality of the quilts in the show. However, some voiced concern about the large, open and surprisingly empty display areas in the competition area. Some believed it was a missed opportunity for more quilts to compete. It was not just those who had submitted quilts to the show that not accepted who were curious about this situation. Also, guild members with experience laying out their own guilds’ quilt shows took note of the voids. (Full disclosure: I have had quilts both accepted and rejected by this show.)

As another way to add room for the inclusion of more quilts to compete, some suggested limiting the number of special exhibits at the show. Despite this qualm, all agreed that Road to California continues to be a quilt show that is not to be missed.


Tina Curran is an award-winning quilter, pattern designer, lecturer, and teacher.  Her work can be found at tinacurran.com.

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