The 2020 edition of the Road to California Quilters’ Conference & Showcase ran last week (January 23–26) and celebrated its 25th anniversary. More than 42,000 people attend this annual event in Ontario, CA to take hundreds of classes, see thousands of quilts and shop the wares of more than 225 vendors.

“Christmas in St. Andrews” by Marilyn Badger won Best in Show.

Photo courtesy of Tina Curran.

Competition Quilts

The “Best in Show” ribbon and a $10,000 award went to a holiday quilt that featured a Scottish plaid. “Christmas in St. Andrews” was created by renowned quilt artist and teacher Marilyn Badger of St. George, UT.  The project started with a challenge to use the featured plaid fabric.  With all the “fussy-cutting” and matching Marilyn had to do, she went through six yards of the plaid fabric.

The “Best Hand Quilting” ribbon and a $2,500 prize went to Elsie Campbell of Ponca City, OK for her quilt “Summertime.”  According to the story accompanying the quilt, it was “completely constructed, appliqued and quilted by hand over a period of 10 years.” Truly remarkable!

The Best Hand Quilting ribbon a $2,500 prize went to Elsie Campbell of Ponca City, OK for her quilt, “Summertime.” On the right, a detail of the quilting.

Photos courtesy of Tina Curran.

Family business

What is unique about this quilt show is that it is a family business.  As many quilts shops have closed and numerous craft businesses have folded in the recent past, Road to California continues to thrive thanks to the efforts of the Reese family and their clear plan of succession.  Carolyn Reese ran the show for many years and sold the enterprise to her grandson, Matt Reese, a few years ago. (Listen to our interview with Matt Reese on episode #127 of the Craft Industry Alliance podcast). Since then, the whole team worked to pull off a seamless transition.  It was not until this year some of the changes new-owner Matt wanted to make were finally realized.

The LED lighting was new in the ballroom this year.

Photo courtesy of Tina Curran.

Changes to the show

A major change attendees noted was that a large ballroom that had, in years past, featured a mix of quilt displays and vendors was all quilts this year. It was like a quilt museum with long rows of pipe and drape with perhaps over a thousand quilts on display. It was a visual banquet with both winning quilts and many of the 21 special quilt exhibits on display. The lighting was reworked this year. After experimenting with several options, the show installed LED lights for cooler, safer operation and more vibrant colors. Reese explained, the ballroom, “had the gallery feel we were going for.” There was also live music playing.

The Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabrics’ “Bob Ross” challenge was one of several special exhibitions.

Photo courtesy of Tina Curran.

Special exhibits

Among the 21 special exhibits at the show were all 200 quilts from Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabrics’ “Bob Ross” challenge. These all measured 20” x 20” and used the same fabrics to create compositions giving tribute to Bob Ross, the American painter, art teacher and host of the PBS TV show “Joy of Painting.”

Another special exhibit featured animals as the subject matter. The quilt below,  “Triple Threat” by Debra Crine of Marco Island, FL was based on a photo she saw. After getting permission from the photographer, Debra used threat painting to bring these critters to life.

 “Triple Threat” by Debra Crine shows off the artist’s skill as a thread painter.

Photos courtesy of Tina Curran.

Show owner Matt Reese and his son.

Photo courtesy of Road to California.


When speaking with Matt Reese about trends he saw among items his vendors were selling, he noted an increase in products for garment construction. Evidently many shows with a garment focus have closed in the last several years, so those vendors have migrated to quilt shows to find people who sew.

Another trend he noted was that the pendulum swing from supplies for traditional quilts to supplies for modern quilts has found a comfortable place in the middle.  While traditional quilters are not likely to buy modern quilt patterns, they do appreciate the vibrant and graphic fabrics that are made for modern quilters and are happy incorporate them into their own work.

We also talked about the continuing impact of the internet on the quilting industry. Reese noted that the vendors who put in the extra work to develop quilt products that are unique – and therefore not duplicative of what is available online – enjoy more success than those who don’t.

As someone who has attended this show for a majority of the show’s 25 years, I’m happy to see that it continues on a solid foundation.  Reese and his team seem committed to always making their show a bigger and better experience for its attendees. That bodes very well for the show’s future as a major event on the calendar of quilters based in Southern California and beyond.


Tina Curran

Tina Curran


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

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This