"The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show" logo next to "Celebrating 20 Years" above an overhead view of the 2005 Great Wisconsin Quilt Show inside the vendor mall, focusing on the PBS Wisconsin booth.

Celebrating 20 Years of The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show

July 8, 2024 Tara Lovdahl Leave a Comment

The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show is a three-day event that celebrates all things quilting. Co-presented by PBS Wisconsin and Nancy Zieman Productions, it brings quilt lovers of all skill levels together to learn more about and share their craft.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show. As we recognize that milestone, let’s take a trip down memory lane and celebrate its legacy.

The PBS Wisconsin, then Wisconsin Public Television, booth at the 2005 Great Wisconsin Quilt Show.

The PBS Wisconsin, then Wisconsin Public Television, booth at the 2005 Great Wisconsin Quilt Show.

Nancy Zieman’s legacy

Teaching on television

Nancy Zieman hosted Sewing With Nancy on PBS Wisconsin for 35 years and inspired hobbyists nationwide to sew, quilt and embroider. What started as an instructional program filmed in her home in 1982 became the longest-running sewing and quilting education show on public television. Nancy’s approachable teaching style and encouraging demeanor made her a respected figure in the quilting and sewing world, with people still turning to her television lessons after her passing in 2017.

Nancy Zieman addresses an audience in the "Sewing With Nancy" studio.

Nancy Zieman hosts a Sewing With Nancy studio visit during the 2005 Great Wisconsin Quilt Show.

An event for quilters to gather

In the early 2000s, Nancy approached PBS Wisconsin with the idea for the partnering organizations to co-present an event for quilters. Not only did they have experience working together from co-producing Sewing With Nancy, each organization had experience with events: Nancy’s company had already been hosting a sewing weekend every May in Beaver Dam, and PBS Wisconsin was already hosting its Garden & Landscape Expo every February in Madison.

Nancy’s idea for The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show became her legacy gift to continue to support PBS Wisconsin and the quilting community. People who knew how important this event and the community it has built was to Nancy, know that the fact that it is still one of the nation’s top gatherings of quilt enthusiasts in its 20th year would make her so proud!

Nancy Zieman hosts a meet and greet at the 2005 Great Wisconsin Quilt Show.

Nancy Zieman hosts a meet and greet at the 2005 Great Wisconsin Quilt Show.

A focus on education and community

Nancy was an educator at heart. Her down-to-earth style and approachable methods are still reaching sewists and quilters through PBS Wisconsin and the ongoing work of Nancy Zieman Productions. These tenets of warmth and education laid the foundation for The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show. Whenever you come to The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show, you will learn from educators, vendors and other attendees.

For 20 years, the event has been an opportunity for quilters to gather together and celebrate their shared love of quilting. Across three days each September, quilters connect with other artists who understand the joys — and frustrations! — of creating with fabric and thread. Quilting, for better or worse, can be a solitary activity. The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show is a chance for both experienced and novice quilters to revel and share in the quilting community.

Four men wearing white gloves hold up a white, floral quilt against a black backdrop.

Volunteers hold up the 2005 Best of Show winner, “Welcome to My Dreams,” created and quilted by Betty Ekern Suiter from Racine, Wisconsin.

Quilting as a way to give back

Since the first Great Wisconsin Quilt Show, proceeds from the event have supported PBS Wisconsin programming, community events and outreach across the state. Additionally, part of Nancy’s vision for the event was to incorporate opportunities for quilters to directly use their talents to help those in need. In 2011, Quilt To Give was founded by Nancy as a community service project for quilters to volunteer their skills.

The annual Quilt to Give project continues today, now creating a warm welcome for refugee children being resettled in Wisconsin. Throughout the three-day event, The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show hosts Quilt to Give onsite. Thanks to the generosity of participants who donate their time, fabric or completed bed-size quilts to the project, Quilt to Give helps someone in need.

Quilts are included in welcome packages for our new neighbors alongside PBS KIDS and PBS Wisconsin Education learning materials and are distributed to families in their new communities throughout the year. Nancy Zieman Productions accepts donations of completed quilts year-round on behalf of the event.

A woman smiles as she runs PBS KIDS fabric through a sewing machine.

The 2023 Quilt to Give project provided 233 quilts for families in need.

An evolving event

Every year, The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show is proud to offer quilters hundreds of educational opportunities, an extensive vendor mall and beautiful quilt exhibits. The event is designed to be a hub of inspiration.

And just as quilters and artists evolve, The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show has enjoyed other additions, highlights and changes over the past two decades.

Since 2017, the annual Great Wisconsin Quilt Show Modern Mini Quilt Challenge has been a wonderful display of creativity and camaraderie for quilters across the country as their work is shared and appreciated on social media. The Quilt Challenge always takes place in May, and it is a fun way for quilters to mix up quilting projects and stay connected before The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show in September.

A small, square quilt with bright, modern colors and geometric patterns.

The first-place winner of the 2024 Modern Mini Quilt Challenge, “Improv Sampler,” created and quilted by Marilyn Beal of Carlock, Illinois.


During the 2020 and 2021 Great Wisconsin Quilt Show virtual events, more than 20,000 people from around the world came together for free, live events from the comfort and safety of home as we navigated through the COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing replaces the immediate connection of an in-person event, but these virtual events broadened our awareness of providing online accessibility to The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show.

Since returning to in-person events in 2022, we have enjoyed recording live updates that are immediately shared on social media. PBS Wisconsin’s production team also records a selection of lectures from The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show, which are then edited and freely shared after the event throughout the year to expand the learning opportunities beyond the single weekend in Wisconsin.

A woman signing books in a convention center, with a long line of women eager to have their books signed.

Jennifer Chiaverini hosting a book signing at the 2005 Great Wisconsin Quilt Show.


Since returning to the Alliant Energy Center, we’ve welcomed back familiar faces like best-selling international author Jennifer Chiaverini; we explored Ken Burns’ quilt collection; we’ve celebrated Black history through Karen Hinton Robinson’s story-telling quilts; and we’ve continued to celebrate the accomplishments of our quilters.

We also may have heard a rumor that Bucky Badger will be back for the 20th anniversary of The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show … so watch out for our state’s favorite mascot!

Remembering dear friends

As The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show continues to evolve and grow, we will always be grateful to our dear friends like Nancy who originally fostered this quilting community and made the event possible.

There are so many other people who were involved from the first Great Wisconsin Quilt Show in 2005 who have since passed away, including Klaudeen Hansen and Natalie Sewell, and we are proud to carry on their legacy of quilting and community.

Two women hold up a lush green landscape quilt.

Natalie Sewell and Nancy Zieman give a lecture about landscape quilting at the 2005 Great Wisconsin Quilt Show.

What’s next?

This event helps to foster a community of artists who continue one of the greatest expressions of American craft and tradition: quilting. The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show is proud to have contributed to the quilting community for 20 years. Thank you for all of your support, inspiration and camaraderie. Here’s to 20 more years, many times over!

Featured image: The first Great Wisconsin Quilt Show (September 2005)

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