This article was first published in the January 2000 issue of Quilt Ohio magazine.
On June 14, 1999, I had the unique experience of sending off two of my babies on the same day. In the morning, I put my 12 year old daughter on an airplane to travel alone from Ohio to Portland, Oregon where she would meet her grandfather for a month long trip down the West Coast in a motor home. In the afternoon, I shipped my newest quilt, "First December in Ohio", to Omaha, Nebraska for the National Quilting Association’s 30th Annual Quilt Show.
Later that day, as I was joking with my oldest daughter about how much I was going to miss my babies, she asked me which one I was more worried about. I immediately exclaimed, "My quilt! I know Bethany can speak up for herself, but my quilt is at the mercy of whoever is handling it!" Little did I know how prophetic that statement would be.
In anticipation of sending my quilt to the show I meticulously removed every piece of dust and lint I could find. I carefully folded it and lovingly wrapped it in a plastic bag and placed it in a box which was the perfect size. Step-by-step I followed the shipping instructions and then I went over each one a second time with my husband. Lastly, I placed the envelope with my entry form, the return shipping instructions and the payment for return shipment on top of my quilt. I handed my precious quilt over to the employee of a well-known shipping company, who taped it closed for me, and I blissfully left, believing my quilt was now securely on its way to the quilt show in Omaha.
The most I can do is guess at what happened next. Apparently on the way to Omaha, the envelope containing the entry form, all my shipping instructions and the check for return shipment somehow became separated from the box containing my quilt. Had the tape or the box broken and the instructions fallen out? Had someone opened the box for some reason and taken the instructions out? Somehow, that envelope was returned to me twenty-four days after I shipped the package. The quilt continued on to the show by itself.
LESSON NO. 1: When shipping a quilt, always securely tape your shipping instructions to the plastic bag containing your quilt. Use a strong, new box and tape every edge.
I never imagined the instructions and payment for shipment would become separated from my quilt! But, in the case that a box is opened or broken, if the instructions are attached securely to the quilt, hopefully they will stay with the quilt. Also, tape every possible opening and edge which could get caught in machinery and cause the box to be torn open. Don’t let anyone else do it for you. Do it yourself and do it thoroughly.
The quilt did well at the NQA show and received second place in the Wall Quilt, Mixed Techniques, Machine Quilted category. After the show, on June 28,  the quilt was shipped back to me. More than a week went by and I had not received my quilt. I called the shipping company and a tracer was put on the tracking number but they could not locate the box.
LESSON NO. 2: Don’t assume that because a shipping company uses tracking numbers that your package can’t get lost.
I was told that it was possible that the label or the box had gotten damaged and that now the only way to retrieve my quilt was for the shipping company to open the box and identify the quilt. The problem was finding the box.
What a nightmare! Two shipping problems with the same box during two separate trips? Unbelievable! By now I was really upset and worried. I got almost no sleep, tossing and turning, trying to figure out what had happened, how to get my quilt back and hoping it would be in one piece.
On July 13, one of my babies came home! My daughter, not the quilt. The wall in her room where the fireplace quilt used to hang was still bare.
LESSON NO. 3: People are much more important than things.
I count my blessings that I only lost a "material possession."
I want to emphasize that human life is infinitely more valuable that any quilt, but I was struck by the fact that nearly everyone I spoke to about my lost quilt related it to the loss of a child. It was a very traumatic experience. I never anticipated being affected so deeply emotionally by losing a quilt.
By July 19, when the shipping company still could not find my quilt, I began feeling desperate, like my child was kidnapped and no one cared. I decided to notify anyone who could possibly help. I started searching the Internet for ideas. I phoned the shipping company and the people who sent the quilt from Omaha on a daily basis. I e-mailed TV stations and consumer advocates. I e-mailed other websites which had other lost or stolen quilts posted. I knew this must have happened to other people.
LESSON NO. 4: Tell everyone! Be descriptive and concise. Be persistent.
The more people you get involved, the better chance you have to succeed. The more precise you can be, the better they can help you. Know your quilt. Know the dimensions, colors and distinctive markings that set it apart.
Another week went by and the quilt was still missing. I finally decided to create a website to display lost or stolen quilts and also to offer useful information that would hopefully prevent other quilts from becoming "lost." It was something constructive I could do while I waited for my quilt to turn up. I wanted a name for the website that was easy to remember so I registered the domain name www.lostquilt.com. Fortunately, I did have pictures of my quilt which I was able to place on the website. It is amazing how many people do not ever photograph or document their quilt. Without it, it becomes nearly impossible to recover a lost quilt.
LESSON NO. 5: Document your quilt thoroughly as soon as you are done with it.
This includes keeping receipts for the supplies you purchased to make it, labeling it with your name and address, and taking good photographs of the quilt.
On the website, I also decided to include information about what I have learned through this ordeal. At this point, it did not seem hopeful that the quilt would be recovered. I had not given up, but I had to face all the possibilities so I wouldn’t continue on the roller coaster of emotions that ruled the entire month of July. But the need to tell others to get their quilt appraised grew. Without an appraisal, the most I could hope to recover would be the cost of materials. This realization came as quite a blow.
LESSON NO. 6: Get an appraisal by a certified appraiser. Don’t wait. Get it soon!
Your estimate of your quilt’s value means nothing. Sentimental value means nothing. You need a written appraisal by someone that a shipping or insurance company will accept as an authority.
Be realistic about what you could lose. View yourself as a serious artist. I tend to under-value my work, so it was eye-opening to me when I read a survey in the Spring 1999 issue of American Quilter magazine which showed that between 1992 and 1996 the median selling price of an art quilt was $125 per square foot.
When my quilt was juried into an international show I finally decided to make a second duplicate quilt. Five days into the quilt re-making process I got THE CALL I had been waiting for – the shipping company finally located my quilt! When it was delivered, I discovered that my cardboard box had been completely crushed, even though I had used one with double sides. Thankfully, the quilt survived without any damage whatsoever! There was no explanation on how or why this package had been lost for fifty-three days. The shipping label and the tracking number were completely intact.
LESSON NO.7: Don’t give up.
The more I talked to others about what was happening, the more I was encouraged to not give up. On my own, I would have been very depressed. With the help of others, I was able to put together a website which will hopefully help the quilt community.
What have I gained? Through this ordeal I have gained some wisdom, which is a good thing, and some weight, which is not. I have also gained an intense desire to warn, educate and help other quilters. Hopefully, my near-loss can be used to motivate others so they won't have to go through this.
What can you gain? Please, learn from my experience. Don't take your quilt for granted, but find out how valuable it is and take the necessary steps to protect it. Become aware of what is going on in the quilt world so we can help each other. Lastly, be on the look out for lost and stolen quilts so some may be returned to their rightful owners.