In the 1970's it must have been a lot cheaper to ship overseas, because huge Swedish boxes used to arrive at our home in California loaded with embroidered textiles, dishes (!), lead crystal (!!), children's books, nyponsoppa, trolls made from river rocks, wooden-soled clogs, Dala horses and any other impossibly heavy object that you wouldn't dream of shipping to a family member now, 40 years later. Okay, maybe if you have a magic checkbook you would do this.
The boxes of my childhood weren't designed in Silicon Valley, they weren't filled with styrofoam peanuts or air bags, they weren't barcoded, they weren't shipped Prime. They were wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string (seriously). Indestructible and filled with mystery, they held the key to my mother and her past and to a family that loved and remembered us, despite living so far away. But the most sensual part? The part I still remember? These things smelled like Sweden -- all paper pulp, wind-whipped laundry and oiled wood. Heaven. Even still.
These Swedes were expert packers and in all the years of sending and receiving boxes, only one coffee cup ever arrived broken (and we happily glued the handle back on). Opening a box from Sweden was steeped in the ritual of tangible and magical. When I hear about the strange phenomenon of contemporary self-videoed "unboxing," the epitome of consumption, it makes me sad. Our unboxing wasn't consumption, it was absolute nourishment.
In my 20's, I traveled to Sweden alone and brought small handmade coin purses for my cousins -- two young women I didn't grow up with and barely knew. The sisters both unwrapped and immediately held the packaging to their noses, closing their eyes, like they'd done this a hundred times before. They looked at each other and whispered, "Smells like America."
So here's how to pack your quilt (maybe like a Swede):
I'm not an art shipping expert, but I love art. I've had work shipped to my home and been thrilled with the care involved; alternatively, I've been dismayed by terrible packaging, and left wondering how the work arrived intact at all. One thing I am an expert on is packing wedding gowns (but, do NOT ask me to make you a wedding gown, do not do this), so I came to this latest task with this history in mind. And the key is a safe cushion of air. And time. And a beautiful presentation.
Do not roll the artwork with the mounting mechanism or bars in the sleeve(s). Keep them separate in the box, but labeled. If you are shipping to an exhibit, along with many other artists, the gallery will be handling as many slats and bars as there are wall quilts, if not more. Label these with your name and the name of the piece, indicating if it is a top slat or bottom. Your artwork's label should have the same information. If you have a piece that could potentially be hung upside down by accident, indicate which way is up. It happens.
And luckily, you've followed my best advice and allowed A LOT OF TIME for this whole process, especially if it's the first time. But it will get better, you will become faster and more efficient, your closets will bulge with pool noodles in anticipation. You'll know which work fits best in which box.
And for any of you seasoned quilt/art shippers out there, if you see something I'm missing or doing wrong -- let me know and I'll make note of your advice right here by adding to the links at the end of this post. I would also, at this time, like to request a lead on a magic checkbook.
Further resources for shipping and storing quilts:
Kathleen Loomis: quilt storage, more quilt storage, preparing for shipping
Quilter's Home Magazine: a seemingly definitive list of do's and don'ts
Machine Quilting Unlimited: an even MORE definitive list
*Amendments & Further Advice from others:
1.) Kathleen Loomis pointed out in a comment that rolling your artwork with the right side in will likely create a marred surface that is "all wrinkled and nasty." (Eew). So, with this advice in mind, roll your quilt with the right side out. But do consider surface treatment, materials, construction, and duration the piece will be stored -- then make a judgement call. The first piece I packed last week featured fragile elements on the surface like bone that I didn't want bashed around, especially when the piece is lifted out of the box and handled, so I know why I chose to roll it loosely inward with lots of cushion everywhere. It also wasn't going to sit in that state for very long.
2.) Joyce Potter (Swede) has these three things to add: 1.) A horror story about plastic wrap somehow melting onto a quilt during transit (Whoa ... just, whoa), so wrap in muslin before putting the plastic over top. Sheesh. 2.) NEVER wrap in opaque trash bags lest some well-meaning soul think s/he's being helpful by "taking out the trash" at the gallery or final destination, and 3.) a good point about shipping labels and sticky fingers ... a box labeled "textiles" or "second-hand fabric" is far less interesting than "quilt" or "artwork."
Do you have further advice based on your own trial, error and experience? I'm happy to continue adding amendments for everyone's benefit.