"I could barely breathe. I had no idea that would happen," Shackelford said. "My reaction was not that I was 'hot stuff,' but that I needed to work harder. I wanted to be able to do those 'very best' quilts. I wanted to be that good."
She is that good. Shackelford since has won dozens of awards for her needle workmanship, including 12 Best of Show honors, and twice won a major hand-quilting award.
The importance of attending quilt shows, she said, is learning where the bar of quality is. Shows also are a source of inspiration. Entering a quilt in a show is highly educational because judges provide feedback on your creation, she said.
The American Quilters Society asked her to write a book about the techniques she was using, techniques that she had developed by studying "Baltimore Album" quilts. They involved appliqué -- stitching pieces onto a quilt top to form flowers and leaves and other designs -- with dimension.
These techniques became the subject of "Three Dimensional Appliqué & Embroidery Embellishment: Techniques for Today's Album Quilt," the first of eight books by Shackelford.
She has appeared on just about every quilt show on television as well. Quilts by her and antique quilts from her collection have graced several galleries and museums.
Then she received a request from a person who wanted to digitize her feather patterns on a computerized longarm machine called a Statler Stitcher. When she met Paul Statler to talk about the process, she was mesmerized and amazed.
"Since I was a hand-quilter, I don't know what the attraction was. It was kind of crazy," she laughs. "I bought a Statler Stitcher and then I had to figure out how to make it work. ... I guess I was ready for a new challenge and that was a really big one. It has opened up a whole new way of working for me. It has brought me a new audience. It's the fastest-growing market in quilting."
Today, Shackelford teaches the computerized longarm stitching technique and markets her computerized designs. She also has started a hobby, a kind of quilt rescue project, in which she picks up unfinished quilt tops or misfit quilt tops and finishes them. Using her new computerized design skills, she re-conforms the quilt tops to what she envisions they were intended to be.
The enjoyment, however, is just as intense.
"The first message I have is for quilters to enjoy what they do. Don't worry about trying to follow too many rules. There is personal input in a quilt. Love it. Make it your own," Shackelford said. "The second message I have is for you to use the techniques that appeal to you. Today, we have so many options. Make the quilt any way you want it to be. If you are entering a quilt in a show to be judged, there are some rules; that's the nature of it. But enjoy the journey."
Jill Wilson, of Ripley, is a former Associated Press reporter and a quilter.