Thoughts on Quilt Show Judging

Recently I spent 9 hours volunteering as a scribe for the Mutton Hill Quilt Show, and have to tell you I’m tired of hearing about bindings. I joked to one of the judges that there  should be ribbons for best binding.

Let me back up a bit. At show judging scribes write down the comments the judges make about the entries. The judges may say a lot more in discussion with each other, but the scribes write down only the official comments which are directed at both the strong and weak points of each quilt. The comments give more feedback than just ribbon/no ribbon.

The comments are meant as learning tools, not as hurtful criticisms. Often the comments concern technical points about quilt construction and quilting – are points sharp, do pieces match, are borders straight, are corners 90 degrees, are appliqued curves smooth, is quilt stitch length consistent, etc. Comments may also cover color choices in fabrics and quilting threads. Occasionally there are comments about a quilt’s design. Judges admire careful attention to detail and little extras in the way of matching up fabric patterns and embellishments. The little things do indeed count.

I typed up a lot of comments about bindings. They weren’t completely filled with batting, they were uneven, they were crooked, the corners weren’t mitered well, they weren’t securely sewn down.

Now, a carefully sewn on binding is one of the easier aspects of quilt making in that it’s all technique. You can get fancy with bias binding or changes in binding color, but it’s about squaring up your quilt before binding and careful sewing. Steam pressing and school glue can help a lot. I have links on my tutorials page about such techniques.

I get it’s a pain to be fussy about binding, but if you make a quilt you intend to enter into a judged show, then please save yourself from some negative comments by doing the binding well.

Other sources of negative comments? Dark fabric shadowing through light fabric. The solution is either to line the light fabric or make sure the dark fabric in a seam is cut narrower than the light fabric. Or, even simpler,  you could press toward the dark fabric if feasible.

Then, there were comments about backtracking on machine quilting and obvious starts and stops. I think this may be more an issue with long arm quilting. Again, it’s attention to detail.

The judges were also wowed by quilts and said so in their comments. They joked with each other about drooling on the quilts, and were delighted to point out wonderful features to each other like kids in a candy shop.

If you enter a quilt in a judged show please look at more than any negative comments. The judges want to encourage you to improve your quilting and are happy to note the good points, too.



Filed under Commentary, Quilt Shows

9 responses to “Thoughts on Quilt Show Judging

  1. This is very interesting–what a neat experience for you to get behind the scenes. I would think it’s much easier to judge technical aspects of quilting, where the criteria can be pinned down, rather than to judge the aesthetic aspects.

    • You’ve put your finger on exactly the difficulty I think the judges had with the art/innovative category. Yet a key aspect of art is that the aesthetic aspects are important. That’s not to say workmanship doesn’t count, but it may not loom as important.

  2. I’d like to know if you or any of your readers here have been involved in a situation where it seemed the judges were rushed to complete their task?

    • Did the judges seem to do the rushing or was it the show organizers pushing them to finish up? Our judges went through about 120 quilts in 8 hours, with a lunch break. They spent roughly 5 minutes on each quilt. A timer was set for each quilt. Of course, moving quilts from table to table and deliberations for awards took time as well. I felt they got visually fatigued in some categories with large numbers of entries, and some of the ribbon decisions seemed a bit of a toss up where entries were close in merit.

      • I appreciate learning of the procedure (in your/this experience). In the one case I’m thinking of there are other circumstances as well but both tired judges and time restraint were issues. I plan to take it up with the show organizers. Thanks.

  3. I agree that the technical aspects are important, and in general they are easy to conquer with some practice. I do hope the judges are also as concerned about design. A well-designed quilt with some technical slips can be much more interesting that a well-executed quilt with a blah design, in my opinion.

    • My impression was that if two quilts were considered roughly equal in design, the one that displayed greater technical proficiency was chosen over the other for a ribbon. Criteria for what made a good design were squishier than those for technique. I felt the judges’ experiences were with the flowers/pets/the more intricate the piecing the better designs favored by quilters. Sentimental subjects of course have an edge. The judges I observed did try to be unbiased in their design assessments, though I think they struggled with the art quilt category.

  4. Judith K Campbell

    I was at the same judging and what struck me was the very personal pain the judges felt when they noticed something truly unfortunate, like a small stain on the quilt. It was nice to see their fellow feeling with the quilt and its makers. [Really, I should say, her makers, because we often refer to our quilts as ‘ she.’]

    • I think the judges were rooting for each quilt to be as good as it could possibly be, which explains their winces when they found those oopsies. And here’s a riddle, “How is a quilt like a ship? They are both shes.”

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