Tag Archives: quilt show judging

Another Set of Judges’ Comments

My quilt “Arches” was juried into this year’s Pacific International Quilt Festival in the modern category. I just got it back (fast turnaround) and opened the judges’ comments. As with many large shows, most of the comments sheet is taken up with specific design and technical aspects that are given a letter grade (from E – excellent to N – Needs Improvement.)

This time my letter scores were higher for my quilt’s technical aspects than design. That was a surprise. Overall, I was scored six Very Goods (three in design and three in workmanship) and three Goods (in design.) I view the Goods as the equivalent of a low to medium B. The Goods were for artistic impression/graphic impact, use of design/pattern in quilt top, and use of color & fabric.

The brief comments were: the shapes are visually very pleasing; more contrast, more dark gray fabric would add contrast; and what would it look like hung vertically?

Here’s “Arches” hung horizontally.

Here it is hung vertically.

What do you think? Horizontal or vertical?

What intrigued me about the comments was their design focus. Either the judges really got the importance of design in original quilts or my design had issues beyond those I knew about. I think more white in the right (or top) part would have helped the contrast. It’s always good to review your work after a break from it and see where it could be improved.

So, kudos to the judges for not focusing on straight edges and the like.


Filed under Modern Quilting, Quilt Shows

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

Lessons From Quilt Judges

Earlier in October I had a quilt schlepper’s view of judging a quilt show. My role involved moving piles of different categories of quilts to and from the tables used for judging, fanning the quilts (fast forwarding through a pile of quilts so the judges could get a preview), and holding each one up. That meant I got to eavesdrop on the judges’ comments between themselves, the comments that may not have been officially recorded.


Example of quilt being judged at Garfield County, Colorado, fair.

I’m certainly not going to report specific comments on individual quilts, but I did pick up some hints about what judges focus on in the three or so minutes allotted to each quilt. If you already do all these hints, you can have the joy of feeling justified. If you don’t, maybe they’ll help with the next quilt you enter into a show.

While the tips below are heavy on close up aspects of a quilt, the judges do spend a bit of time looking at each quilt’s design as worker bees hold it up. I learned that quilts made with wool are heavy.

First, bindings – their straightness, the sharpness of their corners, the security of their stitches, their fullness. Judges spend a fair amount of time on them. Hand sew down the miters on the back side edges if you want to impress a judge. The judges I observed didn’t care if a binding was completely sewn by machine as long as the stitching line was unobtrusive and of a consistent width. They also didn’t disparage butt end edges as long as the edges weren’t bulky.

Judges will measure for consistent width of narrow border strips. I know it’s hard to keep one inch borders even on a large quilt, but they do make a difference.

Removal of markings is important as judges will put their noses about four inches from your quilt top. I thought I had removed all markings from my quilt, but the judges found some blue dots. If I had examined my quilt under a surgical light I would have found those marks.

Straightness of quilt edges is important. Wavering edges show up when judges put the quilt edge next to the table edge. So, square up your quilt before binding it. In fact, square it up after each addition of borders.

For hand and machine quilting, judges check for even stitch length, quilting evenly distributed across the quilt, hidden starts and stops (bury those knots), and stitch tension on the quilt back. Free motion quilting will be checked for stitch tension especially. One problem the judges noted with FMQ is that long straight piecing lines can get distorted as numerous passes over those areas push the fabric a bit. This can make the piecing lines look crooked, even if they aren’t. I gathered that stitching in the ditch first helps prevent this. Another tip is to make sure the quilting goes to the raw quilt edge; don’t stop a half inch in, thinking the binding will cover that area. Some of the quilts had a half inch of puffiness between the edges of the quilting and binding.

The judges talked about problems with use of batiks. Apparently the close weave of batiks can cause waviness at the edges.

Judges don’t like animal hair on quilts. If you have a pet, either don’t use black or other dark fabric, or invest in many sticky lint rollers. Use those rollers before you pack your quilt and after you unpack it at the judging location. Remember, cats use different criteria for quilt judging.

funny-cat-pictures-quilt-competition-judgeis-thoroughOur show judges went through over 100 quilts in one day and remained good humored throughout. They voiced no nasty, disparaging remarks, and strove to appreciate each entry on its own merits. I’ll let you know the public reaction to their ribbon choices later this month.




Filed under Commentary, Quilt Shows

Thoughts On A Quilt Show

On a bitter cold day in late February a friend and I took in a quilt show. Both of us had quilts entered and of course we wanted to check out the competition and be inspired.

We were thrilled that both our quilts were hung in prominent, well lit spots. Some of the other 200 quilts on display weren’t as fortunate. There were lots of different types of quilts to admire, though almost no modern quilts. I don’t know if that reflects a lack of interest in modern quilting in our area or if modern quilters simply don’t enter this show.

I took fewer pictures than is my wont, partly because I didn’t see a lot that was new to me or so exceptionally well done that I had to record it. Here are photos of quilts I really liked that sported no ribbons.

November in Indigo and Walnut by Judith Kessler SmithThis one featured natural dyes, hand made snowflakes and 3D leaves.

painted_quiltThe quilting on the butterfly was like zentangle, and the colors were hand painted. Maybe the thread tension was bad on the back, but I wasn’t able to check that out.

art_deco_guyThis quilt wasn’t heavily quilted, which may have turned off the judges, but I like the guy’s style, even though his face is blue, orange, and green.

touch_of_chartreuseI included this paper pieced quilt so you won’t think I’m all about the arty quilts. I find that chartreuse refreshing.

All of the above quilts looked technically well done to me and had a spark of originality. I notice that three have a similar color palette, so maybe those are the judges’ least favorite colors. The ribbons graced the Judy Niemeyer pattern quilts, the needle turn applique quilts, and bog standard log cabin quilts. Yes, some of the quilts that won ribbons were lovely, but many of the judges’ choices were mystifying.

The most head scratching was the winner in the art quilt category. It was large and depicted an imaginary land, complete with water, lighthouse, very large tree, houses, hills and a host of other details. Almost every inch was covered in some form of bling applied with a heavy hand – buttons, rhinestones, angelique, crystals and more. This choice confirmed my hunch that most quilt show judges haven’t a clue how to judge art quilts, where design is probably more important than technique. I believe they felt that due it its size and amount of embellishment this quilt deserved first place.

Certainly any award winning quilt should be technically well made. Heavens knows I saw enough quilting and binding that made me shudder. And when I disparage the binding on a quilt you know it’s bad.

It may be that show judges need more education and guidance on how to judge a quilt’s design. It’s yes/no when it comes to straight edges, square corners, sharp points, even stitching, etc. Art quilts don’t lend themselves to such criteria, and their design is critical to judging them. The art quilt category had the third largest number of entries in the show, so I think this issue will grow.

So why enter art quilts in a general show, you ask? There are shows devoted to just art quilts or modern quilts, but ecumenical shows serve an important purpose.  I want show goers to see all the permutations of quilting, not just a small slice. Traditional and art quilters may find inspiration where they least expect it.

I’ll close with a photo of my favorite quilt at the show. It won a second place ribbon in its category. There’s a small boat thread painted under the breaking wave.

Weather the Storm by Elizabeth Bauman


Filed under Commentary, Quilt Shows, Snark