Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Quilt Show Countdown: What judges look for

Judging a quilt show is both more and less than people think!
It's a lot of work to look at a collection of quilts, comment about each one, and then select the winners. But the judge does not pour over each inch of every quilt and spend a lot of time finding the faults!

Most quilt shows have the entries divided by categories. You could have hundreds of categories to keep all the different techniques divided, but that just won't work. Each show committee has to decide on the categories for their own show. Most quilts do fall easily into some category, and others just have to be placed as best they can.

Some shows have a point system for judging, but that can get difficult to manage.
Most shows have a check list of items for the judge to look at, followed by a comment section. As each quilt is viewed, the judge will ask for the best to be held out. From those she selects the prize winners for each category. Some quilts are also held for any special awards, such as Best Hand Quilting.

The first place winners of all the categories are reviewed for choosing Best of Show.
(NOTE: I will use the pronoun "she", but there ARE several male judges in the quilt world!)

As an example of how this works, I will use the QuiltFest form and some pictures of my own quilts. QuiltFest is judged with the quilts stacked flat on tables, other shows may have the quilts hung.
The assistants "fan" the quilts, folding them back half-way so the judge can get a quick view of what's in the category. Then each item on the form is called out, and she gives her rating (Excellent, Good, Satisfactory, Needs Improvemant, or N/A... does not apply). She makes a few comments for the scribes to write down, then holds or releases the quilt. The form is completed and given to the quilt's owner when the show is done.

Judging starts with the visual impact, then use of color and fabric, and the scale & composition.
This quilt definitely has an impact! Do you think the red and blue work well together? Does the whole thing look balanced? Was the border fabric a good choice?
(this quilt has never been judged, so have at it!)

Here's another quilt (made from the "La Chocolada" pattern by Janet Jones Worley).
How would you rate the color & design?
Next comes how well the top is is the piecing? OK? What if you look really close?
Well this pinwheel does not match up perfectly. If they are all off, the judge will see it. But if it's the only place, she might miss it entirely. The main place a quilt gets viewed is the bottom end, unless the judge makes an effort to walk all the way around...that's a lot of miles when the show is all added up! In a show that is hung, I think the top and middle might get closer scrutiny.
Then the sashing & borders are checked...are they straight?
The quilting part has to do with even stitches, top & bottom. This may be the first time the judge sees the back of the quilt. Some like to look at the entire back...and some don't look at the back much at all!
Choose your backing carefully, and you can hide a lot of problems...something I did not do for one of my entries this year! The quilting design should add something to the quilt...generally that all-over wide meandering stitch holds a quilt togther, but does nothing to enhance the patterns or designs.
What's going on here? No quilting? It's all done "in the ditch", which stabilizes the quilt but does little else. In fact, it can be a drawback, as it is very hard to remain IN the ditch (seam)!
Actually, on this one I used fancy stitches and quilted on top of the seam, so it's a nice little effect. But those un-quited areas would be much nicer if they were filled with some designs.
This is the back, and there are no knots to speak of. Marks should be removed before you enter the quilt, or you'll hear about that.
The last issue is if the quilt is flat and has no know, like when you have tightly stipple quilted around some flower pattern, and it will never lay flat & smooth waves or puckers up. You have to keep an even or balanced amount of quilting over the whole top.
Last is the finishing. Edges straight? You need to measure through the middle and make all the borders the same cannot just take a strip of fabric, sew it on, and cut off whatever is left!
Is the binding filled and well stitched?
Bindings do not have to be a problem. Just make sure the edge of the quilt is at the fold, and sew the back down with small close stitches.
This quilt has a binding 1/2" wide because I wanted to see more of the stripe.
Since these were never judged, there are no comments. But probably the judge would say "nice & bright" or "cheerful feeling", then mention "additional quilting would add better visual texture to this festive quilt". Sometimes a judge will remind you to "true up the edges before adding the binding" or some other tip.
Most judges are positive and helpful. They are not trying to hurt your feelings, or point out every little fact, they usually don't look at the quilts for more than 2-3 minutes each, and most of that time is spent phrasing the comment.
The pickier the comments, the more likely your quilt is a fine one, and if you would just pay a bit more attention, it would be wonderful!
Judges are first and foremost quilt lovers...they love to see your work, and hope you will continue to make better and better quilts.
The quilt makers are not allowed to be in the room when the judge comes to their quilts, and since I played fair and left for awhile, I don't know what was said about mine. But when the show is done, I'll share pictures and everything the judge marked....
...because I want you to know it doesn't matter. Nobody will see those marks and comments except you, and you already know what's a problem with your quilt.
Chances are the judge has said something about your quilt that will make you smile, and then vow to improve next time!


Pat said...

I've never had a quilt judged. I'll be anxious to hear what the judge says about yours. How brave of you to put the comments on your quilt out on your blog for everyone to see! Judging a quilt -isn't that kinda like saying whose baby is cuter?

Sunnie said...

A whole lot of the judging is based on technique, and an NQA certified judge has been through 3 to 5 years of training about how to look at quilts design-wise/ artistically, so it's not really a cute baby contest. The other big consideration is what else has been entered...for example, I saw a quilt that I know was the Best of Show in a smaller (but respectable) show. It did not even make it to the "hold" table.
I think shows are made up of quilters who like to compete for a prize, and quilters who just want to share what they've made.
Actually, the people who come to see the show are MUCH more brutal in their comments than the judges!!!