Reflections on Judging Quilt Shows

I have just returned from judging a quilt show. A few days later, I have decided that in sharing my experiences, I have a chance to reflect and also, perhaps offer some helpful insight as to what judges look for when they are looking at quilts. That said, I can say is that it is not an easy job and sometimes winners are chosen based on technical workmanship rather than what the judge may really like. In other words, had this been an art show, I might have chosen very different winners for some of the categories. This being a quilt show, I was asked to look at the workmanship along with the design principles of each quilt.

There were a few quilts that had excellent design qualities but were not executed well in terms of stitchwork, binding and yes, even appearing square from a distance. I began with each category by systematically doing a quick walk through to see the entire category as a whole. In this way, I could get a good idea of which quilts really caught my eye from a distance. Then, I began with the first one and using a judge’s form began looking at each piece.

In terms of design and workmanship, I was asked to address 10 issues:

1. Did the quilt appear square? I don’t mean did the quilt have exact parallel measurements on opposite sides but rather did it appear to be square?

2. Were the bindings well executed? The number one thing, I have experienced with judges is that they always seem to comment on whether the binding is full. I tend not to care so much about this but rather on whether the binding appears even and the corners are mitered well.

3. Does the quilt lie flat or is it distorted? Many times, this will relate to #1, does the quilt appear square? Often, when a quilt does not lay flat, it appears distorted and not square. This can be due to heavy stitching and embroidery work or lack thereof.

4. Are the stitches even for the most part? Here, I tend to place emphasis on whether the stitches are overall consistent with one another rather than determining how many stitches there are per inch.

5. Was the quilting uniform throughout? I know that this is a very controversial issue and that most judges like to see a uniform amount of stitching throughout the entire piece. It is my feeling however, that dense quilting in the background provides depth while a change in scale both in the mid and foreground stitching offers a more 3 dimensional feel and I am fine with that. In fact, I support it! Though as I mentioned, my views on this matter do not reflect the norm.

6. Is the workmanship with regards to piecing and appliqueing executed well? If given my druthers, I would not even look at this aspect unless it was done extremely poorly. However, as a quilt judge, we are asked to assess this aspect and so we must.

7. Is the tension consistent throughout? To be truthful, unless there are major problems with ticking or knots on the back, I tend to think it is not an issue.

8. Is the design pleasing? Does it catch your eye and draw you in? This is so important and often overlooked. We tend to think that pleasing colors offer a pleasing design. Not so! Color is important but it does not replace design. Rather it works to support the design. Designs should be well balanced and move the eye successfully around the quilt, thus drawing in the viewer.

9. Is there a good range of color value within the quilt? There was, in fact, a piece that was completed all in a medium value color range and consequently appeared flat and difficult to look at. I think the eye becomes overwhelmed when value is not used successfully.

10. Lastly, I like to provide a comment on each sheet to let the maker know what he/she is doing successfully. I find that positive critique when done honestly and genuinely, fosters a healthy and positive outlook.

At the conclusion of the judging, we were asked to name our own Judge’s Choice and confer with each other regarding Best of Show. I chose an art quilt that was very well executed for my Judge’s Choice and we named a traditional quilt, Best of Show as the workmanship was phenomenal! I had a most pleasant experience and hope that I may once again be asked to judge a show. I love looking at all the quilts whether they be art quilts or traditional! Each one has it’s own merit!

4 Responses to “Reflections on Judging Quilt Shows”

  1. Excellent post, Barb! I know this is something people often wonder about, so it’s really helpful.

  2. Barb says:

    Thanks, Cynthia! Your suggestion to write this article was fantastic! I hope it will provide some insight for those wanting to know more about the judging process.

  3. I really appreciated your honest evaluation of the process and addressed how quilt shows are different then art shows. It sounds like they hired a thoughtful judge!

  4. Laurie, thank you. You bring up a good point. Quilt shows are very different than art shows. I think art shows tend to focus more on the classic design elements (line, shape, space/size, value, color and texture) and design principles (unity, harmony, balance, rhythm, contrast, dominance and gradation). They seem to stand the test of time.