> ~ Insights by SewCalGal ~

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Insights on Quilt Show Judging

This past week I had the opportunity to observe Quilt Show Judges for the Road to California 2011 Quilt Show, and I want to share with you some insights from this opportunity.  This isn't a post full of photos, but one packed full of information, that I will find interesting as well as encourage you to enter your quilts into various quilt shows.

My research has been focused on trying to understand the quilt show judging processes and help encourage quilters and quilt artists to enter their projects into quilt shows.  I do want to clarify that insights that I'm sharing today are based on "my observations" of one day of a multi-day judging process, in addition to the jury process for quilts to be accepted into this show. 

It is not my intent to share specifics on any quilt, nor on a judges comments.  My focus here is on the process and to help others understand how it works, and that it is a fair process.  Obviously, if you don't submit your quilt you can not win.  But equally, important if you don't enter your quilt, it will not be exhibited and not able to inspire other quilters, when a variety of quilts at a quilt show is desirable to all attendees.  And, you will loose out on receiving feedback from experienced judges on your quilt, which can be used to help you improve your skills.

Every quilt show can have a complete different process, and may have a different perspective on what they are looking for. As such, insights that I'm sharing are really intended to provide a general perspective.  Some shows focus on viewing quilts flat, whereas some focus only on quilts that are hung.  Some use points and select quilts with the highest points, but there are a variety of approaches of ranking and ultimately selecting winning quilts.  My research gives me confidence that they are all fair,  regardless of the methodology.

I do want to say thank you to the Road to California Quilt Show team for creating an amazing Quilt Show, year after year, in Southern California. And, for allowing me to come observe the judging process to enable me to share insights with others.

Judges leave their personal preferences at home, when they are asked to judge a quilt show.  They look at the quilts and look for those entered that have the best of the category they are entered in (e.g. best art, best traditional, etc.).  Art quilts need to be unique, traditional quilts can use published design and create "as is" or add their own unique touch.  In either category, quilts are evaluated on quality and ability to stand out in the category they are judged.

In the 2011 Road to California Quilt Show, three very talented and seasoned judges were selected for this arduous task:  Charlotte Warr Anderson, Elsie Campbell and Joen Wolfrom. The judging process was supported with a large number of volunteers, with the entire process facilitated by the amazing Stevii Graves.

The process requires a great deal of coordination before, during and after the actual judging.  Prior to the actual judging quilts are received, tagged, photographed and entered into a database which includes the insights about the quilt as submitted by the quilter.  In the judging room, volunteers have designated areas that are well tagged, for each category that is eligible for an award in the show.  Quilts are staged by category (e.g.  Art-Abstract, Art-Nature, Art-People, Art-Pictorial, Miniature, Traditional Large Applique', Traditional Wall Applique', etc.).

As a category is prepared for judging, all the quilts in a category are moved to a large viewing area, residing on tables.  Background noise exists while volunteers move quilts from area to area, and volunteers that will capture judges information to computer (and another group captures to paper, should a computer fail).  But as the time approaches for the judges to review a category of quilts, the room becomes silent.   Wispers that I now hear are judges chatting with each other.

Volunteers unfold quilts, layered on top of each other, allowing the judges to review each quilt for the first time.  Each quilt is then manually hung for display, at a distance of 20-30' of the judges,followed by a close range display, and then again it is laid down on the table for the judges to have a detailed review.  The judging team wispers and then their consensus is voiced loud enough for volunteers can log the judges feedback to a computer, and volunteers will also manually write to paper (should a computer go down).  This feedback is what will  later be sent to the respective quilter. To clarify, everyone quilt that is judged will receive feedback from the judges unique to their quilt.

Quilts are tagged as "hold" or "pass", based on judges feedback.  After all quilts in a category are reviewed, all quilts that had received a prior "hold" are brought back for review again by the judges.  The judges wisper among themselves and quickly decide if there are quilts in this group that can be "passed", to reduce the number of quilts that are essentially the top of the category being viewed.   Judges can then form their opinion on quilts, in this category that are lst, 2nd, 3rd, or Honorable Mentions. 

This process is repeated for all categories, until all quilts have been judged.

During this process judges can also tag quilts to be viewed in  "Contest Awards" for prizes that are not be category specific (e.g. Best of Show, Masterpiece Award, Excellence in Hand Quilting, Judges Choice, etc.).  Quilts that are now judged by these "Contest Awards" may have previously been a winner of a Category Award (e.g. Best Art Quilt or Best Traditional Quilt).  Should they win in the "Contest Awards" and have also won in a "Category Award" the judges look to award that quilt the prize with the biggest monetary value.  This may result in a quilt moving up to a higher award, whereby quilts in the previously judged Category Awards move up within their category. 

While there are many processes for judging quilts, from my observations I found the judging process at Road to California to be fair, efficient, reflect excellent teamwork skills by the judges, and work to ensure the winning quilts received the prize with the best $$$ value that their respective quilt could win.

Every quilt viewed has positive and constructive feedback.  Judges may ask to have the quilter's statement about the quilt read, but they never knew who the quilter was.  Questions by the judges might ask if a traditional quilt was from a pattern that was original, but either way the quilt was judged on the quilter's merit. 

Examples of positive feedback on a quilt:
- (item X) adds interest to quilt
- fun to look at, fun concept, nice composition, appealing, textures are beautiful
- beautifully quilted
- fabric appropriate to quilt; fabric choicses are excellent; nice fabric choices for background; use of fabric is unique and attractive; great use of batik fabric in center block.
- colors are unexpected; unusual color scheme is very attractive
- happy quilt; quilt makes you smile
- piecing is well done; piecing is accurate
- good use of value
- straight lines are straight; straight line quilting perfect for geometric design
- binding is well done
- very good hand quilting
- applique stitch small and even; edges are nice & crisp
- quilting patterns enhance background; quilting detail is interesting; quilting designs enhance the quilt; border motif works well; quilting works well with the design
- nice adaptation of design to theme
- well balanced;
- scalloped border is nicely bound; scallop edges are a nice touch
- yo-yo's add interest
- pleasing traditional quilt

Examples of constructive feedback on a quilt:
- straight lines need to be strait
- clip loose threads
- quilting could better enhance the blocks; quilting motifs tend to disappear; better control of thread tension is needed;could benefit from additional quilting;background quilting could be more imaginative;strive for even quilting stitches front to back
- binding corners should be square and consistent.
- negative balance (one color jumps forward)
- binding fabric distracts from center of quilt
- (item X) overpowers other features
- values are similar to background, hard to discern image
- could use more contrast to create more depth
- central block is overwhelmed by other blocks
- applique fraying at end; some fraying of raw edges; not so nice corners on applique
- hand quilting needs to be more even
- soft contrast needs a little more range of values
- remove all quilting marks from quilt
- center medallion over powered by next border
- block border tends to over power center motif
- border is too busy for overall design
- edges of quilt are rippled
- needs more space to allow your eyes to rest

Be aware that "positive" and "constructive comments shared do not apply to every quilt.  These are just some comments I found to be common and such that are good to think about and step back and think about, as you design your quilts.

My key take-aways from this opportunity: 
- Design is more important in Art Quilts. 
- Technique is more important in Traditional quilts. 
- If you are using raw edge applique you need to nail it down with tidy edges.
- Entering your quilt and getting feedback from a judge is a great way to improve your skills.
- Understanding the judging process is fair, and training your eye to not be a quilt cop, but be aware of what a quilt show judge needs to take into consideration when selecting winning quilts, out of a pool of beautiful quilts, is important.  Taking time to look at quilts, with this in mind, is also a good way to train your eye for how to look at your own quilting on where you can improve.
- if you don't enter, you can't win.  And everyone that submits a quilt to a show is a winner, as they contribute to our wonderful world of quilting.  Even winning quilts have positive and constructive feedback, which again is captured before a quilt is decided as a winning quilt.  Remember that a quilt might win or not win based on the quilts entered.

Thank you again to the wonderful Road to California Quilt Show team for letting me observe the judging process and answer my endless number of questions.

I plan to continue to research the Quilt Show Judging process and try to better understand how it might differ at various quilt shows, the process for how one becomes a quilt show judge, as well as share more information in a Q&A format.    So, please let me know know if you have recommendations for my research, or insights on the judging process that you'd like to share.  Feedback is always appreciated.


Jen said...

FANTASTIC info! Thanks so much for taking the time to leave such detailed info - I certainly will take your notes to heart!

QuiltSue said...

That was very interesting, thanks so much.

Maria Elkins said...

I had an opportunity to observe the judging at the last NQA show. It worked pretty much the same as what you experienced. I found it very interesting. The downside, of course, is with so many quilts, the judges don't have lots of time to study a quilt. I've had weird feedback like "remove all markings" on a quilt that I didn't mark at all before quilting. But I'm sure I've received many more constructive comments. The judges do a terrific job considering the mammoth job they undertake!

Barb said...

That is alot of work to judge, didn't realize there was that much to it..yes, I knew it took time but thanks for opening my eyes...and also letting me know what they look for.

Angie Padilla said...

Thank you so much for your insights on this subject, Darlene. I really appreciate the time you take to "educate" us on any given subject in your posts. This was such an interesting one to read! And I'm pretty sure people will be coming back to it before sending off their quilts to any given quilt show. I find your comments very, very helpful.

Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

great write up - I think a lot of people do not know how much goes into judging. I had the opportunity to watch and listen to the judging of quilts at a small county fair and even though that was nothing compared to a quilt event like this one it opened my eyes on what they are looking for.

Gene Black said...

Thanks for the information. I don't plan to enter quilts in shows, but if I ever do, I will be more prepared. Also, if I ever judge a local show, I will know more what to look for.

Pat said...

Great info! I've never attended a quilt show so this was especially interesting to see how a 'winner' is chosen. Are there entry fees to enter a quilt? How do you find out about quilt shows? I'd be interested to go to one.

drquilter said...

I thought your observations were dead on! Last year was the first year my guild had its show professionally judged. We always have a popular vote & hand out 1st, 2nd, & 3rd ribbons for that but we decided to add a professional, which members had the option of participating in. I was impressed with the judge and his remarks. I was shocked at how fair and thoughtful it was as I had heard it was all political. It certainly opened my eyes and I look forward to participating in the process again this year!

Dana Gaffney said...

So do you receive the comments from the judges even if you're not in the running? Even the critical ones would be a great way to learn, although I would love to hear I had made a "happy quilt".

Impera Magna said...

Thank you for an incredibly informative article on quilt judging. As a beginning quilter who is quilting for fun, I liked learning what judges are looking for... i.e., what makes a quilt interesting to look at.... color, value.. that stuff is new to me.

I also liked your point about sharing your quilt with the world... even if you don't win a prize, you are inspiring other quilters. I attended the Knoxville Quilt Show last summer and was so incredibly inspired by all the wonderful quilts!

monika@mysweetprairie.ca said...

Very helpful! Thank you so much!

WoolenSails said...

I know none of my quilts will be in a show, lol.
I quilt for fun and if I had to worry about being perfect, it would take away from my enjoyment. With primitive, I definitely don't stitch even, I like my stitches to be off, so I guess prim quilts will never be in a show.


Mama Spark said...

This was very interesting. Thank you so much for sharing all this wonderful information!!

Jocelyn said...

Wow Darlene, this is fascinating! It sure sounds like it takes a lot of time. I do hope the judges leave their preferences at the door, because I've seen some quilts win (at local quilt shows) that pale in comparison to others. It always made me wonder. Great insights.

Diana Napier said...

Thank you for such an interesting view of the judging and the show. I did enter a quilt into the show and received a second place ribbon so it makes me feel really good after hearing about the fair and very high criteria of the judges. I so wish I could have attended the show but traveling from Wisconsin to California wasn't in the cards. thanks again for this info.

Wacky Woman said...

Great post. Thank you for sharing this.

Darlene said...

Thanks for the great information Darlene.

Barbara Sindlinger said...

Great view of what happens during the judging process. Thanks for taking the time to do this and sharing it with us.

Anonymous said...

All entrants receive their judging comments. In the case of Road to CA, judging comments and a list of quilt awards awarded are e-mailed about 30 minutes after the judging ends. The usual procedure is for judging comments to be on paper and included in the box when the quilt is returned.
Stevii Graves

Kay said...

Obviously many people who read this never knew the procedure before, so you've performed a service by posting this. I have had my quilts in several different judged shows (this is my third entry in Road) and am familiar with how the procedure works, so I have some basis for comparison. Having just received my Road comments by email a few days ago, I have these thoughts about these particular judges.

First, I had all positive comments except for one constructive comment about the quilting, which I agree with, so I don't think my annoyance is sour grapes. However, the positive comments were all so vague that they could have been made from a quick glance at a photograph. There was no mention of fabric choice, color, or piecing (which I've had before on this quilt) and on others. Instead a comment on the title seemed the most specific thing that could be said. Nothing here was in the least helpful, and the superficiality is almost insulting.

I do understand the time constraints. Perhaps Road to California needs to decrease the number of categories, increase the number of judges or devise another system to allow more time if they intend to claim that the judges' comments have any value whatsoever. I will be very unlikely to bother entering this show again.

To summarize: a judge's job is difficult; some do it much better than others. Skill and fame as a quilter does not necessarily transfer into skill in the teaching part of judging.

Joanna said...

Thank you for this great post. I don't anticipate ever having a quilt in a judged show, but I do appreciate tips for making my own work better. And I'd love to see the quilt that made the commenter smile:)

Jen said...

Very thought-provoking, thanks for taking the time to post this. I would love to volunteer to write or type the judge's comments one year. I think that would be a great experience.

Ann said...

I was one of the "worker bees" at Road. I love to do this as I get to see all of the quilts up close and I always learn something. It is also an intense two days as a lot needs to be accomplished in a rather short time. I think Stevii does a great job at Road and know that other shows have facilitators that also do wonderful jobs. Thank you for posting such clear and well presented information.

Sherri said...

I really enjoyed this post! Thanks so much for all of the great info!

Jeanne Turner McBrayer said...

Lots of good information here! Thanks for this informative post.

Mary Tabar said...

Your post was great.Yes a lot of jobs have to be done in a short time.If you like to see SD county fair judging, I will give you the dates this June.Also NQA (National Quilting Assocation) has judging training.

Margaret said...

thanks for sharing, this was great info

Unknown said...

Great information; thank you for taking the time to document it. The judge at our last show recommended we consider using computers the next time. Can you tell me what software was used for the "database"? I see they used a MAC.

SewCalGal said...


Your settings are what we call a no-reply blogger, as their isn't an email linked to your profile to allow me to email you directly. You asked what SW they used, and this show developed their own SW, as I recall.


Unknown said...

getting ready to judge first time in USA. A bit nervous about it. Doing lots of research. Some of your points helpful in rounding out the form I created. Anne's friend from Ohio.