Quilt Show Judging

Thank you for the nice words in the last post about my decision to enter quilt shows this coming year. This turned my mind towards the subject of “quilt show judging.”

I think it is easier to not put yourself or your work out there- open to critique, etc. So why do we do it? I think most show their work to share with others, also to improve their skills with judge’s comments. Well meaning feedback can instructive, after all.

But sometimes judge’s critique can be absurd. Heck, I’ve already experienced the joy of stupid judge comments. It was that Islamic art quilt I did last year. Lots of original and innovative quilting- the quilt was filled with my quilting designs. All overlooked by the judge, who focused on the fact that why wasn’t the small panel “outline stitched?” (I had instead quilted a very cool Islamic tracery texture) Knock-knock, Judge…. it was an art quilt!

The client and I had a good laugh about this later- and agreed it would be the equivalent of having a asian quilt and the judge asking why wasn’t there bamboo quilted in the borders? The judge didn’t “get me” with the quilting and understand that I did not want to quilt the expected. I like to quilt “out of the box” quilting and not quilt what most quilters would have quilted. Especially when it was for an art quilt!

This is the case of the judge imposing their own subjective opinion onto a quilt. The judge expected and wanted to see it done a certain way- and when they didn’t, they marked the quilt down.

I believe that Quilt Show judges should spend time learning the ins and outs of machine quilting more thoroughly. For me, the quilting can make or break a quilt. I would expect a judge to know when the quilting design is original versus a stencil or panto or even a computerized design.

This is my opinion on the matter. I love to have different viewpoints provided in the comments section. On my blog, every opinion is valued, even when it is different from my own. So, your turn… what do you think about this topic?

Regards, Carla

6 thoughts on “Quilt Show Judging

  1. I agree with you Carla. Judges have their bias toward certain styles (some like old fashioned quilts -some like dramatic) — so I think one judges opinion isn’t necessarily everyone’s opinion.

    In my personal opinion the judges have not commented much on the quilting — not nearly as much as I would expect. I’ve given you quilts and your quilting was “over the top, original, fabulous” and yet the judges frequently didn’t say much. I have my quilts judged to improve and it’s also fun to see what they found that they liked (there’s usually at least one thing LOL). I didn’t always agree with them but mostly did.

    I’ve seen fairly ordinary quilts that when you quilted them with your artistic flair became fabulous quilts. So yes, quilting can make or break the quilt.

  2. I totally agree with this.I love the critique I get on improving my skills but when they get into design it starts becoming personal opinion. Very subjective. Ive learned to take things with a grain of salt here.

  3. I agree. The quilting design is a huge part of the total visual appeal(or not ) of a quilt. I have had judges that totally discount the quilting except for tension, starts and stops, and stitch consistency…all of which are important technical aspects. But I believe that the design work, both of the quilt top and the quilting should be judged according to the objective priciples of design; and originality that compliments or in many cases “makes” the design come alive should be noted too.

    I have noticed though in the past few years, at least in shows that use NQA certified judges, much improvement in that area. Art quilting is still fairly new in the traditional shows, and I think the judges are still learning to apply the basic principals of visual art to quilts.

  4. I have been around the art world for a long time, and the one thing I have learned, is that it is extremely subjective, both judging and purchasing a piece of art, whether it be a painting or a quilt. Both can be judged on technical merit, but when artistry is involved, it sometimes is subjected to the whims of the judge. And their vision might not be yours! I agree with the principals Deb speaks of – they are basic to all forms of art and design. However, I’m not sure every judge knows or uses them as a guide. I’ll look forward to seeing how your fabulous work is judged!

  5. Carla – one of the reasons I have decided to stop my pursuit of becoming a certified judge is because I have witnessed this subjectivity to much as I have helped with judging in the past few years. In our guild show this year we had a judge who is a machine quilter now after being a fantastic handquilter for years. She came to machine quilting by way of computerized quilting and is only just now doing any freehand work. So she expects all quilting to be “perfect” – each feather the same shape, size, etc. That’s just not me – I do all free hand and one day hope to come close to the fantastic work you do. At a show last year I served as the “second” judge and when it came down to awarding for Best Machine Quilting I almost passed out when the first judge wanted to ribbon a quilt that just wasn’t all that deserving – and she is a certified judge and also a longarm quilter. The quilt had lots of pearls and other embellishments but the machine quilting was basically just a stipple everywhere. There was another quilt with wonderful designs that made the quilt sparkle and shine. I sucked in my breath and gave her all the reasons I thought the second quilt should win the award and was able to convince this very seasoned judge to change her mind.

    I have learned a lot assisting with the judging at shows and will still put my name out there to judge for guilds and fairs that don’t require a certified judge – but I’m not convinced the certificate makes you a good judge.

  6. Thanks for the insight on judging. I came her after googling CRITERIA FOR QUILT SHOW JUDGING. I was nice finding a thoughtful discussion about judging… gives a lot of insite to us newbies.

    Do you know of websites that discuss what judges look for. A list of criteria, lesson plans .. anything that would be helpful to new quilt show entrants.

    Thank you,


    Anna, there is a nice article on the NQA site at http://www.nqaquilts.org/judgesabout.html that covers what judges look for. Hope this is helpful! C

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