Museums · Quilt Shows

Judging a Quilt Show • July 2022

It starts like this.

Or this.

Or really, it started with an email from the Quilt Show Committee asking me if I would consider judging one of my favorite small shows: the Springville Art Museum Show. The quilt show is put on by the museum, but the Utah Valley Quilt Guild provides the bulk of the volunteers, the manpower to get it all put together. According to Wendy, the chair of the Quilt Show Committee, I would be there all day, and they would provide lunch (which was delicious!). It was a 9-5 job, in other words.

Yes, I was a bit nervous never having done this before, so I did pretty extensive reading before I went, carrying copies of the NQS guidelines, and other references I found. In reviewing them the night before, I thought: “After nearly five decades of quilting, I either know this…or I don’t.”

What I wasn’t always aware of was how to compare quilts that are quite dissimilar in style, execution, materials, etc. According to NQS guidelines, it often comes down to the number of design decisions made by the maker. I let that be a guide as I worked through the quilts.

Wendy (shown here at the end of the day when she was relaxed) was my first scribe, and Lani (on the right) was my “interim scribe” when Wendy went to assemble lunch for us all. In the morning, I met my other two judges, Pamela and Chris (our bios are at the bottom of this page), along with our the other scribes. The Museum Curator, Emily, and Wendy gave us instructions.

Each quilt was to be judged twice, but each judge was to only judge a portion of the quilts (roughly 60). We would look at the quilt, check off the items on the scoring sheet, leave a comment or two about the overall impression of the quilt, then the scribe would leave the paper upside-down under the quilt, to be picked up later.

The scoring sheet had the usual items dealing with construction, design, quality, straightness, buckling or cupping of edges, tension of stitches, and so forth. Having participated in larger shows, I was suprised that they didn’t have two categories for machine: stationary head or moving head (long-arm), but instead lumped them all together (I will compose an email to the curator, later). And I was surprised about the fixation with binding on the score sheet — was it straight? was it even? was it filled? I dutifully did my inspection, but thought this was a minor detail overall. I’d heard about this from others, but still roll my eyes a bit.

The fun part was getting to put my hands all over the quilts. I kept them clean, washing them often, but it was necessary to determine — in one case — whether the tiny circles were appliquéd or painted onto the quilt (painted). I had to pull at design motifs to figure out if it was a panel or appliquéd (panel), and check other various parts of the quilt.

I’d read the phrase in my studying, “If you can see it, the judge can see it.” Yes we can. I spent a lot of time picking off threads only to find they were attached, like this one, above. We had about an average of 3-4 minutes per quilt. I’d read that some shows are judged “flat” and other shows are judged “hung.” Ours was obviously hung, so we couldn’t really examine the top corners, but could do the rest of the quilt pretty well. I spent a lot of time running my fingers down the bindings, picking up corners to check for construction.

My scribe dutifully wrote what I dictated. I soon learned that I was better about commenting about the design right off the bat, then could address the “needs improvement” comment after I’d gotten up close and personal. I think that what I said about those first few quilts were a bit clunky, and wish I could go back and re-do some of them, but we had pretty hard and fast deadlines, so I pressed on.

All three of us.

In later afternoon, after we had all judged the quilts, the real discussion began back at the table. We needed to fill out the top winners, settle our differences about what quilts should be elevated to awards, and choose our own Judge’s Choice. I thought we worked really well together as a team.

There were three major awards, with Best of Show being one of them. Then a few more Awards of Excellence, then Honorable Mentions, along with Sponsor Awards, Museum Awards and others. We had a lot of norming of the score sheets to do, which meant running off to see the quilts yet again, discussing them among ourselves. I liked this part of the best, as I felt we each had different tastes and approaches and this gave a good evaluation of which quilts should get an award. I could point out details in the quilts I’d judged, and they could point out details in the quilts they’d closely looked at. Finally our awards lists were complete and we handed them in…early!

Here I am holding my Judge’s Choice ribbon in front of the quilt I chose. There were some specifications for what we chose, but generally we had free rein. Notice the two judging sheets on the floor (we each had a different color), and the paper pinned to the corner of the quilt with the barest amount of info: no names, no stories of the quilt. It was just us and the quilts that day.

I was surprised that they gave me an honorarium, so I promptly went across the street to Corn Wagon Quilts (one of the sponsors) and went shopping. The Circle of a Quilter’s Life, right? I spent the night at my sister’s house in Provo, and over dinner, she dutifully listened while I talked about my experiences. She also had listened to me years before, after I’d gone to Quilt Market; I’m glad she was there.

So, in the end, did I “know it?”Confidently, I can say yes. Do I want to judge another show? Yes. Do I want to judge a show like Quilt Market or Paducah? Heaven’s no! But many small regional and guild shows need judges, and I feel I could do this. Like every quilter, I’ve made a lot of stitching mistakes in my life which brings one kind of education, but being able to go to — and participate in — some of the shows such as Quilt Market, Houston, Atlanta, PIQF, Road to California and other large national/international shows has given me another kind. After participating all these years, I was happy to be able to give back.

If you haven’t entered a Guild Show, or a regional or national show yet, give it a try. They can only say no, and you might be surprised about getting in!

Happy making–

Next post: Many quilts from Springville. Sneak Peek:

16 thoughts on “Judging a Quilt Show • July 2022

  1. What a wonderful experience Elizabeth! And yes, you have plenty to offer with your experience and keen eye! I hope you get many more opportunities to be a judge at a quilt show. I’ve only ever entered one quilt show ( never again!) and I remember the ‘must do better’ section mentioned my binding not being full enough! I pride myself on my even binding and this really deflated me. I’ll stick to making quilts for pleasure, thank you very much! Congratulations to Lisa for her Judges Choice Award!😉

  2. COngratulations! That looks like it was fun! I have been a scribe at my guilds quilt show a few times and learned a lot.I particularly remember one judge who was really careful to make as many positive comments as suggestions for improvement. So encouraging to the quilters.I also found it interesting that binding is such a big deal. I’m always amazed at the amount of threads or markings that quilters leave on their quilts. So distracting to me…..

  3. It looks like a wonderful show and I’m so glad you enjoyed the judging! I really look forward to seeing the quilts in the next post.

  4. what a fun day for you. I used to go to the Springville show many many years ago. We made a day trip of it from Ogden with my mom and sister. It is a great show in a wonderful environment. Its kind far to go now that I live in east Tennessee.

  5. This was a fun read! That was a great experience for you. So glad you shared all of the behind the scenes happenings with us.

  6. Thanks for sharing your judging experience, Elizabeth. I can only imagine what a daunting, but fun experience that was for you. I’ve always treasured judges comments when I’ve received them, even the “needs improvement” ones. And I remember literally jumping up and down and screeching a little when I won my first ribbon. The woman standing next to me gave me quite a look, until my husband explained I was excited about the prize.

  7. Elizabeth, you keep developing and advancing in quilting. Congratulations, I’m glad you enjoyed the experience and intend to continue on.

  8. The quilts are beautiful. I wish I lived closer to attend the show and view all the quilts in person. I’m looking forward to your post next week!

  9. Wow, what a great opportunity for you! You are the perfect choice. I can see how careful evaluation of a bevy of quilts can also positively impact your own quilting.

  10. Such an interesting review! Thanks for sharing it. I too am surprised that the quilting was lumped together. I’m happy to say that our local guild has broken it down between stationary and moveable, and is now entertaining whether to break that down further because so many quilters are doing pre-programmed embroidery quilting on their moveable (domestic) sewing machines. Like you, I’m surprised at the emphasis on binding, but it’s probably because it can be a make or break point between two quilts. Agree with ZippyQuilts observation that your choice looks like a quilt you would make. 🙂 I’m glad there was some opportunity to allow a little bias to play a part in your choice. As much as I’d enjoy the opportunity to judge a show like this, I think it would be very difficult to remain objective. After 40-plus years of quiltmaking, I know what I like! I’m glad you handled this assignment so well!

  11. Such an interesting view into the behind-the-scenes tasks of a quilt judge. A lot of pressure, it seems, but you’re the woman for the job!

  12. This was so fun and interesting to read! Thank you for walking us through a day in the life of a quilt judge. It really puts perspective on the thoughtfulness that goes into it. Lucky quilters.

  13. What an exciting opportunity to be a quilt judge! Thanks for taking us through your day.

Your turn to have a say:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s