What Judges Look for in a Quilt

Yesterday I received my rejection letter from CQA for my quilt “The Blue Door”.  I was excited to see that the letter included the Juror’s comments, but baffled because they shed no light on why the quilt was rejected.   In the next few minutes I went though the feelings a rejection letter brings out:  first and foremost, disappointment, outrage (“what do you mean, rejected!”) and then resignation (oh, well, next time …).  Once the feelings of disappointment are gone, in my mind I go to work designing the next quilt which I always imagine will be better than the previous one.  “The Blue Door” wasn’t juried into the show, so it didn’t get a chance to get judged. 

Before embarking on my next project, I decided to do some research into what judges look for when accepting or rejecting a quilt (once they are in their possession and they can look at them in detail).  Here’s some of what I found out:


Design is very important; not just the design of the quilt top, but of the quilting motifs as well, whether they contribute or detract from the quilt. 

Design as it applies to the quilting:  They notice if the quilting designs create movement and texture; complexity of design is another factor taken into consideration.  The designs should be proportionate to the other elements in the quilt and should fit nicely each space.  Border quilting should not give an appearance of poor planning or an afterthought.  There should be an equal and balanced amount of quilting throughout the quilt with no open spaces or over quilted areas.  Design of the quilt top speaks to all the choices one makes when designing and making a quilt:  choice of pattern; use of color to bring the pattern to life; the choice of the quilting pattern and how it was used; and the choice of materials.   They will look for a nice balance between large and small scale fabrics; use of lights and darks, etc.

Innovation:  is this quilt different from others?  In which way?  Style, design, or has the quilter just used the latest color palette?

They also look for emotional appeal:  does the quilt produce a response from the viewer?

The second major category at the core of the judging process is Workmanship including Construction:

Precision whether in piecing or appliqué is thoroughly looked at as the judges are looking for exceptional quality of work.   They will spend a lot of time looking at the construction of the quilts.  The seams must all line up perfectly, and the points must be all sharp; smooth appliqué, flat seems; sashings of equal width, straight borders; square miter corners; a quilt that hangs flat and straight with no ripples or waves. 

Binding should be full, tight and firm with mitered corners.  Don’t have limp unstuffed bindings.  Even and nearly invisible stitches should be used to sew the binding to the back of the quilt.

They will also look at the back of the quilt.  The backing fabric should be compatible with that used for the top.  Major construction seams should be vertical.  Generally, it is better to have two evenly spaced seams rather than a single center seam.  Seam allowances should be neatly pressed to one side, or open.  The quilting stitches showing on the back of the quilt are of equal importance as those on the front.

They will also look at the quality of the quilting – whether the stitches are even and the thread tension is balanced.  The starts and stops should not show; no unsightly nests of thread on the back of the quilt; the knots and thread ends must be buried in the quilt without showing on the back.

Consider piecing the back of the quilt with some type of design that complements the front of the quilt.

Workmanship also includes Ceanliness:  no smudges, no pencil lines, no stains, no dog or cat hair and ideally, unused.

Finally, the judges look at the General Appearance of the quilt to determine what makes it attractive; whether the color palette used is pleasing to the eye; does the choice of fabrics fit the design? 

That, in a nutshell, are some of the things that judges look for or at when judging quilts.

One more thing to keep in mind when entering shows is the category selection.  Show brochures make an effort to provide all the information the entrant will need.  Read the information carefully, and don’t assume you already know the answers.  Some of the categories differ from show to show, and some times the categories change.  Quilts may be rejected if they are entered in the wrong category.  Some shows take the liberty of switching your quilt from categories if they feel that they fit better in a different one, but not all shows do this, and the quilt may be disqualified.  Choosing a category can be a difficult decision if the choice is not obvious. 

Let’s have a look at some of these definitions:

Art and Innovative categories are very popular nowadays as a result of the work created by today’s quilters and textile artists.  Sometimes there are separate categories for art and innovative, and sometimes there will be a definition for innovative to the effect that it refers to the technique and not the design, or vice versa.  The word “original” is sometimes used in the art and/or innovative quilt category definition.  To be an “original” the design needs to be totally new, never done before.

Pictorial: a pictorial design is defined as a recognizable object: a person, animal, place (landscape, etc.) or object. 

Mixed Techniques: is the use of approximately equal amounts of two major techniques in the quilt design.  An obvious example is a design with piecing and appliqué.  What is not a mixed technique is a combination of hand and machine quilting.  In that case, the category will be determined by the dominant technique.

Miniature:  Not every small quilt is considered a miniature.  The definition of a miniature quilt is a design that has been reduced in scale.  All of the various components: overall design, quilting design and stitches, binding, embroidery, embellishments or other surface techniques need to be reduced in scale.

Whatever the category, make sure you read the definitions carefully.  When in doubt, contact someone at the organization for clarification.

I hope you find this useful.  Send me comments, both positive and negative, and tell me of your experiences when entering shows.  In the meantime, I will get back to creating and quilting.

Have a good weekend.




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