Competition Quilting and Dealing With Judges’ Comments

Make no mistake.  I am competitive and it helps me to create my fabric art and improve it to have a show ribbon to reach for.  I also like to share my work with my friends and others who may find them fun, happy, uplifting or something positive when they see them and shows provide me with a venue in which to do this.  But after competing since 2009, and moving up in competitive venues, I have found it necessary to take the judges’ comments, and the lack of ribbons, with some humor and a certain amount of fortitude.

When I first started down this path, the judges’ comments were really helpful in figuring out where my biggest weaknesses were and how to improve.  More recently though I have reached the level where most of the comments are generally an opinion of whether or not the judge liked my design. I will say this is not always the case, but usually when they tell me something is wrong I already know it (like there is not enough value difference between the foreground and the background) or it is something that developed in the shipping from humidity, folding, or heat (like not laying flat).  So I have developed a pretty thick skin.  Nevertheless, when I read three judges comments on the same quilt that looks like they are talking about three different quilts, I have to wonder if maybe I should scratch that show off my list.  Afterall, competing is expensive and when I get no or very little prize money, almost ever, I need to carefully select which shows I will use. in the future.

Here are a couple examples:


Canterbury Knight just returned from Houston IQF with these comments or marks that stood out (I am not giving the judges names because I happen to like these quilters and think they have a huge job looking at all these quilts.  Maybe they just had an off day or didn’t know they were looking at a representation of an illuminated manuscript.  Maybe they didn’t even know what an eleventh century illuminated manuscript looks like:
Judge 1:  pluses on use of color; + on integration of all design elements, best features circled were “Appropriate use of embroidery and/or embellishment; Pleasing overall appearance; Bindings full and well applied”; suggestions for improvement circled included “More uniform quilting stitches”, “Quilt should lay flat” [note, I can only think it was the humidity there, because it lays flat here now and I can’t really figure out what they were seeing] and written comment “Very nice storybook arts classic.”

Judge 2: minuses (no pluses) on Visual impact, use of color, balance of design, integration of all design elements, overall appearance; No best features were circled; suggested improvements circled included “color impact could be improved”, “quilt should lay flat”.  Written comment “Outer border overpowers center; surface distortion on center”.

Judge 3: no pluses or minuses at top section; Best features circled:  “Very original, Stood up well against strong competition”; nothing circled in suggestions for improvement.  Written comment “Outer border overwhelms the center design.”

Those were all about this quilt:

Canterbury Knight - F - 2015 web

I also will show you these comments, or lack thereof, about Sky Horse from last year.  Now I freely admit Sky Horse is such a different kind of quilt that it has real trouble being recognized as a deep space nebula unless you are someone who is interested in astronomy and have viewed some of the great photos available of these great natural wonders God created in the heavens.  And also, you may not be a magpie, which I am sort of…so you may not like this kind of approach at all.  Anyway, here are the Houston comments from last year on Sky Horse:

Judge 1: minus on visual impact, no other pluses or minuses, nothing is circled in the lower section and no written comment.

Judge 2: no pluses in top section, minuses on “use of color, balance of design, and overall appearance”.  Nothing is circled in lower section and no written comment.

Judge 3: no pluses or minuses on top section, nothing is circles, no written comment.

OK, so here are the comments from the judges at PA Nat’l Quilt Competition on Sky Horse:

All written:  “Congratulations. Use of Angelina Fiber very effective. Outline of horse head with bobbin free motion well done. Quilting well done. Quilt hangs flat and square. Great use of color and design.”  They awarded the quilt “Best Use of Color” in its category.

Tatum_SkyHorse_Full 2014

This quilt is hard to catch the full impact in a photograph. The Angelina Fibers are so light reflective that, even after obtaining a special filter, I was unable to get a great photograph, but you may be able to get an idea here.


Sew what is the point here?  Take away the things you, yourself, think are helpful from judges comments and ignore the rest.  Prepare your quilts for really tough use if you are going to show them, because things affect them (like humidity, folding, shipping, heat, etc), and choose your shows to fit your lifestyle, quilting style, location, etc.  Compete with yourself rather than anyone else and enter shows just to show off what you have done, without worrying about ribbons and comments too much (easier said than done, but it is doeable).  Sometimes one judge will hate your work and another will love it.  You can get panned in one show and awarded a ribbon in another.

Sew here is what I have planned for next year…though I admit they may change:

I plan to skip Houston next year and save myself the money and stress.  It just doesn’t seem to fit me and they require months with your quilt. I have decided to participate in the shows I can drive to for the most part and a few others.  So this coming year I have my eye on:  Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival in Williamsburg, VA; PA National Quilt Festival in Philadelphia; AQS Chattanooga; MQX Midwest and maybe NE, depending on what I finish when.  I have the two quilts above entered into Road 2 California, which is just a short distance from some of my family members. Oh, and Hoffman Challenge 2016 because I like the fabric.  I don’t have anything for Paducah this year, though I have entered that show for five years now and never gotten a quilt in, so I’m probably dropping the effort.  This will probably be all and depends on what I really get done when.  I am writing, working on developing classes; and continuing to make quilts for competition and for sale.

Sew happy everyone!  Keep on making everything as great as you can and improving throughout your sewing and quilting life.  Creating beautiful and/or cozy things can help friends and family and even strangers in times of stress and horrible events like the Paris terrorist attacks.  Keep on praying and sewing.