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.



11 thoughts on “Competition Quilting and Dealing With Judges’ Comments

  1. margaret gunn says:

    Houston must hire the 3 most opinionated and diversely different judges possible, year after year. With the types of things they critique, it is a wonder that a technical, traditional quilter can ever win. The comments on your 2015 quilt are definitely from a personal-opinion standpoint, and not one of technical points. Although, I hate to say it, as beautiful as that border is, it is just more impactful than the center panel. It leaves me wondering how it would have affected them if the center had a narrow frame border in a bold color, and just a touch more of the brighter colors within it. I wonder these same things related to quilts I have entered too. Next year is my year to enter again. Hell, if a Masterpiece quilt cannot earn a ribbon, then I have no place ever entering that show.

    • Thanks for your comments Margaret. Yes, you may be right about the central panel. I was talking about it with my daughter-in-law yesterday, who is also a quilter, but I love the quilt. I will just have to try another ancient manuscript quilt and keep that in mind. I wish you well in your entry next year. It is kind of my mission to make my “art quilts” as technically excellent as great traditional quilts.

  2. Stevii says:

    Part of the difference in the horse quilt comments is that one show judges with the quilts laying flat, the other judges with the quilts hanging. Lighting will effect how a quilt is seen either flat or hanging.
    Also, remember that quilts are judged against what is in the competition for that show.
    The Houston comments are why I hate three comment sheets instead of one unified comment sheet.

    • Thanks Stevii! The lighting is especially impactful on this kind of quilt that is so dependent on the light to show it. It looked magnificent when I went to see it hanging in Houston. They did a wonderful job of placing it there. And yes, the competition is very keen in Houston.

  3. Diane says:

    I think you will find a big difference in comments from shows that use Certified Judges vs. those who use faculty.

  4. Terry says:

    I was gun ho about entering competitions and thought I had stitched an extra special one worthy of entering. I entered it four times and received almost the same comments! Like you wrote, one judge can love your work and other will pan it. I think that happened. I felt that the comments were subjective rather than objective. In a couple shows, I had the same judge! At least they were consistent! So, I decided that while I might try to enter a bigger show, I will continue to make quilts my way and not in the way of the judges!

    • Terry, Like I said…compete with yourself the most. It is gratifying to have nice comments about your entries. I just wish I could win enough prize money to pay my expenses….LOL….but yes, keep making them your way and stretching yourself a little further with each quilt. You do wonderful work. Cheers. BJ

  5. Marla Hexter says:

    BJ, having seen the knight quilt in person I think the judges are nuts. Ok, I’m biased, but as you say, your goal is to get constructive comments that help you improve. Is there any consistency in background or training for judges in the different competitions? I wonder if the entrants are able to provide feedback to the competition organizers.

    • Marla, Thank you! The story of certification of judges just took an interesting turn this year. The National Quilting Association, which used to be the main organization that did that, is shutting down, but they just created another group to take care of just that aspect of the organization. It remains to be seen how that works out. That being said, many shows use celebrity judges either exclusively or as part of the team. This is not altogether a bad thing, especially for us art quilters. Much of the certification by NQA has been focused around traditional quilting. I will be interested to see how this develops in the future. And no, there is no way to provide feedback beyond facebook and blogs. I have gotten comments from some of the judges and show leaders about my Facebook post and this blog (Stevii Graves) , and from some leading quilters (Margaret, for an example). I didn’t expect to stir anything up about this. But I will say that the quilts I am competing against are unbelievably magnificent. I am honored just to get my quilt in some shows, and Houston is one of them. But I decided to take a year away from Houston this coming year to concentrate on nearby shows, as I said.

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