Anatomy of a quilt show entry

In the 25 years I've been quilting I've displayed a handful of quilts in shows sponsored by the guilds I belong to. Only three times, though, have I entered a quilt into a competition--that is a show that has judging and awards ribbons (and sometimes cash prizes). One of those 3 quilts was one my sister & I made together, and for the purposes of this blog entry, I'm going to leave aside for now. The first quilt was a 36" x 36" wall hanging made entirely by hand and I entered it in the state fair--about 20 years ago. It did not win a ribbon. The second was the quilt below that you've seen here a few times recently. That would be 20 years between competitions. Why did I wait so long between entries? Well, I did go through some major life changes that sent my quilting goals in other directions for awhile. But mostly, I was waiting to complete something that I felt had a reasonable chance of showing well against competition. Not necessarily to guarantee a win, but would serve as evidence of my growth as a quilter.

So. How did I do? I entered this in the NQA show held last weekend in Columbus.

Several of you regulars here have left me some lovely comments about this quilt. Indeed, I like it too, and I think it represents a huge leap for me as a quilter, both in my use of color, and in the design of my quilting stitches across the surface. I've made a lot of "nice" quilts over the years, but this is the first one to turn out well enough that I thought it was competition-worthy. Here's a close-up of the quilting:

Let's get the bad news out of the way, first. No, I did not win a ribbon. "Horrors!" you say (you're such nice friends). Please believe that I say with all honesty--I am not upset or angry with the judging. Truly, the winning entries were more deserving than mine. But the good news is, I think I'm getting close. And I intend to keep trying.

The most instructive part of the entire exercise is to read the judges' comments when the quilt is returned. NQA Certified Judges use a specific list of criteria against which quilts are evaluated. The criteria look at both workmanship and the quilt's appearance and design. Here's what was said about my quilt and my reaction to those comments:

Radiating quilting lines in star blocks lead the eye into the center. I am not totally sure of the purpose behind this statement. I assume it's complimentary. Is the eye supposed to lead to the center? That's not stated in the criteria, and indeed, with any surface design and media that is not necessarily the goal.
More care needed in piecing. Ouch. Yes, this is probably true. Some of my star points are chopped off. This is why I'm doing that block of the month--so I can practice more precision piecing.
Quilting designs fill the space well. Thank you judges, I thought so too. It paid to give careful consideration to how I would quilt each individual space in the quilt.
Repetition of fabrics from central design to border unify the work. Here I must give credit to the pattern designer, Rachel Wells (no link available).
Machine quilting generally well done; minor tension problems noted. This is continually my downfall. Sometimes I'm just too impatient to spend the time I need to fine tune my machine's tension. My sister will kill me when she reads this. Fortunately, she lives 400 miles away. But see, she wrote a book about machine quilting. I am so dead.
Outer edge should be straight. OK, this feels a little picky to me. I admit it.
Binding is securely attached; attaching thread color should be less obvious. Well good on the first part. The attaching thread is on the BACK where I whip stitched the binding in place. On the BACK where no one can see it. Feeling picked on again....
Corners should be square. Yep. Absolutely. Look at the upper left corner of the inner borders. Wonky. I probably stretched something when I attached them. Easy to do when working with strips and why you should PIN THE HECK OUT OF EVERYTHING.

Sometime in the next 24-36 hours I'll post the pictures of the winners in my category. Wait until you see them. A few are just incredible. And then I'll post a few other pictures from the show. And then we'll get back to books because it'll be July and time for a list of phaves.


  1. Great job Phyllis. Wish I could have been there to see it!! Love the quilting you did and I know I would love it even more if I could see it in person!

  2. Thank you! I wish you could've come, too. You can come next year. The quilt is hanging in the guest room! It's waiting for you :-)

  3. Hi Phyl.....
    Well I won't kill you exactly because I do not have to live with the consequences. But clearly there is a reason for testing thread tension before adding stitches to a quilt! Now you know first hand what the reasons are. While I KNOW you have copies of my book, it is clear you have not read it!! Ha ha... As for the binding, we discussed this the last time you were home, and I said we should look at cleaning up your binding techniques some time when you are up for it.

    I think that creating a quilted project for competition judging is truly a labor of love combined with an exercise of anal-retentive techniques. I think you have the "Labor of love: part down to a science. Its the anal retentive techniques you will have to employ.

    Anyway, congrats! It is a beautiful piece you should be proud of. Since its your blog, not mine, I'll shut up now.

    Your reading list puts me to shame. I read one chapter in one book for all of June! Ugh!!!

  4. I did too read your book! It's just that I'm still as lazy as I've ever been!

  5. My sister will kill me when she reads this. Fortunately, she lives 400 miles away. But see, she wrote a book about machine quilting. I am so dead.

    This made me crack up even before I saw your sister's comment above!!!

    Interesting post. :)

  6. Thanks, Christine. I'm glad I made you laugh, too. :-)


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