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About being judged

20100827_checking-out-a-quilt_33Fall is often considered the start of quilt show season, though we know you can find a show almost every weekend a year. One of the major shows is in late October/early November — the International Quilt Festival held in Houston, where upwards of 60,000 people from around the world gather to view quilts and buy quilting and art supplies. People who have entered their art are vying for more than $100,000 in cash and prizes. It is a big deal to have your quilt juried into the show. And, of course to win a ribbon or prize, cash or otherwise, quite an accomplishment.

Have you ever entered your quilt in a major show? I have, and the idea was quite daunting to me at first. Many years ago I made a quilt for a national competition with a floral theme. In the end the quilt did not make the cut for the competition; however, I decided to take a step and enter it elsewhere. The quilt’s first stop was a Quilters’ Heritage Celebration in Lancaster, Pa. It was a thrill to see it hanging at a national show and to have people ask to take my picture with my quilt. The biggest thrill was when a highly respected quilt judge told me that my quilt had been her favorite. That quilt led to a feature in a national quilt magazine of several of my quilts. Of course, not all my show experiences were as rewarding. I remember one quilt that I showed at, a local show, and the judging sheet that came back with it. The judge had written that my choice of binding fabric was not appropriate for the quilt. I never really understood her comment — the quilt was a scrappy attic windows and the binding was a paisley print that had been in the quilt. I decided to take the comment with a grain of salt; I did not see the constructive criticism element. I went onto enter other shows and always looked at the judging comments sheets as ways I could improve.

How about your efforts to share your work? I know that you first share it with your family, then with your small quilting “bee” and finally take it to show and tell at your next guild meeting. For some quilters, this is enough. For others, it is not. Many quilters want to see how their quilts stack up against the competition, whether that is hanging the quilt in a local, non-judged show or entering it in a major juried and judged competition. In addition to gaining recognition for your quilts, you also educate other quilters and the general public about quilting and its standards. For local guild shows, this is often a primary reason for holding a show. Additionally, if your quilt is entered in a judged show, you can set goals for improvement based on feedback from the judges or your own comparison with winning quilts. And, of course, you might just win a prize, either a ribbon, cash, or merchandise.

Impartiality in judging is important and one way this is done is through use of a panel of independent judges, usually three. Judges can be trained and certified by the National Quilting Association, or they can be trained through experience. They all adhere to similar standards of judging, although final results will be varied based on the individuals.

Judging can take place either before or after the quilts are hung, and each method has advantages. Judging quilts after they are hung allows the visual impact of the quilt to be better appreciated. Judging quilts before they are hung is usually faster, but visual impact takes second place to the ability to view the workmanship.

Judges often use scorecards or evaluation forms and either a point system, an elimination system or a combination of the two to evaluate the individual entries. The point system uses a predetermined maximum number of points to judge specific areas, for example, up to 20 points for the color and design, up to 20 points for construction, up to 15 points for finishing, etc., with the total equaling 100 points. Each quilt is judged on its own merits, and the quilt with the highest total number of points is awarded the first place.

The elimination system, on the other hand, allows each judge to evaluate a quilt, make comments on its technique and offer feedback for improvement. If the judge feels the quilt should be held for ribbon/award consideration, it is put aside. If not, it is released from the competition portion. After the quilts are judged in this preliminary fashion, the held quilts are compared to others in its category and the winners are determined.

Neither system is perfect. Regardless, judges evaluate quilts against the same standards. Here are just a few of the commonly held standards that judges use:

General Appearance

  • The quilt makes an overall positive statement upon viewing
  • The quilt is clean and “ready to show,” i.e., no visible marks, no loose threads, no pet hair, no bearding, no offensive odors.
  • The quilt’s edges are not distorted. This is easier to gauge when the quilt is hung.

Design and Composition

  • All the individual design elements of the quilt – top, quilting, choice of fabric, sashes, borders, embellishments, finishing – are unified.
  • The design is in proportion and balanced.
  • Borders or other edge treatments enhance the quilt appearance.


  • Piecing is precise, corners match and points are sharp.
  • Seams, including those of sashing and borders, are secure, straight and flat.
  • Quilting stitches are straight where intended and curved where intended.

As noted, judges consider certain “standards” when evaluating quilts – and the list is really quite extensive – but how do they decide which quilts are the prizewinners? And what is more important, design or workmanship? In the end I think it comes down to design, the quilt with the greater visual impact. But even the quilt with the greatest visual impact cannot rescue poor workmanship.

If you want to learn more about judging, ICAP offers three resources recommended for those in judging programs. You can learn more about The Challenge of Judging by Jeannie Spears, Judging Quilts by Katy Christopherson, and a audio recording of a conversation on “The Judge’s Perspective” between Morna McEver Golletz and judges Jane Hall and Scott Murkin on our resources page. We also offer a package with all three of the resources. See the Resources for Judges page on our website. Use code the Judge when you check out to save 15% on any of these resources through September 30, 2014.

Please share your thoughts and experience on the judging process below or on ICAP’s Fan Club Facebook page.



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Morna McEver Golletz is the founder and CEO of the International Association of Creative Arts Professionals where creative arts entrepreneurs craft business success. Her weekly e-zine offers tips, techniques and inspiration to help you craft business success from your creative arts passion. You can sign up for a FREE subscription at



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2 Responses to “About being judged”

  1. Pam Nourse said:

    This is a great overview of the judging process – thanks!
    For people who are interested in what goes on in a judging room, judged shows are often in need of judging aides/volunteers (I’ve volunteered at the Vermont Quilt Festival, and chair the judged section of the Maine state quilt show, where we’re almost always in need of people to help). It’s a good way to see how the system works, and pick up some tips to improve your own work as well!

  2. Morna said:

    Pam, thanks for the suggestion for people to volunteer. I wish I had done that before I judged my first show, which was an eye-opening experience.

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