Sewing Room Question


I read your note about categories entries in the shows recently. I and others have entered hand applique work in the traditional style. I have entered several Broderie Perse, and Baltimore Style work, all hand done, including quilting, and never juried in, not complaining that I didn’t get chosen, but that, when I/we see what has been chosen, it is disappointing that it is usually some Beaded, unfinished edge, machine appliqued, and with painted work, paint with no stitching except quilted by machine. I am sure glad I am not the only one who is disappointed in what the judges like these days. The bright Color is always the choice of the judge these days, instead of traditional fabrics. Always the so called Art Quilts are the favorites of the judges. So I don’t even try any more, to compete, I can’t compete with paint. J. from Texas

Dear J.Thank you for writing. I understand and agree with many of the things you have said, but there are a few things I have learned that may help you understand quilt judges and contests better—seeing for myself certainly has enhanced my education. So if you don’t mind, I would like to address your concerns one at a time:

Traditional Applique: Hand applique is still and always will be a viable and very competitive medium in quilt contests. However, and this is big, if you are making your own version of an established style of traditional applique, i.e., Baltimore Album, it must include a new twist on the idea of an album quilt. For example, an unusual or very complex setting and/or border combination that has not been seen before is needed. (I am not saying you cannot use traditional borders or settings, I am suggesting that you combine appropriate elements that are a new combination. Study antique quilts and combine ideas from several to create your own new and unique version. That is what I do.) Or, design your own applique patterns.

Folk art quilts very definitely have a place in competition. However, a simplified, or less than realistic, interpretation of a subject does not give license to skimp on workmanship or amount of quilting. It must measure up in quality to the best formal quilts.

Sept 07 21.jpg

I included the applique quilt shown (and above) in my blog purposefully, it is a very traditional 1860’s era quilt using old familiar patterns (Oak leaf & Reel, a pieced eight-point star, and a simple swag). I promise you that if this quilt had been newly made and entered in Houston in the Traditional Applique category it would have been a contender for a top prize because it was a new setting of traditional patterns and it is clear at first glance that it is beautifully executed with careful workmanship and much thought put into it’s making.

To clarify this point about a quilt being unique and a new idea, and at risk of being offensive I will be even more blunt, any quilt entered that is easily recognized as a Baltimore Album (with familiar patterns from published sources) or a reproduction of any well publicized and published pattern (or group of patterns) will not get past the first cut (no matter how much time was spent or how perfect the workmanship) simply because it has been done before and we have all seen it. That sounds harsh, but a quilt contest is about rewarding new ideas (or new interpretations of traditional ideas) and recognizing excellence in executing those ideas.

About Broidere Perse quilts. I honestly don’t think that style of applique would make any difference to the judges, nor would they think it was cheating applique. If it is beautifully planned, carefully executed and lavishly quilted it would measure up against any other form of applique. I have judged many quilt contests and every judging team I have been on works together in appreciation of all forms of quiltmaking regardless of a judge’s own specialty.

Color: For a quilt to be noticed, and be a contender for a prize, the colors need not knock you over in brightness, but they must be a harmonious combination, with much attention paid to value and color placement. Far too often the comment made in the Houston judging about color was that there was not enough contrast—meaning the quilt was medium in tone when the use of lighter and darker fabrics (instead of staying in the mid color range) would have created a far more interesting quilt. I could spend a long time on this topic but I’ll get down off my soapbox and move on because there is much more to be addressed.

Machine vs. Hand Quilting. In today’s world the amount of time spent, or technique used (hand vs. machine), on quilting is meaningless. What is important, however, is that the technique chosen is well thought out and executed as perfectly as possible.

As the machine quilters have become more skilled and inventive in their formats, they have “raised the bar” on hand quilting too. If you hand quilt, it must compete in quality and quantity with machine quilting.

Those two elements, Quantity and Quality, have always been important in winning contests, they are just more important now because the machine quilters have excelled. It does not sound fair when considering the amount of time invested in these separate mediums. However, in reality if we judges had seen two comparable quilts with equal measures of well done machine quilting and well done hand quilting, the hand quilted quilt could easily have won out simply because of the time invested in the hand quilted quilt. We did not, however, even come close to seeing anything like the above scenario in Houston this year.

Workmanship: It may not seem it to you, but whatever medium a quiltmaker choses (beading, machine applique, etc), it must be well done, appropriate for the design chosen, and purposefully done.

Since it is my specialty, I will address what I looked for and found in the best appliqued quilts: hand applique should lie flat (looking almost as if it had been painted in place), the applique pieces should fit snugly against the quilt top, the edges of the applique pieces should be smooth (not bumpy), the applique stitches should not be obvious, and “inside” and “outside” points should be fray-free and secure.

Tradition Quilts 2.jpg

Quilting on top of applique is recommended to add dimension, texture, and secure the pieces in place. The “puffy” applique look is not professional. All of the above sound harsh, but the best quilts included these elements.

Tradition Quilts.jpg

When you are looking for “the best of the best” it always comes down to quality of workmanship.

Paint vs. Fabric: Fabric first: Because I spend so long on the quilts I make, I have worried in the past that by the time my quilt is finished it will no longer be viable for publishing, or a contest, because the fabric is older. At the end of this year’s judging I realized that I had not paid the least attention to the fabric used. What was of greater merit was the design, how color was combined—using fabic—, and whether or not the finished product was well executed. The fabric used was unimportant, it was simply a single element in the creation of a beautiful whole. So traditional or non-traditional fabric had no impact on the acceptability or validity of a quilt.

That said, I, too, am concerned about paint becoming a dominant medium in “quilt” competitions. But, as long as there is a front, some batting, and a backing attached together with quilting stitches it qualifies as a quilt. It is a trend that I am sure will be addressed in the future, but for now paint as a surface design is accepted and is judged as a quilt.

There will always be something new that “pushes the envelope” and makes traditional quilters nervous. I am convinced, however, that if we continue using time-honored methods and the principals of good design and color usage, we have nothing to fear for the fate of classic traditional quiltmaking.

This much I do know, that if we traditional quiltmakers simply give up and “turn it over” to innovative quiltmakers, traditional forms of quilting will disappear from view and we will no longer have a voice. That, in my opinion, would be a tragedy.

So if you are serious about your art/craft (and it is both) you will work on the points I listed above AND continue to enter contests. To be totally honest, I have never entered national quilt contests before, but I am going to start now because I don’t want traditional quiltmaking to disappear.

I hope you are encouraged and will do the same and keep entering contests!

All my best to you.


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