We have until October 31, 2023, to submit quilts for consideration for QuiltCon 2024, which will be held in Raleigh, North Carolina. I am working on a quilt that I am planning on submitting (Cloudy Night Sky), and as such I’m doing a few things differently than I normally would for a regular use quilt. I got a great question in the Quilting Jetgirl Facebook group about what (if anything) I’m doing differently as I work on Cloudy Night Sky. I replied:
I’m going the extra mile for the piecing thread color (like using several threads that blend the best in the seams). If I were just making the quilt for me, I would probably have just used a light or medium gray for the piecing and it would have been more than good enough. I will also spend time blocking the quilt after quilting (wetting it and working to make sure it is “square” prior to trimming) which I would normally [edited to add: but not always] skip for a non-show quilt.
Since I replied, I’ve been working on putting this more comprehensive blog post together on the topic.
Is this advice only good for QuiltCon?
The first thing I want to acknowledge is that there are MANY more quilt shows than just QuiltCon; as a modern quilter who often makes minimalist quilts and who enjoys incorporating creative negative space into my designs, I really enjoy QuiltCon because of its focus on modern quilts. QuiltCon is also the quilt show that I try to attend as often as possible. For a very detailed reference on other quilt shows, entry processes, and fees (as of December 2022), I highly recommend Kelly Spell’s “A Brief Overview of My Favorite U.S. Quilt Shows“.
I have also had a few of my quilts accepted into various AQS QuiltWeek shows and Mancuso’s QuiltFest virtual and PIQF shows. So this post is about my general thoughts, observations, and considerations and is hopefully general enough to apply to most quilt shows. However, I will be pulling from my experience, which is mostly from submitting to and having my quilts shown at QuiltCon over the years.
Sunburst hanging on display at QuiltCon 2016 – my first quilt to be accepted to a quilt show!
I honestly do not typically consider myself a quilter who makes quilts specifically for quilt show submissions, and there are quilters who specialize in making show worthy quilts who likely have different insight than I do. I just wanted to share my perspective and things that I have learned over the years as I have evolved as a quilt maker, quilt designer, and occasional quilt show entrant.
Also: you do you!! I don’t want anyone to feel pressure that there is a “right” way to go about making and submitting quilts to quilt shows. These are my general observations and thoughts. Like with everything in life, take the nuggets of information that speak to you and feel free to disregard the rest (and you may find that what works for one quilt and one show does not work for a second quilt and quilt show).
If you are hoping to submit a quilt to a specific quilt show, researching the categories and understanding the submission rules could be a very important part of the design process. Sometimes quilt shows will have challenge categories with a very narrow focus (on a particular design element, using only specific fabrics, etc.), so following the rules of those specific challenge categories is very important.
Original design is not always a key criteria or requirement for a quilt show, but some shows do put more emphasis on original designs than on quilts made from a pattern. This insight for specific shows can likely be gleaned by studying the winning quilts from previous quilt shows. Some quilt show submission forms will ask if the quilt is an original design, and it is considered good etiquette to reach out to a pattern designer for permission to enter a quilt made from their pattern into a quilt show.
As I mentioned earlier, I rarely make a quilt specifically for entering into a quilt show, so starting at the design consideration phase is not something I usually do as a quilter. For one thing, I don’t particularly love making challenge quilts. But, because I have a goal of submitting a quilt for consideration to QuiltCon each year, I do keep an eye and a bit of mental thought into what I’ve made in the past year that might be competitive for consideration into the QuiltCon show. For example, if I am not able to get Cloudy Night Sky complete in time to submit this year, I will likely submit Sesen to the jury for consideration instead.
Because I do have the thought to enter Cloudy Night Sky into consideration for QuiltCon, I have been very thoughtful, thorough, and conscious of my choices during the piecing process. I spent several days carefully testing and thinking about the thread colors I would use to piece the quilt top. And as I worked on the quilt top, I had a critical eye for my piecing precision. As illustrated above, I took the time to rip several seams throughout the piecing process to get sharp, crisp points.
Here’s the thing I think about when I consider whether or not I want to submit a quilt to a quilt show: am I proud of the work I put into this quilt, and was it the best work I could do at the time? Quilts will never be 100% perfect. And in fact, some quilts (like improvisationally pieced quilts) are meant to embrace things like imperfect points and wonkiness. Ultimately, if a quilt meets a quilt show’s submission and category requirements, I’m proud of the quilt, and it was the best I could do at the time, I’m more than happy to submit it for consideration WITHOUT having put extra time into piecing precision like I am for Cloudy Night Sky.
Full disclosure: I would have fixed that Cloudy Night Sky seam shown above even if it was a quilt that I was making to use on my sofa, because it would have made me happier long term.
There are times when other piecing considerations need to come into focus, such as if you are working on a group quilt (Patent Pending, organized by Patty from Elm Street Quilts shown above as a group quilt example). Making sure your block is the size required will save a lot of headache for the person who needs to assemble the quilt top. That may mean you need to spend a bit of time perfecting your scant quarter inch seam allowance prior to making your contribution.
Consider stabilizing the seams on the edge of any quilt blocks that you make as part of a group quilt. Shown above, I stitched 1/8″ away from the edge of the Sunset block across the seams that ran to the edge of the block. This should allow the block to be shipped and handled as much as needed prior to being sewing into the quilt top.
In fact, consider sewing an 1/8″ seam around the perimeter of your finished quilt after it is pieced (often referred to as a victory lap) prior to marking and basting the quilt. This will help keep the quilt square and protect the seams (keep them from unraveling or popping loose/open) as the quilt is handled during the quilting and finishing steps.
When contemplating the quilting of your quilt, one of the first things you should consider is if you will do or have done the quilting on the quilt yourself or if you will be collaborating with or paying another quilter to do the quilting on the quilt. This is where reading the quilt show submission rules is really important: some quilt shows or some categories in shows have rules about whether a quilt can be in their show / entered into a specific category if the quilting was paid for and done by another quilter. This should NOT be read as an encouragement to only submit quilts if you were the quilter. On the contrary! My quilt Push-Pull, shown above, was submitted and selected to hang at QuiltCon in 2020, and I paid Chrisine Perrigo @ccpquilt to do the quilting for me. I am a huge fan of Christine’s quilting style, and I was *thrilled* to have her quilt Push-Pull for me. If someone else quilted your quilt, make sure that you note the quilter in the entry submission form in the correct location!
Also, it is worth talking with your quilter ahead of time about how to handle a quilting prize that may be awarded to a quilt that was quilted by someone else. For example, if Push-Pull had one first place in its category, I would have kept the prize money. However, if Push-Pull had won the best quilting on a frame award, I would have given the prize money to Christine. I highly recommend thinking about that ahead of time and having that conversation with your quilter before it becomes a sticky topic.
If you are doing the quilting, consider how you are going to handle the thread tails at the starts and stops of your quilting lines that fall in the middle of the quilt. Some quilting can start and stop at the edge of the quilt, making this something that is much less of a consideration. However, when you run out of bobbin, it isn’t always at the most convenient location on the quilt. I recommend having long thread tails at the start and stop of each quilting line (like shown above) and then I recommend going back and burying the thread tails. I actually do not currently have a great post or video showing how I bury my thread tails, so that is something I plan to address in the future. For the mean time, I will mention that I like to use side threading needles to make this as quick a process as possible (I use these *not an affiliate link).
Sometimes, when you run out of bobbin thread or your thread breaks, there are times it becomes necessary to deal with very short thread tails. In that case, I recommend checking out Monika from Penny Spool Quilts Quick Tip for Burying Short Threads blog post.
The photo above is a black and white photograph of the center of my quilt Sunburst. To do the crosshatch quilting, I started in the center of the quilt and quilted to the edge, then I turned the quilt around and picked up the quilting from the center to the opposite edge. The starts and stops overlapped one another by a few stitches. At the time, I though that was the best way to handle starts and stops. (Note: I still left thread tails and buried them.) Since then, I’ve learned how to more gracefully start and stop my quilting stitches in the same location without overlap or with less noticeable wobble. The important thing is that I was (and still am) proud of the quilt, it was made to the best of my skill level at that time, and it was a part of the QuiltCon 2016 show.
After quilting, the next question to ask yourself is how the quilt would hang / drape. This is especially important to consider PRIOR to trimming your quilt, because the solution to a wavy quilt, like Sunburst was after quilting (shown above), is to block the quilt. I have a photo tutorial on how I blocked Sunburst to get it to lay flat, but the general synopsis and summary is that I got the quilt wet, then I manipulated the quilt to lay flat and pinned it down. The quilt dried in its new flattened shape, and I was able to then square and bind the quilt.
If you have a finished quilt that is completely finished (bound) but wavy, you absolutely could still go through the quilt blocking process. The quilt may not be perfectly “square” after blocking, so you may want to consider if removing the binding before or after the process to then re-square the quilt would be worth the extra time and effort.
Another big consideration is what you will used to mark out reference lines and points for the quilting plan of your quilt. I personally only use a Hera marker for marking out my quilting reference lines now (Tips for Using a Hera Marker YouTube video). I really like using the Hera marker because I can simply iron out the crease of any mistake that I make. There are plenty of other ways to make reference marks, but many of the so-called spray out or iron out options available do not permanently go away. Instead, they may appear to “disappear” and then if the quilt gets cold (which it mostly likely will when it is shipped to the quilt show), the marks will show up again. So, just be sure to thoroughly test out any marking tool you may be using.
Edge Treatment and Binding Considerations
Based on judging feedback that I and others have received and shared, judges at quilt shows look for binding that is full and that has the same amount showing on front and back. In order to help with that, recently I have begun to add a second stabilizing stitch (Instagram demonstration video) after I have sewn the binding to the perimeter of the quilt.
Note that the above judging feedback is for a traditional binding, though, and there are other edge treatments that you may opt to use to finish a quilt. If you opt for facing your quilt, judges will be looking to make sure that the corners are handled well and not distorted (distorted = curved and pointy like the tip of a witch’s shoe). I don’t personally face many of my quilts, but I highly recommend Audrey from Cotton & Bourbon’s Facing Tutorial.
There is also the question of whether a quilt binding should be finished by hand or by machine. I am of the personal belief that it does not matter, but that the method chosen should be applied with your best technique and skill. For some people (like me), that means hand binding. If you finish the binding by hand, aim for even, consistent stitches, and don’t forget to consider stitching the corners closed as well.
If you finish the binding by machine, I highly recommend applying the binding to the BACK of the quilt and then finish by stitching the binding down to the front of the quilt. Make sure that as you top stitch the binding in place that the distance from the edge of the binding is consistent. Again, based on my skill level with machine finished binding, this creates the least distracting finish for a quilt, but you may have expertise and skill that works best with the reverse application: do what you have mastered!
And don’t forget that bindings are a part of the design and can contribute a lot to the overall quilt finish. Pieced bindings, matching bindings, flange bindings, and peek-a-boo subtle details (like I inserted for Beacon, shown above), are decisions worth mulling over and using! Do you use straight of grain binding or bias binding? For quilts with curved finished edges, I highly recommend using bias binding, which eases around curves much more smoothly, allowing the quilt to lay flat and square when finished.
Other than the period of time during COVID lockdowns when quilt shows were being held online (during which time more photos were requested during submission), quilt shows generally request two photographs of the quilt during submission: a full shot, and a detail shot. Ideally, the photos will be taken with a neutral background or backdrop, show the quilt in its true colors in even lighting, and be sharp and in focus.
The detail photograph should zoom in on an element of the quilt that helps showcase something about it. In the case of Downstream, I wanted to show the precision piecing and uniform quilting spacing and tried to convey that with the photograph above.
Downstream happens to be a quilt that I submitted to several online shows during COVID lockdowns. QuiltCon submissions at that time asked for a detail photograph of the binding, and honestly, it’s something to keep in mind for using as the detail submission photograph if your binding edge treatment is a special design feature of the quilt or if your binding is particularly well done and executed. For instance, I was really proud of how the diagonal piecing and quilting goes straight into one of the corners of the quilt for Downstream, so when I folded the quilt for this binding photograph, I made sure that was visible.
Entry Form Considerations
QuiltCon is a show that was created to showcase modern quilts, and even though I consider myself a modern quilter, even I struggle with the correct category to submit my quilts into on occasion. For example, I submitted Meringue to the Minimalism category for QuiltCon 2023, and it was accepted into the show. When I received the quilt back after QuiltCon, the judges commented that perhaps it would have done better in another category (I think they recommended the Piecing category instead). In acknowledgement of this struggle that so many of us have had over the years, the MQG recently released an on-demand educational video panel discussion about QuiltCon Category Selection (note: you must be an MQG member and logged in for the link to work).
The quilt dimensions that you submit are actually a very important part of the quilt show planning process. Some shows may only be able to accept a certain number of really large quilts as they require special hanging accommodations (extra tall panels and/or “decorator poles”). So do your best to measure from edge to edge and provide the honest size of your quilt when you submit.
Take care with the artist statement that you submit. Most shows have a word or character limit for the statement and this statement will hang on the placard beside your quilt at the show. These size limitations are very real and practical: they need to limit these statements to keep the text legible and fit on the placard they have designed which also includes the quilt name, your name, category, category sponsor information, and more. If the submission system is not able to check if your statement is the correct size and your statement runs longer than they requested, either your statement will be clipped or someone behind the scenes of the quilt show will have to spend their time editing your statement, neither of which is an ideal way to present yourself and your work.
Quilt for Sale?
Many quilt shows will ask if the quilt is for sale as part of the submission form. Be sure to read the fine print and calculate any processing fees into the pricing you submit (if you choose to allow the quilt to be available for purchase). For example, as of the date of this publication (October 6, 2023), the MQG currently will retain 15% of any quilt sales made at QuiltCon.
Some quilt shows will offer to steam your quilt once it is hung to help ease out any creases that developed due to shipping, subsequent processing, storage, judging, and final transportation to the quilt show venue. This is something you should consider with care. If you have any concern about your quilt fabrics bleeding as a result of steaming, it would be much better to say that you do NOT want your quilt to be steamed.
Once you have done the hard work and submitted your quilt to consideration to a quilt show, it’s time to celebrate that milestone and accomplishment! I know that not everyone is on social media nor is everyone comfortable sharing about these milestones, but if you are, consider posting and using the #CelebrateMyQuiltSubmission hashtag. Regardless, know that I’m always available for a virtual high five if you need one!
What Happens Next?
Most quilt shows use a jury to down select from ALL the submissions and curate the quilt show. In most cases, many more quilts are submitted than a show has physical space to display. Steph Skardal was a juror one year for the QuiltCon quilt show, and she shared a blog post about her experiences as a juror.
When you submit your quilt for consideration, pay attention to the notification date that they list. You should expect to receive an email on or before the given date letting you know if your quilt was or was not selected to hang at the show.
If your quilt was not accepted into a show, don’t let that discourage you. The most important part of the quilt show entry process is that you recognize that the act of submitting your quilt indicates just how proud you are of your hard work; well done! Every quilt show and jury is different. Don’t hesitate to try to submit the same quilt, using the exact same statement and photographs, to another quilt show or that same quilt show a year later (just make sure that the quilt was made in during time frame the show requests).
If your quilt is accepted into a show, the show will likely give you a submission packet and checklist that you need to follow in order to prepare your quilt to ship to them. You will need to make sure your quilt has a hanging sleeve, that the label meets their requirements, and most likely you will need to make sure any identifying marks (sewn in care labels, etc.) are covered. I personally use Jacquie Gering’s hanging sleeve tutorial, but Audrey from Cotton & Bourbon also has a great free hanging sleeve tutorial that works well for quilts that are finished by facing.
I also adore Paige from Quilted Booms’ quilt label tutorial. I have modified the method she presents to work for me (I like to use a grid print and handwrite my label information on the grid), but she shows how to make a beautiful and professional label.
As you can see above, QuiltCon also asks that the quilt label be covered and that a tracking / identifying code be on the label cover. I simply use a few basting pins to secure the cover over top of my label. Make sure that whatever you choose to use does not poke through and show on the front of the quilt, though!
Judging Forms / Feedback
Most quilt shows will provide you with feedback from the judges. The forms may be physical / on paper and mailed back with your quilt, or they may be digital and emailed to you at a different time. In general, keep in mind that 99.9% of the time, judges will not have access to or read the artist statement. They will get the name of the quilt and have a few minutes to view the quilt being held up by a volunteer and then laid flat on a table.
Any critique that you may receive is meant to help you elevate your quilting to make any future quilts you may make better, but some people have a better way with words than others. Also, just because they felt the critique would be helpful, it may have been a purposeful design choice that you made that they did not understand. I wholeheartedly agreed with the critique that I received about Sunburst (shown above) and have since worked to get better at my starts and stops (as mentioned earlier in this now very long post).
Questions / Comments?
Thanks for sticking with me on this big compilation of my thoughts on Quilt Show Entry Tips. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or add comments about anything I may have missed in the comments below!