The Free Motion Quilting Project: Top Tips for Quilting for Show

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Top Tips for Quilting for Show

I received an interesting message on Facebook this week about quilting for show - how to enter, what judges are looking for, and how to make a quilt that competes well. So I've shot a quick tip video for you today with my top tips for quilting for show:

If you're really interested in competing successfully I highly recommend Karen McTavish's book Quilting for Show. I believe this book is out of print now, but I found a few copies here on Amazon.

Top Tips for Show Quilting

1. Create a New Design - How many times have you seen a Dear Jane quilt at a show? I've seen at least five, which means a quilt show judge has likely seen hundreds. Creating something new and original is one of the best ways to get more attention at a show because it will be something different that the judges haven't seen before.

Express Your Love Goddess Quilt
2. Compete in a Smaller Category - If you throw a rock in an average quilt show you're going to hit at least 100 pieced or appliqued quilts. How do you stand out from the crowd? Make something different!

Duchess Reigns  - Hand dyed wholecloth quilt in progress
Wholecloth quilts are far more unusual because they specifically focus on machine quilting. Most quilters get into patchwork first and machine quilting second so it makes sense that there will always be fewer wholecloth quilts in a show. Because wholecloth quilts are so fascinating, they also get a lot of attention, which is never a bad thing.

3. Construct Carefully - Even if you don't want to create an original design or make a wholecloth quilt, focusing on your construction is essential. If there's a glaring mistake in the middle of your quilt, the judge is probably not going to miss it.

When I first got into show quilting, I honestly felt like I was learning how to create quilts from scratch. All of my previous "good enough" methods had to go so I had 100% control over the fabric and could make it do exactly what I wanted.

If your quilt is pieced, the seams need to match. If it's hand appliqued, your stitches need to be tiny to the point of invisible. You want to make sure to tie off and hide your threads properly as this is something judges can easily see and feel on the surface of the quilt.

This focus on perfection may feel tedious and frustrating at times. Remember to take breaks with easier, simpler projects so you don't get burnt out obsessing about every stitch on a big, time consuming project.

Will My Quilt Ribbon?

You may follow these steps and win tons of ribbons. Or you may not win anything at all. One of my most successful quilts won an Honorable Mention at one show, then Best Machine Quilting at the next show.

Judges are all looking for different things and have different opinions for what makes a great quilt. So you may not get very consistent results. Rather than try to read the judges mind, remember to make your quilts for YOU. Who cares if your quilt is a winner if you loved the process of making it?

Enjoy the process, take your time, design something amazing, and most importantly - have fun!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. Great post. I'd like to heighten awareness that getting into juried shows, as well as winning an award is also relative. Technically, you can also enter your quilt in one category and not win, as within that "category" there may be other quilts that are better. Yet, had you entered in a different category you might have one. All relative. Some shows and judges may shuffle quilts around from one category to another, while others judge quilts by category that they were submitted. Of course then, regardless of category there are awards that don't care (e.g. best of show, viewers choice, etc.).

    But what ever you do, enter. It is a great opportunity to learn and improve your quilting skills by entering. Don't think of judges as being nit picking as they do strive to provide everyone, including best of show winners, constructive feedback. That feedback doesn't mean that item alone you could have won if that issue had not been spotted in your project, it is just something that they can recommend you to consider working on. Again, even award winners get such constructive feedback.


  2. When I enter quilts in shows I never expect to win. That way when I di its really exciting. It's also interesting to see the judges advice. Some of it can be very humorous. I once had a judge comment that she didn't think the Orange binding on my quilt was good. I loved it.
    I would add don't be afraid to change you plans for the quilt along the way and stand back and look and "listen" to your quilt.
    Suzy Webster


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