The Free Motion Quilting Project: Back to Quilt Shows

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Back to Quilt Shows

Yep, I'm dipping my toes back into quilt shows! Yesterday I mailed my first quilt show entry in 3 years, crossing all my fingers that hopefully I'll get in. I don't even care about winning a ribbon - I just want to get IN to this show!

This is a bit different attitude from when I first started showing. Back in 2008, I thought if I could make an award winning show quilt the award money would be the base for a quilting business. The income from ribbons would pay the bills. Ha! Seriously, that is a very funny idea!

The reason this is funny is that winning a ribbon is a lot like winning the lottery. You enter to win, yes, but getting the award is entirely up to fate, whether the judges saw and liked your quilt in particular, and felt like you deserved the ribbon.

An omniscient computer doesn't pick winners - HUMANS pick winners and if you've ever listened to the comments swirling around a Best in Show quilt, you'll know that not everyone agrees with what the judges decide.

So winning ribbons is NOT something you can depend on to pay the bills, but it can do other things like boosting your self esteem and letting you know that yes, you really are a talented quiltmaker.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
That's actually exactly what it did for me. Back in 2009 when The Duchess first ribboned, getting a first place ribbon made me feel like a million bucks. It gave me a much-needed self esteem boost and kick in the pants to start teaching and taking quilting seriously.

Fortunately I realized pretty quick that winning ribbons wasn't going to pay the bills, but it could buy more fabric! Now I see competition was a nice addition to all the other things I do and a way to reach quilters that might not have heard about this blog or me before.

For the last three years I haven't competed really at all, mostly because I've been too disorganized to keep track of the show schedule and get my entry form in on time. Organization has certainly been a priority this year and I'm doing a lot better keeping my life better organized and on track, but I still had to overnight my entry form to make sure it arrived before the deadline on Thursday!

I also haven't competed lately because I didn't really have a quilt to compete with. Quilts can compete for 2 years after they're completed, and honestly I haven't finished that many quilts in the last 2 years.

Yes, I'm still working a bit here and there on The Duchess Reigns, but at this point I'm able to see that yet again I made a mistake of overcompensation - she's just too big, too complicated, and I have no idea when I'll be able to finish her. Maybe this year...maybe...

Josh has been saying this for years - just make your quilts SMALLER! But I've rarely listened. When I'm in the design phase, I'm so eager to get started and 70 inches doesn't seem all that big so I rush to mark a giant piece of fabric, only to realize in the quilting / filling process that this is indeed a monstrously huge quilt that will be a total beast to finish.

Well, lesson learned! I've been seriously tempted in the last few months to simply slice Duchess Reigns in half - half of her is fully quilted and finished after all! I could retitle it Half Duchess Reigns and if you see it in a quilt show you'll be in on the joke.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
More than half of this quilt has been filled at this point.
Why not just whack her in half and call it finished?!
Hmm...that's still a nice possibility. It'd be a shame to lose all the work I've done on that second half, but man, it would also be nice to get this massive quilt off my floor and out of my sewing room!

So what is competing this year? The also equally massive 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs Quilt. All the designs posted from 2009 to 2011 are now combined into one huge quilt, bound, finished, and ready to show!

free motion quilting | Leah Day

I'm so glad I finished this quilt before quilt market because it was a big hit. Quilters who had never heard of this project would stand for several minutes just staring at the squares. No, it's not the prettiest quilt from a distance, but if you get close enough, the designs come alive:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

It's interesting to see the different perspective I have now after taking so many years off of competing. I'm less concerned with winning ribbons (though they are always nice!). Really I just want to show this quilt and celebrate the effort it took to create.

It was so much work to put all these little squares together, and of course the journey to stitch them all out over two years. It's been a long time in the making and now it's time to see just how far it can go over the next two years.

 So all my fingers and toes are crossed and I hope it gets in! If it doesn't, well, there's always more quilt shows to enter so I'm not going to let it knock me down. This quilt was made to be shown!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. Totally agree. Good luck in the show. If the don't think this is amazing, then I don't know what is.

  2. That's awesome Leah! I'm glad to hear you will be sharing your work in the show circuit again. I agree - it's not about the ribbons, but it does garner some nice publicity :-)

    I had to laugh about your hubby's comment to make them smaller. Mine is always telling me to make them bigger, LOL!!

    Good luck with everything - I can't wait to see more!

  3. It's a beautiful quilt! Good luck!

  4. Good luck with your entry! I cannot imagine ANY show that would not want the opportunity to show your 365 free motion design quilt. It is a beautiful work of art in color and design- but the whole idea of it represents something new and different in quilting, and I think that is usually important to selection committees too. Who knows about the judges though.

    Your lottery comment is so very true. I never expected to get a ribbon when I entered a show (AQS Des Moines and Grand Rapids)- but being in Des Moines and getting to hear what people at the show said about the quilt was a real treat. So many nice compliments (and lots of people trying to figure out how it was done; never heard anyone come up with Shadow Trapunto, but quite a few people thought I painted it...) But my favorite comment was someone walking by my version of your Winter Wonderland and saying "Uh- no way is that kind of quilting worth it."- and just kept walking without stopping. It made me literally laugh out loud- because to me, it is 100% worth it.

  5. All the best! This quilt is uniquely beautiful, not to mention that every block of it is inspirational and educational, so you chances should be excellent!!!

  6. You are just amazing! I admire all the work you do. Quilting/ finish Duchess Regions would be awesome. Keep working on it, I am rooting for you :). Like you always cheer us.

    Good luck with your 365 designs, I am keeping my fingers crossed too. I hope it gets selected. Can't wait!

  7. I think your quilting is totally amazing. I love it because it helps me with my longarm. I know that you do all of it on a domestic machine, but I have taken it and applied it to my longarm and it have grown so much. I have been so scared about putting quilts in show. I am entering one this year for the first time. But I have just told myself I have to do it.

  8. Think this quilt looks like a stained glass window. I love the way you have finished off the corners. Fingers crossed it makes the show.

  9. 365 is Awesome. Judges are a fickle lot. All that matters is what you feel. All the good other stuff people say is just the bonuses of life. And please please please don't cut up Duchess Regions. When you do finish it you will be all the more pleased with yourself for not giving up and there will be no what ifs. Besides you need something to show when 365 has done the the show tour. Maybe you just haven't thought of that perfect pattern for that special spot in the quilt. Kept on going it will be ready when its ready and you will have something to be really proud didn't give up and it is beautiful because it will be.


Help us create more quilting tutorials! Check out our quilt shop at