Monday, March 18, 2013

Quilt Judging and Categories by Sue Prins

Dear Quilters
As you are probably already aware, the categories in our National Quilt Festival competition have changed significantly.  This was done because we have had major problems in the past with participants having difficulty distinguishing between Traditional, Innovative and Art categories, as these are fairly subjective distinctions.  For instance, what a beginning quilter considers Innovative, might seem very tradtional to a more experienced quilter. 
We now separate quilts into Traditional, Contemporary and Freestyle categories.  These categories are now distinguished by 2 basic criteria:  1) methods and materials used and 2) the source of the design.  The “style” of the quilt is irrelevant.
Traditional quilts are now those that have been made using traditional methods and using traditional techniques (see below), but where the design is either taken from the public domain (such as a Dresden Plate or New York Beauty) or where the maker of the quilt is NOT the designer of the quilt.  The quilt must still have been made (appliqued, pieced, embellished, quilted) entirely by the one maker.
Contemporary quilts are also those made using traditional methods and using traditional techniques (see below), but where the design is  the maker’s own original design (which includes where the maker has combined elements from the public domain and combined that with at least 50% of their own original elements). 
Freestyle quilts are those made entirely by one person, but where either the techniques used and/or the materials used are outside the usual tradition.  The design must be maker’s original design.
If you are looking for the right category for your quilt, just ask yourself:
  • Is this quilt made using traditional materials and techniques? 
  • If “YES”, then it is Traditional if the design is not the maker’s original design and Contemporary if the design is the maker’s original design.
  • If “NO”, then the quilt should be entered under Freestyle.
There will be some confusion and overlap on the Master Categories while we are in the present change-over period.  From this festival forward, you must enter the Master category only in the category for which you won a first prize or best-of-show award.  For instance, if you won a first prize in a Innovative (or Contemporary) category in the past, you would enter the Contemporary category as a Master, but the standard category of either the Traditional or Freestyle categories.  If you are uncertain from the printed rules, whether you should enter your quilt in the Master of Standard category, please call or write Sue Prins (028 314 1918, 072 248 3425,, who has the Master list and who will gladly advise you. 
Definition of Traditional Construction Techniques:  Includes hand/machine applique, hand/machine piecing and hand/machine quilting.  Traditional techniques, such as yo-yo’s and Cathedral Window are allowed.  Embellishments of thread embroidery and small pierced items that can be sewn directly to the quilt (e.g. beads, sequins and buttons) are allowed.  Printing or dyeing of fabric is allowed.  Excluded are exposed raw edges that are not sewn down, use of paint, attachment of items not sewn directly onto the quilt or any other techniques not specified in this definition.
Definition of Traditional Materials:  Includes woven cloth, batting, threads and small pierced embellishments (such as beads, buttons and sequins) that can be sewn directly onto the surface of the quilt.  Excluded are plastic, paper, metal (except for small, pierced embellishments) non-woven fabric, found objects or other materials not specified here. 

Several of our judges recently gave a talk to a group of quilters on “What the Judges are looking for”.  They were astonished that so many quilters seemed to be unaware of all the things that quilt judges look at when judging quilts.  Afterwards, they contacted me and asked if a letter could to sent to as many quilters in South Africa as possible, listing the things that are relevant in quilt judging:
·         The quilt, as a whole, should lie flat.  If it is a rectangular, all sides should be straight.
·         The quilt should be in pristine condition, with no stains, odors, dirt, animal hair or visible marked lines.
·         The piecing, if any, should be neat and accurate (especially seam intersections).  Seam allowances should be pressed consistently and logically.  Thread should be matched carefully to the fabric.
·         Applique should be neat, without puckers.  Curves should be smooth.  Match thread carefully.
·         Borders should be straight and flat (not “cupped” or ruffled).  Corner techniques (mitered or otherwise) should complement the quilt and be accurate and a crisp 90 degrees.
·         The quilting stitches (hand or machine) should be consistent in length and machine quilting must have perfect tension.  Beginning and ending threads should not be visible.  No marking of quilting lines should be visible.  Quilting “in the ditch” (by hand or machine) must be perfectly accurate.  The quilting design should complement the quilt and enhance it in some way.
·         Embellishments must be firmly and invisibly applied (unless the application is part of the design).
·         Binding just be even, filled entirely by the quilt and neatly sewn down at the back of the quilt.  The corners of the binding should be mitered, a crisp 90 degrees and the fold sewn closed.  Any joins in the binding strips should be made as invisible as possible (join strips on the bias to give best results).
·         The back of the quilt should be appropriate to the general colors or theme of the quilt.  It should be free of puckers, folds or loose thread ends.
AESTHETIC considerations are harder to list, but the judges look for:
·         Good use of color and good use of fabrics. 
·         Any embellishments used must enhance (but not overwhelm) the quilt. 
·         The quilting design should complement and enhance the quilt.  There should be enough quilting and a good distribution of quilting.
·         If there is a theme, how well is it interpreted?
·         Consideration is given to the principles of design: unity, variety, balance, proportions, perspective, depth, focal point, rhythm and movement. 
·         Originality is considered, especially in the Contemporary and Freestyle categories.
I hope this letter is helpful.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Sue Prins at 028 314 1918, 072 248 3425 or

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