Sept 2018 -Judging Quilt Shows

In the Eyes of the Judge

At our September meeting, we welcomed Scott Murkin physician and Certified National Quilt Judge who shared his experiences as a quilt show judge.

Philosophies of judgesScott Murkin

Scott noted there are different philosophies when it comes to judging and that his is to be generous with praise and stingy with criticism. When discussing the different levels of skills and abilities among quilters, he likened it to ice skating – skating for recreation is just as worthy an activity as skating in the Olympics; they are different but equally valued, and so it is with quilting.

Judging systems

As far as systems of judging, he described elimination judging where all the quilts in a category are examined and some are eliminated until the best rise to the top. In contrast, some show organizers develop a point system in advance and assign point values to different criteria which the judges then apply so that the total point value/score for each quilt determines its ranking and the awarding of ribbons. While it may seem point systems are more concrete and less subjective, the downside can be that the people allocating the points to criteria may not have done a great job and there may be criteria that don’t even apply to some entries.


The most traditional type of judging is where all quilts in the same category are judged together – one category at a time. Sometimes quilts are hung before judging. Sometimes all in a category are piled on one table, and sometimes they may be laid out one per table. There may be one judge or more than one, with judges needing to reach consensus. Sometimes a judge only sees part of the quilts – the ones assigned to him or her for judging and never sees the ones viewed by another judge. It really depends on the show.

Areas of evaluation

  • Show readiness – quilt should be neat and clean with no visible markings, no loose threads, bearding, pet hair, odor, or stains. There should be no distortion or sewing problems. Scott noted that while these things may seem obvious, he had seen examples where the quilter clearly had not taken them into consideration.
  • Overall visual impact – aim for a quilt that makes a great first impression – the one people say “wow” about when they walk into the room and see it.
  • Design – As sewing skill and techniques have improved, Scott tends to weight design over workmanship, but the weighting of the two may depend on the particular show. Scott emphasized he wants to see a balance between unity and variety. The design of the top, quilting, fabric choices, sashing, borders, imagery, and finishing should be well planned and integrated. He noted design problems can arise when parts of the quilt don’t gel (no unity). Scale and proportion must work together (it should not look like the quilter got tired of making blocks and slapped on borders to make the quilt full sized). Scott weights quilting heavily and emphasized the motif should match the quilt.
  • Workmanship – Scott’s byword when it comes to workmanship was consistency. He said you can break the rules as long as you are consistent and it looks like you meant to do it.
    • In terms of construction, piecing should be precise, corners matched, and points sharp, but if your intention is to cut points off, you better do it on ALL of them so it seems consistent and intentional. No piecing thread should show and so thread color choice is critical. No ripples or puckers should be visible in borders or applique. Lines should be straight and curves smooth.
    • Quilting stitches should be even and consistent. The amount of quilting should be appropriate for the design of the top. For machine quilting, there should be balanced tension and no obvious starts and stops. For hand quilting, stitches should go through all layers and be consistent – length of stitches is less important than their all being the same.
    • In terms of finishing, batting should extend all the way to the edge with neat corners and no distortion. Binding can be by hand or machine as long as it’s done well and is consistent and even.
    • Special techniques  should be integrated and appropriate to the overall design.

Final thoughts

Scott shared that he blocks all his quilts before binding. Once the quilt is quilted and before he trims the excess backing and batting, he zigzags the edges together, puts it in the washing machine with color catchers, and then lays it flat. He pulls and tugs to get it straight and square and then lets it dry completely before trimming and binding.

He encouraged us to enter our quilts in shows – to try it, that it’s not that scary, and if we don’t like it, we don’t have to do it again. He said that when he goes to shows, he likes to see all kinds of quilts, and that by not putting ours in shows, we are depriving others of seeing them. He also pointed out that quilters do not have to agree with a judge’s comments and feedback and can decide that their choices were what they wanted even if not what the judge preferred, but that quilters can often learn from the comments things they might not have otherwise considered.

Scott’s quilts

Following his talk, Scott shared with us quilts he has made. He began with the very first quilts he made starting in 1994. He was self taught and was assisted in his learning by the Readers Digest Patchwork, Quilting, and Applique book – not that he recommends that as a great source for mastering those techniques, but it was what he had at the time.

We enjoyed the stories behind his early quilts – making one for his daughter entirely by hand since he did not own a sewing machine, shopping for fabric at Walmart and getting lucky that it was 100% cotton since he didn’t know the difference, and using a big sheet for backing and turning it to the front for what he believes to be the world’s record for widest quilt binding. He also shared that his daughter decided her brother’s favorite color would be green (her brother had no say in the matter) and his making a wall hanging for his son using every green in his stash; we especially enjoyed his chuckle at the thought that that was the extent of his green stash at the time.

Next he shared more recent quilts he’s made which show off his amazing designs and workmanship. He noted that his daughter’s favorite color is purple, and he now frequently uses purple, green, and yellow together. He described designing a quilt to match border fabric he had and another to use up paisley prints he had collected.

He shared a baby quilt made from fabrics leftover from the modern one hanging as a backdrop and a couple of whole-cloth quilts, one in miniature size, that showed off his intricate machine quilting.

Next up were a quilt with appliqued rectangles in concentric circles that gives the optical illusion of a spiral, and a whimsical doggie quilt for his niece.

And finally he shared paper-pieced miniatures saying he liked to find a pattern for a bed-sized quilt and scale it down to miniature size so that if one saw a photo with no scale to know otherwise, one would think it was a bed-sized quilt. He emphasized the need to keep all parts in proportion with miniatures. We were wowed by the tiny size of the pieces in these quilts as well as the beautiful quilting.

All in all, we found Scott, his talk, and his quilts delightful!

Taking care of business

Sheila recognized the following people for reports:

  • Barbara asked if there were questions about proposed bylaws amendments to be voted on next month. Printed copies were distributed to members who preferred that to reading it online. She also asked that members return to her their biographical blurbs for the photo directory.
  • Debbie reminded members that the nominating committee still needs volunteers for 2019 in order to complete the slate of nominees that will be voted on in November. You can view duties of officers and committee chairs in the guild bylaws and/or in the proposed amendments. Contact Debbie if you would like to volunteer. Positions still awaiting a person include:
    • offices of president and vice president
    • membership chair
    • raffle quilt co-chair for 2020 quilt. Teresa is leading efforts for 2019 quilt that will be drawn for in April 2020. The other co-chair would lead efforts for a quilt to be made during 2020-21 to be drawn for in April 2021.
  • Enola thanked everyone for support of boutique sales. She:
    • reported that we sold 85 items on Saturday at Blessed Sacrament.
    • reminded everyone of the upcoming Autumn Fest in Mebane on Saturday, October 6 and addressed the need for replacement items. She asked members to get items to a board member prior to the September 25th board meeting or to make arrangements to meet and give them to her no later than October 3rd so she can get them inventoried, tagged, and packed for the sale.
    • distributed copies of instructions for soup koozies and reminded everyone of importance of 2 layers of batting and to make sure batting, fabric, and thread are all 100% cotton to make them microwave safe. It was also suggested that fabric reflecting school/team logos would likely be popular.
    • reminded members that they can view the online inventory to see current count of items and what sold well at recent sale (find it via members-only login).
  • Miranda discussed the October challenge block in recognition of breast cancer awareness. Miranda provided cuts of a pink fabric for members to take home and also some gray fabrics. Members can make 12 1/2″ blocks in any design and should use a white background, incorporate the pink fabric Miranda provided, and may also use black, gray, and coordinating pinks.
  • Terry-Lynne reminded everyone of her need for assistance with supporting residents at Alamance House in sewing. She needs volunteers and ideas for projects.

Show and Tell

Vernett shared a quilt that was made and quilted by others in which the half square triangles were made using the strip tube ruler Miranda shared as a favorite tool last month with which she demoed the ease of making HSTs.

Enola shared a table runner she made using the remaining icy fabric blocks she won at the January meeting that members made from fabric they took home from the December fold it, rip it, drop it, pass it game.

Barbara shared a wall hanging she completed that was donated to the guild unfinished. The string pieced blocks were already sewn together with borders and pinned to the backing, but the light blue borders were stained, so she replaced them with navy borders and finished it up to sell at boutique.

She also shared a quilt she will donate to NALES made using the flip and sew technique where each 4″ strip is sewn to batting and backing and flipped for the next one to be sewn so that quilting through all layers takes place as strips for the top are sewn down. She learned the technique by attending a sew day with the Heart of the Triad guild that uses flip and sew for all their donation quilts given to Novant Health Oncology. Check out photos and instructions Barbara created with thanks to Linda Fishell for inviting Barbara to the sew day and for her time explaining the process.

And the winner is…

  • kit and fabricSylvia won the name tag drawing and took home a pattern for a travel bag and two fat quarters from Pineapple Fabrics.
  • Members outdid themselves by making 33 scrappy Christmas tree blocks for the monthly block challenge. The blocks were split between winners Penny and Helen J. (who made 9 of the blocks herself!). Check out tree blocks below and also see all of our monthly challenge blocks and what winners have done with them.


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