Showing your quilts – Apps and shipping and judging, oh my!

Part four of a four part series about entering quilt shows, the jurying and judging process. This series is based on my experiences at quilt shows and classes I’ve taken about the quilt judging process.

The quilt is finished, the photos taken, and now it’s time to fill in the quilt show application. Most of what I’ll tell you here may seem like complete common sense, but I’m going to tell you anyway. Honesty compels me to note that for my very first quilt show app, I had to call the show coordinator and have her label my slides because I forgot to do it before I sent them off! Just slightly embarrassing!

Read the application thoroughly, even if you’ve entered that show in prior years. Rules and categories change, sometimes from year to year! One of the most important things you can do is choose the right category for your quilt. Often, this is the hardest part, because if your quilt could easily fit into more than one category, it’s up to you to choose the best one. If you’ve been to a quilt show, try to remember what types of quilts were in certain categories, and imagine your quilt hanging side by side with those others. Does it fit?

Most applications say to choose the category that represents your quilt’s most prominent technique, and quilts that combine two or more techniques (i.e. piecing/appliqué, appliqué/embroidery, piecing/trapunto, etc.) should be entered in a mixed technique category. Some shows reserve the right to move your quilt to another category if it is really out of place, while others don’t ever move quilts, and the quilts are judged in the category where they were entered whether they fit in or not.

Label everything you send with the application with your name and the quilt name, and anything else the show requires. Some shows are very particular about how they want the slides labeled, so look for a diagram that shows exactly how they want the labels and what information should be included on the slides. Check the deadline, and note whether it’s a “received by” deadline or a “postmark” deadline. Mail early for less stress! 😉

Now, let’s imagine that your quilt has been accepted to the show, because if we don’t, we can’t have the necessary conversation about shipping it! It’s really fun to get these fat little envelopes in the mail with bunches of explicit instructions for shipping, and sometimes special “exhibitor” or “finalist” ribbons inside when a quilt has been accepted. Now comes a scary part: trusting a carrier to get your quilt to the show on time and undamaged. *shudder* My first piece of advice is to have your quilt appraised if at all possible, before you ship it out. If something happens to the quilt during shipment, the only way you have a chance of getting anything close to it’s full value back is to have a written appraisal of its value on hand. Some shows also require a copy of the appraisal if you wish the quilt to be insured for more than a certain amount while it’s at the show. Certified quilt appraisers can appraise your quilt for around $35-40, and you can locate one through the AQS website.

Secondly, pack your quilt properly, and according to the recommendations on the show paperwork. Placing acid-free tissue paper in the folds can minimize wrinkles, and the quilt should be placed in either a sealed plastic bag or a fabric bag, whichever the show requests. Use an appropriately sized box so that the quilt isn’t too squashed, but also doesn’t have too much room to flop around inside. Include any paperwork and a check for return shipping fees (if required) that is requested by the show.

When it’s time to ship use a carrier that provides tracking for your package, and before you send out the quilt, make sure that the show will send it back to you by your preferred (or alternately acceptable) method. Many shows have a set system in place for return shipment, but if you have special requirements you should contact the show ahead of time. Many quilters in the United States use UPS or FedEx to ship quilts, but don’t discount the possibility of using the US Postal Service.

Because I live in Germany with the US Military, my mail is handled by the Army and UPS and FedEx can’t deliver to my Postal address, so this causes some interesting conversations with quilt shows. (Yes, I can ship internationally with UPS or FedEx, but it costs a lot more, and there’s a risk of customs assessment on either end, so I don’t ship that way) If you’re like me and have a Military APO address, or would just like to investigate the possiblity of using the US Postal Service to ship your quilts, I’ve compiled some tips about shipping quilts with the US Postal Service.

At the show, your quilt will be judged (if it’s a judged show, of course). The quick rundown on the judging process: Judging is anonymous; the judges don’t know who made the quilts. The quilts are generally judged flat, not hung, sometimes weeks before the show. The judges for larger shows are either NQA certified judges or prominent quilters with judging experience. I’m told that quilts have 3-5 seconds to make an impact! The quilt is critiqued, and each judge (there are sometimes three on a team) will say at least one good thing about the quilt, at try to note one area that needs improvement for a more competitive entry. The quilt is either kept (for further judging for top awards) or released. The top quilts in each category compete for Best of Show and other named awards.

After the show, you’ll receive the critique sheets with the judges’ comments, possibly a show book, and maybe even a ribbon! Read the critique sheets, learn from them, but don’t let their comments discourage you. Sometimes, you can take their comments with a very large grain of salt, since if there are three judges looking at your quilt, there may be three different (totally conflicting) comments! For one of my quilts, one judge said, “good color transition” while another judge at the same show said, “color impact could be improved.” Another quilt received a fairly negative comment about “stitch in the ditch should remain in the ditch,” but the stitching was done in a variegated, fairly thick thread, so the light parts of the thread showed more than the dark parts, so the judge thought it was placed incorrectly even though it wasn’t. Remember, they may have looked at your quilt for only a short time. If you didn’t win, remember that your quilt was good enough to be there!

Showing your quilts can be a very rewarding process. It can be fun and help you improve your skills and grow in your art. Good luck at the quilt show!

See previous parts of this series:

Part One: Showing your quilts – Why do it?

Part Two: Showing your quilts – Where to enter
Showing your quilts – getting the best picture