Erin Ulrich, AQS contest coordinator, shares what she learned as an observer in the jury room.
“I do not quilt, knit, crochet, or hem my own pants. I am not an artist. I am a person good with numbers, spatial relationships, organization, and empirical observation. I cannot create, but I can analyze. Thus, I offer to quilters—artists that you are—the decidedly non-artistic observations of one who has had the unique opportunity of being a fly on the wall in the AQS jury room.
Take good pictures. The jurors are deciding which quilts, out of hundreds of entries, will be selected to hang in a show and compete for prize money. After spending countless hours, dollars, and worries to create your beautiful quilt, why show the jury a mediocre photograph? Take the quilt outside in the natural light, or hang it in a well-lit room. Then photograph it straight on, not from above or below, which causes the quilt to look like the top and bottom are different widths. And don’t cut off the edges! Jurors have to consider the possibility that the quilt is unfinished, the binding crooked, or the corners are not square when they can’t see the edges. Quilts that are photographed on a bed, held up by friends, on the floor, draped over shrubs, folded over at the top, or pooled at the bottom do not fare well in the jury room (the photos below are DON'Ts). The jurying process is blind (jurors do not know the name of the quilt maker—but I do!), and I have seen a jury reject a stunning quilt submitted by a renowned artist because the photo was bad.
Get creative, but don’t sacrifice quality. Jury members are quilters, quilt judges, quilting teachers, and authors. They see thousands of quilts every year, so if you use a pattern or traditional quilt blocks, they have probably seen other quilts similar to yours. They appreciate traditional blocks and patterns that are exemplary, and their eyes are trained to find excellence in craftsmanship and fabric selection. There is no penalty (in AQS contests) for using patterns; but if you choose to use a pattern or a traditional block, do it well! Jurors will not be impressed with a quilt made from a pattern they have seen tens or even hundreds of times if they have seen many better examples of the work. With an inventive original design or innovative quilt, the novelty of technique or design may trump slightly less impressive stitching. However, jurors will not be happy with a quilt—no matter how creative—if straight lines are not straight, circles are not round, fabrics are puckered, or bindings are uneven.
Don’t be intimidated. While working quilt shows, I have heard so many guests, marveling at the beauty of the quilts, say that they would be too embarrassed to submit their quilts to a contest. They fear being laughed at or ridiculed by the highly-esteemed jurors, or don’t believe their work to be of the same caliber as those who enter contests. I have sat silently through enough quilt juries to know that jurors don’t laugh at quilters. While not every quilt is accepted as a semifinalist by the jury, the members always recognize the time and effort put into each quilt. They remember that it is a privilege to sit on a quilt jury and witness the artistry and hard work that quilters of all levels invest in their endeavors. If you have made a quilt you are proud of, there is no need to fear ridicule, and you might just get to see your work hanging in an international quilt show! There is also no reason to be intimidated by the competition. While every contest has its share of professional quilters competing, there are always many hobbyists and first-time entrants as well. In fact, the judges have on multiple occasions awarded Best of Show to a quilter entering an AQS contest for the first time. New art from amateurs and professionals alike is what keeps the quilting world fresh and quilt makers inspired.