Tips and Tricks for Better Machine Quilting

Cindy Seitz-Krug shares her knowledge gained from over two and a half decades of machine quilting award-winning quilts on a home sewing (domestic) machine.

Moving Up to the Big Leagues: Taking your Quilts from Local Shows to International Competitions


I’m fairly certain that nearly every single person reading this blog has attended a LARGE quilt show at one time or another. When I say “large”, I’m referring to the national and international shows like the AQS Show in Paducah, or The Houston Quilt Festival, or Road to California. And if you haven’t, well, I’m sure it’s on your bucket list. But why do those large shows draw such huge crowds? Well, in a nutshell, it’s the caliber of the quilts entered in those competitions (and don’t tell me it’s the vendors you go to see or I’ll have to give you a dirty look! ☺). Yes, the caliber of the quilts at those shows is nothing short of amazing. But have you ever dreamed of having one of your quilts at one of the big shows? Well, if you have, I’m going to explain some of the things you’ll need to take into consideration when you decide that you’re ready to move up to the big leagues!


Houston Quilt FestivalA nice crowd gathered around my quilt, "Bluer than Blue" (right) at the Houston Quilt FestivalFirst of all, maybe we should consider the reasons that quilters decide to compete with their quilts on a national or international level. I guess I could skirt the issue and try to be diplomatic or PC about that answer, but I believe, in a nutshell, it’s the prize money! Of course, that’s not the only reason, but in this day and age with some large monetary awards out there, that’s a big factor. However, even shows that don’t have big monetary awards are tantalizing because those of us who compete are competitive by nature, and we like to see those beautiful ribbons hanging on one of our quilts. For instance, the NQA show (usually held in Columbus, Ohio) never awarded prize money, but that show still had the top quilts in the country vying for the awards. Why was that? I think because it was a prestigious show, and winning a ribbon there was always a big deal, money or no money. But running a close second in reasons why we like to enter large shows is the love we have for sharing our work with others. There isn’t much out there that can compare to the feeling you have when you walk up to your quilt at a quilt show and see lots of people standing around it and admiring it. I just love that! I guess you could say that this is sort of like “show and tell” on a large scale. At a quilt show, your quilt gets to hang for several days and have hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of people see it. How amazing is that?!!!!

Some of Cindy's ribbonsSome of my ribbonsMany of us have entered our quilts in local shows, and maybe you’ve even been awarded a ribbon or two. If that has happened, I can almost guarantee you that you’ve been bitten by the competition bug and you’d really like to continue entering shows and competing, and you’ve probably even toyed with the idea of entering a larger show and throwing your hat in that ring. So if you’re to that point, here are some things to consider:

1) How do I find out about large quilt shows and their quilt contests?

First of all, you can look in magazines because many times shows will advertise there. You can also search on-line. But really one of the best ways to find out about shows is to ask a friend if he/she knows of any upcoming shows where you might be able to enter your quilt. I have friends who ask me that quite often. Usually I suggest that they enter their quilt in a State show first, and then if it does well, then consider entering it in a national or international show.

2) Now that I’ve found a show I want to enter, what’s next?

IQA photo tips pageOnce you’ve found your target show, then you need to go to that show’s website and look at their “contest” page. On that page you should pay special attention to the following:
*Age limit on quilts (i.e. how old is your quilt? Most shows have a 2 year age limit)
*Entry deadline date
*Show dates and when they’ll need your quilt. Some shows only need your quilt for about 3 weeks. Others shows may keep your quilt in their possession for several months.
*Read the categories carefully. You want to be sure your quilt fits into one of them.
*What photos are required? Usually a full view of the entire, FINISHED quilt, and a detail shot. Also, pay attention to what format the photos should be in. We use to have to submit slides, then we progressed to CD images, but now most shows have you upload your photo onto their show’s on-line entry form. Keep in mind that your quilt photos can make or break your entry, so take the best photos you can. We are lucky nowadays because many quilt show websites have a special link to articles with recommendations for photographing your quilts. Or  you can simply Google "Tips for Photographing Quilts" and a bunch of links will pop up.

Now it’s time to fill out the entry form. This can either be done manually and mailed in (some shows charge extra for this), or done on-line (the most common way). There are several things I’d like to warn you about on your entry form. First of all, PROOF READ your statement because no one is going to edit it for you. So if you make typos or grammatical errors, they will likely get copied and pasted onto the informational tag hanging on your quilt at the show, for all the world to see! Ugh! That can be very humiliating. So read and re-read your write-up about your quilt. Also, be sure to measure your quilt accurately when it’s finished. DO NOT rely on the size written on your pattern because depending on the amount of quilting, the quilt will shrink differently. If your quilt is placed in the wrong category because of its size, it could be disqualified (and in my opinion, it should be) from winning an award.

The last thing you’ll have to do on your entry form is submit your entry fee payment. You will be able to use a credit card or if it’s a mail in form, you can mail a check.

Once your entry form has been submitted, then you wait. It could be months until you hear back from the show as to whether or not your quilt was accepted. If it is a juried show, then you may or may not get accepted. If it’s a non-juried show, then your quilt will be accepted as long as it gets entered before the total number of quilts allowed is reached.

If it’s a juried show, you will either get an acceptance letter ☺, or a rejection letter. ☹
If you get an acceptance letter, it will say something to this effect: “Congratulations! Your quilt has been accepted. Please read the following information on shipping your quilt, hanging sleeve requirements, dates, etc, etc.”

But what if you get a rejection letter? It will say something to this effect: “Dear so and so, thank you for submitting your quilt. Unfortunately it was not chosen to compete…” So what do you do when that happens? You take a deep breath, and then GET OVER IT! What do those jurors know anyway???!!! But why did they reject it? You’ll never know because the letter won’t say, but it could be any one of these reasons:
*The quilt just was not up to that shows standards
*Poor photographs
*Too many of those types of quilts entered in that show (shows like diversity)

After you get over your self-pity party (and I’ve had a few of my own!), try to look at it impartially. Look at your quilt as if you were looking at it through someone else’s eyes. And try to learn something from it. Don’t be discouraged. Try to do better next time. Or, if your quilt is within the age limit, you could even re-enter it into the same show the following year.

If you’re lucky (or good) enough to get your quilt accepted, the next step will be to ship it off to the show. Many quilters cringe at the thought of shipping their quilts, and I’ll admit, it’s scary, and in a sense, it’s a gamble. But there are a few things you can do to make sure your quilt arrives and is returned safely.

Broken Box with quiltFirst of all, make sure you use a BRAND NEW heavy-duty cardboard box to ship your quilt. Many quilt shows will use your same box to return your quilt, so by the time it’s returned, your box will have been through the wringer twice. By the end of that 2nd time, your box is going to be pretty beat up. Just imagine how it could look if you didn’t use a brand new box to ship your quilt in the first place.

Broken box top viewSecondly, make sure that your box fits your quilt well. In other words, you don’t want a box that is too big. Why, you ask? Well, shippers generally stack boxes on top of each other when shipping (on the planes and in their trucks). If your box has a lot of empty space above the quilt, then it can easily collapse when other boxes are stacked on top of it. If you’ll look at the photo here, this box was too big for my quilt and the sides split open during shipping. When this arrived on my doorstep, I almost couldn’t breathe! I was scared to death that my enclosed quilt might be damaged. Luckily for me, it wasn’t. But I learned a valuable lesson that day. Another problem with this box was that it was a cheap box from Wal-Mart; more of a box used for moving. The side seams weren’t well glued, and it wasn’t a heavy-duty box. I don’t use those types of boxes any more for shipping quilts!

Lastly, use a shipper that you trust and that provides tracking information. The two big ones are Fed Ex and UPS. It’s very easy to sign up for an on-line account, which makes it quite simple to print your own shipping labels. That saves you from having to go stand in line somewhere to ship your quilt. Be sure to keep track of your tracking number. Most shows will not inform you that your quilt has arrived, so you’ll want to be able to track it to make sure that your baby arrived safely☺

When shipping your quilt, be sure to read the show’s “shipping instructions” carefully. Every show has different instructions. Some want you to place your quilt in a plastic bag (not a black one, mind you!). Some want you to place it into a cloth bag. Some want the label facing up, etc. There will be paperwork that you’ll have to include (return shipping instructions, return shipping fees, pre-paid shipping labels, for example). So just follow their instructions and you’ll be OK.

You’re also going to have to make a decision about how much to insure your quilt for when shipping it (if you don’t have an insurance policy that covers your quilts). Insuring a quilt for it’s real appraised value isn’t really feasible. That would cost over $100 to ship one-way. So I generally insure my quilts for $1000. I just think that if it’s insured for that much, maybe the shippers will take a little better care of it. Maybe I’m deluding myself, but that’s my hope.

One last thing: NEVER WRITE THE WORD “QUILT” on your label. Don’t write “Quilt Odyssey”, or “American Quilter’s Society” or “Houston International Quilt Festival”. You get the picture, right? Use initials, like: “QO”, or “AQS” or “IQA”. And if you’re asked what the contents of your package are, you can simply say “textiles”, or I often say, “fabric, thread, and batting”. I never say “quilt”.

Once you finally ship your quilt off to the show, then you must wait until the show opens (usually) to find out whether you won an award or not. My advice here is to just assume that you won’t win anything. Then if you do, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Belle inspecting my boxBelle inspecting my quilt box before me!When your quilt is finally shipped back to you, it’s always fun to open up the box! If you’re VERY LUCKY, there will be a ribbon included with your quilt, and for most shows, the written comment sheet from the judge(s). And usually, the show will include a show program for you to peruse. It’s always fun to see which other quilters and quilts were in your category.

Something that I’d like to advise you on is to not get down about not winning a ribbon at a large show. The competition is unbelievably tough. Never doubt how beautiful your quilt is. And always remember that if it is a quilt you loved making and love owning, then in the end, that’s the most important thing. And just enjoy the fact that you had the chance to share it with thousands of other quilt lovers. Ribbon or no ribbon, your quilt was admired and your praises were sung by thousands of people out there that you don’t even know!

So my final words of advice are:



AQS Best of Show

 Good luck to you and your quilts!!! If you have any questions, I hope you’ll comment below and I’ll be happy to answer them to the best of my ability.

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