Tips and Tricks for Better Machine Quilting
The Evolution of a Quilt Show and a Quilter
I’d have to venture a guess that there’s not a quilter in this country that hasn’t heard of the “Road to California” annual quilt show in Southern California. It takes place every January in Ontario, CA. I’ve attended a lot of the “big” shows, and this certainly ranks up there in the top 5 in the country, and is definitely #1 in the state of California.
I’ve been entering quilts at “Road” since 2002, and have some fun and interesting stories to share with you about those entries.
I just find it fascinating to look back at how I’ve grown over these past fifteen years, and I really think it’s amazing to examine the changes that “Road” has gone through during that same time.
The very first quilt that I entered at “Road” was one made as a collaboration between my sister-in-law (Debbie) and myself, entitled “Birds of a Feather” (a name I now realize is one of the most common quilt names I’ve ever heard; the other most common name for a quilt being “Floral Fantasy”.) At that time, Debbie and I were absolutely thrilled to get our quilt juried into the show. It didn’t win a ribbon, but we were very proud to have it on display at such a prestigious show.
The very next year (2003), I entered a miniature quilt by the name of “Little Bitty Baltimore”. Amazingly I won a 1st Place ribbon in the miniature category. I don’t remember there being any money awarded, but possibly it was $100. In those days “Road” didn’t award much cash at all, and I think their total prize money was about $20,000 (in contrast to today’s prize money of over $90,000). And maybe I should take this moment to say that, yes, I’m going to talk about prize money in this article because everyone wants to know how much money a quilter wins, even if it isn’t polite to ask!
In the next few years I entered a couple of quilts and they got accepted, but weren’t awarded any ribbons. But in 2006 I entered a circular silk wholecloth quilt which earned a 2nd place ribbon in its category. I was thrilled! I think the prize money was $50. Today the 2nd Place cash award at Road is $750.
In January of 2008 my quilt, “Sew Long Sally” was awarded “Best Traditional Quilt” with a prize amount of $1000! I was ecstatic! What an honor, and it was certainly the biggest accomplishment for me up to that point. In comparison, this year at Road the cash award for “Best Traditional Quilt” was $5000. (What was that sound? Your jaw hitting the floor? Yes, it’s quite a jump in prize money).
In 2011 I entered my quilt, “Simply Santa Fe” which had earned numerous awards at other shows, including a Best of Show at AQS Lancaster ($10,000). However, it didn’t even earn an Honorable Mention ribbon at Road. Disappointing, but hey, that’s the way it goes sometimes! Any quilter who enters their quilts in national shows quickly learns that they can’t expect to place the same from show to show. Every quilt show is different; from the different judges, different categories, different rules, and different competition quilts. As we say in the world of quilt competitions, every show is a whole new game. And you’ve got to play the game if you ever want to win a prize.
That same year my friend and co-quilter Molly Hamilton-McNally and I entered a quilt that we made together entitled “Floral Fantasy”. It won a 1st Place ribbon in Innovative Applique and received $150 in prize money. Today all 1st Place winners receive $1000!
The very next year (2012), Molly and I entered our beautiful (if I do say so myself) collaborative quilt entitled, “Everlasting Bouquet”. And miracle of miracles; it won Best of Show! We were ecstatic! And just to demonstrate the fact that every show is different, our quilt had three months previously been at the Houston International Quilt Festival and only earned an Honorable Mention ribbon. But then to receive Best of Show at Road was a HUGE honor. I still shake my head in disbelief when I think back upon that! Our prize money that year (only 5 short years ago) was $3000. The very next year the Best of Show prize money went up to $5000, and now it is $10,000.
In 2014 I entered two quilts, both of which got accepted, but didn’t earn a ribbon. And yes, it’s always disappointing, but one has to deal with the heartaches as well as the jubilation.
And finally this year, I entered my newest wholecloth quilt entitled “Blush” (for the pinkish hue derived from my use of pale silk thread for the background quilting). And I am so happy to say that it earned one of the top awards, “Excellence in Machine Quilting” ($1500). I’ll tell you, I couldn’t be more proud! Road to California draws the best quilts from all over the world, and to earn that award is one of the pinnacles of my quilting career.
And now to bare my soul on a few other things…. During these past fifteen years of entering quilts at Road, I have had two quilts get rejected by the jurors. And I’ll confess, that hurts! The first quilt to be rejected was “Linda’s Folly”, a lovely wholecloth quilt that had won Best Machine Quilting at AQS Chattanooga ($5,000). When I got that rejection letter, I was quite surprised! Rejection letters never tell you why the jurors have rejected your quilt, so you have to speculate the reasons for the rejection, and then try to get over it. But I was determined to attend the show and see what kind of beautiful wholecloth quilts had bumped mine out (the category was “Traditional Other”). Well lo and behold, when I got to the show and bought my program, I quickly discovered that the entire category had been eliminated, and there were no wholecloth quilts in the show that year. I guess there weren’t enough entries, but it would have been nice to know that because then I wouldn’t have felt so badly about the rejection. Unfortunately by the next year, my quilt was too old to re-enter the show, so it never got a chance to be judged at “Road”.
The other quilt to be rejected was my pictorial quilt, “September”. For this rejection I have no explanation other than that the jurors didn’t like it for some reason. Maybe my photos weren’t good enough to really show the quilt to its best advantage, or maybe they had 3 other pictorial quilts featuring elk. Who knows! Only the jurors know.
So there you have it; my 15-year history of entering quilts at Road to California, and also a bit of their history. It’s an amazing quilt show and any ribbon earned there is truly something to be proud of. I feel extremely honored to have earned 5 awards there over the years, three of which were top awards. I don’t know if I’ll ever earn another ribbon there, but I’m going to keep trying! Entering quilts into competitions makes us all better quilters.