Home from Festival of Quilts and the airwaves are positively humming!

There are lots of topics of conversation, but the one that has leapt out at me is the thorny issue of Categories.

I thought I could write about this – a bit about the why and a bit about the category definitions, and what I understand by them. But it does not appear to be that straightforward! Nothing ever is!! So go get a cup of tea, pull up a chair and settle down for a bit of a long read!

Whatever field we are involved in, people always want to put us (or in this instance our quilts) into narrow categories. There is an awful lot to be said for just appreciating something for what it is and not trying to dig too deep. But at the same time it is good to be able to spot similarities and differences. Add the competitive element and we want to make sure that like is being judged with like and that the bar is being set fairly. We all know the image of the headteacher type testing children with two totally different animals trying to climb a tree. It is not judging like with like. When you look across the field of patchwork and quilting, there is very little cross-matching of like to like.

So, at some point in the dim and distant past, probably in America, they started looking for different ways to group the quilts at quilt shows. And when we go to any competitive quilt show there are always different categories, different groupings.

Now, part of the problem here is that not everyone got together at one time to come up with one definitive list of all these potential groups or categories the whole world over. And even if you were to get a couple of people together who agreed on the categories, they would be extremely unlikely to agree on the definition of each of those categories.

So where does that leave us mere quiltmakers?

I would say it leaves exactly where we want to be!

Ask yourself what the purpose is for you in making a quilt. If it is to try to win a competition then you need to do a bit of investigation before you start making your quilt. It is like taking exams – you have to know what the syllabus is before you start, practice so that you have the necessary skills at an appropriate level, and answer the questions that the examiner asks. You can give all the interesting information you want, but if it’s not answering the question, then you won’t pass the exam! Also, it is worth considering that if something is mentioned in the question then you probably ought to reference that in your answer. This translates to if it is specified in the category descriptor it should feature in your quilt!

As Festival of Quilts is still in our minds, and because these categories are some of the more complex, I will focus on my interpretation of the main categories for that show.  Here’s a link to them.  https://www.thefestivalofquilts.co.uk/competition-categories-prizes/.  Bear in mind that, apart from miniatures all entries must be at least 100cm on one side. Also, this is NOT to be taken in place of actually reading the rules yourselves! I have attached a photo of one of my quilts that might possibly fit in that category where possible. However, they don’t all fit the 100cm size rule (but that’s our secret!)  Photography is not my strong point – I do apologise in advance.

Art Quilts – a “strong visual impact and a high quality of execution designed to be displayed as artwork and communicating an idea, emotion or concept through the medium of textile and stitch.” I have never made an Art Quilt so there is no example here from me I am afraid!

Contemporary Quilts use traditional quilt making skills such as piecing, appliqué or wholecloth designs. It’s really important that they are original designs (no published patterns or somebody else’s designs in this category). Very often non-traditional fabrics and fabric printing and dyeing are used, as is the addition of embellishment and use of unusual construction methods such as free-hand curved piecing. They can be by hand or machine sewn. To my mind, Contemporary has leanings towards Art, but without the whole “Arty-Farty” nature! (I’m very jealous I can’t do the arty stuff!)  The following is “Rhodri’s Quilt”, inspired by a picture of a gecko on a leaf in my son’s bedroom.

Traditional Quilts use a traditional design or pattern. They can be wholecloth or pieced, with or without appliqué. Quilting can be by hand or machine but minimal quilting seems out of place here. You can use a published traditional pattern here, but make sure you quote the sources. The following quilt, Blue Suede Logs, is based on a traditional Amish Log cabin design from one of the Rachel T Pellman books (Amish Wall Quilts, I think).  There was not enough quilting!

Modern Quilts should be functional, minimalist and inspired by modern design. Bold colours and modern prints may be used , as well as areas of neutral colour to provide ‘negative space’. Modern quilts often use asymmetry in design, improvisational piecing, the re-interpretation of traditional blocks or the lack of visible block structure. They are generally simply quilted with lines of stitching or grid patterns. So what does this mean – especially in comparison to Contemporary? Functional – it needs to not be out of place on a bed, even if it’s a wall hanging, so no additional embellishments that would get in the way! Negative space tends to be expected to be neutral colours. Think big and bold – even if it’s a miniature. Tumbling Triangles was a quilt I made after seeing some lovely modern pieces made by the fabulous Alison Mayall.  It is 20″ square and if it had been bigger I would have entered it and been proud!

Pictorial Quilts – Quilts depicting a scene or subject eg: people, animal, flowers etc. as the main body of the quilt. A figurative or representational piece. Again, this is not an area I have any great interest in so no pictures from me. Boring, aren’t I!

Miniature Quilts – Maximum size of 30cms on the longest side. Use any technique or combination of techniques. In a photo of the finished piece (with no indication of scale) the miniature should look like a full size quilt or wall hanging. Traditionally they should be at a 1/12th scale – so a 1” block for a miniature should look right if you make it at 12”. I am a recent entrant to the world of miniatures, having to work in this area for my diploma – I am unlikely to return to it after completion!!  This is a sample for my diploma work.  How big do you think it is?

Sandown, part of the Grosvenor Shows group has its own set of categories and you can find them here.  https://www.grosvenorshows.co.uk/competitions.php . Interestingly these are more about size than style or technique. So all bed quilts might be judged together no matter the style of design. The categories for the other shows in the group are similar but with a few (significant and not so significant) differences. To me, this seems uncomfortable – judging apples and pears if you like. But it does make entering easier!

Do look at QuiltCon’s definitions here. https://www.quiltcon.com/categories-prizes  This annual international quilt show which takes place in America includes a juried competition featuring modern quilts by members of the Modern Quilt Guild. The categories here are a bit different – not least because they are all modern! But there is one category for Applique, another for Handwork. There is a section for Improvisation, one for Minimalist Design, one for the use of Negative Space and one for piecing.

My favourite category though is Modern Traditionalism whereby the “design incorporates the use of an identifiable traditional block pattern and redesigns it by applying modern design elements such as alternate grid work, asymmetry, colour, scale, etc.” Here’s one I made earlier – much earlier, I could do better now! – Trad made Mod

In a juried competition only those quilts in with a chance of winning are selected. So if you are going to enter one of these then read the category descriptors very, very carefully. For something like Festival of Quilts though, where the organisers aim to hang every quilt entered, you need to make a decision – if it’s about seeing a quilt that you love hanging in that amazing space, then just go for it! You need to choose a category, so go for the best fit, but don’t fret it! You quilt will still be “judged” and there will be a chance that it will not fulfil the category or theme, and therefore there will be little else the judges can say. But it will still be there in its glory. This is what happened to me this year – I had a double sided quilt – traditional on one side, improv on the other. I intentionally added a normal hanging sleeve (in a fabric to match the back) rather than incorporating an integral hanging sleeve. An integral hanging sleeve is positioned so that both front and back can be viewed without the sleeve obscuring any element. I chose the Modern category because it used bold colours and was simply quilted. There was the improv element on the back. It missed out lots of the other elements of the category and all judges unanimously agreed that it was not modern (it did not fulfil the category or theme), but there was a very nice little comment that said that I had created unity between front and back – and as that was my intent I was super happy!  Storm over an Amish Sea

If you seriously want to be in with any chance of winning a category at FoQ then I am not suggesting that you “teach to the test”, but you want to ensure that you have addressed the requirements of the category, and you can only be certain of that if you factor these in at the planning stage!

But whatever you do, check that if it asks for a hanging sleeve, you have added one of the correct size!

And finally, Remember, if no one enters a competition, juried or open, then the competition will not exist! Everyone needs to start somewhere.

Happy quilting – and, for heaven’s sake – don’t quote me!! These are my interpretations. Others will have their own. Read the rules, go for it and above all, HAVE FUN!

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