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Quiltcon and Thoughts on Getting Quilts Into Quilt Shows

I have some fun news! I just got two quilts entered into Quiltcon, which is the show for the national Modern Quilt Guild. I also had one rejected. I have a lot of thoughts about the process of applying to shows, which I decided to post about below. I am always interested in the process of other quilters, and decided to share mine. First things first, the quilts, which are ones that I just posted about recently.

This one is titled Dream Maps and I wrote about it here.

dream map full 1800

And the other one is called Center Pivot Irrigation which I wrote about here (detail at the top).

And the one that didn’t get in is my “Be Joyful” quilt, which I wrote about here.

I just posted a long peptalk on my Instagram about rejection and keeping at it, and I wanted to put some of the reflections on my blog, where it can be more coherent and permanent.

For a long time, the concept of quilts and quilt shows was pretty mysterious to me. I was a member of the Modern Quilt Guild, so I entered every year into Quiltcon and every year got rejected. I know for me and a lot of others, just being members of the guild, Quiltcon is the first show you enter because the guild is making announcements about the deadline, so it feels really accessible.  Which is actually not ideal, because it is such a narrow show.

I had thought sort of like, “I am a dues paying member of the Modern Quilt Guild, why don’t they like me and my quilts?” I would hear people every year say, “If you don’t get into Quiltcon, try another show, it’s nothing personal!” But it did feel a little personal.  I love the Modern Quilt community, and have always been a very active guild member at the local level.

I had to work through a lot of pride to realize they have a narrow aesthetic for a more cohesive curated show, which is a good thing about Quiltcon.  I knew intellectually, and finally processed emotionally, that the goal of Quiltcon is more to highlight a coordinated vision of Modern Quilting than create a member showcase (my own words and summary not theirs). And I have always thought that that is a very interesting and worthy goal, just been wistful that my own work is not necessarily part of that specific vision.

What’s funny is, I have learned this lesson before. I have a masters in Creative Writing. When I was seriously writing and submitting poetry, I understood it was all about finding a journal that was the right fit for your poem, and also depends on arbitrary things, like how hungry the judge is when they read your poem, or whether they already accepted a sonnet that month. For example, I had a poem that was rejected by a lot of small local presses that got into the North American Review (which is a big deal). The other thing I learned about poetry was that it is very personal, but you also have to hone your craft. You can have personal poems that are messy and just for you, but if you are putting something out there, you have to put a layer of distance between yourself and the piece as you refine it. That is to say, if I say your poem about your mom has a bad rhyme scheme, I am not insulting your mom. I am trying to help you improve your rhyme scheme so your poem is ultimately more impactful. If you can’t separate the two, then you probably shouldn’t put it out for critique. If it is impactful to you with a sloppy rhyme scheme, then that’s beautiful. But if you are trying to draw in a stranger, you have to be analytical about what they are going to see at first glance when they read your poem.

It can be difficult to write from a vulnerable, fresh, vibrant, wild place and then step back from that to spend hours analyzing the nuts and bolts punctuation. In many ways, I use my knowledge of craft that I learned writing poetry in my quilting process, but somehow I never put that learning into my quilt submission process until this year.

Sitting and thinking analytically about why quilts are accepted and rejected to me, helps de-personalize the ego sting of rejection, and also helps me define my craft and decide if I want a quilt to be a house quilt for fun or a show quilt. They can be both, but I am learning that it helps to be deliberate about it. A lot of my rejects (and I notice some other people’s) for example aren’t as densely quilted, which is a fine choice for many reasons, but makes it less likely to get in or if it does get in a show, it probably won’t get a ribbon.  I saw the advice from a quilt judge once saying that if a quilt doesn’t get in, try adding a round of quilting to it and trying again.

Related, for a long time I could honestly not give two s#!*s whether my quilts were square, but it is an area where excellence and mastery of your craft really shows.  Now if you are making a quilt for YOURSELF, you can do whatever you want. I always say, the only thing I truly care about is whether or not it will fall apart in the wash, and even then, if you don’t plan on washing it, then that doesn’t matter either! But even though I am not a fan of strict rules in quilting, I have always been a fan of figuring out why the rules exist and how do to things the “technically correct” way so I can make an informed choice as to whether to follow the rules. And if you are entering a show with thousands of other people, the signs of a highly skilled and careful quilter are going to set you apart.

centerpivot close up 2

So, to that end, my goal for 2018 for my sewing was “to take my sewing seriously.” It eats up a serious amount of my time, house space and my budget. Why was I doing it? I felt I was ready to grow as a quilter. I gave myself some challenges.

First, I have been fixing up old quilts as a way to hone my craft. For a long time, I felt full of designs and felt a constant urge to create create create and get the ideas out of my head!! I have made A LOT of quilts. (Probably a hundred? I should count.) A lot were to sell, or give away. But a lot are around my house, and when I look back at them, I see many are sloppy, or just not as special as they could have been if I had taken more time to really create something special.  One example of this is squaring up and adding matching stick quilting to this Linen Stars Quilt. I still feel full of design ideas, and sad that I won’t have time to make them all. But forcing myself to focus has helped me work on my discernment of what is truly worth my time, and I think I have made some really special pieces, and have some really neat things on the way too.

Another part of my “taking myself seriously” was deciding that no quilt of mine is “done” until I have entered it into a show. (Exceptions for utility/baby quilts of course).  That goal forced me to consider my process and slow down and really focus on my craft, since I was now making them with the knowledge that they will be shown to a quilt judge as well as myself. I learned how to do faced bindings, for example, which I am so pleased with as a way to finish a quilt when binding feels like a distraction from your design.

I don’t let the imaginary quilt judge ruin my fun, but when properly employed, she challenges me to push myself beyond what’s easy or fast. She says my work is boring, and makes me dream of ways make it more interesting.This, in many ways, is the goal behind the goal to enter shows.


To declare my quilts “done” by this new metric, I was forced to enter quilts into shows besides QuiltCon. Imagine my surprise when a Quiltcon reject of mine got a People’s Choice ribbon at the state fair! And I knew this quilt would never get into Quiltcon, but I won an award at a local art show with it (and used the modest cash prize to enter more shows!).  It takes a lot of work and courage (and money) to enter more shows, so I am approaching it slowly. First, I made a list of quilt shows that I knew about. Some are huge, like the shows in Paducah and Lancaster, some are smaller and non-juried, like the Indiana Heritage Quilt Show, or medium, like the Vermont Quilt Festival. Quilts.com has shows with interesting themes, and I am also looking at little local fairs and county fairs. Not to mention checking out local calls for art submissions, and thinking over whether my quilts could fit.

And I decided to try for Quiltcon again, but this time more strategically. My #dreammapsquilt has been a special project for me. I felt it was technically pretty well made and visually very compelling. I did want to try to get it into Quiltcon, but honestly I felt it was very unlikely.  Despite my confidence about the quality of my work, I wasn’t sure that it suited their general aesthetic. It is very busy, it has too many “not-modern” prints and the color scheme is not sophisticated. I was going for a theme about girlhood so I am ok with childish, “non-edgy” color work, but that is not necessarily going to translate to a jurist during their 10 seconds evaluating the quilt. Despite my misgivings, I entered it, but with the feeling that I was throwing away the money (like buying a lottery ticket, but with slightly higher chances). However, I felt really comfortable and confident about it, knowing I wouldn’t likely get it. So, I am pleased, obviously that I did get juried into the show.

Dream Maps Close 2

I had looked over all the previous years Quiltcon quilts, and felt that my Center Pivot Irrigation quilt was the best fit visually. It is densely quilted and hangs mostly square (it has a little poofy wave on the right when it hangs I think I sewed the hanging sleeve a little crooked) and has a minimal design that messes with your eyes in an interesting way. It is wonky from my process and the polyester scrap fabrics I used. That was a personal design choice and I mostly have no regrets, though I do wish I had been a little more careful with my piecing. I made this quilt because I loved the idea, and I honestly figured as long as they didn’t get too many minimalist circle quilts with eye popping stripes (which let’s be honest I am sure there are a fair few), this one would get in. So, I wasn’t as surprised when it did, but still really excited.
centerpivot full 1800

The last I felt had basically no chance, except that Quiltcon seems to always accept a lot of text quilts, and while it wasn’t very Modern in fabric choice (or at all) it did have text and matchstick quilting is also popular at Quiltcon. I think if I had used different background fabrics and kept everything else the same, it would have gotten into Quiltcon. Who can say, but I am not changing it now. In part, I made this quilt to experiment with new techniques, but I do like the finished product, and I will be submitting it into at least two more shows is my goal for it. I think it might be more of an “art” quilt so I will keep that in mind.

be joyful full

Phew, this has been a mouthful. The process of writing this blog post has been interrupted with constant thoughts of “This is a waste of your time, why are you doing this?” as so often my quilting time is, when I am working away at a particularly heinous bit of matchstick quilting or trying out a new design that I don’t know if it will work. WHY AM I DOING THIS? But I spend a lot of time cleaning, but at the end of each year I still have a messy house.

Dallying so long on these projects feels like such an absurd extravagance in the moment, but at the end of the year, for my efforts, I have a messy house, and some quilts and blog posts about quilts.

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