Back Away from the Copier….

Okay, here’s the scenario.  You’re casually searching the internet quilting sites.  You’re not really looking for anything specific, but you come across this darling quilt pattern.  You check the price.  It’s not unreasonable.  Added bonus, it’s a digital download.  Before you can say bibbitybobbityboo, you hit up Paypal and it’s yours.  You download it to your computer, print it out and raid your stash.  Next thing you know you’re having a wonderful time making this darling quilt.

In the middle of this creative chaos, a quilting buddy drops by and has the same reaction you did to the pattern – she falls in love with it and wants to make the quilt, too.  You give her the website and the price, but she responds with this: “Why don’t you just email me a copy of your pattern?”

And here’s where the slippery slope of copyright violations begins.  On one hand, it’s simply an email, upload, point, click, and send.  On the other hand, your friend didn’t pay the designer for her pattern.  You want this person to remain your quilting buddy, but you know the sale of patterns is what funds the designer’s cost of living.  But it’s only one copy, right?  It doesn’t really hurt anything.

Or does it?

Before we slide too far down this slippery slope, let’s take a brief look at what a copyright is, what it covers, and how long it lasts.  What we recognize as a copyright began in 1790.  The first copyright law was written into the United States Constitution.  Copyright materials were given legal status in the US District Courts and were good only for 14 years.  Things rocked along pretty smoothly for 40 years.  Then the United States Supreme Court heard the Peters v. Wheaton case, which entailed a reporter’s publications of the Supreme Court Justice’s opinions.  Another person (Wheaton) published Peters’ (the reporter’s) work.  The justices ruled against Peters because the work dealt with opinions which could not be copyrighted.  The next big copyright event occurred February 3, 1831.  New regulations pushed the lifespan of a copyright to 28 years and musical works could now be copyrighted.  From there, the timeline goes like this:

August 18, 1856 – Dramatic works are protected

March 3, 1865 – Photographs are protected

July 8, 1870 — The second general revision of the law centralized copyright activities, including registration and deposit, in the Library of Congress. It also extended protection to works of art and gave authors the right to create their own derivative works, including translations and dramatizations. The indexing of registration records began.

August 31, 1876 – The Statue of Liberty is copyrighted

January 19, 1880 – Supreme Court decides ideas cannot be copyrighted

January 12, 1885 – It’s determined government publications cannot be copyrighted

There have been additional tweaks made to copyright laws, but these are the big ones.  What’s important to quilters boils down to just a few main points.

  1.  Anything written or published prior to 1927 is now public domain.  There are a few exceptions to this, and these are primarily major works in which a family, publishing house, etc., has gone to great lengths to maintain the copyrights.  Even the Wizard of Oz books are now public domain.
  2. Anything written or published between 1928 and 1978 has a copyright life of 95 years, but the copyright had to be renewed 28 years after the work was first written or published.
  3. In 1992 the United States Copyright office completely eliminated copyright renewals. 
  4. You can copyright a quilt pattern, article, book, etc., in one of two ways:  Register it at the US Copyright’s website or mail a copy of whatever it is to yourself and don’t open it.  The postmark serves as date marker just in case your copyright is called into question.  The unopened envelope or package demonstrates it hasn’t been tampered with. 

If a work – be it a musical composition, an article, a book or part of a book, or a quilt pattern – has a copyright, this means only the author, composer, or designer has the right to distribute the copyrighted work as he or she decides.  Which means if you didn’t have the designer’s permission to email your quilting buddy a copy of your pattern, you’ve broken the law.  So will the police (the real police, not the quilt police) break down your door and arrest you?

In all probability, the answer is “No.”

Unless you are making hundreds of copies, selling them, and pocketing the proceeds, your one shared pattern with your quilting friend will raise no eyebrows nor make you need bail money.  However, what you have done is taken money away from the quilt designer.  These quilty artists and engineers spend huge chunks of their time coming up with wonderful patterns, notions, and reading material for quilters.  Yes, it’s fun.  Yes, they have a passion for quilting and quilters.  But they also have bills to pay and mouths to feed (even if it’s just their own).  Selling these patterns, notions, books, etc., is not just their passion, it’s their job.  It’s how they make ends meet.  It’s how they monetarily survive to create even more patterns, notions, and reading material.  If enough people “share” the designers’ goods, it can put a serious dent in their income.  Enough to make them warily decide if they’ll invest the time and energy to do it again.  So at this point, I think it’s important to realize making copies of patterns for your friends is definitely an illegal activity, but even more than that, it’s unethical.  Some folks may even say you’ve stolen money from someone without getting caught. 

In the not-too-past-past, a Facebook quilting group’s administrator wanted to begin a group quilt initiative.  The premise was everyone who wanted could make the quilt and they would share pictures and their construction experiences on the Facebook page.  It was a noble idea, and one meant to bring the group together. The issue which sent everything sideways was this:  The administrator made copies of books and online instructions from several bloggers and combined them in the group project without permission from the bloggers/designers (several who, by the way, were members of this Facebook group).  The result was a great deal of rudeness, and the administrator threw the protesting bloggers out of the Facebook group.  The admin’s reasoning was the patterns were all wonky log cabins and people have been making log cabins quilts for hundreds of years.  The bloggers’ stance was, “Yes, that’s true, but you lifted my directions, word for word, without asking me for permission to use my instructions.” 

And the bloggers/designers were right.  Despite the fact the log cabin quilt block is one of the oldest blocks, the instructions belonged to the bloggers and the Facebook admin should have sought their permission to use their directions.  Revisiting our initial scenario, let’s say the quilt pattern your friend wanted a copy of was made of tiny Dresden Plates.

The Dresdan Plate has been around for over a hundred years.  It’s obviously not copyrighted any longer.  But the directions written by the designer are not that old.  That’s what is copyrighted.   

At this point, I would like to address a few copyright areas which can seem a little gray. 

  •  What can you do if a friend or quilting group really likes the pattern you’re using and wants the pattern?

There are several answers to this question.  If you’re through with the pattern, you can always let them borrow your pattern.  If you don’t think you’ll ever use the pattern again, you can give them the pattern.  If neither of these are viable options, send them the website information, and gently explain why you don’t copy patterns.  One of three things will happen.  If the person didn’t know copying (either by email or print) a pattern was a copyright violation, they’ll agree with you and purchase their own pattern.  If the person isn’t your real quilting buddy, they may be a bit huffy about it (don’t think it won’t happen – it has to me).  However, if the person is a real friend, they won’t think anything about it and either purchase the pattern or ask you to loan it to them when you’re finished. 

  •  Is there anything quilt pattern related which is not copyrighted?  Surprisingly, most quilt motifs are not copyrighted, unless they’re highly specialized, computerized, or are a pantograph.  A quilt you make is not copyrighted, and quilts you make to give to others are not copyrighted because no money has changed hands.  It gets a little trickier when you make quilts to sell.  If you make a quilt from a designer’s pattern, then you may need to get permission to sell quilts made from the pattern.  However, if someone hires you to make a quilt from the pattern, that’s different.  The pattern is purchased, and you are paid for your labor.  The best advice I can give is read the fine print on the pattern.  Most designers state their copyright policy somewhere on the it.

What about if the pattern is in a magazine or a quilt book by various designers?  Again, read the copyright policy in the front of the book or magazine.  Most of the time you only need permission from the designer to sell quilts made from their pattern.

  •  What about a raffle quilt?

Guilds and other quilt groups make raffle quilts to raise money.  The quilt is made, and tickets are sold for a chance to win the quilt.  If a pattern is used, the guild or group needs permission from the designer.  Let me also add this:  I’ve worked with my guild’s raffle quilts for nearly 13 years.  We have never had a designer tell us “No.”  We are always very careful to give the designer credit on our tickets or any other printed information, either in hard copies or digital.

  •  If you alter a quilt, at what point does it stop being the designer’s work and become yours?

The general rule is if anything – a work of art, a poem, play, music, or quilt – is altered more than 40%, the design then is yours.  However, there is kind of an ethical caveat to this.  Once that 40% is bridged, the original work is given some credit, such as “Inspired by: ____” on the label.

  •  What if I have a pattern which is out of print and my friend wants to use it?  Is it okay to make a copy of it then?

If the pattern was printed prior to 1928, the copyright laws have long expired.  There are no problems.  However, quilt patterns do come and go quickly in our quilting world.  Personally, I had a quilt pattern I looked for several years and finally found it on a used book site.  I can share how I handle the out-of-print situation, but this is one of those gray areas you need to come to your own conclusion.  I search the web and see if the pattern or book is still in print anywhere (not used editions, but new).  If it is, I order from there.  If my searching comes up empty, I make a copy – especially if I know the designer is deceased.  Most of the time, a designer’s family doesn’t continue to operate the business after the designer passes.  They will sell what they have in stock and then close the business or sell it to another designer.  There are a few exceptions to this, such as Sue Garman’s quilting site, Come Quilt with Me.  As I understand, her daughters are still running her site and printing her beautiful patterns.

  •  Do I need to protect my own quilt designs? 

Yes, yes, yes – a thousand times yes.  Copyright it (by either method mentioned above).  Don’t share it on social media until you do.  Even if you have no plans on mass producing patterns or becoming the next quilting show star, all your hard work is encompassed in that quilt.  Don’t think some conniving conperson won’t lift your design, claim it for theirs, and mass produce it on those cheap “blankets” we’ve all seen on Facebook.  It’s your baby.  Protect it.  

One final word about designers.  You can promote them without fear of any copyright infringement.  If you see a quilt you like on Pinterest, pin it.  This drives more quilters to the quilt, and they’ll discover the designer you’re so fond of and maybe go purchase a pattern or two from their site or one of their preferred retailers.  You can mention the name of the pattern, the designer, and the designer’s website on social media.  This will go a long way to help them out.

It is true one measly copy of a quilt pattern does little harm.  However, if enough people do this, it can really hurt quilt designers.  I even heard – firsthand, by the way, from a very popular quilt designer and teacher – she had to stop her students from turning off their cameras in Zoom classes.  If you’ve taken Zoom classes, you know turning off your mic and camera can broaden your band width and keep your computer from freezing during Zoom.  During the time she was allowing students to turn their camera off, it seems someone videotaped the workshop with their phone and then loaded it up to YouTube.  This allowed hundreds of people to access her classes for free.  It wasn’t fair to the students who paid for the workshop, and it certainly wasn’t fair to the designer who makes part of her living from paid classes.  Some copyright issues deal with gray areas.  Others are clearly black and white.

Until Next Week, Remember the Difference is in the Details!

Love and Stitches,



Broderie Perse: The Applique of Wealth, Loop Holes, and Subterfuge

I love getting comments from my readers – both those who agree with what I write and those who vehemently disagree with what I write.  My blog about quilt store etiquette had several comments and it was fun responding to each one of those.  A few months ago, one of my commenters asked if I could write a blog about Broderie Perse.  And if there’s one thing I love even more than comments, it’s blog ideas you want to hear about (so feel free to leave suggestions – hint, hint). 

I have viewed many quilts which used the Broderie Perse technique – primarily antique ones.  As a matter of fact, until last year, I considered Broderie Perse one of those “older” applique techniques, rarely used any longer, but beautiful when executed correctly.  However, 2022 kind of threw this idea for a loop.  You all know my affinity for Zoom classes.  I took several applique Zoom classes last year which used this technique, and the results were amazing.  I decided then I needed to up my applique toolbox to include this technique.  

Broderie Perse actually means Persian Embroidery, but it’s not embroidery at all.  It’s applique.  This type of applique has been around since the 1700’s.  And since this technique has quite a bit of history behind it, I thought it would be a good idea to begin with its definition and then move to its history.  Broderie Perse fabric is a Chintz material.  Chintz comes from the Hindi meaning “spotted, speckled, variegated, or sprayed.”  Chintz fabric usually has a white base with floral and animal prints on it.  The most popular of these prints is The Tree of Life, which found its way onto hundreds of quilts in the 1700s.  These prints were made from a woodblock, and were printed, painted, or stained.  Most of the Chintz fabric came from Hyderabad, India, and they were used for bedcovers, quilts, draperies, and curtains. 

Now let’s start at the beginning of Chintz’s exportation from India to other parts of the world and an explorer named Vasco de Gama. 

Vasco reached Calicut, India in 1498.  From that point, lots of items were exported from India to England and France – primarily spices and minerals.  However, the lovely Indian Chintzes also were included in the exports.  They were well-received and became much sought after.  By the time 1680 rolled around, more than a million pieces of Chintz were imported to England each year.  It seemed every household which could afford the imported fabric, had to have it.  It was a best-selling item which put a lot of gold in the pockets of import companies and dry goods retailers. 

However, it also put a lightning bolt of fear in the hearts of fabric manufacturers both in England and France.  At this point in history, neither country had the knowledge nor the technology to make printed fabric.  They could produce solid-colored fabrics and then dress makers and tailors could have this fabric embroidered.

But they didn’t know how to make the Chintz fabric which was now so popular it was used in the clothing of royals and well-to-do:

And when this clothing was no longer worn by those folks, it was passed down to servants and others which re-made the Chintz into linings or clothing.

So you can see how all this Chintz-iness put a serious crimp the in the money coffers of local textile mills.  Chintz popularity grew so wild that by 1686 France banned the import of Chintz and in 1720, England followed suit.  Their governments felt the bans were needed in order to protect their local fabric manufacturers and uphold this end of their economy.  Which it did – but boy, did the consumers grumble.  They liked the Chintz.  They wanted the Chintz.  They were not happy they could no longer get it. However, in the long run, these bans worked in favor of the consumer.  The textile mill owners in France and England soon realized they had to “up their game.”  They had to learn how to produce printed fabric.  But India wasn’t real keen on sharing their technology (because the bans hurt them economically) and England and France couldn’t find the Thomas Edison of fabric printing anywhere in their countries.

As almost any historian can tell you, where there is a great want for something which is super-scare, little things called the “Black Market Economy” and “Legislative Loopholes” will emerge.  The biggest legislative loophole came from France, and it concerned the Court of Versailles. 

The Court of Versailles was exempt from the ban – so all those French noble folk could continue to get all the Chintz they wanted.   

England’s royalty wasn’t about to be so two-faced boldly divided.  There weren’t any stated loopholes, but there was a great deal of subterfuge in play.  To begin with, England’s military had a presence in India.  These military personnel began to carefully obtain samples of the Chintz printing in each step of the manufacturing process.  These were smuggled back to England along with any information garnered when the samples were acquired.  And a priest, Father Courdoux, who was living in India actively converting the Indians to Christianity, also played a crucial role.  While he was busily converting India’s citizens to the Roman Catholic Church, he also was pumping them for information about Chintz printing.  This knowledge was then written down and sent back home. 

With all the samples and information flowing into both countries, by 1759, England and France were producing their own Chintz. 

But in many ways the damage was already done to Chintz’s popularity.  By 1759, the French had been without Chintz for 73 years (unless you were in the Court of Versailles). The English had no Chintz for 39 years.  By this time, the women of both countries had purchased the remaining imported Chintz and developed ways of making it stretch as far as they could.  They cut it up – separating the flowers, fauna, and animals.  Then they stitched those down on a solid-colored background which closely matched the background of the Chintz.  And Broderie Perse was born.

This is a museum example of English Broderie Perse.  The figures were stitched down using a very fine buttonhole stitch or the raw edges were folded under and whipped stitched into place.  One tidbit of interesting history which really surprised me was it appears a paste was sometimes used to adhere the applique motif to the background before sewing.  Quilt historian Kimberly Wulfert shared this information: “In more than one source I have read, paste was used in the early 1800s by women making cut-out Chintz quilts.”  In the 1882 Dictionary of Needlework, Bullard and Shiel mention Broderie Perse Quilts and also mention paste: “The fabric is stretched on a frame and then the applique pieces are pasted in place.  Once the paste is dry, the fabric is removed from the frame and the motifs are stitched in place.”  Unfortunately, no mention is made about what the paste is made of or from.  However, I assume we can surmise from this that the use of basting glue is not a new idea to quilting. 

So this is how England and France handled the Chintz shortage, but what about the United States?  By the 1700’s we had settled the East Coast and were gradually pushing westward.  Did the US have a Chintz affinity, make Broderie Perse Quilts, or suffer from the Chintz bans?  The answer to these questions is “Yes.”  Yes, the women of the United States loved Chintz fabrics.  And yes, they felt the pinch of the Chintz bans.  Both France and England exported goods to the United States.  When both countries were “banning” the fabric, it meant less Chintz yardage was reaching our coastline.  Even when England had the technology to manufacture their own Chintz, we were at their mercy on pricing and taxes.  As a colony, we were forbidden from manufacturing any of our own printed fabric, so we could do nothing to lower the price on Chintz or even to change the market competition.  As a result, Americans were paying a high price for any Chintz fabric, regardless of the quality.  Most families could not afford to pay for yards and yards of the beautiful fabric, but you know what?

Most families could afford one yard.  And American women developed what they called “One Yard Quilts.”   Just like the English women, they would take the one yard of Chintz, cut the figures apart and trim off any borders or print, then applique those down onto their homespun fabric.  The result was a standard-sized bed quilt. Where the American Broderie Perse and the English Broderie Perse really differed was in the arrangement of the figures.  American quilters would arrange as many of these related figures together as they could to form a large center block which was appliqued.  Then other pieced blocks were arranged around the center block to make a Medallion Quilt.  These quilts became so popular that once America was able to manufacture their own printed fabric (in the late 1700’s), Chintz fabric was printed with one large design for the Medallion center and enough smaller pieces to surround it.  By 1840, Chintz could easily be found, and it was affordable.  It began showing up in pieced quilts as well as appliqued.

We can’t leave the history of Broderie Perse behind without talking about one of the most famous Broderie Perse quilts: The Rajah Quilt.

The Rajah Quilt is a large quilt created by women convicts in 1841, while traveling from Woolwich to Hobart.  They used the materials organized by Lydia Irving of the British Ladies Society for “Promoting the reformation of female prisoners.”  First, let’s take a look at the Powerhouse of Persuasion known as Lydia Irving.  Lydia served on Elizabeth Fry’s British Ladies Society.  Elizabeth was the leader of this group and one of the society’s goals was to reform women convicts and then re-introduce them back into the public as true gentle women.   Lydia had a two-pronged approach to this goal:  First, talk to the captains of the convict ships who were taking these women to the (then) penal colony of Australia and persuade them to allow the British Ladies Society to give the female convicts much needed items to take with them – knives, forks, aprons, and sewing materials.  Second, she convinced the Naval Board to fund these items.  The plan was to visit every convict ship the night before it sailed to calm the women bound for Australia and give them the items.

On April 5, 1841, 180 women prisoners were given sewing supplies before they sailed on the ship, Rajah.  The women’s names are still known and listed in records.  They set sail from Woolwich and by July 19, 1841, they had arrived at Hobart.  It was during this journey they embroidered and sewed materials into an appliqued coverlet now known as the Rajah Quilt.  Kezia Elizabeth Hayter (who was the only free woman aboard ship) was probably the “designer.”  Kezia had come from Millbank Penitentiary to help the women of Australia form their own society, mirrored after the British Ladies Society.  Approximately 29 of the female convicts worked on the quilt.  The quilt includes a message embroidered in silk thread which thanked the “Convict Ship Committee.”  It was presented to Jane Franklin, the governor’s wife.  The quilt was sent eventually sent back to Britain to Elizabeth Fry and was forgotten.  It was rediscovered in the 1980’s, tucked away in an attic in Scotland.  It was returned to Australia in 1989 and is now held at the National Gallery of Australia.  It can be noted research shows this quilt wasn’t particularly unique, as other forms of convict needlework are mentioned, but what does make The Rajah Quilt special is it’s the only documented quilt made by convicts which still survives. 

After reading nearly 2,000 words about Broderie Perse, maybe you’ve decided you’d like to give it a try.  It’s not difficult – especially if you like applique.  And it can be done either by hand or machine.  You may have most of the supplies already in your studio.

Broderie Perse Supply List

Applique fabric – For a traditional look, use cotton Chintz fabric with medium- to large-sized, clearly defined motifs.  If the figures are too small, the process may become too frustrating, especially if you’re still fairly new to applique. 

Background fabric – In traditional Broderie Perse, the quilter matches the applique background fabric to the Chintz background.  I have seen Broderie Perse on contrasting backgrounds and it’s lovely.  Use what you like.

Fusible Web – This is for machine Broderie Perse.  You’ll want a light to medium weight. 

Basting Glue – This is used for hand sewn Broderie Perse, but it comes in handy if the fusible webbing comes loose with your machine applique.

Stabilizer – This is for machine applique.  A light or medium tear-away works well, as does the iron-on Easy Knit.

Sewing Machine – This is for Broderie Perse done on the machine.  Your sewing machine needs an adjustable zig zag or buttonhole stitch. 

Applique Needles – These are for the Broderie Perse done by hand.  I usually use a #9 or #10, but like most things quilting, use the needle you like best and works well for you. 

Thread – The thread should blend with the different colors of your motif, no matter if you’re sewing the motifs by hand or machine.

Small, Sharp Scissors – You’ll fussy cut around the motifs, so you want a scissor you can control and get into small spaces and curves with easily. 

General Sewing Supplies

To Begin

No matter which applique method you choose, the first step in Broderie Perse is selecting the motifs.  Study your Chintz carefully and choose the motifs you want to use.  Avoid any small ones, as they can be frustrating to sew either by hand or machine. 

If you are machine appliqueing – Apply the fusible web to the piece of fabric with the motifs.  Rather than attempting to press the fusible only on the pieces you want to use, just apply the webbing to the entire piece of fabric. This way you know the fusible is on all motifs.  Once the fusible is pressed into place (be sure to follow manufacturer’s directions), leave the paper backing on the fabric.  This makes the motifs easier to cut out and stabilizes any curved, bias edges. 

If you are hand appliqueing – Carefully cut out the motifs you want to use.  If the Chintz is soft, you may want to press some starch into the wrong side of the fabric to give it a crisper hand.

Once the motifs are cut out, you will probably need to do some additional trimming.  For machine applique, you want as much of the background removed as possible.  For hand appliquers, some decisions will need to be made at this point.  If you plan on using traditional needle turn applique, you will want to leave a slight background margin around the motifs to turn under – less than ¼-inch but a tad more than 1/8-inch.  If you plan to use a buttonhole stitch, trim away as much of the background as possible.  You won’t need a margin to turn under.

Even if you have a really good idea of what motifs you want to use and how you want to arrange them, cut out as many motifs as possible.  It’s always better to have too many than not enough.  And who knows?  Once you begin arranging all the applique pieces, you may come up with a better idea and need more.

Let me also insert a word of caution here about the background fabric.  If the applique background is a different color than the Chintz background, and you’re either machine appliqueing or hand appliqueing using a buttonhole stitch, make very sure all the Chintz’s background is trimmed away as much as possible.  If not, it will be glaringly noticeable.

Once the motifs are chosen and trimmed, begin arranging them on the background fabric.  If you’re machine appliqueing, keep that paper backing on the motifs until right before you’re ready to press them into place.  I find my iPhone super-helpful at this point.  Arrange the motifs.  Take a picture.  Look at the picture and see what you want to change.  Keep this up until you have everything arranged the way you want it. 

If you are machine appliqueing – Once you’re happy with the design, remove the paper backing from the motifs.  Using the picture on your phone as a reference, arrange the applique pieces a final time, making any adjustments needed.  Then fuse the motifs into place, using an up-and-down pressing motion and following the manufacturer’s guidelines for temperature setting. 

It’s easy for the applique pieces to shift out of place when pressing.  And this can be really frustrating, especially after you’ve spent a lot of time arranging and re-arranging your design.  I can tell you how I handle this.  I use pins to hold the motifs in place.  I push the pins into the design vertically, and then remove them as I press.  If you want to use this method, you’ll need to have a heat-resistant pad under your design.  In the past I’ve used folded sheets or beach towels.  However since this little tool entered my quilting life

I use my wool mat.  It works better than anything. 

If you are hand appliqueing – You will want to glue baste your motifs into place.  You can pin them in place, but I have found the applique pieces want to shift when pinned.  I glue in a similar method as I fuse.  I pin the motifs in place by pinning them down vertically.  Then I carefully lift the edges of the pieces and apply the glue (Roxanne’s Glue and a pair of tweezers work wonderfully for this).  Once everything is glued into place, I allow it to dry.  Then I carefully remove the pins, adding more glue if needed, and give the piece a press with a hot, dry iron.  This will set the glue.  One word of caution – no matter if you’re needle turning or using a buttonhole stitch, if you hand appliqueing, don’t put glue on the edges of the motifs.  It will be impossible to turn the fabric under or push a needle through it.  As I lift the edges of the applique pieces, I apply the glue more towards the center of the motif. 

Once the applique pieces are securely in place, now it’s time to stitch.

If you are machine appliqueing —  Now it’s time to determine if you want to blanket stitch, zigzag stitch, satin stitch, or use one of the other decorative stitches on your machine.  It’s really helpful if you have a spare motif to practice on.  This allows you to try out stitch lengths and widths to see what will work best.  Before you begin stitching, but sure to apply the stabilizer to the wrong side of the background.  The stabilizer helps prevent the background fabric from being chewed by the feed dogs as you manipulate your fabric, so the needle follows the curve of the motif.  Be sure to change your top thread as you stitch, as this thread needs to match the applique piece, not the background.  Once all the stitching is complete, follow the stabilizer’s directions on how or if to remove it.

If you are hand appliqueing – Most hand sewn Broderie Perse employs either needle turn – where the edge of the motif is folded under and stitched in place – or a tiny, closely set buttonhole stitch. 

Either way works well, and it’s all up to you and whichever technique you like best.  Just like with machine applique, be sure to change your thread to match the motif, not the background. However, unlike machine applique, you don’t need a stabilizer if you’re hand appliqueing.

And that’s it.  Broderie Perse isn’t difficult, but it is handled a bit differently than “traditional” machine or hand applique.  I have not made an entire Broderie Perse quilt, but I have begun using the technique in applique, by cutting out leaves or flowers and adding those in my “traditional” applique pieces.  It adds a lot of detail without a great deal of work – and you have to love a technique which does that!

Until Next Week, Remember the Difference is in the Details!

Love and Stitches,



Tiny Bubbles

With one of our first “official” blogs of 2023, I am bravely tiptoeing into a controversial territory.  This hot-button topic is one I’ve seen quilt guilds nearly split over and quilters get a bit defensive about.  What quilty topic could possibly be so contentious? 

Prewashing fabric.

Before you either:

A.  Shout down this idea because color catchers are now a “thing” and can even be found at your local Walmart

B. Declare with great certainty modern dye processes have reach the stage where fabric is completely color fast


 C. State you only make art quilts or wall hangings, neither which will ever be washed

Indulge me for a few minutes about the subject of prewashing, bleeding fabric, laundry detergents, chemicals, and cleaning dirty quilts.  I realize this is a lot of territory, but I promise we’ll cover it as succinctly as possible.

Let’s begin with a Zone of Truth.  When I started quilting in the early eighties, I was taught to prewash my fabric.  I considered this the very first step in beginning any quilt.  As I developed my stash, any new purchase made its way into the laundry room to be washed and air dried.  I thought everybody prewashed their fabric and was pretty confused when I discovered they didn’t.  I found out some quilters thought prewashing was an unnecessary step which took time away from the actual quilting process. They had great confidence in modern dye methods and color catchers. 

I get this.  I really do.  I understand why some quilters would simply rather not prewash their fabric.  I also understand why some folks would only prewash because they fear a fabric would bleed.  While still in this Zone of Truth, I will tell you yes, one of the reasons to prewash any fabric is to try to prevent one fabric from fading or bleeding onto another.  However, prewashing is no guarantee your fabric won’t bleed.  Bleeding is an entire subject unto itself, and it will be covered in this blog.

Why You Should Prewash

So, if prewashing is no certain guarantee to prevent bleeding, why prewash?  I mean bleeding is essentially what A, B, and C deal with at the beginning of this blog.  If prewashing serves up no sure-fire bleed prevention, why should any quilter take the time and energy to wash all their fabric?  Glad you asked.  There are actually several reasons.

  • The fabric may be dirty.  Just because the fabric is new-to-you, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily clean.  Consider the process: Fabric is manufactured in one place, may be dyed and treated at another location, shipped to a warehouse for distribution, trucked to a local store, and then either displayed or stored.  Between manufacturing and the LQS sales floor, hundreds of hands may have touched the fabric.  So yes, the fabric could be dirty.
  • You may want a soft fabric to work with.  This is especially true with hand piecing, hand quilting, or hand applique.  Sometimes removing the finish off the surface of the fabric by prewashing makes the material easier to handle.  This also gives you the option of using the just the right amount of starch or sizing to give it the feel you need in order to execute the technique you’re using.
  • You may want a smooth-looking quilt.  Prewashing does remove the shrinkage factor.  If a quilter is using 100% cotton fabrics, some shrinkage will occur. Often it will happen at various rates between different fabric manufacturers, even though all your material may be 100% cotton.  If you throw  different types of fabric into the quilty equation (homespuns, sateens, cottons, etc.), you’ve really upped the differences in shrinkage.  Homespuns shrink more than cottons.  Cottons shrink more than sateens.  When every inch of fabric is prewashed, the shrinkage factor is removed.  If a smooth quilt is what you’re working towards, prewashing just about guarantees this appearance.
  • You may be allergic.  If you’re like me and have a pretty low tolerance for things like perfumes, powders, and dust, the finishing on quilt fabric may also send you into a sneezing frenzy.  The finishing chemicals (the compounds used to make the fabric look “pretty” on the bolt) can flake off into tiny specks and after a good inhale into your sinus passages, you may find yourself in full-out sneeze mode.  Prewashing the fabric gets rid of the finishing chemicals and will make your sewing life more comfortable.  After all, you don’t want to sneeze all over your pretty, new fabric.
  • Most of the time, prewashing will help prevent bleeding.  Prewashing does remove excess dye; however, it does not in and of itself, prevent all bleeding. 

Why You Shouldn’t Prewash

Just as there are reasons for prewashing, there are also reasons for not prewashing:

  • Unwashed fabrics have a crisper hand.  When the finishing chemicals are left on the fabric, it’s crisper.  It also sews and presses better.
  • You want an “antique” look for your quilt.  Unwashed cottons used in a quilt, along with untreated cotton batting, can produce the soft look and feel of an antique quilt.  Don’t prewash your fabric and quilt the top with an untreated cotton batting.  Bind it.  Throw it in the washer on a delicate cycle and let it air dry.  It’s at this point the fabric and batting will “pucker” due to shrinkage and give your quilt that soft, antique look. 
  • Perhaps the quilt will never be washed.  If the quilt is destined to be a wall hanging, it can certainly fall into this category.  Likewise, most art quilts.  If it’s an heirloom quilt which will be looked at more than it’s used, this type of quilt also fits into this classification.  I guess my question is at this point, do you really know that for sure?  Who’s to say your great-great descendants won’t throw the quilt into their Maytag? 
  • It takes time.  As I said in the beginning of this blog, it’s another step and it’s time which could be spent cutting out the quilt or piecing the blocks. 

Remaining in this Zone of Truth, it’s really up to you if you want to prewash or not.  You know what you want your quilt to look like and what kind of time you have at your disposal.  Let me just throw in these few cautionary statements:

Be consistent – Either prewash all your fabric or none of it.  This way you know how all your stash has been handled, no matter when you acquired the fabric.  Personally, I’ve moved beyond washing every piece of fabric that comes into my house.  I’m not at the same place I was when I started quilting in the early eighties.  I participate in fabric swaps and donate fabric for raffle quilts and charity projects.  I anticipate most quilters are not like me and don’t prewash.  As I hand the fabric off to the donatee, I tell them the fabric hasn’t been prewashed.  This way they know how to handle my it.  I also don’t prewash fabric destined for my art quilts.  I like the stiffness unwashed fabric gives to the quilt and honestly, most art quilts will be carefully vacuumed and not washed.  Ditto with my applique backgrounds.  I don’t wash those.  I’ve found the slight shrinkage difference between the unwashed background fabric and the prewashed applique patches work to gently pull my hand applique stitches beneath the fabric, making them nearly disappear.  What you don’t want to do is mingle prewashed fabric with non-prewashed fabrics.  The difference in the shrinkage factor (the unwashed material will shrink a bit and the prewashed fabric won’t) may make the quilt’s appearance a bit wonky.

Use the bleed test – Directions for this are given a bit later.

Children’s quilts – If the quilt is for a child, be sure to prewash all the fabric if for no other reason than to make sure it’s clean.

Precuts – Personally, I don’t prewash any precuts.  Most patterns designed for jelly rolls, charm packs, etc., don’t allow for a shrinkage factor and may need the entire fabric area available for use.  Quilts made from precuts are the ones I throw into the washer along with a couple of color catchers once they’re bound.

There are no quilt police – There aren’t any at all, no matter what anyone tells you.  No one needs to “fabric shame” you no matter what technique you decide to use. 

How To Prewash Your Fabric

At this point, if you have decided to prewash all your fabric every time you make a quilt or think there may be certain times you’ll prewash, you may be asking, “Is prewashing any different than doing regular laundry?”

The answer is “Yes.”  This may surprise you, but it is different from washing your towels and pajamas.  However, it’s no harder, either, but there’s a couple of things to keep in mind.  First, use cool water and the gentle cycle.  If you dry the fabric in the dryer, use a low heat or a delicate setting. Sort your fabrics into lights and darks – just like you’re supposed to do with your clothes.  The biggest difference to consider is the soap.  If you remember this blog: I stated the most important idea to keep in mind with both fabric and quilt preservation is the pH.  You want the pH in to be as close to neutral as possible.  Most laundry detergents are alkaline – and this is for a good reason.  The vast majority of clothing stains are acidic.  When an acidic stain meets an alkaline detergent, the result is a salt, which easily washes away.  To preserve the fabric, we want to keep it as close to a neutral pH as possible.  Orvus (sometimes this is labeled simply as “Quilt Soap”) is my personal favorite.  However, there are hundreds of kinds of soaps on the market which are pH balanced.  Any of these are fine to use, just don’t use one with optical brighteners.  One helpful hint:  If you’re washing a fabric which may fray a bit, such as loosely woven quilting cottons or homespuns, you may want to pink or zig zag the edges so there won’t be threads everywhere in the washer.

Bleeders and Crockers

Now let’s talk about bleeders.  Commercial fabrics are colored with dyes which for the most part, are color fast.  Today’s dyes are even better than those produced only five years ago.  However, as you handle all your fabric, remember every piece of it has the potential to bleed – most notoriously reds, blues, deep greens, browns, blacks, dark purples, and all batiks.  Fabric whose color is transferred to surrounding material are called “bleeders” or “crockers.”  Bleeders can truly be heart breakers.  I speak from personal experience.  Once upon a time, I made a small Rose of Sharon quilt.  It was not much larger than a small throw quilt, but I had hopes of entering it in a show.  I dutifully prewashed all my fabric.  I even washed my reds twice.  I did beautiful hand applique work.  I finished the top, sandwiched the quilt, and quilted it.  Bound it.  Threw in in the washer one final time.  I opened the lid of the washer to a gorgeous Red Rose of Sharon Quilt with a pink background – background which was white before I washed it. 

There were lots of tears that day.  Lots. Of. Tears.

Even though I had thoroughly prewashed the fabric, it still bled.  Bleeding (or crocking) occurs when the bleeder fabric transfers its color to an adjacent fabric as they rub together.  It can happen when the fabric is wet or dry.  I had a dark quilt back (which also had been prewashed) crock all over my long arm during the quilting process when the fabric was obviously dry.  However, there are times when we all have to use some of those fabrics which may bleed in our quilts.  How do we handle them in such away to minimize the risk?

Allow me to introduce you to the bleed test.  It’s quick, it’s simple, and is about 98 percent effective. 

Step One:  Take a 3-inch square of the fabric you need to test, and a 3-inch square of white fabric.

Step Two:  Take a container of cool water (somewhere between the 80–85-degree range) and add 1/8-teaspoon Orvis or some other pH balanced soap.  Stir to distribute the soap.  Add the two fabric squares to the container and stir for a few minutes.  Then let them sit for 30 minutes.  Check the container to see if there is any dye in the water.  If there isn’t you’re good to go.

Step Three:  If there is dye in the water, repeat the process with the same fabric squares.  However, this time when you remove the squares out of the water, lay them out to dry on a paper towel, with the two pieces of fabric slightly overlapping. 

Step Four:  After the squares are dry, give the white piece of fabric a careful look.  If no dye has transferred to it, you’re probably okay to use the darker fabric.


So…what if there is a dye transfer?  What do you do?  Is there anyway you can use the darker fabric without fear of bleeding?  There are a couple of other steps you can take at this point.  First of all, there is a product on the market called Retayne.  Lots of quilters and fabric dyers know about this chemical and I can testify from personal experience, it works pretty well.  Retayne was developed as a color fixative for commercially dyed fabric, but now it can be found in quilt shops and big box stores such as Hobby Lobby and Walmart.  The critical issue with this chemical is the directions.  They should be closely followed.  The fabric needs to be agitated in hot water (140 degrees) for twenty minutes, rinsed in cool water, and dried immediately.  I suggest you use the hottest hot water setting on your washer and turn off the cold water tap in the back the washer. 

The reviews on this product are a mixed bag.  Some quilters love it, others have had less than stellar results.  I think those who have been less than impressed with Reytane probably haven’t had their water hot enough. I would issue a few cautionary statements about the product:

  1.  Always, always, always follow the directions with Reytane.
  2. Rit Dye also has a color fixative, but it’s not the same thing as Reytane.  It only works on fabrics dyed with Rit.
  3. There are some “home recipes” for Reytane.  I have not tried any of them, but from the chatter I’ve read on quilting sites, overall these are a waste of time and money.  They seem don’t work.
  4.  Remember Reytane is a chemical.  It is not pH neutral.  It’s important we keep our fabric and quilts as close to pH neutral as possible.  As soon as you’re through either making your quilt or treating the fabric with Reytane, be sure to wash them with a pH balance soap to put the fibers back in neutral territory.  Any quilt or fabric treated with Reytane should be washed only in cool water.


There also is a product called Synthrapol, and the chemistry teacher in me completely geeks out with this product.  It is so cool. Synthrapol is a surfactant usually used in hand dying fabric.  It keeps the unattached dye molecules suspended in the wash water instead of allowing them to settle back onto the fabric.  Directions for use depend on if you use Synthrapol as a prewash or after wash, so read the instructions carefully and follow them to the letter.  However, you may use a surfactant every day and not realize it. 

If you wash dishes with the blue Dawn dish detergent, you use a surfactant – it keeps the greasy food particles from settling back on your dishes.  And it’s only the blue Dawn which has the surfactant quality.  So, could you use blue Dawn as a surfactant on your fabric?

Yes!  I have used it on small pieces of fabric – usually two yards or less.  If you’re dealing with major yardage, you will probably want to stick with Synthrapol. 

If you’ve used both Reytane and Synthrapol on your fabric, and you’re still not sure about the bleeding issue, you can repeat the prewashing processes until the rinse water runs clear.  These steps may need to be repeated several times.  However, if any doubt remains, I wouldn’t put that fabric in my quilt no matter how much I loved it.  The possibility of it bleeding all over a quilt I had spend weeks of time on just isn’t worth it.  There is bound to be other fabric out there I can use which is color safe. 

What to Do If You Have a Bleeding Quilt

If you’ve had the heartbreaking, soul-numbing experience of having a fabric bleed on your already constructed quilt, don’t lose heart.  There are still a few things you can do to try to salvage it.  First – no heat whatsoever.  No hot or warm water, no iron, no drier.  Heat will set the stain permanently.  Don’t let the quilt stay folded up when it’s wet – that’s a sure-fire way for it to crock more.  Let it dry flat and then try the following:

  1.  Hydrogen peroxide on a Q-tip or cotton ball. 
  2. Dissolve some Oxyclean laundry powder in cool water.  Saturate a cotton ball with the mixture and try it on the stain.

You can repeat these processes as many times as necessary.  If all else fails, after the quilt is completely dry, wash it again and use some Color Catchers.

What to Do with a Dirty Quilt

All quilts get dirty.  Wall hangings, art quilts, heirloom quilts, antique quilts, and quilts used every day.  This part of my blogs deals with “regular” quilts.  Cleaning wall hangings, art quilts, heirloom quilts, and antique quilts are dealt with in this blog:

However, the fact is, most of the quilts we make are in pretty constant use – bed quilts, cuddle quilts, throws, lap quilts, and crib quilts.  Things get spilled on them or they simply get soiled from use.  There will come a time when they need to be cleaned and it’s essential to know how to do it properly so we can extend the life of the quilt for as long as possible.  If you made the quilt, how did you treat the fabric prior to quilt construction?  If you prewashed your fabric, treat the quilt in the same manner as you treated the fabric.  Use a pH balanced soap.  If Reytane was used, be sure to use only cool water.  If the quilt is heavily stained in places, try using a stain remover with Oxyclean to lift the stain so it will wash away.  If you didn’t prewash your quilt, be sure to throw some Color Catchers in with the quilt. Wash the quilt on a delicate setting.

I know some folks may be wondering if handwashing would be better for the quilt.  Not necessarily.  If you read the blog referenced above which deals with cleaning antique/heirloom quilts, you’ll discover handwashing quilts brings about its own issues.  I do handwash my delicate applique quilts, though.

You can dry your quilts in the dryer, if desired.  A low heat setting or a setting for delicates works just fine.  Personally, I like to let mine air dry on their own.  I believe the washer puts them through enough stress.  The biggest take away from cleaning dirty quilts should be this:  Do everything you can to return them to a balanced pH.  This will extend the life of the fibers.

To prewash or not to prewash will remain a hotly contested question among all quilters.  However, like most quilty things, there is no right or wrong answer – it’s what works best for you.  I would encourage you to remember the bleed test and use it on dark fabrics and all batiks (which are notorious for bleeding).  If you do have a crocker, remember we have Retayne and Synthrapol to help stop the bleeding.  And a good washing does everyday quilts a world of good. 

Until next week, remember the difference between a good quilt and a great quilt is all in the details!

Love and Stitches,



What Makes a Great Quilt (or am I and My Quilt Ready for a Quilt Show?)

Quilts are made for many reasons.  Sometimes they’re a gift.  Sometimes they’re made to live on a bed, as physical hug for the person residing under the covers.  Sometimes they’re made for play or to simply cuddle under while watching TV or reading a book.  And some quilts are made for the sheer joy of creating.  I don’t know why you make your quilts.  I don’t know if you create because you’re in love with the process of making something functional and beautiful and you’re happy with this process.  I also have no idea if you’re constantly striving to become a better quilter and while you’re delighted with the creative process, you wonder what you could do to improve your skills and make stunning quilts.  Me – I fall somewhere between those two categories.  I love everything about making quilts (well…except for the whole cutting the thing out process).  I make quilts for all kinds of reasons, too.  However, I do make quilts to enter into quilt shows primarily because I want the judges’ critques.

Not my quilt, but isn’t it stunning?

Right now, I can almost picture my reading audience.  It’s suddenly divided into two camps – those who enjoy entering their quilts in shows and making quilts for this reason, and the second group who hate the idea of their quilts in any type of competition.   They may not mind showing their quilts at all, but don’t believe in competing against other quilters.  So, before I have a quilty war on my hands, let me say both camps are right.  There are no rules which state  you need to enter at least one quilt in a competition.  There are also no regulations stating quilt competitions are wrong.  Like most things concerning quilting, it all depends on what you like and what works best for you.

This blog will spear head two topics.  The first topic is how to make an award-winning quilt.  Yes, I have done this a few times.   I do have a few ribbons under my belt, so I can somewhat speak from the point of I-do-know-what-I’m-doing-most-of-the-time.  And even if you have no plans on entering any quilt show, you may get a few tips about what characteristics go into making stunning quilts – because at some point in your quilting career, you will want to make a special quilt for some occasion or person and will want that quilt to be super-extra-special.  The second topic deals with how to handle the competition – what to do, how to prepare, what’s expected, etc. 

Characteristics of Award-Winning Quilts 

  1.  Strong visual impact and use of color

For the last several blogs I’ve preached the use of lights, mediums, and darks.  All of those lessons should be taken into account when choosing fabric for a show quilt.  Before a judge touches your quilt, examines the stitches, or feels the binding, they will simply look at your quilt.  It needs to grab their attention right then because the judges only have a few minutes to spend with each quilt.    If it doesn’t, they’ll critique the quilt, but then it will be waved away from the holding table.  Also remember, most of the time quilts are judged on a flat surface, not hanging.

If I can give you one piece of advice at this point, take pictures of your quilt blocks on your design wall.  Take a picture with your cell phone, then flip the picture to black and white to make sure the contrasts are working for you.  Then lay them out on a flat surface and repeat the process.  Between the two photos, you will see what you may need to change.  And it’s a lot easier to change anything while you’re working with blocks than later when the entire top is assembled, and the borders are on.

  •  Almost Perfect Piecing

Be careful with your points.  Be sure they’re sharp and the points aren’t lopped off.   The seams and points should match up precisely and be sure the thread blends in with the piecing.  If you’re like most quilters, we tend to use a palette of neutrals when we piece – dark gray, light gray, beiges, white, and black.  If any of the thread colors stick out like a sore thumb, don’t be afraid to take a marker, Pigma pen, or Inktense pencil to the thread and make it match the fabric. 

Watch for shadowing – this is when the darker fabrics show through the lighter ones.  I realize most of the time we press our seams towards the darker fabrics.  However, there are times when we can’t.  If you are dealing with this issue, there’s a two-step process to work around it.  First shorten your stitch length a bit.  Then, once the seam is sewn, trim the dark fabric in the seam allowance from ¼-inch to an eighth of an inch.  If the thought of such a tiny seam allowance gives you the heebie-jeebies, back the lighter colored fabric with a thin muslin.  This is always my last resort, because no matter how thin the muslin is, it does add a bit of extra bulk in the seam allowance.  However, this method does work, the seam allowance is kept intact, and I haven’t experienced any real issues when I quilt the top. 

  •  Every Bit of Workmanship is Looked at Carefully

Remaining on the topic of piecing for a few more sentences, let me reiterate the following:

          Intersections should meet

          Points should be kept sharp

          Thread should match the fabric

          Avoid shadowing

Let me also add it’s important to watch your stitch size.  Every sewing machine comes with a default stitch length.  Many times this stitch length is too long for quilts.  My machine’s default stitch length is 2.5.  I lower it to 2.0 – 1.8, depending on the size of my block units. 

For applique (no matter if it’s by machine or hand), make sure the edges are secured and the curves are smooth.  Like pieced quilts, points should be sharp, no matter what applique method is used.  Thread should match the applique pieces, not the background fabric, and avoid shadowing by lining any light-colored applique fabric which rests on top of  a dark piece of fabric.

The quilting itself – whether by hand or machine – should consist of small, straight stitches.  It should be of a consistent density, not too heavy in some spots and then hardly there in others.  The stitch length should be even and if backtracking is needed, it should go directly over the previous stitching.  Some quilt judges go so far as to say there shouldn’t be any quilting on applique pieces.  I really beg to differ on this opinion.  Some applique quilts have large applique pieces.  Quilting can be used to add details to these units.  For instance, I’ve quilted in veins of leaves, details in petals and flower centers, and have given the illusion of fur on a bunny.  In all of these situations, the applique pieces have been large, and the quilting added to, not detracted from, the applique.    I will go so far as to say this:  I don’t think an edge-to-edge design is effective for an applique quilt destined for a quilt show.  It’s fine for other applique quilts, but not for show quilts.  However, I do think it’s perfectly okay for the quilting to showcase details in the applique elements. 

  •  Binding and Edge Treatments are Important

Once upon a time, several years ago, I had the awesome opportunity to assist a well-known quilt judge with a small exhibit of applique quilts.  This was several, several years ago and I didn’t know as much then about quilt judges and quilt judging as I do now.  The judge carefully looked over all the quilts, and the next thing they did was grab each quilt by the edges and feel the binding all the way down the sides.  After the judging was over, I asked why.  I was told all quilt judges will examine the binding.  This judge just did it as one of the first things off the list.  In short, I was told it’s important for the binding fill to the folded edge.  The binding shouldn’t be flat.

The corners also need to be 90 degrees and stitched shut on both the front and the back.  The thread needs to match the binding as closely as possible.

Most of the time, included with the examination of the binding, the borders also are assessed.  The edges of the quilt should hang straight.  This means you need to square up the quilt center before sewing on the borders, and all the borders should be cut on the same grain of fabric – either all width of fabric or length of fabric – don’t mix the two.  If cording, beading, or scallops are used, make sure they are well done and held securely in place. 

  •  The Back of the Quilt is Also Examined

One of the last items a quilt judge checks off is the back of the quilt.  The judge generally flips one corner of the quilt over so the edges meet near the right or left side and examines the quilt.  If the work is exceptionally good or there are questions, the quilt may be flipped so the entire back shows.  If the back is pieced, seam lines will be examined to see if they’re straight.  Quilting stitch length will also be noted.  The judge will also check to see if she can tell  where the quilting stopped and started again.  “Obvious starts and stops” is a frequent entry on many quilt critiques (including my own). It’s important to camouflage stops and starts as much as you can.  The easiest way to do this is use a busy quilt back.  A multi-colored print quilt back can cover a multitude of quilting sins – just sayin’. 

It’s also a good idea to make your quilt back interesting.  Add some kind of stand out feature, such as the use of left-over quilt blocks or an interesting label.  Both of those go a long way in impressing a quilt judge. 

  •  Make Sure Your Quilt is Show Ready

Make sure your quilt is clean.  If you need to wash the quilt to remove any marking, please do so.  After it dries, press it.  Make sure there is no pet hair anywhere on the quilt.  If you smoke, take the quilt somewhere for it to “air out” for a few days to rid it of any smokey smell.  Trim and bury any thread ends.  Examine the quilt top closely.  Make sure all applique pieces are securely stitched as well as any beading or embroidery.  Finally, if you are able, hang the quilt and make sure the borders aren’t wavy.  If the quilt label is securely attached, it’s ready to be entered in the quilt show. 

Now you’re ready to fill out your quilt show application and send the quilt to be judged.  There are several issues you need to be acutely aware of before surrendering your quilt to the quilt judging committee.

Know your competition audience

If the show is  primarily for applique quilts, don’t send in quilts which are exclusively pieced.  If it’s a modern quilt show, don’t send in a traditional quilt made with traditional calicoes.  If it showcases art quilts, don’t send in a miniature.  Be sure your quilt is compatible with the competition.  Which means…

Read the application, rules, and regulations thoroughly

Read them through, set them aside, then read them through again.  There are some things you need to be exceptionally aware of.  First, is it a juried show?  If it’s a juried show, the process is a bit more difficult.  A juried show means you can’t just willy-nilly fill out the application and send it in with the quilt.  Usually this means you must first submit pictures of the quilt to a group of quilt judges who will decide if your quilt meets the criteria for the show.  If your quilt is chosen, you’ll be notified and it’s at this point the quilt is sent into the show.  Normally, juried quilt shows are only for the super-large quilt shows such as the AQS and Mancuso quilt shows – not the smaller, local ones. 

However, for both juried and non-juried shows, it’s vitally important to read and understand the application.  Some shows require a separate registration form for each quilt and often there is a separate fee for each quilt.  Others may request pictures of the quilt to be turned in with the registration form regardless of whether it’s a juried show or not.  However the one item all registration forms have in common are deadlines, and you must respect those deadlines.  Putting on a quilt show is an enormous amount of work (I was in charge of a small, local three-day quilt show, so yes, I speak from experience), and the deadlines help bring order to chaos.  Note the deadlines.  If you need to mail in the registration, fees, and pictures be sure to drop them in the mail at least a week before the due date.  If you can’t drop your quilt off on quilt intake day or pick it up after the show, find someone to help you.  Don’t think it won’t matter if you’re an hour or two late.  Chances are the show helpers will have cleared out and gone to lunch by then. 

Quilt categories are another area which need special attention.  Somewhere on the registration sheet or with the information accompanying it, there will be a list of quilt categories.  It’s important to register your quilt in the category which best describes it.  For instance, there will probably be a category for wall hangings and one for art quilts.  If you have a quilt which fits the size for wall hanging, but is more of an art quilt, be sure to place it in the art quilt category.  Two groups which tend to give quilters problems are small quilts/miniatures and duets.  There is a difference between a small quilt and a miniature.  A small quilt is exactly that – a small quilt.  It can be a wall hanging, a table topper, or something similar.  A miniature is a scaled-down replica of a large quilt. Duets are quilts made by two quilters.  And while you may have pieced and/or appliqued the quilt entirely by yourself, if someone else quilted it, most quilt shows would place this quilt in the duet category.  There is some debate about this, especially if the quilter has paid for the quilting, but the best advice I can give you is to read the regulations carefully to determine what the show’s definition of a duet quilt is.  It’s important to register your quilt in the correct category.  In some larger shows, no matter how beautiful quilt may be, if it’s entered in the wrong category, it’s disqualified.  Smaller quilts shows are more flexible, and they may opt to move your quilt into the correct category. 

Also pay close attention about the hanging procedure.  Find out if a sleeve is required and if it is, what size it should be.  Will all everything be hung?  Are sleeves required for small wall quilts or miniatures (sometimes they are displayed on a flat surface).  What about quilted clothing?  Will those be hung on the pipes and drapes, or do you need to supply a clothes hanger? 

Lastly, the quilt intake day for judging, the day the quilts are judged, and the days of the show may be several days apart.  What will be the quilts’ “traffic pattern?”  Will you need to pick them up from each event and take them to the next or will they move from the judging back to you and then you take them to be hung at the show?  And most importantly, what is the security surrounding all the events?  Will the quilts always have quilt show folks around them?  If the quilts stay overnight at the show location, is it locked and off-limits until the show opens?  I never want to think of someone stooping so low as to steal a quilt, but the past few years have certainly shown us this is happening with an alarming frequency.

Now What?

Okay, you’ve bitten the bullet, filled out the forms, paid the fees, and your quilt is now in the process of being judged and then hung in a quilt show for everyone to see.  Now what should you expect?

First, let’s talk about what I consider the best thing that comes from a judged quilt show – the judges’ critiques.  Some folks look at “critique” as a dirty word.  It’s really not.  The judges aren’t criticizing everything about your quilt.  They will tell you the great things about your quilt, as well as what areas you need to work on. During the judging process, the judges spend only a few minutes with each quilt and dictate to someone (this person is called the judging scribe and they write everything down) what’s good and what’s not-so-good.  This lets you know what you need to work on.  I find this very, very helpful because I want each quilt I make to be better than the last one. However, let me also add this:  The critique will tell you what areas need work, but they won’t tell you how to fix it.  The judges can only spend a few minutes with each quilt.  It’s up to you to research and discover how to correct  any quilty areas which need help. 

Now allow me to be honest with you at this point.  The critiques are helpful to me.  They may not be helpful to you.  If you think reading though several “needs more” comments or not winning a ribbon will tarnish you love of quilting, you may want to steer clear of entering your quilts in shows.  I have quilty friends who are great quilters but they won’t enter shows for this reason.  They realize the process may dim their love of quilting.  Likewise if you’re one of those people who absolutely must come away with some kind of prize or ribbon, you may want to steer clear of shows.  You won’t win a ribbon at every show. You won’t take Best of Show at every show (especially if it’s your first quilt show entry). You just won’t.  If a lack-luster showing in a competition will alter how you feel about quilting, be very careful about what quilts you enter in a show and what shows you enter.  I want the critique.  If I get a ribbon, it’s a bonus. 

Finally realize all judging is subjective. Yes, there are certain quilt elements every quilt judge will look at – sharp points, seams that meet, even quilting, great contrast, etc., but a lot of it comes down to the judges’ likes and dislikes.  Some may like embroidery.  Some may not.  Some may have a preference for applique quilts.  Some may drool over great hand quilting.  When it comes down to the last half-point, it all may depend on the judges’ preference.  My quilting BFF won Judges Choice because she used a lot of blue in a quilt and the judge loved the color blue.  The use of this color broke the tie.


And let me add this here – although most quilts are judged horizontally, they’re shown vertically.  You will be surprised at the difference when viewing your quilt vertically rather than on a bed.  The results are stunning!

Not every quilt we make will be a show quilt.  Some of you may choose to never enter any of your quilts in a show.  Some of you will.  There are certain quilt elements every great quilt has regardless of its show status, and these are the essentials which turn a good quilt into a great quilt just perfect for special people or a special occasion.  I’d like this blog to serve two purposes.  First to encourage you to do your best work with every quilt – but always have fun in the process.  And second, enter a quilt show and get a critique if you’re inclined.  You will learn a great deal.  

Until next week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,