Judging Quilts - Design Elements

Judging Quilts - Design Elements

When entering our quilts in quilt shows, we often wonder how the Judges go about considering the entries – what are the elements that they are looking for, that sets one quilt apart from the others?

My first article in this series addressed the three main items of criteria – they are General Appearance, Design and Workmanship.

I have focused on General Appearance in another article. Please see the links below to go to the first two articles in this series on Judging Quilts.

This particular article is going to concentrate on the Design aspect of judging quilts. What do the Judges look for when considering the design of a quilt? The answer to this question is very complex, but I will do my best to outline the most important criteria for the design elements that matter when a quilt is being judged.

The elements of quilt design are many and varied but it seems that most judges would agree on the following elements.

The “Wow” factor

The most important element of design is the “Look at me” feature. The quilt has to have a certain “wow” factor that immediately makes the viewer want to look deeper. I like to think of these quilts as the “big personalities” of the quilt show. These are the quilts that make the loudest “noise”. While other quilts will quietly hang in the exhibition, and many viewers will pass without a second glance, the quilts that have a strong design feature will attract viewers again and again. Generally speaking, quilt designs that are original and well executed will fare better when being judged than those that are from a commercial pattern. If the quilt is made using another’s design, it is essential that the design be well executed.

Unity of Design

Apart from the “wow factor there are many other essential criteria that the judges will take into account in order to make a considered decision. Unification of design is essential for a well designed quilt. The quilt top, the quilt sashings and the borders need to have unity and enhance the quilt top. A point to consider: the border is there to act as a pseudo frame for the quilt. It helps to prevent the eye from wondering off the quilt, and in fact redirects the eye back onto the centre of the quilt proper. If the border or sashings are of greater contrast than the whole design, the quilt will appear unbalanced, without unity of design.

Unity of Color

Unity in colour is also considered. The colours must work together in the overall design and be pleasing to the eye. Also, it is important that the fabrics used are in harmony with each other, and that there is no evidence of “making do” when fabric has been running short. This can instantly distract the viewer and result in “design chaos” in the quilt top.

Machine Pieced vs Appliqué

Another consideration for unity is the use of machine pieced and appliqué elements. It is essential that each of these components is used in a balanced way, complimenting each other, one not overwhelming the other.

The Quilting Design

Another very important aspect of design is the quilting pattern that has been chosen and its implementation. The quilting pattern needs to enhance the quilt top design, and sit in accord with the quilt design. Whether its hand or machine quilted doesn’t make much difference to the design element, but it does need to be evenly distributed throughout the quilt top, in a pleasing design that compliments the quilt design. The thread colour is also an important consideration that impacts the overall quilt design.


The pleasing use of value is also a feature of good quilt design. There is a great saying used by quilters – “Color is the hero of the quilt while value does all the work”. Value allows designs to stand out and not blend into the background. Clever use of value can enhance a quilt far more than clever use of colour.

Degree of Difficulty

Finally, the degree of difficulty is weighed up within the design criteria. Judges till look at the quality of workmanship on each quilt, and sometimes this can be the deciding factor when choosing a winner.

You Should Also Read:
Judging Quilts - General Appearance
Judging Quilts - What do Judges look for?

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