LS: Art of Quilting Column March 29, 2009

Judge’s decisions often hang by a thread

Little things mean a lot when it comes to judging quilts, according to Barbara Broshous of Colorado Springs.

She’s been evaluating contest entries for 11 years now, so she should know. Certified by the National Quilting Association, Broshous judges six to seven county and state fairs each summer and has picked the winners at competitions in New Zealand, Australia and most recently in Brazil.

When Broshous talks about small details being important, she means contest entries should have bindings that are filled with batting and corners that are square.

“Take time to sew the corners down,” she advises.

It can mean the difference between a first- or a second-place ribbon, especially if the judges narrow the field to three top quilts and start nitpicking these finer points.

Another detail that can bump a quilt out of the running is how the outside binding is finished.

“Join your binding by sewing the pieces together on the diagonal so there’s not a bulky spot when you run your fingers down it,” Broshous says.

This smooth effect can be attained through several methods, but she’s not fussy about how it’s done, as long as the result is pleasing.

“I don’t care how you do it; I just want it to look good,” Broshous says.

She refers to a clever method by master quilter Sharon Schamber in which the binding is attached with Elmer’s glue and “works great.” Schamber teaches this technique through a free video at

Broshous will be in Grand Junction soon to share her expertise. A workshop titled “Introduction to Quilt Judging” is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 9 at Hi Fashion Fabrics. She’ll also lecture April 8 at a morning meeting of Sunset Slope Quilters and an evening session of Colorado West Quilters Guild.

Her six-hour workshop will qualify students to judge at county and state fairs. They usually start as scribes, then work in training with other judges. Because of a large number of art quilters on the Western Slope, Broshous says she hopes many of them will attend. It’s an area of judging in which she specializes.

“That way they can help set some standards” for judging art quilts, which are soaring in popularity.

“What we’ve got coming is a whole new world in quilting,” she says. “It’s exciting; you never know what’s around the corner.”

Each competition can have different rules and categories for art quilts, so a judge must know the ground rules — whether pieces must have three layers of fabric and what types of surface designs are allowed. Interpretation can vary among judges, and the process obviously is more subjective than with traditional quilts. Broshous says she studies color and value placement, elements of good design and the complexity of art quilt entries.

“Unity of all the elements is important,” she says.

Because art quilts are evolving, Broshous attends a monthly fiber arts group in Monument, near her home, to keep up on the latest trends. Members show their work and demonstrate techniques, such as rusting their fabrics.

“I go mainly for the education,” she says, adding that she expects to see quilts made with Angelina fibers and Paintstiks showing up at contests this summer.

Quilt styles vary from year to year and from one part of the country to another, Broshous observes. Much of it depends on what local quilt shops are teaching. She, too, teaches quilting at venues around the country and world.

Her personal favorite is three-dimensional, floral sculpted applique. She has published a Wallflower Collection, 10 of her original designs. First, Broshous pieces the backgrounds and borders, applies the bindings and quilts the piece by machine. Then she attaches her flowers mostly by hand, sometimes with Velcro.

A variety of construction methods are used — sewing folded fabric together, turning petals right side out, attaching pieces at their base only and gathering some by ruching.

When asked if she is an avid gardener, Broshous laughingly says she loves to plant flowers but doesn’t like to pull weeds. That’s not a problem with her cloth floral sculptures, as this quilter easily replaces her gardening gloves and trowel with needles and thread. 

Recently, she finished a blue hydrangea quilt for the show sponsor in Gramado, Brazil, where she judged and taught judging last October. The small town is a tourist spot where hydrangeas cover the hillsides.

It was the area’s 11th quilt show, and 20 students from all over Brazil attended her classes. 

A pictorial art quilt won first place in the contest; it and other entries can be seen at

Her greatest challenge in teaching there was translating her materials into Portuguese and speaking to students through a translator, Broshous says. But by the end of her stay,  the universal language of quilting united them all as friends.

“It’s a wonderful gift to having quilting in common” with people from all over the world, she says.

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