Discover Vintage America - JUNE 2018

Quilting challenges - a new trend

Looking for inspiration for your next quilt project? Need to break out of your quilting rut? Want to participate in a national quilt project and see how you measure up against your peers? Or do you just want to try something new? Then a challenging quilt may be just what you need!

Virginia is for Lovers, Sandra Starley, 16" x 16", 2011 Quilt Alliance Challenge. Third place in Challenge and Web Viewers Choice (photos by Sandra Starley)

Quilt challenges and contests are one of the hot trends in quilting. Whether it is a fabric company challenge, a topical challenge (color, subject, technique, pattern, ruler, block, etc.), a book, magazine or show entry call, a guild challenge or even just a challenge between a few friends, many quilters are rising to the challenge and creating wonderfully inventive quilts in response.

A quilt challenge is a call for quilts to be made and entered into a show, traveling exhibit, online exhibit, or even a magazine or book with a set completion date. In a formal challenge, the makers are given a set of guidelines to follow such as required fabric, minimum/maximum size, technique, tool and/or colors. In other challenges, one is simply required to create a quilt that fits the theme. Often winners are chosen with special awards and prizes, ranging from fabric to significant cash awards or even quilting machines.

There is a challenge for every kind of quilter, be they young, old, novice, experienced, traditional, modern or anywhere in between. They range from large public challenges with hundreds of entrants to small invitation. only challenges. A fair number of formal challenges support benevolent causes with makers donating their quilts, which are auctioned for charities, historical groups, and museums. Challenge themes vary widely from traditional patterns and materials to quilts made with alternative supplies like wire and plastic. And for every challenge featuring time-honored designs, there is one focused on social or political change (see "Water is Life" or "Threads of Resistance"). Quilters are a diverse group.

Literally Challenging, Sandra Starley, 18" x 18", 2012 Arts & Old Lace Challenge

The grand dame of quilt challenges is Hoffman California Fabrics' Challenge, which is celebrating its 30th year. The theme is "Shine On" in honor of this diamond anniversary and the challenge focus fabric features a rainbow of gems against a light or a dark diamond ground. One of the factors in Hoffman's longevity is that it has grown and evolved through the decades. This year, organizers have added a modern quilt category to the existing categories. And the focus fabric that was once traditionally printed, it is now created on a digital printer. This is printed on demand, as needed production is much better for the bottom line.

Quickly gaining ground in the fabric challenge world is Cherrywood Fabrics who started just a few years ago and has become an international phenomenon. Part of its success has been picking great themes, requiring a unified fabric and color palette and a uniform size for all quilts. Starting off ambitiously in 2015 with Broadway hit "Wicked," followed by Disney's "The Lion King," they were able to get permission from these powerhouse productions and a challenge star was born. The 2017 theme was the iconic work of Vincent Van Gogh and the current challenge is the purple one himself, Prince. In 2015, there were 114 entries and 27 traveled. But by 2017, entries had quadrupled to 465 and two traveling groups (200 pieces) were needed to satisfy the high demand for the exhibit in the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe.

Hopefully, you are now ready to start on your own challenging journey. Just do a search for quilt challenges and you'll be amazed at all the options to learn, grow, and work outside your comfort zone. Just remember: read the rules and have fun.

Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at Send your comments and quilt questions to

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