How To Make Quilting Your Business #9 – Entering Quilt Shows

Thank you for continuing with me on my journey exploring different ways to make quilting your business. Quilting is such a vibrant industry with an incredibly supportive community surrounding it. Some people quilt for business and others for pleasure, ensuring that this highly addictive hobby will continue to thrive!

20140423_quilting_for_show_bookQuilting for Show by Karen McTavish is a wonderful resource!

Quilting for Show

Today I’d like to address the topic of quilting for show. Can you really make money entering your quilts in shows? Yes, you can – but it can be a lot of work, with no guarantee of success. Whereas in most other areas of the quilting industry you can earn guaranteed income by working hard and following one of several paths to success, winning monetary awards by entering your quilts into shows can sometimes be pretty arbitrary.

RibbonsI’ve won numerous awards for my quilts in shows, just not much money!

Don’t get me wrong – I think anyone who ever wins an award for their quilt is well deserved! But whether or not your entry wins can often times depend on who’s doing the judging, what the category structure is, and how the competition stacks up in any given show. As someone once said, “It’s all a big crap-shoot anyhoo!” Moreover, not all shows hand out monetary awards, and some shows only offer cash prizes for the overall winners.

Monetary Prizes

That being said, there’s a lot at stake if you decide to pursue the show-quilting route. Large companies (such as AQS and Quilts, Inc. etc.) put up huge rewards for their winners. Best of Show winners at some of the larger venues can earn upwards of $10K to $20 or more per win. Many of these larger value awards are purchase awards which means that if you win, the company gets to keep the quilt and put it on display in their museum. So you may need to balance the desire to win with the willingness to give up your quilt.

However, there are quite a few awards up for grabs at shows all around the country, and most of them do allow you to keep the quilt. Most of these shows are put on annually, so multiply that by the sheer volume of major shows out there and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Most shows allow you to enter your quilt within 2 years of completion, even if it has won awards at other shows.

Super Star by Marilyn BadgerSuperstar quilt by Marilyn Badger. Photo taken by Christa Watson at Road to CA 2012.

One way to look at it is this: if you are pursuing a full time job, you can calculate your hourly rate. Most major award winning quilts can take hundreds of hours to complete. This is a significant amount of time to spend, but it can pay off with just a few “wins.” For example, the beautiful quilt above by Marilyn Badger has won more than a dozen awards at various shows. Not bad for a day job, right?

String of Pearls, Honorable Mention, MQX Portland 2013

String of Pearls by Christa Watson, Honorable Mention, MQX Portland 2013

Don’t overlook the value of placement awards either. Because I just started entering my quilts in national shows last year, I never really paid much attention to the monetary prizes given out for 1st, 2nd or 3rd place finishes. I was super excited when my String of Pearls quilt won an honorable mention along with a $50 check at MQX in 2013. That pretty much covered the cost of shipping there and back, so in a sense I “broke even.”

AQS Paducah Modern 3rd Place

Charming Chevrons by Christa Watson; 3rd Place – Modern; AQS Paducah 2014

But then I was blown away when I learned how much my ribbon for Colorful Chevrons at Paducah earned me. I got a whopping $750 for a 3rd place finish! That definitely covers the cost of shipping for many shows to come, plus maybe even a little travel. I never set out to be a “show” quilter, but that kind of money certainly gives me food for thought. :-)

I found it kind of hard to find out the individual amount of monetary awards offered by many of the big name shows. Most of them will mention on their websites how much total prize money is up for grabs (which is pretty generous), but they don’t all list details of specific award amounts per category. However, just for comparison here are a few that I was able to find:

  • My local guild show – $300 each for Best Large Quilt and Best Small Quilt
  • QuiltCon – $5000 Best of Show; $500 – $1000 for 13 specific category prizes
  • Road to CA – $5000 Best of Show; $500 – $1500 for specific awards; $50 – $250 each for placement awards (1st, 2nd, 3rd)
  • AQS – $10k-$20k Best of Show; $3k-$12k for specific prizes; $750 – $1500 placement

As you can see, there are a wide range of prizes given out and I can see why people would pursue show quilting as a serious business!

Cory Allender with her collaboration quilt LilyPad.

My friend Cory (shown above) has collaborated numerous times with her sewing partner(s) to rack up the awards at several venues. Lilypad shown above, won a 2nd place at Road to California in 2013 plus a judges choice ribbon at the Pacific International Quilt show in 2013. She also scored an individual win at the same show for her Lotus Blossom quilt, shown below.

Lotus Blossom

Lotus Blossom by Cory Allender also won judge’s choice at our local show in 2013.

Cory told me that she and her collaboration partner decide ahead of time who will ship the quilt, who will pay the entry fee, and how they will split their winnings. She’s given me a few quilting tips for making award winning quilts, including using a double batting to give the quilt more stability when it hangs. In the near future, she’s going to teach me how she blocks her quilts so that the corners are are nice and square and the quilt hangs flat.

Although I’ll continue to put my quilts in shows here and there, I don’t plan to pursue it as a full-time career. In fact, I was very touched by one of my reader’s comments on my post last week about receiving recognition at Paducah. She said, “thanks for being more wrapped up in your love of quilting than awards.” That thought truly means more to me than any award. :-)

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11 Responses to How To Make Quilting Your Business #9 – Entering Quilt Shows

  1. Molly says:

    I had no idea that there were monetary awards. Some of them being that substantial too. Thanks for the education Christa.

  2. gunn says:

    Quilting for show is something that a quilter can evolve into. It is not an unnatural progression for one’s quilting business to add this as a supplemental form of income. I have been longarming 4-1/2 yrs, but within 6 months of starting, I learned quickly that I loved making and showing quilts. In those early days I never thought it was ever going to be a money maker though. It was more a passion. Fast forward a couple years…Last year I showed quilts in about 18 shows, and made about 40% of my businesses income from this. This year, I have nearly doubled the show income of last year. If a quilter loves making show quilts, and is a good quilter, a decent amount of money can be earned. If you require a steady and projectable income, then this is certainly not for you. You can, however, quilt for others while you carve out time for yourself to make show quilts though. You should note that in your prizes above – the “special awards” are few and far between for most show quilters. Individual prizes are more often in the range of $200-500 for placements, with a select few shows paying as well as AQS. With the exception of the newer modern category, AQS’s categories are large, and very competitive. I suspect Modern will be bigger in subsequent years. Categories are large in the Mancuso shows too. Despite Road2CA having a few good prizes, the category ribbons are ridiculously low. Summarizing…making show quality quilts can certainly challenge your skills, and drive you to be a more accurate quilter with regards to the fundamentals.

    • Christa says:

      Wonderful! Thank you so much for adding your perspective Margaret!

      Your work is amazing and it’s so great to know that you can be rewarded for your passion!

  3. kittywilkin says:

    This is a very interesting post, and an aspect I had not considered in the world of quilting-as-a-business. I think I tend to agree with the comments that creating quilts to win prizes should not be the goal, lest the love of the art be lost. I think if I continually entered quilts in shows with the intent to win money, I’d be really discouraged if I didn’t win. I would think that any judged competition is pretty much a crap shoot, so it’s one of those “great if you win, but not if you don’t” things. On the other hand, if you create quilts because you love to do it (like MEEEEE!) and then enter some into contests for fun, I can see the prize money as being a nice added bonus. And maybe even an unexpected boost to your fabric stash-building funds. My next question as a newbie is: what is involved in entering a quilt into a quilt show? How does one even find quilt shows? Thanks for all these posts!

    • Christa says:

      An excellent point that you and others have brought up – winning as an unexpected bonus is way more fun than setting your heart on it. Trust me, I speak from experience, LOL!!

      Great idea for another blog post discussing HOW to enter quilts in shows. I’ll think about that a bit and write something up :-)

  4. knitnkwilt says:

    I’d never thought of showing quilts at shows as a business, but more as a supplement (a resume item as it were) for other business aspects, like teaching. And winning as a basis for charging more when selling quilts. I like your addition to my ideas, though I doubt I’ll make it to the big win category. Still it is an extra push to enter!

    I would be interested in some discussion (or a post) about splitting winnings (and sale prices) with the quilter when one has pieced and another quilted. I had always assumed that if I had someone else quilt a piece and it sold high that I ‘d split the sale price somehow. A friend replied to my assumption that ,no, I’d paid the quilting fee and that was all that was required. Since it hasn’t happened yet, I’ve not given it more thought. To me it seems more obvious that winnings should be shared, but what ratio? What details go into figuring out the ratio?

    • Christa says:

      That is a very good point – it is definitely a great way to get your name out there more!

      Splitting the winning most likely depends on whether the quilt was a collaboration, or a quilt for hire situation. I think your friend is correct. If you pay someone to quilt the quilt, their part is done. However, if you and a friend go in it together with the intent on splitting the winnings if any, that’s a different approach :-)

  5. Cory Allender says:

    When I was young, stupid and naive, a very wise person (Marilyn Badger) told me never to do a show quilt to win prizes. Do it because you love the pattern and/or the technique and challenge yourself to do absolutely the best job you can. If one chases ribbons, one will curdle their love of quilting. I believe she is correct.

  6. Lis Ostiguy says:

    Interesting point about entering quilts in shows. I never thought about the monetary side of it. I entered once and was rewarded with a recognition for my handwork and uniqueness. I found awards went to “full time well know quilters” and decided to focus on quilting as an art form and have started displaying my work at farmers’ markets as well as promote a custom quilting service. Still I greatly admire the talent and courage of those who enter.

  7. Very interesting post today! Thank you Christa!!!
    I never knew that quilt shows can have these huge prizes! I do think that local show have non or very little monetary rewards for the winners. That would not stop me participating though…. One day! :-)
    Esther

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