County fairs attract quilters of all ages and skill level |

County fairs attract quilters of all ages and skill level

County fairs offer multiple classes so quilters of all skill levels can find a class to suit their item. Some counties break classes into machine and hand quilted, some breaking classes into machine quilted by the piecer or by a long arm quilter.
Photo by Rachel Gabel

Many quilters are trying to get their proverbial flying geese in a row so they can enter creations in the county fairs that are quickly approaching. County fair shows have a place for, and welcome, quilters of all skill levels.

Carrie Anderson, who has long served as the Phillips County administrative assistant, said reading the fair book to review the rules and the categories available is vital. She suggests making note of the proper class to streamline entries and said knowing the rules can save an oversight from becoming a disqualification.

Julie Haake serves as the superintendent of the quilting division in Phillips County as well as a judge’s scribe in Morgan County. Both counties and many others, she said, utilize judges from the Colorado Quilt Council, all of whom complete thorough training and testing.

Haake, who owns Creative Traditions quilt shop in Holyoke, said listening to the judging can be a fantastic learning experience.

“What I tell people who are considering entering, use it as a learning experience but remember it’s one person’s opinion,” she said. “Try to go into it with an open mind rather than it being overly critical. I don’t like people to get discouraged.”

Haake said judges look at a wide variety of items including whether corner points in a block match, if triangle points are visible, whether borders are even and not wavy, whether the binding is full and encloses all three pieces, and whether the mitered corners are stitched closed on both sides of the quilt. Judges will also look at stitch length to ensure that it’s even, whether the tension is the same on both front and back, and whether any knots are visible.

She said many judges prefer hand binding but adds that many quilters choose to machine bind due to his or her own preference or even arthritis. While a judge may comment on the machine binding, the method most accessible to the quilter is totally acceptable.


Judges, she said, will also analyze color choice, contrast, and whether the colors complement and enhance the pattern. She said many judges check the squareness of corners and blocks, making good quality fabrics that don’t stretch, the best choice. While most quilters have fabrics and patterns they’re more drawn to, quilts are judged on workmanship rather than the judge’s personal taste. Many county fairs also offer a judge’s choice award or even a people’s choice award.

“I can see a bunch of quilts made with Kansas Troubles fabrics or Civil War reproduction fabrics and that’s not my cup of tea, not the types of fabrics I’m drawn to, but you have to look beyond that,” she said. “It might be the best piecing you’ve ever seen in your life or the most meticulous hand applique that’s been done. You have to look beyond what your likes and dislikes are.”

Some counties separate classes by hand quilted or machine quilted, some even differentiate whether a quilt was machine quilted by the maker or by someone else, making it important to read the fair book for the correct category.

Haake said her customers are quilters of all ages and skill levels. She said 10- and 11-year-old quilting students seem to excel with better math and reading skills and better fine motor skills than younger children.

“I make them read the pattern and do all kinds of math,” she said. “You go to the quilt shop and your pattern says you need this much fabric, you need to know how to translate all of this.”

Haake teaches a series called the Quilting Academy, written by Harriett Hargrave, who owned a shop in Wheatridge. She said there is a lot of quilting math in the series, valuable to quilters of all skill levels.

Sheila Hastings, a quilter from Brush, Colo., has entered both her county and state fair shows for a number of years and also assists with her county show. She suggests watching the judging, an experience she said is an excellent learning opportunity, especially for quilters who are just learning.

“Learn from everything they talk about and tell you,” she said. “Don’t take it as anything against your workmanship. You might cut your triangles off when you start quilting. If you want to make a quilt just for the show, make it because you want to and love to.”

Hastings said her first several years entering quilts in the fair were spent listening to the judge and the other quilters around her. The room, she said, is filled with innumerable years of experience.

“Don’t be scared to enter,” she said. “Enter anyway to support your local fair. Enter. Whether you make a baked good or enter a table runner and a wall hanging. Enter a couple of things so people have something to look at because they love to come look.”​ ❖

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at or (970) 392-4410.

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