What Makes a Quilt "WoW"?

Updated: May 25, 2018

Expert Opinions on what differentiates an "Extraordinary" Quilt from an "Ordinary" one.

Bling by Katherine Jones, Best of Show- Quiltcon 2017

The internet is  wonderful thing. I spend countless hours on Pinterest ogling at all the wonderful quilts created by people from across the world. While my left brain is enjoying the beauty of the masterpieces, my right brain is busy trying to figure out what is it EXACTLY that makes these quilts so wow. What is it about them that catches our eye and takes our breath away? 

Bling by Katherine Jones, Best of Show- Quiltcon 2017

I thought this is a question that definitely begs an answer, so I requested a few of our Desi Quilter friends(that's our Facebook group) to send me their thoughts on what lifts a quilt from the 'ordinary' to the 'extraordinary' and here's what these quilting greats shared...

Leela Cherian says:  Colour - the combinations , the juxtaposition, the clever way in which colour can be used to draw in the eye and make a piece “pop”. Design - the focal point, the flow of lines , the treatment of negative space.  Texture - our particular asset as quilters. Texture achieved both from fabric choices and manipulation techniques. Craftsmanship- the absolutely necessary ability to combine all the above features into one harmonious eye and soul pleasing whole! Paramjeet Bawa narrows it down to: First -colour  Last- colour ! Rest is how well it is executed , and the thought behind it. Madhu Mathur feels it could be: A surprise, whacky element. Could be in the use of colour, in a twist in a traditional pattern or placement of a block. *But*, to me, craftsmanship is very important. It would be difficult for me to ‘wow’ a shabbily finished quilt - however creative/ imaginative the use of other elements. Shruti Dandekar gives importance to the following:  - It has a purpose/statement. Sometimes the design is inspired by a turmoil or an inspiration. Or a quilt is used to make a statement. It just takes the quilt up one level.  - Fabric selection. Using the right level of contrast or saturation in fabric colours makes a lot of difference. Whatever your decision should be intentional not just a bunch of fabrics thrown together.  - Finishing. The finishing of the quilt - the quilting and the binding makes a whole lot of difference. Flaws in piercing can be hidden if the finishing is good enough.  - Not shabby work. Making sure all threads are cut/buried, all pet hair is removed from the quilt and it is not dusty or murky or smelly. Shyamala Rao opines: In my opinion it is a mixture of innovative , original idea with neatness and basics bang on. Even in traditional patterns you can bring your  personal touch by choosing a different lay out, color combo and mix and match of patterns and make it look your own and more interesting. A true copy of an existing design or a well known pattern, however good it is, usually  fails to catch attention. So the mantra is bring in that X factor which is ‘originality in design and work’. Kalindi Hambir says:

While working in this field for many long years I have learned that the basic process which goes into making a quilt, like precision of cutting, maintaining quarter inch seam, starching and above all pressing well... do make a big difference to a quilt. Choosing the right colour combination and composition of quilt design definitely add an edge to a quilt. Lastly it’s the FMQ. Each pattern is made for one perfect FMQ, which may be simple stippling or even straight lines. It need not be a complex design. But in my view this adds to the overall look of a quilt greatly!!

Vidya Joshi adds:

For me, it's the colours, choice of fabric, neatness and finish that matter the most and give it the WOW factor. The design can be very basic and simple. Complicated patterns, both in piecing and quilting don't seem to carry any weight if the colours aren't just right.

Reading through everyone's thoughts, it is pretty clear that neatness and finish are a given, regardless of the pattern, colours or composition. Every time I see a quilt that takes my breath away, I consciously analyse what exactly is it about the quilt that made me look again. And again. If I were to scientifically break it down to what exact elements differentiate an ordinary quilt from an excellent quilt, it would be :

Reborn by Molly Hamilton-McNally

Reborn by Molly Hamilton-McNally

1.The Size - Some times the very size of the quilt, makes you stare at it in awe. It makes you very conscious of the large number of hours of labour that must've gone into it and you can't but help stare at it in admiration for the quilt as well as the


Over the waves by Paula Nadelstern

2. The Scale of the individual pieces - Sometimes the number of pieces that go into a quilt and their mind-bogging tiny size has the same effect. You become acutely aware of the painstaking countless hours that must have gone into it and also the craftsmanship required to handle those pieces.

David Bowie by Kaye Brown

3.The Colours - Often it is just the colours that might catch your eye. It could be a clever use of a pop of colour or a beautiful colour palette per se that touches

something deep inside you.

Turkish Treasures by Pat Holly

4.The Composition - Much like a painting, sometimes its the pure composition of the elements that delight your senses.

Silk Road Sampler by Melissa Sobotka

5.The Complexity - When a complex technique or pattern is used, of course, it deserves our awe and appreciation as we marvel at the skills and craftsmanship required to execute a complex piece.

Andthenthishappened by Dawn Golstab

6.The Simplicity - The reverse is also true. Sometimes its the pure simplicity of the design or technique that makes it a great quilt. 

Deconstructed Doilies by Katherine Jones

7.The clever twist - When a quilter uses an existing pattern or technique and gives it their own clever twist, it makes you wonder why you didn't think of it. Well, you didn't,

and that's the difference  :-)

When my spirit is free by Teri Cherne

8. The Quilting - Finally, it is the quilting that breathes life into a quilt and can make or break a quilt. It can elevate a simple pieced quilt to a piece of art when done right. It needs to be more appropriate and balanced, rather than complex and overdone.  

I hope this article is helpful in picking your pattern for your show quilt(s). Remember, just by incorporating one or more of the above elements in your quilt, you can make it show-worthy. We look forward to seeing your own special quilts at the India Quilt Festival 2019. Just 7 months left, so lets get to work on our quilts, lovely people !

Many of you have written to us asking for contacts of people providing Professional Quilting Services in India. We will soon be sharing a list of Longarmers and Quilters who take up quilting orders. If you are one and would like us to carry your details, please do write to us at contact@indiaquiltfestival.com.



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