Challenge Project Ideas

From: Maryann

My quilting guild does a challenge project every year. Lately they're trying to branch out and get us to be more creative, so the rules are becoming less structured. These are the challenges that we've done:

In each of the above challenges, either the judge or an employee of the participating fabric store helped choose the fabric. In all cases the fabrics were something that I would not have chosen personally, so they really stretched my sense of color or texture or design. We have gotten local quilt store owners or locally famous quilters (not members of the guild) to be the judge, and ribbons are awarded to the winners. Members are instructed not to show their challenge quilts to other members or to bring them to meetings to work on. They are not revealed to the membership until the judging is complete. The creaters of the quilts were kept secret from the judges as well. Quilters were inistructed to put their name, address and phone number sealed in an envelope pinned to the back of the quilt. The title of the quilt is allowed to be on the outside of the envelope.

These are some of the challenges that I have heard of but not participted in:

There was a book published fairly recently (within the past few years) with different challenge rules. I have seen it but not looked through it. I know the folks who have set up the challenge for our guild have used it as a reference. I'm sorry that I don't know the title or author of the book.

From: Cynthia

Hi, I have participated in several challenge projects. The basic rule is that everyone starts with the same idea. Generally this means that a packet of fabric is given to each participant. In most cases, the rules state use the fabric in the packet, add one or two of your own choosing.

Some projects suggest a particular pattern, or one asked that you tell a story, or one had a wearable art theme.

The packet is usually 4-5 fat quarters, usually there is a size limit so that this amount of fabric is enough except for the back (though I once sewed together all the scraps and used that for the back) The usual size is 120" around the outside edge. This allow for different shapes.

It is fun to see how everyone interprets the theme with the given fabrics. They are usually very different even when everyone uses the same fabric.

One guild (a rather large one) had the quilts judged by local pros. This was fun, and I actually one a ribbon!


My Intermountain Quilters (IQ) group organizes a challenge every year and so far it's worked pretty well. We have a committee pick out five different fabrics and buy enough to make up packets for everyone who is interested. Each packet contains 2/3 of a yard of each fabric, along with instructions. We divide the total fabric bill by the number of packets and charge each participant accordingly. Our rules are that the piece must be no smaller than 24" square and no larger than 48" square. The participant must use at least three of the five fabrics and may add his/her own fabric--75% of the piece must be of the challenge fabric. We tried to insist that all the challenge pieces be quilted by the deadline, but that didn't quite work for us. We get pieces in every stage of completion. I personally like to have a firm deadline so I'll be sure and get the thing DONE. I think the challenge for our group is simply to be forced to use fabrics that you wouldn't necessarily pick for yourself and to design something accordingly. We've had some absolutely gorgeous wallhangings come out of these challenges.

We give our challengers about 9 months to complete their project and have a big Christmas party to show off our pieces. FUN!

From: Madeline

Our group has done several challenges and it's a blast! Usually two members volunteer to coordinate the whole thing. Here's the basics:

  1. Determine a time schedule for the start date (usually when the fabrics are ready to distribute) and an end date (when all the projects will be returned for show-and-tell and judging.

  2. The volunteers collect the fabric money (usually $25/person) and select and buy the fabrics. We usually started with 5 to 7 pre-selected fabrics and then can add 1 or 2 of our own choice.

    Typically we select one large scale print (sometimes two), a couple medium scale (varying contrast, color, and intensity), one or two small scale prints and one solid. All of the fabrics should coordinate and compliment the large scale print. Be sure to vary the intensity so that the fabrics "work."

  3. The volunteers divide the fabrics (usually no more than 1/2 yard of any one fabric) and no less than half a fat quarter. The fabrics are "packaged" in plastic freezer bags for distribution. Nobody gets to paw through the contents of the packages to pick-out a "good one." You work with what you get! The "total yardage" per package runs in the neighborhood of 2 or 2 1/2 yards of fabric.

    Divide the fabrics into different amounts so the pieces are different sizes from the same fabric. In other words, one person would get a fat quarter of a fabric and another person would get 1/3 yard of the same thing. Vary the amounts of each fabric in the packages is what I'm trying to say!

    $25 sounds pricey but we use high quality fabric ($8/yard cotton) and after you figure in sales tax, it adds up. We use any left-over money to buy prizes for the "best" challenge projects. More about that later.

  4. Distribute the packages, and wish everyone "good luck." We haven't specified a theme; it's been an "everything goes" kind of thing so everyone gets to choose their own design. It's amazing what comes back using the same fabrics! The only rule is that nobody can peek at anyone else's project until the show-and-tell day/time.

  5. Yes, challengers can exchange fabrics from their packages with each other.

  6. Drop-outs can sell their fabric (uncut) to someone who "came in late" if they feel they can't finish the project. There are usually other people who didn't get in at the beginning and now want to do it.

  7. On the end date, everyone brings their project in a brown sack or concealed in some way and turns them in to the volunteers who secretly hang all the projects for the "grand display" when everyone gets to see all the completed projects for the first time. It's wonderful so allow plenty of time for oohing and aahing. Prizes are awarded for "most creative design", "use of color", most pieces, best quilting, etc. The prizes are simple ribbons and/or gift certificates from our local quilt stores.

  8. During our annual quilt show (last weekend) we request that all of the challengers bring their project for an en masse display. We set-up a special area to display just the challenge projects and make a nice sign describing the challenge. Viewers love to see our challenges each year. This year we did a "merry-go-round add-a-border" group thing. It was great fun and I'm looking forward to doing it again next year.

From: Phyllis

Our group in Columbus, OH (Quintessential Quilters) has been doing a challenge every year for at least 6 years. The challenge has been different from year to year and has produced some neat results! Generally, we go for wall hanging-sized pieces or wearables. One year we were each given a packet of 6 shades of hand-dyed grey fabrics and told we could add up to 3 more fabrics. A couple of times we were given several pretty far out fabrics to stretch us into using colors we ordinarily might shy away from. Two yearss ago we had to do something with a striped fabric. Last year's was fun and really different. It was called "fruit and fiber". The rules were that at least one fabric had to depict a fruit and that at least 3 different _natural_ fibers be used (exclusive of thread). I used cotton, silk and wool.

Our group recently had a long discussion about challenges and timetables. Be sure you give everyone plenty of time. Sometimes it can take a couple of months just to come up with the right idea. Don't schedule the due date for busy times of year like September or December. And let the group decide whether it has to be quilted and bound or not. For our fruit and fiber challenge we only had to have the tops done-- and that was important since design was really the key to this challenge.


Have you seen Betty Boyink's book on organizing challenges? Also there was an article in QNM sometime in the past year or two on this very subject (or maybe it was American Quilter?) It was a good article...I guess I can search for it if you don't subscribe to those mags.

I have participated in several challenges...most are at least partly a fabric challenge: you are given (buy) a packet or piece of fabric, some or all of which must be used in the piece. Sometime there is a theme given (my guild's last challenge was "Mother Earth Rejoices") or the requirement to use a particular pattern somewhere in the piece (a nine patch, an eight pointed star, etc). Sometimes the fabric given is somewhat ugly or bizarre, as a challenge in utilization. Sometimes you have finished size limitations (24" sq or 40" sq, etc), to make it do-able. One year our group did a miniature block challenge...the piece had to have at least 4-4" blocks in it. Other times, the challenge is strictly a theme or pattern challenge, with no fabric provided.

From: Marissa

Arizona Quilter's Guild does an auction quilt comprised of challenge blocks done by the various chapter throughout the state. The officers of the guild choose colors and fabics (usually 4-5 fabrics) and send the fabrics to each chapter to make one block. Each chapter may add/subtract about two fabrics and must make a 12" finished block. The blocks from each chapter are then returned to the guild officers who find a volunteer to make a quilt top out of the blocks, in a setting of their choosing. Extra blocks are made into a smaller version and the person who sells the most raffle tickets wins the smaller version.

You could choose on colors and fabrics as a group and purchase fabric and split into fat quarters and distribute to those who want to participate.

From: Kathy

IQI has a challenge quilt "contest" each year. This year is my first exposure to it. "They" announced it in October and repeated the sign up table in November at the meetings. It cost you $15 for the packet, sight-unseen. They were available for pickup at the December meeting. (Or you could pay $18 and she'd mail it to you.) The fabric packs were put together by one guild member who owns a store in Wisconsin. You may eliminate one, and you may add up to three more. This year you have to make a quilt (size 30 x 30, no variations!) or a quilted garment. For the former, the backing and bindings don't count, for the latter, the lining doesn't count. Submissions will be "turned in" at the June meeting. I don't have any idea if there any prizes/ribbons/pats-on-the-back, or (if so) how they're determined. I suspect that (since the June meeting is the end-of-the-year party), it'll be a viewers' choice and that this will take the place of the regular Show and Tell. My understanding is that they're displayed, en masse, at the guild's Quilt Show around Veteran's Day. The 1992 Challenge Quilts are going to be shown at ?Quilt America? (Indianapolis). I don't know if this is unusual or not.

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