Update 11/29/2017: Watch Gail Stepanek and Jan Hutchison receive their Masterpiece award. Ricky also talks to them about how they went about creating their masterpiece.


With the Houston Quilt Festival just around the corner, many quilters will be visiting the show and, of course, looking at beautiful quilts. We thought this would be the perfect time to take a short pause from our year-long Design to Quilt program to share with you the fact that this is the first year the Masterpiece Award will be presented as a dual award to Gail Stepanek and Jan Hutchison. Gail's exceptional piecing along with Jan's extraordinary machine quilting skills elevate this stunning quilt, Cardinal Points, to new heights.


Cardinal Points is the sixth quilt they have collaborated on together. The design for the quilt, which took a year to complete, was based on an antique quilt. Gail loved the original design, but decided to scale the blocks down to a much smaller size. The quilt top took an entire year to complete. The top was then handed off to Jan for quilting, which took three months due to the fact that each circle was stitched in a different design.

Cardinal Points has won several prizes, including First Place Large Quilts, Pieced AQS QuiltWeek Paducah Fall 2017, Third Place Traditional at Houston in 2016, and the Marie White Masterpiece Award at Road to California 2017. Let's look at some details of this masterpiece quilt.

(Images from The Secret Life of Mrs. Meatloaf & Telling Stories Through the Needle's Eye)

What is the Masterpiece Award, and what do the judges look for when selecting a recipient? NQA Certified Quilt Judge, Beverly Fine, shares some insight into the process. 

How does a NACQJ quilt judge designate a Masterpiece Quilt?
by Beverly Fine
NQA Certified Quilt Judge

In 1980, certified quilt judges created a special honor for quilts that surpass the highest expectations for development of design and exemplary workmanship.  As these judges travel the country while judging large and small quilt shows, they are on the lookout for quilts that could be evaluated as possible Masterpieces.  There are only a few absolute requirements for a quilt to be nominated for an evaluation: that the quilt be at least 25 sq. ft. in size, that the quilt must have been completed within the previous five years, and that the quiltmaker(s) be living. 


In considering a nomination, a judge is not looking for perfection, but they are looking for a quilt that will stand the test of time.  Colors can be subtly shaded, as in Diane Guadynski’s “Through a Glass Darkly”, or high chroma, as in the case of  Pat Holly’s “Saffron Splendor”.











Designs can be elegant and classically traditional, such as Gail Stepanek and Jan Hutchinson’s “Cardinal Points”, or charming and whimsical such as Mary Buvia’s “The Loading Dock”.


Some characteristics are shared among the winners, such as intricate details, excellent contrast, a sense of proportion and harmony, and the freshness and creativity born of an experienced quiltmaker.

Shirley Kelley’s story of a series of quilts leading up to “Flowers of the Crown” bears this out. These are the quilts that cause a gasp upon first glance and demand a much longer viewing to take in all that is shown.






In all, 33 quilts have been designated Masterpieces.  These quiltmakers share the knowledge that they have achieved the very highest distinction among award winners.  Collectively, their names are a veritable “Who’s Who” in the quilting community.

A quiltmaker may also nominate their own quilt for evaluation as a Masterpiece for a small fee.  When a nomination is accepted, a team of five certified judges then evaluates the quilt.  The evaluation is highly structured and usually lasts almost two hours to complete.  A full evaluation is then written and sent to the quiltmaker, whether the quilt achieves a Masterpiece designation or not.  Quiltmakers appreciate the detailed and positive nature of the feedback.  Up to three quilts per year are accepted for evaluation.

For more information abot the National Association of Certified Quilt Judges www.NACQJ.com.

Next week, Beverly Fine will share what it takes to become a certified quilt judge.

#4 Carol Brooks 2017-11-29 07:20
What an honor it was to be able to present these awards to Gail and Jan! Bravo, ladies!
#3 pancrafts 2017-11-29 06:04
WOW this is such a wonderful quilt. Looks like you both worked hard for this award. You both look really good with the head pc's as well ( I mean that in a good way not a joking way ) :-)
Can't wait to see what you guys do next...
#2 Jackie Nixon-Fulton 2017-11-29 05:51
Congratulations to Gail and Jan. Absolutely beautiful and what a wonderful collaborative effort!
#1 AJ 2017-10-18 21:02
WOW!! Double WOW!,
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