When sign ups go live for the Doll Quilt Swap on flickr (and other swaps) the discussion always comes up about what level of a quilter you are. It's so hard to determine and I'm sure so many people have different ideas about what makes you a beginner, intermediate, or expert. My flickr friend Shayla came up with this explanation. It gives me a lot to think about. I like to think of myself as being somewhere between intermediate and advanced, but according to this breakdown I'm closer to the advanced to expert category. I wonder how my quilts would be judged at juried show. I have been thinking about this a bit more since I'm somewhat interested in submitting my work to a local show or two this summer. We'll see, but without further rambling, here is Shayla's breakdown of quilting levels.
A beginner is someone who ranges between the just learning to sew squares together all the way to accurate points meeting, not chopping off corners, and can handle things like log cabins, churn dash, square-in-square, maybe even some basic applique. They probably would only do basic quilting if any. They need instructions and patterns for most projects. The top level of beginner can complete a quilt with pieced/appliqued blocks which they will probably send to a quilter but may do something like stitch-in-the-ditch or echo quilting. I expect to see mistakes in a beginners work, but by the time they get to the top, those mistakes should be minimal and only occasional.
An intermediate level would be someone who can handle at least basic paper piecing, more detailed applique, curves, probably some y-seams, and can make a completed quilt for sure with better quilting details--probably at least in the process of learning free motion. Their work should be consistently accurate and clean (no sewn puckers, straight seams, accurate cutting) not sloppy. They could enter their work at the county level and win ribbons. There is a HUGE range to intermediate which really depends on how the individual pushes themselves. They also will often design or adjust patterns to fit what they want. This is usually the level where quilters begin to break away from solid borders into multiples and pieced borders. Top of this level usually starts publishing patterns that become very popular because the instructions are precise and understandable and the designs have lots of appeal.
My idea of an advanced quilter would be someone who has basically mastered a majority of the quilting techniques (various applique methods, piecing, paper piecing, free motion and regular quilting, etc.) and consistently turns out superior work (not perfect, superior). They may or may not have also mastered things like thread painting, fabric painting and other artsy type techniques depending on their particular style and interest. They almost always design their own patterns. I would expect to see their work in state level, possibly national, competitions, even if they don't choose to actually enter such things. Now days, most can do some pretty good free motion although this wouldn't (in my mind) be a requirement because some quilters prefer to send quilts to someone who has really put the time into learning the fancy quilting or can handle the larger quilt sizes and so may or may not have mastered this. This is especially true when it comes to competition quilts. I would think in the mid to top range of advanced the quilter would be able to handle a scalloped or shaped edge without blinking an eye. This is the level that one should be to write a really good quilt book (not saying an intermediate wouldn't, but these are the better ones generally).
Experts or Masters are people who have mastered all the things like piecing, paper piecing and applique. By this point all their work is self designed and near perfect. By this point they've usually found a particular format and style that suits them and have really started exploring what they can do with this area. They often add lots of details to their work, complicated piecing, hand or machine stitching and thread painting, etc. They have the "rules" down pat and can now break them with superb results. I would see their work at international level competitions. These are the ones who make quilts that just blow your mind (think Tokyo International Great Quilt Show stuff). Even at this level, many choose to team up with an expert quilter who will custom quilt their very complicated designs--I do know of some who quilt their own quilts though.
What do you think? I love the breakdown of all the categories. I feel like there is so much room for all of us to grow - to constantly be learning new things. A while ago there was a whole trend of talking about the "dumbing down of quilting" but I think we're doing the opposite here, making everything accessible and encouraging each other in learning new things. Let's keep growing!