I May Beg To Disagree

Recently I made a list of all the quilt shows and exhibits I’ve entered. It turns out I’ve been in more than I thought. To make my list I had to go through my files, which led me to the judges’ comments sheets I had kept from various shows.

Judges’ comments on Phosphenes, above:

First, the sheets offered insight as to what my work was being judged on. Second, they offered clues as to what weight the various criteria were given – design, workmanship, etc.  Here’s a sample of judging criteria used in the shows I’ve entered:

General appearance (10 points); design – top and borders, quilting, use of color; (45 points), workmanship – construction, techniques, finishing of edges (45 points)

Design and use of color, top construction, sashing & borders, quilting, edge treatment, embellishments, backside (no information on whether all are counted equally)

Best features, areas that most need improvement

Design – artistic impression/graphic impact, use of design/pattern in quilt top, use of color & fabric, degree of difficulty, quilting design, innovation/creativity; workmanship – piecing/applique, quilting technique

Appearance & design, construction, quilting, finishing, neatness, special techniques

Design – color, design, border/edge treatment, quilting design, degree of difficulty (50 points); workmanship – clean/straight, piecing and applique, quilting, finishing, backing (50 points)

The weight given to the various criteria is sometimes specified, as with the points systems above. More often, the entrant can only assume each criterion counts the same. Some shows use a scale from excellent to needs improvement. Others simply record comments with no criteria or “grade” given.

Another nuance of quilt show judging is the entry categories offered. The idea behind judging by category is to compare like to like. The categories can be by size (bed, lap, wall), by technique (pieced, appliqued, mixed), or a mixture. Some shows have started to offer an art or innovative quilt category.  A recent regional show ended up with subcategories under art quilts – images, color, abstract, etc.

I appreciate the efforts of quilt show organizers to be inclusive. I’ve been there. However, I still can’t wrap my head around the use of criteria such as backside (backing fabric complements front, seam lines run vertical) for art quilts. Conversely, I find it strange to judge the design of a quilt pattern or kit as that’s predetermined. If a Judy Niemeyer paper pieced pattern gets high marks for design, that is due to the pattern, not the quilt maker. The quilt maker should certainly get credit for color use if she chose the colors, but from there on it’s about workmanship.

Back to those judges’ comments on my work. The critique rated Phosphenes excellent for all aspects of design. Then for workmanship, the quilting technique was marked satisfactory, but the piecing was marked needs improvement because “points in straight blocks should match.” What?  I assume the comment refers to the diagonal pieced lines as I know the corners of the dark blue rectangles meet. I didn’t want or mean for the diagonal lines to meet. I wanted them jagged to convey a disjointed effect. Lesson learned: my meaning didn’t come across to the judges. A puzzling comment on another quilt concerned the back finish on the facing – “keep corners mitred on back binding.” While mitering is one way to join facing edges, many quilters (including big names) use squared off joins.

Overall, I get higher marks for design than technique, but I have to brag on the “very good applique technique” comment on Winter Fields.   Of course, they also wanted more quilting.

Finally, I’ve found that my work I think is great doesn’t win ribbons, while work I think is OK does.

The upshot for me is to stop entering most all-inclusive quilt shows and concentrate on art-focused exhibits and shows. If I want my quilts to be judged as art, then workmanship assessments are beside the point. Certainly any work of art should display good technique, but I don’t think painting awards are based on brush strokes. The art shows often are juried, so inclusion in the show is praise enough.


Filed under Commentary, Quilt Shows

16 responses to “I May Beg To Disagree

  1. I’ve never entered a quilt in a show that is juried like this so I found your post interesting and, of course, a little annoying, in the things that the judges focus on. The objective measures, like “do the points match,” are much easier to judge than some of the other issues and it doesn’t surprise me that the technically-excellent-but-unimaginative often scores higher. But it still bums me out. I love both of these quilts of yours.

    • Thanks for the love. Yeah, quilt show judging is like the cost/benefit analyses I used to write for environmental impact statements. It’s hard to cost out cleaner air/water/quality of life, etc. Much easier to figure construction costs, etc.

  2. I think both of these quilts are stunning – so different but each a great composition. I couldn’t agree with you more! Your post has me wondering if all that is expected from a well made quilt is keeping them from more easily being included in the “Fine Art” world. You wrote about paintings not being awarded on their brush strokes… Is there just too much in a quilt; layers/method/technique, that may be picked apart and analyzed? Even mixed media and encaustic pieces, though layered, are quickly welcomed where quilts and art quilts still may not be.

    • A lot to ponder in your questions. Folks who have been trying to get quilts accepted as art attribute the paucity of quilts in galleries and museums to several factors, including sex (many quilts are made by women.) SAQA was founded to give art quilters venues to show their work, but it may be that SAQA has become its own sequestered space. And many art quilters like myself began with traditional quilting and absorbed that world’s values about craftsmanship. I recall an art quilter friend peeking behind a quilt hanging at Quilt National and exclaiming about how messy the back was.

      • Talking with my daughter this morning about your post and the first thing she said (as you point out) sex/gender – women are still the majority of quilt makers and she added it’s still (too often seen as) just a “craft.” I agree with you about SAQA too. Another point – How many people care about the back of a painting!

      • I suspect some in the fine arts field may view quilting as part of the decorative arts (said with an implied sneer.) With a few individual exceptions, the Gee’s Bend quilts were the first to break through the gallery walls.

  3. This is a good time to remember that other people’s feedback often says more about them than about us. 🙂

    And as to getting “points” for design, unless the categories separate quilts that were designed by the maker from quilts that were not designed by the maker, that’s not a very good criteria to use. Thanks to my encouragement, my guild’s annual challenge this year will separate them. We’ll see if they ever do that again. 🙂

    • I’ll look forward to hearing about the results of your guild’s separation of workmanship and design. There’s always the slippery issue of how to treat modifications to a pattern – does that make the quilt original?

      • The way we stated the rules is that if it is based on someone else’s design, it is in the not-your-design category. Of course, people get to choose their own category, so there’s no telling how it will actually wash out. The overall challenge is to make a medallion quilt. That puts the Judy Niemeyers directly in the not-your-design category. I expect the your-designs will be much more modest, but for me, more pleasing. (I won’t actually be there as we’ll be headed to a family event.)

      • Glad you headed that squishy issue off at the pass.

  4. Barbara

    Aaaargh! Judges who miss the essence and beauty of a quilt looking for a nit to pick drive me crazy. I accompanied a friend who judged quilts for a county fair. Unfortunately there were very few quilts that impressed me and some that had such poor workmanship they made me sad. In cases like that, one has to judge on points matching etc. But I hate seeing utterly boring quilts beating out stunning quilts on technical or imagined technical grounds. If the exhibit visitors spend way more time and attention on a non-winning quilt than a blue ribbon one, something is wrong with the judging. In .Phosphenes even if all of your seams were skewed it is a brilliant piece with its movement, depth, and sparkle. The world of “Art Quilts” though is, I fear, pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a quilt to the extreme and in some cases embracing the post modern love of ugly

    • My limited observation is that superb technical work beats out visually stunning work most times in judges’ eyes. Thanks for your kind words about Phosphenes. And maybe some art quilts should be called fiber or multi-media pieces.

  5. Judith K Campbell

    I am glad you are entering art quilt shows only. We have talked incessantly about the failure of judges at all-inclusive shows to truly understand art quilts. Those judges have either not been trained in judging at all or by NQA, which emphasizes technical expertise over art. It is very frustrating to see comments about ‘ technique’ when the piece is exactly the way you planned and like. One of my whimsical pieces consisted of large appliques of funky chickens. The critiques was not enough quilting. Well, I wanted super plump chicks– not possible with the intense quilting judges prefer. So I am happy my chickens are big and beautiful– which is what counts, to me.

  6. Rosemaryflower

    “areas that need improvement”…..
    This is why I will never enter a quilt in a contest.
    These two are pretty cool. I would say the first is a prize winner just because it appeals to me personally with it’s colors and actually perfectly matched rows they way you intended them.
    The second one reminds me of France, the drive to the coast from Brussels. I really love this one too.

    When I look at quilts, I see many very exquisite ones.
    Judging must be a very difficult task, i mean with magnifying glass and ruler.
    I just finished reading The Earth Gazers (my dad gave it to me I do not have “time” to read but I read on the treadmill). just like The Bible, it gives you perspective. I have always craved history, science and non-fiction
    I love beautiful quilts. I do not like quilts that are made out of anger at petty things.
    I hope you have a wonderful day today.

    • The job of a quilt show judge isn’t easy. I don’t mind “needs improvement” notes as I know my quilts aren’t perfect. I just wonder about what the judges think needs improvement. Judges have to follow the criteria set out by the show’s organizers, though sometimes I think they impose their own. Quilt shows often are about quilting as craft or handiwork, so all those picky techniques count in judging. My issues center around the lack of different/additional criteria for original work.

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