Thoughts On A Quilt Show

On a bitter cold day in late February a friend and I took in a quilt show. Both of us had quilts entered and of course we wanted to check out the competition and be inspired.

We were thrilled that both our quilts were hung in prominent, well lit spots. Some of the other 200 quilts on display weren’t as fortunate. There were lots of different types of quilts to admire, though almost no modern quilts. I don’t know if that reflects a lack of interest in modern quilting in our area or if modern quilters simply don’t enter this show.

I took fewer pictures than is my wont, partly because I didn’t see a lot that was new to me or so exceptionally well done that I had to record it. Here are photos of quilts I really liked that sported no ribbons.

November in Indigo and Walnut by Judith Kessler SmithThis one featured natural dyes, hand made snowflakes and 3D leaves.

painted_quiltThe quilting on the butterfly was like zentangle, and the colors were hand painted. Maybe the thread tension was bad on the back, but I wasn’t able to check that out.

art_deco_guyThis quilt wasn’t heavily quilted, which may have turned off the judges, but I like the guy’s style, even though his face is blue, orange, and green.

touch_of_chartreuseI included this paper pieced quilt so you won’t think I’m all about the arty quilts. I find that chartreuse refreshing.

All of the above quilts looked technically well done to me and had a spark of originality. I notice that three have a similar color palette, so maybe those are the judges’ least favorite colors. The ribbons graced the Judy Niemeyer pattern quilts, the needle turn applique quilts, and bog standard log cabin quilts. Yes, some of the quilts that won ribbons were lovely, but many of the judges’ choices were mystifying.

The most head scratching was the winner in the art quilt category. It was large and depicted an imaginary land, complete with water, lighthouse, very large tree, houses, hills and a host of other details. Almost every inch was covered in some form of bling applied with a heavy hand – buttons, rhinestones, angelique, crystals and more. This choice confirmed my hunch that most quilt show judges haven’t a clue how to judge art quilts, where design is probably more important than technique. I believe they felt that due it its size and amount of embellishment this quilt deserved first place.

Certainly any award winning quilt should be technically well made. Heavens knows I saw enough quilting and binding that made me shudder. And when I disparage the binding on a quilt you know it’s bad.

It may be that show judges need more education and guidance on how to judge a quilt’s design. It’s yes/no when it comes to straight edges, square corners, sharp points, even stitching, etc. Art quilts don’t lend themselves to such criteria, and their design is critical to judging them. The art quilt category had the third largest number of entries in the show, so I think this issue will grow.

So why enter art quilts in a general show, you ask? There are shows devoted to just art quilts or modern quilts, but ecumenical shows serve an important purpose.  I want show goers to see all the permutations of quilting, not just a small slice. Traditional and art quilters may find inspiration where they least expect it.

I’ll close with a photo of my favorite quilt at the show. It won a second place ribbon in its category. There’s a small boat thread painted under the breaking wave.

Weather the Storm by Elizabeth Bauman


Filed under Commentary, Quilt Shows, Snark

11 responses to “Thoughts On A Quilt Show

  1. I agree about the quality checks being lax at QuiltCon 2015. Even the best of show quilt had thread nests on the back. On one hand I was mystified why it got best of show but realized that design weighed equally to technical. The design was stunning. I don’t think nepotism was a factor in the preponderance of Austin MQG quilts. It is a huge quilt guild and the members really came out and volunteered since it is local. They really wanted QuiltCon to work. I have to admit, I was thinking of volunteering myself next year. But I won’t since it’s going to be out is state. I’m a member of the San Antonio Modern Quilt Guild. We helped too, but Austin guilders really went full out! It’s a very good group.

    • You make a good point we all need to consider when scratching our heads about judging decisions – the criteria the judges were told to use. Of course, I have to laugh when I find out that design counts for 50% of a judge’s score and many of a show’s quilts were made from kits. No personal design decisions there.

  2. patty

    Sounds like the same issues I saw at QuiltCon. Sloppy workmanship, quilts made from patterns, pantograph quilting (ugh!), wavy quilts, lousy bindings, and lack of design and originality. Many of the quilts that received ribbons were from the Austin MQG – a little local favoritism?

    • Seeing such quilts must have been doubly frustrating for you. I have to say, though, that some of the show photos on your blog featured some lovely quilts. I do think that some modern quilts have workmanship issues, especially wavy quilts.

  3. jennyklyon

    Interesting. That does seem curious that at least some of those quilts did not ribbon. I would never want to be a judge. I’ve sat in on many judging sessions. They have to judge all the quilts and other items in a very short period of time, usually under 5 minutes each item in my experience. It does seem like they missed some! I hope all the entries were judged-there is much to learn from the comments-some to dismiss, others to learn from. The art deco guy-ohhhhhh if he was just quilted a wee bit more. It’s such a cool, innovative unique piece.

    • I know one of the judges for this show. She always seems to make strange-to-me choices for ribbons. And I recall that only 2 or 3 quilts were entered for display only. And I hear you about that art deco guy. The quilting that’s there works for the style, but even I thought there should be more of it.

  4. Given your experience and expertise with making art quilts, I imagine you would find it very frustrating to see them not being assessed and judged as they should be – it sounds as though the judges in this case have a lot to learn about what they should be looking for. And that last quilt is amazing! Thanks for the other photos as well, always love looking at quilt shows.

    • I know it’s hard for judges to be experts on all styles of quilts, but I do think judging training should cover what’s important in an art quilt better. Most local guild quilt shows may not have many art quilts, but the category is growing, especially at larger shows. However, I feel for a judge trying to decide whether the threads hanging off the front of a quilt are a “design element” or sloppy workmanship.

      • Smiled at your comment about having to judge whether hanging threads are a design element or sloppy workmanship – having recently made a very small fun quilt which featured a few hanging threads for a colleague moving to Wellington, I’d hate to think someone would consider them to be sloppy workmanship! 🙂 Hopefully as the number of art quilts being exhibited grows, more attention will be paid to ensuring they are judged appropriately by someone with the necessary experience and knowledge/

  5. I so wish they wouldn’t pin stuff to the front of quilts–it ruins the overall effect and the photos. Your observations on this show are very interesting. Do you know if the same judges judge all categories? Judges from the old-school of quilting (whatever that means!) would probably find it difficult to apply their criteria to modern quilt and art quilts. I love that last quilt–my favorite, too! How come we didn’t get to see a photo of your quilt hanging?

    • The quilts at this show did have lots on their fronts. Some of the big shows have stands with the title, artist, quilt story on them. Others put those tags next to the quilt. However, where wall space is at a premium such items get attached to the quilts. Also, it ensures the correct information goes with the right quilt. Yes, in this show the same two judges judged everything. I think that’s usual. It’s a question of cost (judges usually charge a fee, plus travel expenses) and consistency. As to why no photo of my quilt, my friend hasn’t sent me the one she took of it yet. I was too busy photographing that storm at sea quilt to snap my own.

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