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.
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.
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.