…the season for quilt shows, judged and non-judged. Both have merit and are well received, they require a great amount of dedication by volunteers putting their skills to work to showcase the guild members’ labors of love.
I have been judging handwork for nearly 20 years and in 2009 I took part in the CQA/ACC Quilt Judge Certification process to obtain my official qualification. For those of you who are not familiar with this professional designation: More information can be found on the CQA/ACC website – this course is the first of it’s kind in North America.
As a certified Quilt Judge I am hired by quilt guilds and organizations to evaluate and assess a variety of quilting aspects. As such I am the employee of the guild. Personally I only judge for organizations that are not in my “backyard”, in other words I make sure that I am not a member of the guild or have taught for the guild for several years to ensure complete impartiality. If for some reason I recognize an entry or know its maker I clearly identify this immediately and let the organizer make a decision as to whether I should pass on the judging or proceed.
I recently returned from Winnipeg where I was one of four judges evaluating, assessing and critiquing a total of 160 quilts, traditional and innovative. Upon my return I like to reflect on this experience and this time I decided to blog about it. Traditional and innovative quilters enter judged shows for a multitude of reasons. A visitor may think it is for the ribbon, the prize money and the glory – however, the majority of quilters are looking for feedback. A well formulated critique provides the entrant with solid information on where the strengths and weaknesses of the quilt manifest themselves.
In Winnipeg the Manitoba Prairie Quilters Guild provided the judges with a score sheet. There are a number of other ways to judge at a quilt show but this was the preferred method for the guild and I will elaborate on how it thoroughly covers all aspects of judging and evaluating individual entries.
Design and Artistic Merit, for a maximum score of 50 points was divided into three sub categories: Design and Overall Effect (25 points), Use of Color (15 points) and Use of Fabric (10 points).
Workmanship could yield another 50 points with Piecing, Applique, Finishing (25 points) and Quilting (25 points) making up the subgroups in this area of focus.
Evaluating design and artistic merit takes into consideration the overall impression, strength of the composition, visual impact and originality of the design. In the case of Winnipeg’s show judges were to consider original design and innovative adaptations of traditional designs. Moving on to color a judge searches for harmony, balance, and rhythm. Overall fabric choices are considered. Ensuring the quality of the fabric and how it suits the design and function. Innovative additions such as trim and hand/machine embellishments have to be attached securely and enhance the final product successfully. By using a variety of textures and prints a certain level of risk is established which, when combined successfully, may yield a higher point count.
Workmanship is a little easier to assess. We begin with closely inspecting the piecing, look for sharp points that are securely and accurately stitched, curves must be smooth and all intersections should meet evenly and lie flat. We move on to the seams that must be smooth and securely stitched to ensure the quilt’s longevity. Proper pressing ensures straight and flat seams, loose threads must be clipped. Continuing to borders, sashings and binding a judge inspects that they are once again securely stitched, the seams are straight, bias bindings are true, evenly filled and neatly attached on front and back. Bindings and borders should not appear wavy but lie and hang flat/straight. When it comes to applique a magnifying glass is of great help to ensure the stitches are hidden, closely spaced for optimal presentation, the threads are coordinated with the fabric colors, no frayed edges or points are visible, there are no shadows coming through the applique pieces and in the case of machine applique the zig zag/satin stitches are small, accurately spaced and the mitered corners are accurate. The filler or batting must be evenly distributed and must be suitable to the technique. And yes, quilt judges will consider the backing fabric which should be complementary to the front, clean, neat and innovative (if applicable) without puckers.
Before I move on with the quilting evaluation I want to clarify the following: Up to now I have elaborated on the part that is properly referred to as Patchwork and Applique. Quilting is the method of joining layers with stitch. (These layers are the patchwork or appliqued top, batting/filler and the backing!) Not until the actual stitches join these layers together is a quilt considered a quilt!
Quilting is assessed by considering the uniformity of stitches, either by hand or machine. A judge checks for well hidden knots, possible thread build up. She/he remarks on whether design markings have been removed successfully, the thread tension is even, the quilt is free of puckers and wrinkles both on the front and the back and whether the spacing of the quilting is appropriate to the type of batting used in relation of the function of the quilt.
Score sheet or not every experienced judge has the above criteria to consider while rendering a fair assessment and evaluation of the quilt presented. The quilt show visitor sees the entries hung, ribbons attached where special achievement is recognized and often questions a quilt judges’ decisions. Here are some things to remember: the judge examines one quilt at a time, if the show is judged already hung I “switch on” my tunnel vision and do not take note of the quilts next to the one being judged. Walking through a show our senses are on overload: The colors, the designs, the excited chatter from our friends and other visitors, the hustle and bustle from the vendors booths prohibit us from really taking in each quilt with careful attention.
I am not different than the rest of the visitors. Once the show is judged, hung and open I walk around and have to remind myself why a quilt was awarded a ribbon when another appears to be more eye catching! But a quick trip to my personal memory bank will help me retrieve facts that clearly identify a quilt worthy of a ribbon.
There is just one more related topic I need to touch on today: the art quilt. Every quilt show has a category for innovative quilting which many art quilters consider entering into. To make this a little easier to understand: Innovative quilting employs traditional aspects of quilt making. A strong foundation in traditional quilt making techniques is imperative to carry forward for a successful transition into the innovative quilting movement. Additional lessons covering elements and principles of art and design are highly recommended. All aspects of the above mentioned points for judging an art quilt entry apply.
Let’s say the entry is created to emulate a realistic landscape picture. Composition, techniques and their successful execution are carefully evaluated by the judge. As such we take note of textures created from threads, yarns and fleece. All must be well secured. Quilting over a specific texture may flatten it too much. When the landscape has a fabric frame surrounding the image it is important that the frame is squared. No reputable framer will create a wooden picture frame that is 1/4 or 1/2 ” out! Mitering the corner of a fabric frame supports the overall presentation. Quilting to emulate wood grain should be inconspicuous and not executed with a contrasting thread that is not used anywhere else. Originality will get a high score but the workmanship assessment may render such an entry not worthy of a ribbon.
On a personal note, I see this all the time: A quilter has decided to step out of the box and move into art quilting. Leaving threads hanging, ignoring sound patchwork and quilting principles and poor finishing gives art quilting a poor reputation. Copying a workshop leader’s piece, lifting designs from websites, using a pattern and changing the colors and one or two design elements does not present an original design.
In closing I want to touch on the main dilemma art quilters are faced with: Rethink your position on where and whether to enter! Art quilters often voice their dissatisfaction about not being able to meet the quilt show requirements and getting outright rejected or disqualified. As art quilters we must be careful when considering the entry criteria first and foremost. I rarely enter quilt shows. My personal focus goes to art galleries, mixed media exhibitions and if for any reason I look at the word “quilt show” for my personal creations I research the venue and reputation of the show to ensure that my work is recognized for originality and design.
Before I break the record for longest blog post to date I will sign off here and invite all of you to weigh in. Leave a comment and start the discussion!