Anna Hergert, Art & Design

It is the Season…

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…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!

This entry was published on April 19, 2012 at 6:15 am. It’s filed under Art, Creativity Update, Design, Exhibition, Photography & Events, Quilt Judging, Quilt Show, Special event and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

16 thoughts on “It is the Season…

  1. Heather Hochbaum on said:

    As an aspiring art quilter/fabric artist I was always curious about the judging criteria in shows. Your explanation has cleared up some of the confusion on my part. Thank you. I’m quite surprised by some o fthe comments (on both sides) about not bothering with art lessons and/or not thinking that proper construction is important. I have taken art classes to help enhance my designs and have noticed a wonderful improvement in my art quilts. Quailty constuction helps in making the piece if nothing else hang right. I hope to meet you at Emma Lake this or next summer.


    • Heather, I am so glad That my rather lengthy post was of some help. Personally I am strongly committed to producing textile art with a strong focus on balanced design while observing sound workmanship. I look forward to connecting in person.


  2. I’ve not entered a juried or judged show, but if, and when, I do, it will be to get the feedback as you say. Thank you so much for describing the process and what you look for – very informative.


  3. : ) ‘The longest blog post to date’ was a really good one! Thanks for taking the time to write all that out. I have a short attention span for reading, but this was a really good for me to go through. There are so many things I was not aware of re: being judged. I’ve seen people do that jealous thing, “How did SHE win!??”. It’s not viewer’s choice – it’s judges’ discretion. Thanks Anna! I learned a lot in this post.


  4. Pat Findlay on said:

    Thanks for inviting me over Anna. I was pleased to meet you in Winnipeg, and wish we had a chance to say more than “Hello”. But it was a wild time. I cannot argue with your judging points. I, too, have judged, and have spent time talking to other judges about the difficulties involved in comparing apples and oranges. However, I believe that attention to workmanship can only enhance the overall impression conveyed by an art quilt–in a judged quilt show or a gallery. If raw edges and dangling threads contribute to the overall design–wow! But if they appear to be there because the maker didn’t know any other way of finishing, then I’m bothered ( and I have seen this, and heard the maker admit that this was the case–in a gallery!)
    Pat F in Winnipeg


    • Pat, I am in complete agreement with you about workmanship – whether you sow in a gallery or a quilt show. Winnipeg was a busy time for all of us – hopefully our paths will cross again. I believe we met in 2007 at the FAN retreat near Fort Qu’Appelle…


  5. Hi Anna! Of course, I remember our time at QBL very well. Good to see you here:-)

    Ditto what Arlee said. In 1998 I put two pieces into my guild show; the first time ever. Both pieces won awards (they shared an award , in fact). They were art quilts — and thank goodness the judges were themselves art quilters. They judged (not just my pieces, but all the pieces) for visual impact and did not take perfect points and corners into account, since they were judging the show entries as art (even the traditional ones).

    It was the first time I had been recognized as an artist and the comments did not say a word about my stitches, my binding, or my corner, thank god. I am where I am today because of those judges; unlike my 7th grade art teacher who told me I couldn’t draw because my tree didn’t look like a technical reproduction of a tree. I never took another art class and to this day, do not draw.

    Anna, I appreciate reading about what goes into judging – it must be extremely tedious and difficult. It is the country fair mentality of judging that I have a problem with. Nobody who judges paintings complains that the brush strokes are uneven or that they don’t like the look of the back of the canvas. This technical nit-picking seems to be limited to the quilt show world.

    Like you, I don’t enter quilt shows. I agree with you that those of us who are artists
    working in the textile medium need to find other venues


    • Rayna, thanks for taking the time to weigh in.
      While judging takes a lot of dedication and concentration I feel confident that I have the training in both worlds (art & design and fine craft) to acknowledge specific achievements. The main difficulty I encounter is when art quilts, or innovative quilts are entered as original work and they can clearly be traced to patterns in books or are derivative of other artist’s works. And as I already elaborated in my post: a piece of work started in a class with a teacher is NOT original!
      This topic is ongoing and will most likely prompt more comments. I look forward to everyone’s input. I am still learning and in the end I try to keep an open mind!


  6. Well said Anna!! I hope all quilters read this so they can realize that judging is not an easy task and that much thought and evaluation goes into it. So many quilters look at a judged show and wonder why certain quilts won ribbons – hopefully after reading today’s blog they might understand. The most common question I get about judging is ‘How can you judge a machine quilted quilt along side a hand quilted quilt?’ I tell them that each quilt must be judged by itself to see if the quilt is successful in its execution. One of them may not succeed in the excellence needed to be best at it’s choice of method of quilting.Of couse design, impact and other factors play a part too!
    I enjoy the challenge of judging and encourage guilds to have a judged show. They will be happy to have feedback and also encouragement!


    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. As a quilt judge you know what a huge responsibility it is to evaluate fairly and without bias!
      Now, if we could just get more textile / quilt artists to see that a quilt show may not be the venue for them!


  7. quiltrod on said:

    This is so timely Anna as our quilt guild is in an intense planning situation for our quilt show next year. I hope they get to read this!!


  8. thank you from an artist who deliberately skews fabrics with manipulation and stitch, leaves raw edges and knots visible, and “frames” rarely–i’ve given up on most quilt shows and am now entering and being accepted to art galleries and shows that are not considered “quilt” shows–i could never sew a straight line to save my life! i don’t consider myself a quilter, or even an art quilter, but rather an artist who works with textiles and textile techniques and mediums.


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