Before I get to today’s topic I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who donated quilts and money for the Ukraine project. We are in the process of packing them up and getting them to Judy. Please be sure to read next week’s blog post for all the details 😃
And now for this week’s post:
My dear friend Sue inspired this week’s topic. She sent me the following comment in an email last week:
“I was at the Mukwonago show on Saturday and once again heard some comments like, “This quilt is gorgeous, why wouldn’t it have gotten a ribbon?”. I’ve had the privilege of observing some quilt judging and know that there are several factors that must be considered.
I’m hoping that you would consider doing your blog on the subject some time. I think people would find it interesting and informative.”
Please know that the following is all simply my opinion, but I hope you find it helpful.
I learned to quilt in 1987, when we were living in Sun Prairie, WI. My first quilt was a machine pieced and hand-quilted lap quilt that has been loved a lot, and is quite threadbare now. I was so excited with my finished quilt that I entered it in the Sun Prairie quilt show ~ a very long time ago.
It didn’t win a ribbon, but so many people got to see it and I was thrilled. I still feel that one of the best reasons for quilt shows is to allow others to see our work. Ribbons and awards are nice, but I love viewing all the quilts in the show – not just the prize winners.
As I continued to quilt, I continued to want to share my work and as a result, I have entered many shows. Sometimes I get a ribbon and many times I don’t. To give you an idea of how many shows I’ve entered, these are the ribbons I’ve collected for the quilts that got the approval of a judge 😊:
Please don’t be overly impressed ~ I’ve been collecting them for 3 decades 😁. I especially treasure the ones with hand made tops!
So, why do some quilts get ribbons, and other wonderful quilts don’t? The overly simple answer for most shows is ~ it depends on the other quilts in that category. The first category I judged in Mukwonago last week had 34 bed sized quilts in it. I was told to award 4 ribbons per category: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and honorable mention. That means a lot of great quilts didn’t get a ribbon. The next category I judged had 2 quilts in it. Think about that! A quilt in that category will get a ribbon, but non-ribbon winners in the other categories may be much more complex with better workmanship. Then they hang next to each other in the show and everyone scratches their head, wondering what the judges were thinking.
I must admit I do struggle with this as a judge. I looked at so many quilts last week that were visually delightful, and in which the maker did each aspect of the construction well, but there were other quilters in the category who had done a bit better. When this happens I try to make positive judges comments on the form and, if I don’t see anything that needs improvement, I leave that box blank. That in itself is a form of winning.
I still believe that everyone who enters a quilt in a show is a winner because others can enjoy their work!
Please know that judging quilt shows is the most difficult thing I do in my quilting life. I think most judges feel this way because we strive to base our decisions on the quilt’s merit and not on our own personal opinion. I don’t take the job lightly and I have to try not to agonize over my decisions afterwards, nor let them keep me awake that night.
I have a story to go with that thought. Years ago I judged a local show near West Bend, WI. I was the only judge and there were over 200 quilts. That was a long day. What made it even more of a challenge was that Carol Butzke, a certified judge, amazing quilter, and dear friend, was in that guild. She was a quilt holder that day ~ and I was judging the show with her watching!!! She was very gracious, but I must admit it was a bit intimidating. Well, after lunch a person from their local newspaper came in to take photos and write up a story. Carol sent me a copy for my scrapbook.
At 7am the Tuesday after the show my phone rang and a quilter woke me up to ask me why she didn’t get a ribbon. There’s definitely pressure when judging! Yet I love to see the quilts and if I didn’t really enjoy it ~ I wouldn’t do it 😊.
Here’s another perspective. Each judge, no matter how hard they try to make the best choice, has their own opinions on fabric, color, workmanship, etc. I have had numerous quilts win a first place ribbon in one show and win nothing in the next. I remember one time when I’d entered the State Fair with a quilt I’d made for a “Wisconsin Sesquicentennial” challenge in my guild. I went to watch the judging and I was thrilled when my quilt received a 2nd place ribbon. When the Fair started, a few weeks later, there was a much bigger ribbon hanging from my quilt. A team from Wisconsin Quilters, Inc (our State guild that sadly doesn’t exist any longer) went through the show and selected quilts for their own Best of Show ribbons in four categories … and mine won for best wall quilt! That is a very cherished ribbon indeed!
You even see this happening at the bigger shows. A number of times, when I’ve been at the AQS show in Paducah, I’ve come across quilts without ribbons that I’d seen featured in their magazine a few months earlier because they’d won a ribbon in a previous AQS show.
Some shows have tried to overcome this problem by allowing the judges to assign points based on a grading scale and the point values are set for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. In this way many ribbons can be awarded in each category. This is a totally different mindset for the judges, and it has its advantages. Yet it’s not for every show, because more ribbons and prize money is needed to cover all the extra winners.
I hope this gives you a bit of a new perspective concerning the title question in this post. Here’s a little more food for thought:
At smaller quilt shows and fairs there is no jurying process prior to the judging. This means that every quilt that is entered gets in, up to the maximum number accepted. This provides great variety in the overall show, and it’s fun to see.
When a person enters a quilt in a National level quilt show, (AQS, IQA and even the Great Wisconsin Quilt Show are all examples) photos must be submitted ahead of time and only those deemed “the best” are accepted into the show for judging. Right from the start the competition is going to be a lot tougher – and oodles of wonderful quilts don’t get ribbons. Often at these shows the comment overheard is “I’m overwhelmed because I could never make any of these quilts, I wish they had some normal quilts in this show”. I kid you not, I’ve heard those exact words many times. You can’t please everyone.
My advice? Don’t make quilts for the sole purpose of winning a ribbon. Make quilts for the joy they bring. Keep on quilting, enter your quilts in shows if that’s something you like to do, and then go and enjoy the show. If you’re not a competitive person ~ go to the shows and ENJOY! At every show I attend I see something that intrigues me and often it gets incorporated in a future quilt. This is a wonderful way to grow in our passion, and improve!
Thanks to all of you who put on quilt shows for us to enjoy. It’s a lot of hard work; a labor of love. And I for one appreciate you all!
PS When the judging was just about finished at last week’s Crazy Quilters show, each of the four judges was invited to choose their personal favorite quilt in the show ~ from those that didn’t have a ribbon already hanging on it. That’s when I chose Mary’s quilt. Please don’t miss the beautiful hand made ribbon topper:
I love that they have us choose from the vast group of un-ribboned quilts. And I’d like to encourage you to do the same the next time you’re at a quilt show. Pick your own viewers choice from the un-ribboned quilts, ask your friends to do the same, then compare notes. It adds some extra fun to the event!