By now, many of you will be well on your way to finishing your July challenge entries. I’m sorry I won’t be here to see them all, but sadly I’ll be on the wrong coast—as you are getting ready for the potluck and challenge reveal, I’ll be at the opening preview for Maine Quilts, recovering from two days of running their judging room. So between these two events, the topic of quilt judging is very much on my mind right now.
Quilt judging comes up occasionally in an online group I belong to. As it’s a hand-quilting group, the discussion usually focuses on how impossible it is for hand quilting to compete against machine quilting in shows, because everyone is much more impressed with flashy machine quilting. Every time this happens, I have to sit on my hands to keep from typing, at the top of my voice, “THAT’S NOT HOW JUDGING WORKS!”
First of all, any judge who knows what she’s doing isn’t going to be judging “hand quilting” against “machine quilting”—she’s going to be judging each technique according to its own levels of excellence. By those standards, a hand-quilted entry that demonstrates even stitches, hidden knots, and a balanced distribution of quilting across the piece is easily going to beat out a machine-quilted piece with visible starts and stops, obvious tension issues, and snarled thread nests on the back.
Also, competent judges know not to let their personal preferences interfere with their evaluation of a quilt. Of course they have personal preferences—they’re human, after all! (At least the ones I’ve met are…) But they won’t allow the fact that they really do prefer machine quilting (or love blue quilts, or loathe chartreuse) to interfere with the aforementioned task of judging each quilt on its artistic and technical merits. (The exception to this rule is, of course, “Judge’s Choice” awards, where they can be as partisan as they darned well please.)
It’s also important to remember that quilt judges are not the quilt police. (Spoiler: there are no quilt police. And anyone who tries to act like one is just wrong.) Of course there are exceptions (see above re judges being human—and I have to confess that I’ve worked with one or two nightmares), but by and large, the people who become quilt judges do it because they truly love quilts, quilting, and quilters, and want to help you become the best version of your quilting self that you can. This doesn’t mean you’ll always agree with the comments you get on your entries. And that’s okay! The judges disagreed with some of my design decisions on the first quilt I ever entered for judging; I love that quilt, and still don’t regret those decisions. But even when you don’t agree, at least think about the comments and try to understand why they were made. It’s a great way to learn, and (one hopes) to improve.
I could go on and on, but right now I have to go and re-read Linda Rasmussen’s chapter in the NQA Guide to Judged Shows book to refresh my memory on setting up a judging room. (It’s a great chapter which I review every year, and I’m not just saying that because Linda’s in our guild!) Have a great time at the challenge show, and I’ll see you all next month.