Thursday, April 25, 2013

At the Waterford Summer Quilt Festival with the Quilters' Book Club

Voter's Choice Quilt Block

For April, the Quilters' Book Club is reading and discussing The Quilter's Apprentice by Jennifer Chiaverini.  Sarah McClure helps set up for the Waterford Summer Quilt Festival.  Sarah wonders how the judges decide which quilts get a ribbon.  Summer explains: "There are six categories according to style and size, with ribbons for first, second, and third place in each category.  Then there's Best of Show, which means exactly that: the best quilt out of all categories.  Each of the four judges also gets to pick a Judge's Choice, and then there's Viewers' Choice. . . My mom won one of those a few years ago, and she said it was the highest honor any one of her quilts had ever received."

"That's because judges' methods are utterly inscrutable," Gwen said.  You might make an absolutely stunning quilt, but a judge might disregard it if you quilted it by machine rather than by hand, or for some other reason whose grounds are wholly personal."

Bonnie sighed.  "Now Gwen, be fair."

"Who's not being fair?  I didn't mean to suggest that judges make arbitrary choices, just that matters of personal taste strongly influence how we evaluate art.  That being the case, I'd prefer the appreciation of a broad range of people, quilters and nonquilters alike, rather than the stamp of approval from a few select so-called experts."  

If you were part of this conversation, what would you say?  Inquiring minds are eager to hear your answers!  Please reply in the comments section below.  Remember that if you are reading this via email, you need to click through to my blog post to be able to comment and see the comments of others. 

A comment will automatically enter you into a giveaway for Marie Bostwick's latest book, Between Heaven and Texas.  The winner will be announced on May 1.  As a heads up, our May book selection is Alice's Tulips by Sandra Dallas.  Check it out of your local library now!

You might also enjoy reading my previous blog post here.


  1. I have only entered one quilt in a judged show. The comments I got back were helpful and mostly positive. I was not in the running for a big prize . I do like winning any level of viewer's choice at our guild show, for the same reasons you mentioned above, that it shows that people like your work. It is not something that helps you get better, though.

  2. Once I had a quilt accepted at AQS. Of course It didn't win anything but it came home with very positive comments. Before sending it off, I looked up a section in a magazine I had where judges told how the judging was done and what one judge looked for in a quilt. The most shocking thing she wrote was that if she saw cat hair on the quilt, she would pass it by. (I don't know if dog hair gave her the same impression or even if she could tell the difference). To her, cat hair meant you didn't care. Well, even with a sticky roller, some of the dog hair might be missed.
    I doubt there is a judge without some prejudices, be it color or design or stitches per inch original or reproduction or hand or machine.. I have looked at some beautiful quilts that were all fused and top-stitched and thought how much lovelier they would have been if turned by hand so I have preferences too. Some, to me are not quilts but "wall art" and they win prizes over beautiful hand-made quilts.

  3. All of the people I know that have entered judged quilt shows, all get tons of negative comments back, but, never anything positive. I make quilts to be loved, not 'torn apart' by someone that the quilt isn't meant for. I only care if the person whom is getting the quilt, likes it. Not worried if I ever get any ribbons or not.

  4. I agree that a Judges choice, while taking in account technique, execution, style, colour, etc, will also be influenced by personal likes. In many a quilt show, there is so very little to nothing between prize winners, that it would then have to come down to that which is more appealing to the judge on a personal level. This is not a bad thing, there has to be winners and runners-up.

    I have been fortunate to have entered 2 quilt shows. While not winning any prizes, I did get some positive feedback. But, the best feedback I have ever received was when the 8yo grand-daughter of one of the judges came up to me and said that if it was here choice, my quilt would be going home with her because she thought it was terrific. It was the only quilt in the exhibition that was made for children - a single bed quilt with a blue robot on an orange and cream background.

  5. If I were in the conversation too, I would add that while some judges prefer machine quilting over hand quilting that some judges prefer hand quilting over machine quilting. It really is personal preference with a lot of things about a quilt that the judge uses when judging. Also things like color can effect a judges opinion. One may not like lime green for instance.

  6. I, like Julie, had a quilt accepted into AQS's Paducah show. It was a very positive experience. Perks were given, like admission to the unveiling of the big winners and wearing a special ribbon identifying you as a show entrant. I loved standing near my quilt, saying nothing and just listening to the comments! The written critique was brief but positive. As for the judging, I've judged several shows and I find it very HARD. There are so many variables to take into consideration! My favorite was the Vermont Quilt Festival (as a helper not a judge) where each quilt earns its own score based on specific criteria. I think that is the most fair way.

  7. Having only attended 3 quilt shows in my life, I simply can't comprehend what a judge has to go through to pick one quilt over another, one design over another, one technique over another... In 2014, our local quilt guild is having their next quilt show. I plan on entering my "made to be loved" quilts just for the joy of showcasing quilting. If someone is inspired to take up the art and craft of quilting, then we've done our job.
    In the meantime, I'm just going to enjoy playing with fabric for the sheer joy of it.

  8. I've entered three quilt shows and won 2 ribbons. I don't enter for the ribbons per se, but for the comments. I've been lucky that they have been positive. It is helpful to me to know where I can improve or do something different. I would think judging would be hard, and like Sharon, at some point (ie to break a tie)personal preference will play a part in the decisions.

  9. The judges are real people and can not only have a bad day, but also may not pick the same quilts to win if they did it over again a different day. I think to win you have to not only have a good quilt, but also a bit of luck.

  10. I've always wondered what the criteria is for the judging. I might see a quilt that is gorgeous, and it gets nothing. Then a winning quilt might not look that great to me. So yes I think judges bank on their personal tastes as the defining point. I've heard that many quilt shop owners base their purchases of fabric on their own taste. So I guess in a way, it a little bit the same.

  11. How judges decided which quilts gain awards and which do not, puts me off entering a quilt into a show. We have several local quilt shows and the Festival of Quilts is only a 2hr drive away. Some quilts are obvious winners, but other outstanding quilts gain NO recognition at all. Many well know artists win many of the awards, where normal people working on a machine at home, do not stand a chance as they can't compete. But at the end of the day, judging is often down to their personal taste. So if I ever did enter a quilt, the biggest award for me would be the visitors choice.


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