Thursday, April 5, 2012

Reflections on Judging Quilt Shows

I have just returned from judging a quilt show. A few days later, I have decided that in sharing my experiences, I have a chance to reflect and also, perhaps offer some helpful insight as to what judges look for when they are looking at quilts. That said, I can say is that it is not an easy job and sometimes winners are chosen based on technical workmanship rather than what the judge may really like. In other words, had this been an art show, I might have chosen very different winners for some of the categories. This being a quilt show, I was asked to look at the workmanship along with the design principles of each quilt. There were a few quilts that had excellent design qualities but were not executed well in terms of stitchwork, binding and yes, even appearing square from a distance.  I began with each category by systematically doing a quick walk through to see the entire category as a whole. In this way, I could get a good idea of which quilts really caught my eye from a distance. Then, I began with the first one and using a judge's form began looking at each piece. In terms of design and workmanship, I was asked to address 10 issues: 1) Did the quilt appear square? I don't mean did the quilt have exact parallel measurements on opposite sides but rather did it appear to be square? 2)Were the bindings well executed? The number one thing, I have experienced with judges is that they always seem to comment on whether the binding is full. I tend not to care so much about this but rather on whether the binding appears even and the corners are mitered well. 3) Does the quilt lie flat or is it distorted? Many times, this will relate to #1, does the quilt appear square? Often, when a quilt does not lay flat, it appears distorted and not square. This can be due to heavy stitching and embroidery work or lack thereof. 4) Are the stitches even for the most part? Here, I tend to place emphasis on whether the stitches are overall consistent with one another rather than determining how many stitches there are per inch. 5) Was the quilting uniform throughout? I know that this is a very controversial issue and that most judges like to see a uniform amount of stitching throughout the entire piece. It is my feeling however, that dense quilting in the background provides depth while a change in scale both in the mid and foreground stitching offers a more 3 dimensional feel and I am fine with that. In fact, I support it! Though as I mentioned, my views on this matter do not reflect the norm.  6) Is the workmanship with regards to piecing and appliqueing executed well? If given my druthers, I would not even look at this aspect unless it was done extremely poorly. However, as a quilt judge, we are asked to assess this aspect and so we must. 7) Is the tension consistent throughout? To be truthful, unless there are major problems with ticking or knots on the back, I tend to think it is not an issue. 8) Is the design pleasing? Does it catch your eye and draw you in? This is so important and often overlooked. We tend to think that pleasing colors offer a pleasing design. Not so! Color is important but it does not replace design. Rather it works to support the design. Designs should be well balanced and move the eye successfully around the quilt, thus drawing in the viewer. 9) Is there a good range of color value within the quilt? There was in fact, a piece that was completed all in a medium value color range and consequently appeared flat and difficult to look at. I think the eye becomes overwhelmed when value is not used successfully. 10) Lastly, I like to provide a comment on each sheet to let the maker know what he/she is doing successfully. I find that positive critique when done honestly and genuinely, fosters a healthy and positive outlook. At the conclusion of the judging, we were asked to name our own Judge's Choice and confer with each other regarding Best of Show. I chose an art quilt that was very well executed for my Judge's Choice and we named a tradional quilt, Best of Show as the workmanship was phenomenal! I had a most pleasant experience and hope that I may once again be asked to judge a show. I love looking at all the quilts whether they be art quilts or traditional! Each one has it's own merit! 

8 comments:

Diane Doran said...

Wonderful insights, Barb! I judged a show last year and felt about the same as you about the design vs. workmanship question. A lot of it boiled down to whether a lack of good workmanship produced a distraction with respect to the overall design of the quilt.

Barb Forrister said...

Diane, so true! It is sad when that happens. Nice to hear that I am not alone in that respect. I hope that this post will be of help to others.

Martha said...

What great information about the judging process. I have long been uninterested in judging comments in quilt shows, preferring that my work be viewed as "art" instead of "quilt." But I still enter quilt shows because that is what is available. And I try to influence my friends to pay more attention to design than burying threads on the back. I have a blog post on Oct. 9, 2011, entitled "Never Be Surprised at Judges' Comments," which seems to say Amen! to your remarks. Martha Ginn
www.marthaginn.blogspot.com

jeanne Marklin said...

Thanks for an informative post. I'm wondering if an art quilt that had an irregular shape, but laid flat, would be considered square. I was a little confused about that from your post.

Barb Forrister said...

Martha, you are so right! Judging a quilt show vs an art show are very different. They do have a few things in common, design and color. Design is such an important aspect as it is the first thing that judge's see when they look at a piece. Thank you for posting your thoughts and a link to your site!

Barb Forrister said...

Jeanne, you bring up a good point. I think that judges can tell if a quilt is supposed to have an irregular shape. I have created some of these pieces myself and it seemed clear to the judges that it was done intentionally though I did include the words, "irregular edges" on the description of the piece. In other words, the quilt appeared overall square to the eye despite the irregular edges. There are also round quilts and quilts created with irregular edges as part of the image or design that cannot be classified as "square." For instance,someone created an angel and the binding went along her whole body. Here, the term, "square" is not applicable but the binding was well executed and the quilt did lay flat. Not an easy task for sure but she did a wonderful job! Thank you for reminding me that sometimes, "square" is not always applicable to certain pieces.

Diana Ramirez said...

What a great post, Barb. Very insightful and thoughtful. Glad you are doing so well in the quilting world--both art and traditional!

Barb Forrister said...

Thank you, Dee!