26 September, 2007

The Judging Conundrum

It's an uncomfortable subject among people I know; and yet, when asked, everyone has a strong opinion. The subject is judging, specifically quilt judging. To enter a quilt into competition takes courage. The quilt is categorized and then judged by comparison to those 'like' quilts within it's division. People will tell you that judging is unfair and subjective, people who feel this way shouldn't enter judged competitions without keeping a few things in mind:
1. Judges try their hardest to be fair, it's often next to impossible due to the fact that there's very rarely a level playing field, even within like categories.
2. As long as you have human beings judging quilts its going to be subjective, there's no way around that. Just as you have your favorites, and may be drawn to a certain quilt's design or color, so will a judge. They will most assuredly attempt to check personal feelings, likes and dislikes, at the door. But remember, they are human and they are being as objective as possible. The judges can only judge what's in front of them, they don't know the story behind the quilt, they can't, and yet they know that indeed, every quilt has a story.
Strolling around a judged show you'll see ribbons attached to some quilts that won't appeal to you and then happen upon a stunner without one. You may wonder why, you may even question this seemingly glaring omission out loud. Keep in mind again the categories: baby quilts against baby quilts, wallhangings against wallhangings and the possible divisions, too, within categories... hand against hand, machine against machine, and now the ever-increasing gray area of: "constructed by one and quilted by another" and you'll begin to understand the task that the judges face.
If you are courageous enough to enter judged competition please enter your quilt in the appropriate category, follow the show's rules for deadlines and size requirements and submit a clean quilt. Remember that the judges are quilters too, they understand the anxiety associated with leaving your prized possession for scrutiny, they do it too. If a course in quilt judging is offered in your area consider signing up, or attend a judge's lecture, even if you never plan to judge any quilts other than your own. Do keep an open mind to the entire process and be ready to reap the rewards, you'll learn and grow as a quiltmaker, guaranteed.

Life is Good!


CONNIE W said...

Good information to know, not that I plan to enter my work anytime in the near (or distant) future, but it helps to understand the process. I admit that when walking around quilt shows I've had the very thoughts you have described when seeing something that won and I thought "how?" and then seeing another that I thought should have been chosen and wasn't and I think "why?"...as you say it's subjective, for the judges and as well as for the beholder.
Sorry if this reads all rambly...

Su Bee said...

Well said. That's such a hot topic, and it helps put perspective on it to imagine yourself in the judges shoes. Another thing is sometimes shows have entries that are not judged, just submitted for show, and maybe that's why that stunner doesn't have a ribbon! Everyone should have the chance to be an assistant while a judge is working - invaluable expirence!

Shelina said...

I agree that we should keep the judges in mind before criticizing. Also keep in mind what the guidelines are for the show. If the quilt doesn't properly adhere to the guidelines then it can't win.
I've never entered a show, but think it would be fun to enter one someday.

DubiQuilts - Debbi said...

Great information, thanks. I believe quilt judging is subjective and therefore having more than one judge evens the field.

meggie said...

I would never enter a quilt in a contest, though I admire people who do. I also admire people who just enter quilts for display, as it give others such pleasure to view.

atet said...

I got to "help" with the judging (holding up quilts, taking notes for the jduge)for my guild's last quilt show. I must say the judge was fair and professional. What I enjoyed most was hearing all of the comments and finding out why some quilts "made it" and some didn't. And, honestly, with some quilts -- the differences were in minor details (a thread color for piecing that showed through, points that weren't quite pointy, etc). It was strange being there when my quilt was judged as well -- but then again, I entered mine for judging in order to get some feedback on areas where I could improve, NOT to get a ribbon. I did get that -- and I've been working on improving some things and others it was nice to get the compliments (this judge was great about giving both positive and constructive feedback). The thing that amazed me the most was how quickly the judging had to take place -- first impressions were critical and were important!

I think the important thing to remember with judged shows is that you need to simply go in with an attitude of wanting to learn -- learn from someone else's criticism (and not in a bad way) and be willing to listen.

Jim V said...

Novice question of the week: What is the difference between construction and quilting?

More on point to your post, there is something of a catch-22 in judging like this. The response to claims of unfair judging is to set more specific criteria. And while this makes judges' decisions easier to understand, perhaps, it tends to "suck the life" out of the quilt. It's a work of art. Not a mere assemblage of well performed tasks. But judging purely on how much the quilt is "liked" seems even more unfair.

So, Mrs. G is right. Judging like this inevitably ends up being little more than "Under the best system we can come up with, this is the best quilt."

I think the best trick is to remember that you're really there for two reasons. 1) Try to win. 2) Hang out with lots of people who quilt, many of whom may have more experience than you, new ideas, and so on. It should be a fun day, ribbon or not.

The only other thing you need to remember is that Mrs. G. makes the best quilts in the world, so she should always win. Not that I'm biased or anything.

Pam said...

Our quilt guild has a show but it is not judged. We do have the viewers pick their favourite but we have given up on #1, #2,#3 etc, and just give ribbons as Viewer Favourite. I could never be a judge - because sometimes it is like judging which is better apples or oranges - I like them both!!

How are you enjoying the Nintendo Brain game? I was thinking of getting one of those the other day. My 50th is coming next year, maybe I should ask for it for a birthday gift. It's hard getting old - but I guess the options are kind of limited - LOL

Julie aka "Quilt Diva" said...

Thanks for a thoughtful post... I have entered my quilts in our regional fair, and have brought home quite a few ribbons. But every quilt that I've entered was completed long before and without any consideration for the fair... I simply pulled my recent favorites based on the size criteria. I refuse to make a quilt specifically for a competition ~ I quilt for the joy of it all.