You’re hired to judge a show. That’s exactly what most judges want. Bring on the quilts!
Not so fast. Before you lay eyes on the first quilt, there is a bigger picture that you need to tune in to. You need to have a frame of reference within which to view the show as a whole, both mechanically and philosophically. I’m not talking about the nitty-gritty of housekeeping things like lunch breaks and turning in expenses, although those are also good to know. I’m talking about the planning and purpose that happens before the first registration form comes in. Some of this you can find out before judging day, but not all. Some of it you will find out as you’re judging. Some of these questions can be asked of your employer, but some can only be asked and answered in your own head. Many of these thing should have little to no impact on how you judge, but can be useful to keep in the back of your mind none the less.
Things to consider:
Who is sponsoring the show? A local guild? A for-profit organization? A group with a particular philosophy? It helps to appreciate your employer’s point of view.
Why are they putting it on? A local guild may want to showcase their members’ skills, and make some money for the guild from the admittance fee, raffle baskets/quilt etc.
Some organizations and their employees pay their bills from the money generated by the show. It’s a business. Maximizing attendance by featuring quilts with a big wow factor may be their priority.
A show may be mounted to highlight a specific aspect of quilting, (Ex: modern design, machine quilting, art quilts) or a topic of interest (Ex: domestic violence, spirituality, an event) and they may be looking for evaluations that include reference to their topic of interest.
Sometimes special topics are represented by a challenge. It is not uncommon to have challenge quilts judged outside of the rest of the categories. You may be asked to focus your evaluation somewhat differently.
Who are the entrants? Local guild members? Quilters drawn from a region? National? International? Kids? Depending of who is entering their quilts, you might expect different levels of competition, which may require that you scale your response up or down. In general, using the elimination system of judging, quilts are judged against one another, not against perfection. Your evaluation and comments should address the needs and level of the entrants.
What are the categories and their definitions? These most often reflect the interest and focus of the sponsoring group. Most guild have a wide range of categories that will provide a place for any kind of quilt their members want to enter. Some groups have a strong special interest sub-group that is reflected in their categories.
Generally, I see very few crazy quilts, but I once judged a local guild show that had three very-well-filled categories of various types of crazy quilts. You never know what you’re going to see on the table in front of you. (Candidates, take Question 31 seriously.)
Who are you judging with, if anyone? If you are judging with someone else, are they also a certified judge? If not, are they a certified something else? (Ex: I’ve worked with terrific appraisers.) Are they a knowledgeable teacher/quilter? Are they a quilter at all?
If you are working with people who have no frame of reference in common with you, you may need to modulate your approach to make the experience satisfying for all concerned, rather than a win for you that leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
How many quilts will you be judging? A judging day that includes 90 quilts is considerably different from one that includes 145 quilts, especially if you are judging alone. The last quilt judged deserves the same level of consideration as the first. You may need to pace, and edit, yourself accordingly.
Most of the above points do not require a huge adjustment in how you carry out your evaluation of the quilts in a show. Some would argue that you should never change your approach and methods; that your evaluations should always reflect the standards of good quiltmaking. (There’s the ‘S’ word again.)
I do appreciate that opinion and don’t think we should become the judging equivalent of flavor-of-the-month. However, being cognizant of these points helps me to judge smarter and make the show’s experience of hiring a certified judge a rewarding one. Ultimately I hope the group will want to hire a certified judge again for their next show, which I believe would be good for all concerned.
Next: Can We Look at Quilts Yet?
Stacy Koehler, Secretary, NACQJ
NQA Certified Judge
Qualified to Evaluate MasterPiece Quilts
Stacy Koehler became an NQA Certified Judge in 2005. She is a current member of the National Association of Certified Quilt Judges and has served as the new organization's Secretary and Editor of the CJ newsletter. She loves quilts and quilters and believes that a well-judged quilt can be a positive influence in its maker's individual development and contribute to the continued growth of the art of quiltmaking.