If you are a CJ or a Candidate, you will have already seen this post. It was written by Marilyn Hardy, a Certified Judge, and ran in the NACQJ newsletter. I’m including it here in the hopes that maybe a few people who are not directly associated with NACQJ might also read it. Honestly, we take this issue seriously.
Unfortunately there is a widely held view out there in the world beyond the judging room that “judges just choose what they like.” More unfortunately, I believe that assessment can be true of authors of books, famous quilters, and quilting teachers who are often asked to judge quilt shows. Some do respond to what they like and award ribbons largely based on their personal likes and emotional responses to quilt entries.
If you are writing your paper (Editor’s note: This refers to the paperwork required of the Candidates working toward Certification.) and are laboring away listing judging criteria, and if you are studying the complexities of design, you already know that there is much, much more to awarding ribbons than responding to what we “like.”
Professional judging is about taking subjectivity out of the response and identifying objectively why a quilt succeeds…or not. When you are judging, please remember NEVER to say those dangerous words, “I like.” If those words pass your lips, you are adding evidence for those who are looking for superficial reasons to make light of the decisions of a qualified judge.
Let me give you an example. Perhaps you are examining a well-designed, well-made quilt. In your eye its crowning glory is a very creative edge treatment which is beautifully suited to the design of the quilt and is executed with skill. You might carelessly respond to this edge treatment by remarking, “I like that edge treatment,” meaning the edge treatment is truly something special and appropriate to the piece. But others will hear your words and say the judge chose that quilt because she LIKED the edge treatment.
Choose your words carefully! Give a professional response, such as “Creative edge treatment supports center design effectively.”
There is one instance in which you may award a ribbon because you LIKE the quilt. That is your Judge’s Choice. Be warned, however, that often many other circumstances may need to be considered when you award that ribbon. Perhaps there is a quilt that just missed ribboning and yet deserves recognition. Perhaps there is a quilt in which the maker makes a bold design statement that you want to honor but the workmanship does not hold up to the design promise. You will find that the Judge’s Choice ribbon can also be used to accomplish other objectives than “I like.”
After you have judged a show, if someone in the judging room tells you, “I can’t tell what your personal likes and dislikes are”—you have received high praise as a judge. Remember—the words “I like” are dangerous words in the judging room.
Marilyn Hardy, NACQJ and NQA CJ
Sorry for the long absence. Along with millions of other people, I’ve had the flu, which is hardly worth mentioning, even as an excuse, and I’ve been away at Something Wonderful, which definitely is worth mentioning.
It might even have something to with quilt judging, but you’ll have to decide at the end.
Something Wonderful, hereafter referred to as SW, is an event that Phyllis Manley, another CJ, and I came up with about 6 years ago. It grew out of two former NQA-relate elements.
The first was the Friday Morning Medley, which was an activity at the lamented annual NQA show. You signed up and for a few hours, not surprisingly on Friday morning, you got to wander among continuous mini-workshops on a wide variety of topics. It was quilt education grazing. You could go to as many presentations, or as few, as you wanted. The presentations were short and you could pick up a lot of good ideas and tips, depending on your interest. Unlike many other classes, you did not have to bring machines, tools or enough supplies to make you wonder if, when you looked in the mirror, you would see a burro, llama or other pack animal looking back at you. In other words, it was really easy. I loved it.
The second was The Color Journey. If you missed it, it was a challenge issued to the CJs which required each participant to carry one designated color from a specific spot on the left hand edge of a wall quilt, across the width of the quilt, while morphing it into another designated color and bringing it to rest at another specific spot on the right hand margin. The result, when all quilts were hung side by side, was that the full color spectrum moved seamlessly across all quilts, with a mind-boggling array of techniques and ideas included in the individual pieces. It was magnificent.
The organizer of The Color Journey decided to make it available to travel. All you had to do was sign up.
My good friend Phyllis signed our guild right up. (Yup, we’re in the same guild.) For a week in February. In the northeast. Smack dab in the middle of winter. Not in conjunction with our guild’s show or anything. Just a big box of quilts was coming our way.
What to do? We needed to incorporate them into an event or something.
We thought back to the Friday Morning Medley, and added some other things that crossed our minds, but we couldn’t come up with a name. It was getting close and I felt like we had to put a save-the-date kind of thing in the guild’s newsletter, even if the details were not all worked out. So I went out on a limb: Save February 15 for something wonderful. Details to follow. (You want to get yourself in gear on planning? Commit to a date!)
We never came up with a better name. It’s been Something Wonderful for 6 years. It includes: 8 mini-workshops, educational displays about quilting (think science fair), a box lunch, sometimes a lecture, a book full of patterns and information, mini kits, door prizes and a small hung quilt show. It’s been a major amount of work, but we have resisted the temptation to make it bigger, partially because our venue has some size limits on their rooms and because we think part of its charm is that it feels very personal and homemade-in-a-good-way.
We ask for feedback every year and we get raves but no suggestions. I think we just got lucky the first time and hit on a really good combination of stuff that we’ve refined but haven’t essentially changed. That, and we’ve always asked ourselves what kind of event we would like to go to and used that as a template. And we’ve always asked ourselves what would inspire the average quilter, without being overwhelming. It was always supposed to be easy and fun (Thank you, Friday Morning Medley) and always provide something they’ve never seen before (Thank you, Color Journey.)
So why am I telling you this in a judging blog?
First of all, I hope someone else will try it. Something like this is, in fact, Wonderful. Make it fit your environment and your quilters. When the day is over, we are always way past exhausted, but we're also sure it was worth it.
Second, it can be good for you. As a judge, you are, or will be, perhaps perceived as No Fun, Serious, Picky, Critical….the list could go on. And it gets old.
I have found being deeply involved in something that is Light and Happy and Easy is very satisfying. I love it when I see the participants leaving, at the end of the day, with a bunch of ideas and a desire to try them. I like to be someone other than the person whose last words to them are about what they should do to improve their binding. It’s good for my judge’s soul.
Although, if you ever decide to try such an event, unlike the participants, you will need the burros and llamas….lots of them.
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. 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.