.One of the shows I judged recently was somewhat frustrated with the outcome of their judging. The source of the frustration was that, for the second show in a row, a quilt made by someone who was not, or only very loosely, associated with the guild, won a blue ribbon in its category and was selected Best of Show. They believed that in both cases the quilt was quilted by a ‘professional’ quilter.
The group was exploring the possibility of closing entry to ‘professionals’ in the future. They asked a judge what she thought she should do.
Just for the record, I am not the judge that was asked, and I don’t know what response she ended up giving them. But like the last post, I imagine that others may struggle with this same topic. So here it is, in the blog.
I do understand the frustration of the guild. They did a huge amount of work with the goal of showcasing their members’ skills and someone else walked in with a quilt and walked out with a quilt and the top prize. They were hoping that one of their members’ quilts would hang in the spot reserved for Best of Show. In this case, they suspected that the point turned on the professional/non-professional designation, so this discussion will address that point.
Keep in mind that any word or concept could be substituted for 'professional,' depending on what constitutes the group’s dissatisfaction---traditional in a modern show, modern in a traditional show, computer assisted embroidery or quilting, art quilts with a controversial image or message…….it could be anything that a group identifies as the line between inclusion and exclusion.
Their frustration is rooted in reality. I know that in the past couple of months I have judged a number of quilts more than once in guild-level competition. There are a number of reasons why a quiltmaker might enter her quilts in multiple shows or in shows that are not put on by her home guild. Some are easier to empathize with than others, but to the sponsoring guild, the reason may not matter if the outcome is the same: an outsider took a ribbon they would like one of their own to have.
What to do? Anything? Nothing?
My honest answer is in two parts. The first is I don’t know what is right for you. The second is that this determination is 100% the decision of the sponsors of the show, in this case the guild. It is the guild’s show. They write the rules.
However, as a group considers an entry rule change, I would suggest some points to consider.
Get the facts. Look at your winners list. How many of the winners are members of the group you’re targeting? And just as importantly, how many of the quilts that didn’t ribbon were made by the defined group? Maybe it isn’t as widespread an issue as the frustration feels like it is. Or maybe it’s bigger. Either way, you should be sure of the scope of the problem before you try to fix it.
Wherever the inclusion/exclusion line is drawn, you need to be sure there is an absolutely crystal clear definition of that line. For example: membership in the guild is a clear line. You’ve paid your dues and you’re on the membership list or you’re not. Membership is easily verified by anyone with access to the financial records of the guild or the quiltmaker’s cancelled check or receipt. It’s pretty black and white.
What constitutes being a professional quilter tends to be an organizational mine field. This was always tough but, the internet (You sold a pattern on Craftsy, are you a professional?) and the proliferation of track mounted machines (Track mounted quilting is no longer done only by quilters for hire.) makes this much harder to determine.
If you try to write your own definition, think long and hard. Pay very close attention to the wording. Have someone play devil's advocate and try to get around it. And finally, field test it. By this I mean sit down with the registration records from your last show and apply the potential rule change to the registrants. Would the rule have effectively excluded only the entries you want to exclude, or would it have taken out some quilts you want to keep? In the case of professional quilters, your own members who paid for longarm services.
If it become too difficult to define the line between in and out, anther option is to add another form of recognition, rather than exclude a certain class of quiltmaker. For example, I recently judged a show that awarded a ribbon for Best Solo Needle. The group felt that so many quilters used longarm services that they wanted to recognize the quiltmaker who did the entire job themselves. They took nothing away from the professionals, they gave something exta to the solo artist.
Consider the potential benefit of keeping the excluded quilts in the mix. Is the show richer for having more competitive quilts in it? No sponsoring group wants to feel taken advantage of, but exclusions usually create a certain amount of ill will. What is good will worth to you?
Finally, consider that the meaning of the term 'professional' might not be the same as 'good' and might not automatically confer winner status. Usually, after judging a few categories in any given show, I begin to recognize certain longarm 'signatures.' I see the same strong points again and again. And I see the same problems: A certain machine tension issue can be seen again and again over many quilts. The same particular so-so stop and start strategy is seen again and again. Just because a someone is paid for their services, doesn't mean those services are everything you might hope for.
There is nothing wrong with a guild structuring their show for their own purposes. Just be very careful that the changes will really do what you want them to do and not create new and different problems.
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.