Quilting has changed a lot over the years. When I first joined a guild, a machine quilted quilt was often referred to as a ‘glorified mattress pad.’ Say something like that now and a legion of machine quilters will be coming for you with torches and pitchforks.
Machine quilting in general (and probably yours in particular) has evolved way past what your first machine quilted bed quilt looked like. It may have been shoved through the throat of your mother’s old Kenmore, snuggled in between the ping pong table and freezer chest in the basement, or some other less than ideal but functional spot. Ask me how I know……
Perhaps the machines and venues have changed, but what I think matters even more is the way we think about machine quilting. Our thinking has been influenced by everything we have seen, heard and read. Our thinking has been changed by information. Which we then attempted to apply to our quilts. Which pushed our skills forward and changed the quality of our work.
Even if we are still working in the basement with the ping pong table as our quilting buddy (Don’t knock it; there’s a lot of room on the top of that table!) it is unlikely anyone will look at your quilt today, call it a glorified mattress pad (cue the pitchforks…) and dismiss it because it is just machine quilted.
Machine quilting is not the only topic that has evolved. About 15 years ago, there was a judging phrase in common use: Good quilting is good quilting. As a candidate in the judging program, it was very comforting. If I was really thrown for a loop by a quilt I was looking at, that phrase meant I could go back to basics and have a solid footing for evaluating it. No matter what technique was used, it should lay flat. No matter what fabrics were chosen, the values should work. Hand or machine, stitching should be secure. The phrase meant all the tried and true standards held and were there to help me make sense of what I was looking at.
But then came a new genre of art quilts with their new materials and strong color and design sensibility. And their visual and emotional impact and their alternate edge finishes and their surface design. After that, the genie was out of the bottle and all that stuff drifted into even the most traditional of corners of the quilting world.
Next came new tools and machines and of course lots and lots of information and suddenly ‘good quilting is good quilting’ wasn’t quite the touchstone it used to be. It’s still true, but if you’re going to be able to evaluate current quilts, you now need to be knowledgeable in a lot more than secure stitches and square corners.
It seems to me that some of us, who may have developed our skills over many years, sometimes weren’t sure if all that new, unfamiliar stuff was ‘real’ quilting. It was just easier to stick with what we already knew, stay where we were comfortable, with our knowledge of ‘good quilting’ and just let all that unfamiliar stuff slide right past us.
Unfortunately, one way to deal with things you are not familiar with is to marginalize them.
That’s just painted.
That’s just glued on.
That’s just done with the computer.
That’s just a photo.
That’s just machine quilting.
Ah, the word “just”.
Whenever I hear the word ‘just’ in relation to a skill or practice, a tiny red flag pops up. I have noticed that it can sometimes indicate an underestimation of the skill required to do whatever ‘just’ is being applied.
Easy to do. Anyone can ‘just’ something away.
But for judges, it’s a trap. We owe it to the makers whose quilts we judge to never sling ‘just’ at their work. Which means we have to stay current on things we may not be comfortable with or have a personal interest in. But by becoming Certified, that’s exactly what we signed up for.
Stacy Koehler, Secretary, NACQJ
NQA Certified Judge
Qualified to Evaluate Master Piece 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.