As a judge, you have 2 jobs. One is to carefully evaluate each quilt individually and, in many cases, give some form of feedback to the entrant. This evaluation informs your 2nd job, which is to find the ribbon winners in a room full of quilts.
How do you jump into this task? A good tool to use to begin the job is fanning the quilts.
As described in the last post, the nature of the show and the categories are important. Especially the categories. The first round of ribbon judging happens within the context of the category the quilt is entered in. During this phase of judging, the quilt only has to outrank the other quilts in its own category. It is not, at this time, up against every other quilt entered in the show. That can come later, if it is up for Best of Show or a special award (Ex: Best Use of Color.) For now its world is smaller and more manageable.
There is a whole discussion’s worth of considerations if the quilt is not in the correct category, but that’s for another post. For now, let’s assume the quilts are all in the right categories.
Categories can be well defined, or not. They can have many quilts, or few. The quilts in them can be very competitive, or not. The judge can get a first read on these issues through the process of fanning, if the show is being judged flat rather than hung. (If the show is hung, you may be able to take a quick dash through the category before starting in on the individual quilts.)
To set up for fanning, the quilts within a category are stacked on the judging table, right side up, often with one corner aligned.
The top quilt is folded up, bottom edge to top edge, so that the bottom of the back of the quilt is visible. The next quilt in the stack is also folded back, over the first one, so that its bottom back is visible also. This continues until the bottom half of the front of the last bottom quilt is visible; this bottom quilt is left flat.
Now the actual fanning begins. While the judge watches, aides unroll each successive quilt and smooth it back down to rebuild the stack. This is done relatively quickly. No individual evaluation takes place at this point. The judge just gets an overall impression of the category as a whole as to it’d size, variety, apparent quality etc.
Fanning creates only an impression, but it gives the judge an idea of where to set the bar for the category, especially when deciding whether to hold or release a quilt after its individual evaluation. Keep in mind that in the elimination system, which is a very common judging method, the quilts are competing against other quilts, not against perfection. Therefore, what is good enough to earn a ribbon in one category, may not be good enough in another category, as the roster of quilts is different in each.
Judging Mysteries Explained #1: This is one reason why, when the viewer is walking a show, they might see a blue ribbon hanging on a so-so quilt, next to a much more impressive looking quilt that has no ribbon at all. What is wrong with that judge??
In all likelihood, the judge was neither crazy nor blind. The quilts may have been entered in different categories. (Check for this on the hang tags or other signage.) One of those categories may have had a larger number of more competitive quilts in it, making it harder for good quilts in the category to win a ribbon. Hence the great looking quilt with no ribbon. The so-so blue ribbon quilt may be in a category containing far fewer/less competitive quilts, giving it better odds of ribboning.
This often happens between categories for more or less popular techniques. For example, most shows have more pieced bed-sized quilts than applique bed-sized quilts. There may be fewer entrants who do applique and when they do, it's a smaller project. Numerically, a pieced quilt is up against more quilts than an applique quilt. Depending on the quality of the overall category, this may translate to an apparent difference in the how hard each category was judged.
Back to fanning….
What the judge sees during fanning is not written in stone. Quilts that look good during fanning may, on closer inspection, turn out to have many workmanship issues. Quilts that have little wow factor at first glance, may have a great deal of technical merit. A wise judge takes what they see during fanning for what it is, a fast preview, and won’t hold any quilt to that first impression. Which is a good thing.
Next: Getting to Know You
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.