Once in a while, I am pulled aside by a quilter who wants to ask about The Judging Standard for a particular point or skill in quiltmaking. (The question is understandable. Information about judging points is only semi-available: hence this blog!)
When I try to answer their question, there is part of me that is a little uncomfortable. Not because of the question. Not because I don’t want to answer..…I absolutely want to make judging transparent and assist quiltmakers to improve their work.
What makes me, and possibly only me, uncomfortable is the idea of a capital S Standard in judging. Personally, I approach judging as more of a balancing act of a quilt’s strengths and weaknesses, to come to an equilibrium that represents where that quilt stands in relation to the other quilts being judged on that day, in that show. The cut and dry application of Standards seems to not quite do the job for me.
As much as I’m soft on standards, it would be foolish to act like they don’t exist. They do and they absolutely play a role in quilt judging. Their existence is part of the effort to make certified quilt judging objective and fair, not just the judge’s personal opinion. (And yes, I’ll talk about objectivity in another post.)
So, where do these standards come from? Here, in no particular order, are some influences that I’ve come up with. Let me know if you have additional thoughts.
Things that will extend the longevity of the quilt.
I’ve heard many quilters say they are just making a functional quilt to be used now and have no expectation that it will become an heirloom. To which I would answer: you ultimately don’t know where your quilt is going to end up. Sooner than you think, it will pass out of your sphere of influence. Every old quilt ever purchased in a flea market or garage sale has slipped its leash and escaped its maker. Every one of those 600 red and white quilts that hung in the Infinite Variety show has gone far, far beyond its point of origin.
You don’t know the exact road your quilt will end up on. Give it a fighting chance to make someone happy a long way from the time and place of its making.
Things that are harder to do and showcase the maker’s skill.
As in any other kind of competition, the more difficult the skill is to master, the greater impact it can have on the ribbon standing of the quilt.
Most quilters can do something correctly one time. Doing it correctly 300 times across the top of the quilt is much more difficult.
Color and design ascendant
While design and choice of palette have always contributed to the overall impact of a quilt, the awareness and discussion of color and design have increased exponentially with the rise of Art and Modern quilting. Both quiltmakers and judges are now being called upon to recognize and manipulate the mechanics of design and color at a much higher level.
Extreme attention to detail
The image of the judge as nitpicker is not a particularly positive one however, every judge is, at some point, called upon to be just that. The job of the judge is to determine the winning quilts in a show. These decisions are often made between multiple highly competitive quilts. When only the best quilts are still in the competition, the judge is examining minutiae to find something that will place one quilt ahead of another. Personally, I have twice seen Best of Show determined by what is happening in the binding on one side, of one corner, of a quilt.
In styles that have a fairly fixed historical or social context (ex: crazy quilts), in some uncommon circumstances, the faithful adherence to the tradition may come into play in judging.
Again, I’d love to hear your ideas.
So what next? Having now given some thought to judging preparation and where standards come from, I am going to change the format of the posts.
Mixed in with other judging topics, I am going to start looking at particular judging points/standards, close up, to hopefully make quilting and judging theory make more sense. Before and during the certification process, judges learn a lot of quilt lore, which they draw upon to frame their judging comments/feedback to show entrants. This format, and time frame, only evaluates; it does not teach. Maybe this blog can do a little teaching.
Next: The Big Picture
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.