Quilt Ribbons and Rants

I promised this year my blogs are more personal.  While they all will relate to quilts and quilting and quilters, I want to discuss topics that I feel passionate about, too.  This is one of those blogs.

There is so much I love about quilting.  I love the textiles.  I love the process.  I love paying attention to the small details so that the overall craft is lovely and as near perfect as I can get it to be.  I love my circle of quilting friends.  These women have supported me, challenged me, and loved me when I was unlovable.  They have laughed with me and cried with me. 

I love the part of the process when the last stitch is put in the quilt top and I layer the whole thing and put it on Loretta and quilt it.  I love when the binding is sewed on and the label is attached.  I love taking the completed quilt to guild and displaying it at show and tell.

But as much as I love these areas of quilting, there is an area I have an uneasy relationship with, and that’s quilt shows and their ribbons.  To be blunt, I have several issues with show ribbons.  Let me explain this a little, because I have friends that are quilt show judges, and I can already see the laser beams coming from their eyes. 

I don’t have an issue with the judging process.  To be sure, I think every quilter who is half-way serious about their craft should enter at least one quilt to be judged at some time in their quilting career.  These judges (especially if they are certified judges through the National Association of Certified Quilt Judges program) have been thoroughly put through their paces and they know their stuff.  If they award a quilt a ribbon, then that quilt has certainly earned that ribbon.  And even if a judge has not gone through the judging certification process, anyone who usually judges a show has generally taught classes, won ribbons, and designed patterns. 

In other words, judges are generally very fluent in everything quilts.

So, it’s not the quilt evaluation that I have issues with.  It’s the ribbons and what people think they represent.  To be sure, the ribbons must represent first, second, and third places, and honorable mention.  First place is the best of a category, second place the second best, etc.  Honorable mention means the quilt was so close in scoring to the third-place quilt, it should be mentioned.  Honorably. 

The Best of Show ribbon also can cause confusion.  Is Best of Show the same thing as Viewer’s Choice?  No.  Best of Show is the quilt that scores the highest in all categories in the judge’s evaluation.  Can it also be Viewer’s Choice?  Yes.  But Viewer’s Choice is voted on by those attending the quilt show, and not chosen by the quilt judge.  And then there is Judge’s Choice, which may or not be Best of Show or Viewer’s Choice.  Judge’s Choice is the quilt judge’s favorite quilt in the show. 

Confusing?  Sometimes.  But it’s not so much the confusion that bothers me as the attitude some people have about ribbons and the categories.  Since quilt show season is now upon us (it runs from January through the first weekend in November in my neck of the woods), I’d like to talk about show ribbons and how to deal with them.

Most guilds of any size put on at least one show in their lifetime.  And part of most shows is the quilt displays and ribbons.  My guild is no different.  Our last show was in 2017 and we have one coming up in 2019.  As of this moment, those members who are entering quilts in the show have the opportunity to have their quilt(s) judged.  Judging is not mandatory for our show. Those quilts that have gone through the judging process are displayed first and if there is still room in the display area, those who just want to show their quilts can have those hung, too. It’s a win-win, in my opinion.  We generally always have room for all the quilts, so that part makes everyone happy. 

And that’s about where the over-all contentment ends.  There’s confusion about the ribbons and why a quilt wasn’t displayed in the category the owner placed it.  You hear comments like “Why did this quilt win and not that one?  That quilt has much better workmanship,” and you deal with hurt feelings – “Why did you move my quilt to another category?  It would have won if you had left it alone.”  So, let’s take a look at the process and hopefully I can explain so everyone feels better about this process, including me. 

First of all, the judges do not award ribbons willy-nilly.  They have a set criterion of techniques they’re looking for – full binding, 90-degree corners, accurate piecing, etc.  They generally only spend a few minutes with each quilt.  That’s all the time they can give a quilt, especially if they’re judging numerous ones.  They will tell you what is right and wrong with your quilt.  But they do not have the time to tell you how to fix it.  It’s your job to take what is wrong with your quilt and learn how to make it better.  Certain quilts will be set aside for additional judging.  Those quilts may be awarded the special ribbons, such as Best of Show, Best Quilting, etc.  However, it’s important to remember that the judges are human, and all judging is somewhat subjective.  They try to make it as impartial as possible, but preferences do come into play.  For instance, if I were a quilt judge, you could be certain that applique quilts would probably win my Best of Show ribbon because I love applique. You can argue this point to the moon and back, but that’s the way it is.  This is why guilds should rotate quilt judges in order to make sure that the entire membership has an equal chance to earn ribbons. 

Now let’s talk about quilt show categories.  Big quilt shows, such as the AQS ones, have had set criteria for years.  The rules and regulations of large quilt shows have been in place for literally decades and if you’re planning on entering one of your quilts in these shows, be sure to read the rules carefully and follow them exactly.  Most of the larger quilt shows like these are juried shows.  That means the first step in entering those contests is to send in pictures of your quilt.  A show committee will look at the pictures and then issue an invitation to those quilters whose quilts are outstanding.  If this process wasn’t followed, the larger quilt shows would simply be inundated with entries and there would be no way the judges could get through them all, let alone have a venue big enough to display them.

Local quilt shows are different.  Unless space is severely limited, most of those aren’t juried.  Most guilds and quilt groups will have a quilt committee that sets the rules for the show.  My first piece of advice for anyone entering these shows is read the registration sheet carefully.  Read through all the rules for entering your quilt.  Some shows require you to submit pictures of your quilts along with your registration sheet.  Some do not.  But all the categories and deadlines are on that registration sheet.  And somewhere on that sheet is usually a disclaimer that holds the guild harmless if anything happens to your quilt (you’re entering the quilt at your own risk), tells you that all ribbons may not be awarded, and informs you that the quilt committee has the right to move your quilt into another category if the need arises. 

At this point you may be wondering why your quilt would be moved from one category to another.  There are a couple of reasons.  Let me explain.  A quilt committee and their chair set the categories months in advance of the show.  They have no idea if each category they list will be filled with quilts.  If a category isn’t filled (and my personal idea of a full category is at least five quilts in each division), then they may combine categories in order that the judging is truly fair and balanced. 

The other reason that your quilt may be moved is that it didn’t meet the definition of the category.  This is the reason most show entrants get a little upset, and this is why it’s really important to read through the rules carefully.  Most guilds fully explain the categories on the registration information.  While I will not try to define all the categories here, I do want to hit two that seem to cause the most confusion – miniatures and duets. 

A miniature quilt is not a small quilt.  If you have a small wall hanging, and even if it meets the size requirements, it may not be a miniature.  A miniature quilt is an exact copy of a large quilt, severely scaled down to meet the size requirements (which are usually no larger than 24-inches by 24-inches and most of the time even smaller).  Allow me to illustrate:

This is a small wall hanging:

These are true miniature quilts:

See the difference.  I understand the confusion, but small quilts and miniature quilts are not the same thing. 

The next category that causes so much confusion, hurt feelings and migraine headaches for the quilt chair is Duets.  Let me try to explain this category by giving a personal illustration before we get too far in this explanation.  Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was a high school science teacher.  And one of my requirements for all my classes at some point in time was a research paper.  Since I have dual certifications in both Language Arts and Science, I was pretty darn picky about the papers.  One of my pet peeves was plagiarism.  I knew darn good and well my students’ writing abilities – or lack thereof.  I also knew some of my pupils could afford to purchase term papers off the internet.  I drilled into their heads ad nauseum what plagiarism was and the penalty of said plagiarism – an automatic F.  No questions.  No repentance.  No exceptions.  I even paid good bucks for a search engine (these were the days before Google) to identify plagiarism.  If there was any doubt in my mind about a paper, I could upload it into the search engine, and it would hit every possible black market paper out there.  If I found out that one of these kids had purchased that paper, BINGO.  Automatic F.  I had my proof.  And they had to deal with the consequences. 

For those of you a little rusty on what plagiarism is, here’s the Reader’s Digest Condensed Definition:  Using someone else’s work and claiming it as your own, without giving the original artist credit.

See, you could reference other researchers and artists work all day long in your paper, as long as you gave them credit.

How does this apply to the Duets category in quilt shows?  Let’s look at the definition first.  A Duet is a quilt made by two people.  If you piece your top and someone else quilts it, it’s a Duet.  It’s not all your work.  If you claim it to be, then you’ve plagiarized your quilt.  You’ve claimed someone else’s work as your own. 

At this point, I know what some of you are thinking.  “It is my work.  I paid good money for someone else to quilt it.”


Even if money has exchanged hands, it does not negate the fact that you did not do the quilting.  The quilting is not a true reflection of your workmanship level.  It’s the longarm artist’s craftmanship.  And to claim it as yours is (in my humbled opinion) dishonest.  So, if you pieced/appliqued/pieced and appliqued your quilt top, and someone else quilted it, give the longarm artist credit on the registration sheet and enter it in the Duets category.

Lastly, (and I speak from experience here) if you have questions about the registration or the categories, ask the Quilt Chair and her/his committee. They’re more than happy to clarify things.  Don’t think for a minute that they have set the registration and rules up to benefit them and take home all the ribbons.  When most quilt committees set these up, they have two goals in mind:  Have as many quilts as possible displayed in the show, and make the judging process a positive experience for the guild members and the judge.  There are no ulterior motives involved.

In closing, let me encourage you to enter at least one of your quilts in a judged show.  Yes, it can be a little scary and a little intimidating, but the process is well worth it.  You receive feedback from someone that knows a great deal about quilting and the critique (which will tell what is good about your quilt and what needs improvement) helps you become a better quilter. 

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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