Quilt Judgement Day

My friend Daisy posted this on Facebook the other day: Have any of you given any thought to submitting anything to QuiltCon next year? I’m playing with an idea . . . Not sure I’m ready for that kind of rejection, though.

I hear you, sister. Rejection’s the worst. There’s almost no context I can think of where it feels good. The problem is that if we don’t risk getting our hearts broken now and then we stay stuck in our little corners and ruts. We remain unstretched; in fact, we may begin to grow brittle. Fearful. Curled up like dead spiders on the windowsill.

Does that mean I think Daisy should go for it?

Not necessarily. I mean, it depends.

On the one hand, if making a quilt to enter into competition seems like fun way for Daisy to push herself as a designer and improve her quilting skills, then why not? As Zina, one of the quilters that responded to Daisy’s query, said, “You can’t look at a rejection as an assault on your character or talent. Especially with a show like Quilt Con, where the emphasis is placed more on design than anything else. You should still make a quilt that speaks to your heart, because if you don’t get into the Big Show, at least you are left with a quilt that you love!”

What are reasons not to enter? Some of the respondents had specific concerns about the judging at QuiltCon. Katie, for instance, felt that QuiltCon judges privilege art quilts and “emotional” quilts over quilts that are functional and apolitical, suggesting that she doesn’t feel that the kind of quilts she makes would get serious consideration. Others found that the possibility of being rejected made the idea of submitting quilts to any juried show untenable. They admitted that it isn’t in their emotional make-up to take that risk.

But it was Tina who tapped into something that goes beyond the fear of being judged and rejected. She wrote about the fear of being shamed.

“I have no problems with quilt judges,” Tina said. “I was very sad for Melissa [Averinos, whose quilt “My Brother’s Jeans” won the 2016 QuiltCon Best of Show] because of the public remarks made about her very emotional quilt. I’m sure we all know the pain of overhearing disparaging comments about ourselves. Being a member of the quiltcon rejects [a flickr group for people whose quilts weren’t accepted for the show] sounds great, but the idea of actually getting in and hearing that I was unworthy or my art was unworthy is scary to me. Maybe I’m a little too insecure but I find such massive scrutiny terrifying.”

Yep. As far as I’m concerned, these days it’s not the idea of being rejected that’s so scary; it’s the idea of winning.

Like Tina, I don’t have a problem with judges; I have no reason to think that quilt show judges don’t take their jobs seriously or work hard to make responsible, defensible choices. That their ultimate choices might be somewhat subjective, particularly at QuiltCon, where the aesthetic and criteria are still evolving, is not a surprise nor a particular concern. This year it’s one sort of quilt that wins, next year it’s going to be another. It’s refreshing, if you think about it.

Now I think a lot of people were surprised that the judges chose “My Brother’s Jeans” for best of show. It’s an idiosyncratic quilt, sui generis, deeply personal, one that doesn’t really scream “modern quilt” (at least not to me). I actually think it’s beautiful quilt, but a lot of people I respect remain unconvinced that it was the right choice. And that’s fine–of course we’re going to have differing opinions.

But our opinions should be stated respectfully, with our compassionate understanding that a real, live human being stands on the other side of the quilt we’re discussing. I don’t think this has entirely been case with the discussion around “My Brother’s Jeans.” There’ve been great blog posts, like Katie’s over at Katie’s Quilting Corner, where I feel she tries to think seriously about the quilt and give an honest response. But there’s been a lot of snark. A lot of “I don’t get it.”

To which my response is: try to get it. Even if it’s just for five minutes, try to see what the judges saw. Try to open your mind and heart to the quilt. Because we all know how hurtful it is to be dismissed, swatted away like a fly. Could we please learn some compassion here? We’ve got to do better. We’ve got to stop shaming each other.

I propose we make a Quilter’s Code of Public Conduct. Maybe it could go something like this:

On my honor, I will try:

  • to not say snarky things, in person or online, about someone else’s quilt. I understand that different quilters have different goals for their quilts, different aesthetic preferences, and different skill levels. If I find a quilt unattractive or poorly made, I will keep it to myself unless it’s part of a constructive discussion in which my real identity is known to all participating. I will not hide behind an avatar or screen name when putting forth criticism.
  • I will look for the good in all quilts. If I can find absolutely nothing to like in a particular quilt, I will entertain the notion that maybe I should just move on and keep my mouth shut.
  • I will make any and all critical remarks with humility and compassion. I will ask myself what is the point of making this remark? Does it truly add to our community discussion? For every criticism I make, I will try my best to find something to praise. In fact, I will preface my critical remarks with my praise.

We all feel vulnerable when we take risks. We are vulnerable. We could get hurt. But how about we all make this promise to Daisy and everyone else who dares–who has the friggin’ amazing audacity–to put herself out there in a big way: we will stand behind you. We’ve got your back. So go out there and give ’em hell.

24 Replies to “Quilt Judgement Day”

  1. I love this post. This is exactly the attitude we need to have. My guild’s quilt show is next weekend. I will take the vow.

  2. Thanks for this. Why do we women have to be so snarky to each other? It’s not even honest criticism sometimes. It’s like a need to put someone else down to make ourselves feel better. I’m willing to sign on to your code. Maybe you should make a button that links back to this post, and see if we can spread it around.

  3. Alright! We need this code of conduct. This is how I try to conduct myself on a daily basis, so why shouldn’t these practices apply in the amazing quilt world we love? Rhetorical question there. It was my good fortune to attend Quiltcon in Pasadena. I was delighted with the diversity and complexity of quilts displayed. Simple, complex, all quilts are art to me, others’ and mine. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

  4. I’m all in for the Quilter’s Code of Conduct. I try really hard to be respectful of the quilt maker when making less than positive comments. Every maker has put time, money, energy, and care into their quilt. Every one deserves respect for the effort put in.

    I do have one question, though. Is “I don’t get it?” really a snarky or condescending comment? Because as I was reading along your post and thinking what a great job I do at being respectful, I got to that line about “I don’t get it.” and had to pause because I’m sure I said that. To me, comments like, “It’s ugly, She didn’t even put on a binding, It’s not very interesting”, etc. seem more snarky than just saying “I don’t understand what makes this a best in show quilt.” So, am I just trying to justify what was, in fact, a rude comment? Or, was there some other context or tone to, “I don’t get it.”?

    I would like to thank every quilter out there who is willing to hang their previous efforts in a quilt show and put themselves out their for affirmation and criticism. This wussy lady feel to emotionally sensitive to do that just yet!

    1. Hi, Amy Laura! I take your point, re: “I don’t get it.” It can be simply a declaration of confusion, of feeling out of touch with the judge’s decision, and not meant to be demeaning.

      However, too often I feel like “I don’t get it” is tossed off in a dismissive sort of way which I would find very hurtful if someone was discussing a quilt I made. It strikes me as code for “the judges made a stupid choice.” Now, in the case of Katie’s blog post, which I link to in this post, she says “I don’t get it” and then thoughtfully discusses why not. I think hers is the “I don’t get it” that you’re referring to.

      In the case of “My Brother’s Jeans,” three judges, one of them a highly trained and experienced quilt judge, made this choice, so instead of saying “I don’t get it” (and I know *you’re* not saying this, by the way!), why not consider why they made the choice instead of assuming we know better? It seems to me that a lot of people say “I don’t get” haven’t tried to get it.

      1. Aha! I see what you are saying. I also agree that trying to see what the judges saw is always a good idea!

  5. I agree that we should be kind or at least kindly constructive when we talk about other people’s quilts, especially online. But if you put a quilt into a national show, you need to have a thick skin. Quilters ought to realize that their quilt will be judged by everyone who sees it and compared to the other quilts around it. That’s just the nature of a show and what I think you can expect when an art form turns into a competition.

    1. That’s absolutely true. You have to go in expecting there will be people who won’t like your work and who will be vocal with their criticism. If criticism is going to destroy you, best not submit. But there’s a difference between being criticized and being shamed. I fear that in our shaming culture we no longer know where that line is.

        1. Good question! I do think some people have more tolerance, a harder shell, a stronger sense of self. And some people feel shame when someone asks them to please keep their voice down, so yeah, maybe the line is different for different people.

          But if I were draw a general shame line, I would say it’s somewhere between criticizing my work and dismissing my work as worthless because you don’t happen to like it. Between constructively criticizing my work and questioning my worth as a quilter/writer/person. You don’t have to love what I do, but I find it shaming when people dismiss what I do without giving it serious and thoughtful consideration.

  6. Whoo hoo, well said, Frances. I always enjoy your commentary on how to be a nicer person in this land of trolls and ugly words. It seems to go back to moms advice – “if you can’t say anything nice, say nothing.” Thanks.

  7. Our guild has a show coming up. Would you allow me to send your quilters code to our newsletter. We need a reminder. Thanks for your consideration.

  8. I think your article is absolutely on-point. I agree there is far too much snark in the world (particularly online). Something that I would propose adding to your Code of Conduct:

    As a quilter, if I decide to put my quilt “out there” for the public, either by entering it into a show, or by posting photos of it online, I will do so with complete courage, and with the conviction that MY art satisfies ME. I will accept all comments with dignity – be they critical, constructive, or mean, like water off a duck’s back. I will take what I need from the general public, and I will reject what I don’t need. I will continue to be brave and make the quilts that I want to make, regardless of what anyone thinks. I will stand tall. I will love my own work because it comes from my hands.

    Or something like that! We need to be nice TO OURSELVES as well.

    Or something like that.

  9. I use to design for craft magazines and I would send my designs to the one that paid most first and if some were rejected on down the line to the other magazines..I usually sold every design and was always amazed that the ones I thought were best were not always the first picked..the different editors had different “eyes” . And I’m not saying the one that paid the most was the best just more money..so it all goes to what appeals to who…

  10. I take the pledge! Beautiful post Frances. I don’t know that I would ever have the nerve to enter a show. I find it a bit terrifying. All in all, I find that quilty folks are usually kind, but we all need a reminder. Thanks for that.

  11. Love this. I deal daily with critique of my work and it can get nerve wracking. But it can be done in a constructive way. If you don’t get it, ask. Open the dialogue.Communicate in a kind way always. If not with the quilt maker or the judges or other quilters, talk about it with yourself. Put yourself in the maker’s / judge’s shoes. Imagine what you can learn.

  12. I see a similar issue with my Photography groups. These groups do lots of critiques and the professional photographers mostly do a great job of keeping it constructive then someone in the audience yells “I just don’t like it.” (perhaps she forgot to use her “inside voice!”) This sort of pops the bubble and the photographer can no longer hear the constructive statements…only that someone didn’t like their work! Giving feedback or constructive critique is an art in itself!

    On a side note…my favorite quilt of all time that I had so much joy making and still love to look at was dismissed with a sneer (I was in the judging room as a quilt holder) while another quilt I entered at the last minute to “fill” space in the show got a first place ribbon….so goes the mystery of quilt shows!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.