Claudia Myers column: Blue ribbon baby in a competitive quilting world
Let's face it, when you are competing at the top level and your quilt is just one in a room full of quilts that were juried and chosen, they're all good quilts. There have to be some "great levelers," as I call them.
You've probably heard that quilters are nice people. Kind, helpful, considerate and will share their last quarter-yard of hand-dyed fabric with you. This is true, unless there is a quilt contest involved and they are one of the participants. Then they become Mama Bear, protecting and defending their quilted offspring.
It's also been said that you should never make a quilt whose primary reason for existence is to go into competition. You are supposed to please yourself and not worry about what the judges like or don't like. Oh, puleeeze! Isn't that the silliest thing you've ever heard? That's like your kid wandering into the gymnastics competition at the Olympics and expecting to win a medal because she's a cutie!
For one thing, why on Earth would I ever both to hand-sew those little binding corners shut if some judge wasn't going to get out their magnifying glass and give me a "needs improvement" if I didn't? So, no, I disagree. If you are competing, every little thing that could put your quilt over the top is important.
Let's face it, when you are competing at the top level and your quilt is just one in a room full of quilts that were juried and chosen, they're all good quilts. There have to be some "great levelers," as I call them. Does the quilt have visual impact? Does it hand straight and flat, not wavy around the edges? Is the quilting evenly distributed throughout? Are the chosen techniques well-done?
Quilt show judges try very hard to remain unbiased and non-influenced, but it's difficult because they are quilters themselves and know what they prefer in their own quilts. Many judges have specific tings they look for or comment on. They like to say "straight lines should be straight," and they say it with all sincerity and seriousness. I say, "Yes, I agree! Absolutely! Uh, what straight lines are you talking about?"
I know that judging is a terrible, rotten job, even though I've never done it and never intend to. Their comments are meant to contribute to your personal growth as a quilter. They don't "have it in for you." Unless your name happens to be glued onto that little cloth doll hanging in the judging room. You know, the one with the pins in it. Then you can worry.
My friend, Shirley, was asked to judge a guild show in another state. It was one of those guilds where the same people have always won the big awards, so they expected that they always would win the big awards. Shirley begged to differ and she did what they had invited her there to do: She judged the show. You would've thought she had declared that quilting would no longer be allowed in that state because there was so much fuss kicked up about the winners and the losers.
So Shirley, fearing for her very safety, quietly left her hostess' house in the middle of the night and drove seven hours all the way home, before the show even opened. She never judged again, but then, they never asked her, either.
So now I've got the answer for the question my friend asked when I first started quilting: "What are you going to do with all these quilts?" Here's what I do: I enter them into every single judged show they can go to. They travel the world in their little cardboard boxes, working their way, earning their keep and sometimes bringing back cash money and fancy ribbon rosettes.
At the end of their quilt show life span, when they have been hung, taken down, peered at, judged, written about, photographed, copied, packed and unpacked a few bazillion times, they will be allowed to retire, gracefully, into the quilt cupboard in my studio. Out to pasture, making room for the up-and-comers. Quiltus Emeritus.
My quilts go to many more shows than I do, but if and when I do attend, there is nothing more gratifying and heart clenching than coming around a corner at the exhibit and seeing your piece hanging there, with or without a ribbon.
If it's a winner, you dress up in your best "goes with my quilt" colors outfit and stand there, answering the excited questions from other quilters and letting them take pictures. What do they want to know? "How long did it take you?" Then, then you tell them, they almost always say, "Oh, I'd never have the patience!" As if they had been planning on rushing home to make this quilt themselves, but now, because it would take so long, they just won't be doing it.
When it doesn't win, you learn to suck up a big breath and paste that big fake smile on your face. You say, "Oh, y'know, it's just something I made for our bed." Because the next judge may think it's the best thing to come 'round the bend in the last decade and give it "Best of Show." You just never know. as long as your straight lines are straight.
Up next: What's that smell?
Claudia Myers is a former costume designer for The Baltimore Opera, Minnesota Ballet and has taught design and construction at the College of St. Scholastica. She is a national award-winning quilter, author and a local antique dealer, specializing in Persian rugs.