Friday, January 28, 2011

Quilt Shows: When You Don't Win

First off, let me just say that I am genuinely happy with just the fact that I was accepted into Road to California. I've tried before and not made it in, so I know it's not a "gimmee" if you will. It feels really good to know that many, many people were exposed to my quilt. (Does anyone know if the R2CA show shows the name of the maker of the quilt at the show? If so, even better!)

That being said, there is always that feeling of disappointment when you learn that you haven't placed at all. Kudos to Road to California however, for sending an email in the middle of the night when they finish judging, to let you know you didn't win. It's still disappointing, but at least you find out right away!

The next step, for me, after learning of not winning is to begin to evaluate "why?" Again, kudos to the show, for including the judges remarks in the email. This is what mine said:

 During the judging of your entry our judges made the following observations:

  • Nine patches do not add to the image.
  • The turtle is difficult to see from a distance.  He disappears into the seaweed.
  • Seaweed has lovely movement and the bubble are a good image.
 Here is the piece they are talking about, it's called Herman the Honu:

Now is the time when I am trying (really hard) to separate my emotional feelings about the piece in order to look at the piece in an art critique type mode.

First the emotional feelings:

  • I created this piece as a tribute to my trips to Hawaii, and swimming with a turtle that a little girl in the cove named Herman.
  • The nine patches are what reminded me of Hawaii
  • This was my first attempt at using Tsukineko inks
  • It didn't seem weird to me for the turtle to blend into the seaweed, they're supposed to afterall, right?

This gives "respect" to your feelings about your piece. This tells you, okay, I feel this way. I can still feel this way after I look at this piece from the perspective of a judge! It's OKAY!

Looking at this from a competition perspective, I can see that anyone who did not know the story, would not understand why those 9 patches are in there. I can also see that, in a design standpoint, yes the turtle does not stand out enough. The nine patches in fact overpower the turtle.

So, if I were to do this differently, with a competition in mind, I might do something more like this:

I have removed the 9 patches, and increased the size of the center piece. I've also make the turtle a more saturated, strong color. But he still blends into that seaweed a bit much. Let's try lightening up that background area:

There, how's that? I've addressed the issues that the judges put forth:

  • I have gotten rid of the 9 patches that detracted from the design rather than helped.
  • I have made the turtle image more strong by darkening him, and lightening the background area
  • I have increased the size of the center turtle area, to make him more noticable
  • I have also left in the aspect the judges like, which is the seaweed and bubbles in the border.
Let's see a side by side here:

What do you think? Are the judges right? Would this have greatly improved the piece for competition? Much as I love the original piece, and will not go back and change it, I will keep these comments in mind when I am making my piece for the next show!

You can see, that once you start putting your pieces into competitions, you have to start detaching a bit from the pieces if you are going to be open to suggestions and improvements that may improve your chances at future shows.

Have you gotten a piece back from a quilt show, and wonder what you can do with the judges comments to improve your design elements? Send us a picture of the piece, and the judges comments and The Fiber Nation can show you hints and tips on what could have been done differently to give a better viewing to the judges!

Send pictures and comments to By sending pictures, you are expressing your consent to have them used on this blog as examples to others! :)


  1. This is a great article. I haven't entered anything into a juried show yet, but hope to some day. The detail of the process you went through is very enlightening. Thank you.

    P.S. I do like the "after" turtle.

  2. Great article! Another one worthy of magazine submission. I too like your comparisons and I like the original Herman but the 9 patches pull the eye to the patches and not the turtle. The second photo remake is more pleasing to the eye and you can focus on Herman with a less agitated eye feeling. Yet, I do like the idea of the pieced blocks to represent Hawaii. Maybe it was the scale of the blocks that didn't work to the judges eye. Coule they be too big and need to be scaled down a bunch? I do think that Herman being on the front of the sea weeds is a better visual and him being darker in color depth makes him easier to see. Always remember to quilt to your desires and not for the fical(sic) judges. Each judges tastes are different and the category you entered is a tough one cause there are ssoooooo many entered in it.

  3. Terrific post Stephanie! I really appreciate the feelings and emotions you've identified; so true. I do like your 'new' transition; agree with you on the turtle supposed to be blending, as it in nature... and agree that he wasn't noticeable enough. A good lesson in value and shading, perhaps? I too liked the idea of the pieced 9patches... but perhaps in different colors that complimented Herman, or blended more...'made Herman the star of the show' kind of attitude? They were kind of an 'island unto themselves' perhaps! Above all... remain true to your style, but do not be afraid to grow through critique! I think it's wonderful you got feedback, and 'risked' your feelings, and were so willing to share with all of us! Thank you!

  4. I think that you should always listen to your inner artist voice and just know that you aren't going to please all the judges all of the time. I have heard countless stories of comments from judges and jurors that completely contradict each other. Their opinion is just an opinion. Sometimes they are trying to objectify something that is really a very subjective choice.

    I think you will get further faster by trusting your inner voice and knowing that you aren't going to get every piece into every really is a crap shoot. In addition to judging each piece, jurors are also making choices about making an exhibit cohesive.

    I have found that most of the comments that I have gotten from judges aren't really that helpful. Most art exhibits that I enter don't give comments. I think it is really a quilt world phenomenon.

    PS. I liked the 9 patches

  5. I think the judges are right and you are even more so for embracing what they say. I have entered lots of shows and always take the comments as a path to success....I have won over 70 ribbons (and just snagged one at Road) so it does work. I think the quilt is stronger with the changes.

  6. I like to enter pièces in juried shows, I won à couple of times, but also many times not. I think it's important to be true to yourself. Try to expressie THE theme as best as you can.
    Remember that each judge is different, you don't know who will be judging and how they will judge.

  7. I like the 9-patches! Especially with the story to go with them. Maybe darkening Herman would make him stand out a bit, but I like original perfectly well! Trust your own eyes! Belinda

  8. Steph,
    Excellent post which brings forward many different issues. You have done a good job of analyzing the judges comments and experimenting with applying them to this piece. I feel the design, scale, and value changes that you made in your revised version are successful improvements. I might carry some of the side and bottom corner seaweed shapes and top bubble shapes over the border edges. This would probably better integrate the central block and border pieces. I feel the inclusion of the nine patch blocks is more of a personal/subjective issue. I think the nine patch blocks contained values (and contrasts) that were too strong and thus, distracted from your center of interest, the lovely turtle.

    As far as comments go from judges, friends, or family, I listen and consider them all, deciding if I think they have any merit. Ultimately, like others have stated, I follow my own vision and heart. With the judging/show game, I think it is easy to get into a "tail wagging the dog" situation.

    So, that's my two cents worth - as my grandma would say:) Take care, keep creating and moving forward!

  9. If you know you're are being judged, you know that there will be comments. Good or bad. And you take with you what you choose to follow. I was criticed on my binding--it was the best thing that could happen. I learned all that I could and tried several differant ways. Binding is no longer a issue. Now if I really like my binding and a judge has a issue--then I am fine with it. Plus so... many times I like what I have done but someone (usually my mom) notices something missing or needs more. And most of the time she right and something I choose not to follow along. My Choice!!
    I love this post---I learned some things here today!

  10. Your analytical approach to this is great! And being able to "see" the new design is surely helpful. I think the changes you made are major compositional improvements (I understand it's just a graphic). You're so smart -- keep up the great work! I have curated shows for many years and only recently started "working the other side of the street" - as an artist. I know darned well that judge's comments can be taken with a grain of salt. I try to learn from what others tell me -- the more brutal honesty for me, the better. But everyone has to be true to their creative heart. JS

  11. I love this article and especially how you are showing positivity rather than depression. I think the comments you received are genuine and helpful for your future quilt making. Having scribed at a show but, mostly talking with the judges and teachers at shows I taught at, I think many of the comments received back are generic and very little help for future improvement. Your comments show the judges were really paying attention and wanting to help.

    I do love the improvements you have made and I agree with Anna that bringing the seaweed over the edge into the picture might keep your eye moving a little better.

    Another thing I have learned from talking with quilters who have entered at a show I’m teaching at is that there are two attitudes about entering quilts in a show. Most, like you want their creativity and work to be accepted and rewarded. It’s just my personal opinion but, this leaves the door open for emotions to be bruised when it doesn’t win.

    While not as many, others are in it as a business. Many of the shows pay well to winners so those few are making their quilt for the judges not themselves. When they don’t win, they don’t have the emotional set back that other quilters get. They just move on to the next competition quilt. I think that is the key. There are quilters hoping their quilt is good enough to win and quilters who make competition quilts to win. I think this group makes it difficult for the quilter who quilts from the heart.

    All that aside, it might do well in another show. You might want to consider MN, MQS or MMQS this year. All judges look at quilts differently. Even the big name quilters don’t always win with the same quilt at every show.

  12. I actually like the 9-patches. I wonder if they would have been more acceptable with the value changes that you made on the turtle, and with some of the seaweed crossing them? I imagine there will be as many opinions as there are people looking! Great piece of analysis.