Quilt Show Confessional

Oh my gosh, it is Sunday afternoon and I don't think I have quite recovered from yesterday's trip in Atlanta to pick up the husband at the airport and then spending part of the day at the G.A. Quilt show. And if I were to be quite honest I would say part of this recovery is the recovery from the disappointment in the show itself.

I had been really looking forward to visiting the show and to see my quilt (Nevermore) hanging.. it did not get any ribbons but I did not expect it to either so that had nothing to do with my disappointment. 

 I was quite pleased to see multiple people spend time looking at it.. taking photos and one women even sketched it. Now hopefully they were not doing so only to feature it on " the world's worst quilt page' but if so.. such is life. I entered it to learn the process not to win. ( Yes true.. I have had never entered a quilt in a contest when I entered that one.. but then I have only been quilting for 2 years)

There were many beautiful and well known quilts hanging in the center gallery, most of them with prize ribbons and this is where I start having problems.

I commit the following words to  paper not without a great deal of trepidation. It is so difficult to express true meaning and nuance through this medium but I am going to try, please bear with me as I do so.

I am very new to the quilting world so am not privy to the secret handshake or gang-signs that are associated with this new hobby of mine. By and large I have loved the quilters I have met and each of them has talent that rocks my socks and I love to see what they are creating at any given moment. 

Where it gets sticky is seeing their quilts, quilts I have seen  many times in magazines and on quilting related TV shows ..quilts that have already won multiple ribbons ( and prize money) in other shows large national shows hanging in yet another show, and a somewhat smaller regional show at that. 

I want people .. hell, everyone to see these amazing works of art but in the same breath I want others to also have their chance in the sun. I am the sort of girl who wants all ships to rise on a positive tide and I suspect that when the same quilt(s) travels from show to show winning or placing very high in all of them that ships are not lifted.. in fact some of the smaller boats are sunk in sadness. 

I mention the sunk in sadness after talking to two women who are longtime quilters.. like 40+ years.. they no longer want to go to shows or to enter shows since they feel there is little to no chance for their work to be appreciated when these big name quilts are part of the competition.. this makes me sad. 

I heard similar thoughts expressed as I loitered around the show a bit ( yes .. I was eavesdropping) and while some found inspiration I would say a fair number felt more defeated than anything and that is not good for the long term health of quilt shows.

The flip side of course is that those who have created these awesome quilts deserve to have their work seen and many use the money won to finance the creation of their newest masterpiece so having the quilt travel to multiple shows is the best way for that to happen. 

Alas this cycle is vicious and leaves many others out of the joy when it comes to having a chance for their moment in the sun especially when it comes to smaller regional shows. 

The business of regional traveling quilt shows is big money and is controlled by a small number of  companies that make these events happen. Without them there would be few quilt shows past those sponsored by local guilds and yet when an industry catches it's participants by the short hairs this way there is little  to do unless they become vanguard of change thus helping all ships rise.

I want to see these stellar quilts.. I want others to see them. I want the quilt creators to make money in some way to continue their art or make a living wage ( as a note do not get into show quilting for the money.. even if you win a lot it is not a way to get rich) but what I don't want to see is the same quilts dominate each and every show they enter.

I don't know the answer but I suspect it has something to do with the quilt show producers paying the owners of these magnificent quilts a percentage based on show attendance and putting these amazing quilts in a show only /non-competing category of their own after they have won a certain number of awards or ribbons. 

Let their quilts be admired, and photographed and studied. Let them make money on their talent while still letting all boats rise on the positive tide that is quilting. 

What say you... is your personal boat lifted by your time at quilt shows?


Anonymous said...

I have never ever heard anything about quiltmakers being paid by show producers, never! I have been quilting over 30 years. The thought of this has never even entered my mind either. I do not think it would be kosher or even legal. I believe you are making a very dangerous assumption here. The closest to this would be quilts or groups of quilts that have been invited to show in a special exhibit, such as the Hoffman challenge quilts. There are enough shows and enough competition to have the quilts spread all around. Every quilt simply can not enter every show and win. There are enough small local shows for everyone to enter. The whiners are just making excuses why they did not enter. The quilters that take the ribbons deserve them. They worked hard on their entries. It is not cheap to enter shows. There are entry fees, shipping, photography if the quilts are juried, many are appraised and insured. They deserve every penny they win. In the largest show near me we have one lady that enters every year and wins every year. Does that make me not want to enter? NO! It challenges me to do better work!
Nan in FL

FatQuarterQuiltFarm said...

WOW. and A-effing-Men!!! I have felt this SAME WAY after visiting 2 smaller Regional/Local shows this past year in my State. It feels like a handful of Professional International players swarming the local little league and gobbling up all the ice cream/prize $$/ribbons.
Yes its great to be able to see these multi-big show winning quilts in person from Festival/MQS/MQX/AQS/NQA... but it is disheartening to realize (when you get to the local/regional show) that you were competing with a quilt(s) that had already made that circuit and WON many ribbons at those shows!Which begs the question.. WHY does that quilt need another prize, ribbon,$$(more ice cream LOL) etc from a regional/local show? Maybe a possible solution would be to have an "international professional category" and then the rest of us non celebrity -super stars can compete on a more even field.Personally, I dont enter many quilt shows but I do get a thrill when I see one of us "little people" win a big ribbon/prize. Here are a couple of terms that come to mind. Prize Bully. Ribbon Ho. Thank you for bringing this controversial topic to light.It's been a bee in my bonnet since this last March!!

Robyn of Coffee and Cotton said...

Excellent post Maddie.
Nan in FL I think you may have misread Maddie's words. She was not making an accusation she was offering up a possible solution with her statement "don't know the answer but I suspect it has something to do with the quilt show producers paying the owners of these magnificent quilts a percentage based on show attendance and putting these amazing quilts in a show only /non-competing category of their own after they have won a certain number of awards or ribbons. "

Maddie Kertay- The Domestic Anarchist said...

Dear Nan,

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I would ask that you go reread what I wrote and see that I have not nor would I even suggest anything that would be shady or unethical.

What I have suggested is that those who have already won in multiple other venues give room to others to compete while still being able to make money on their quilts not as being part of the competition but as paid exhibit quilts at multiple different shows.

I am glad that you are personally lifted by the same person winning each year in your local show and no doubt this person is a wonderful quilter and deserves to have her work seen I just would like to see other ways for this to happen giving others the chance to shine as well.

Unknown said...

I quilted competitively for over ten years, and while occasionally discouraged at not progressing as fast as I would like, I never blamed anyone outside myself (or really competed with anyone besides myself). Mostly I WAS lifted up to see what could be done with the medium and to learn what the standards were (and which ones I wanted to ignore).

Some people care about and worker harder at things than others. I've been skating since I was five. I will never be able to compete with the professional skaters, because they care more and try harder than I do. This has never lessened my personal enjoyment of skating or of attending competitions.

I'm proud of the ribbons I earned over the years, but I enjoy my quilting just as much now without that part of it. If I had only won the ribbons because the better quilters had been excluded from competition, they would be meaningless to me. There are plenty of exhibit opportunities for those who feel stifled by competition, and plenty of gratification to be had from quilting in so many different ways.

Lisa Sipes said...

I have to disagree with you here, Maddie.
First of all, even if those big name quilters weren't entering their quilts (and GA Quilt Show is NOT a small regional show, it's a popular national show), there would still be other quilters of their caliber entering, just their names are not as known.
I have been entered into shows that did not award first place ribbons in certain categories. Yes, they could have awarded the second place quilt the first place ribbon, but they didn't. Because the second place quilt did not meet the criteria of a first place ribbon, and neither did any of the others in that category.
I could go on and on about this topic.
The point of quilt shows and entering/attending them is to gain some perspective, see what else is out there, be inspired, and get a critique. That critique is intended to help to point out areas in which you need improvement and also the areas in which you excel.
Some people take those critiques and put them to good use so that they can BECOME the caliber of quilter that wins top prizes. Others take the critique and get offended wondering why they weren't "good enough". We all have the ability to be "good enough". It's a matter of the drive and ambition to get us to the point where WE think we should be.
If you don't want to compete (you collectively, no you you), then don't compete.
If you don't want to compete against big names, enter guild shows, county and state fairs.
Each show quilt has a maximum three year life span. In that three years, it is only smart for the maker to enter it in as many shows as possible to try to recup some of their costs in making it and shipping it all over the place. It sucks that you can never know who is entering where so you never know who you're going to be up against, but personally I wouldn't want a ribbon from a show where I wasn't competing against the best of the best.
For me, it is an honor first to be accepted into a juried show, second to have my quilt hanging in the same exhibit hall of some of the major forces in the quilting industry, and then the icing on the cake is if I'm actually honored a ribbon.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I did misread that comment and I reread it several times, so maybe it is not worded the best. I doubt if what you suggest would ever happen. 1) the quilt show producers would not do it and 2) It is unfair to the quiltmakers. They should be free to enter any show they can according to the rules. There are plenty of rules and regulations and each show has their own set of them. Some do exclude certain quilts or put them in certain categories. There are certainly many, many shows with a professional category so "regular" quiltmakers are not competing against them. There are categories just for quilts that are longarm quilted. Houston does not even allow entiries not completely made by the quiltmaker.
There is another local show near me that excludes any quilt that has already won an award. And you know what? It is usually a piss poor show.
To me this is all sour grapes.
Nan in FL

Maddie Kertay- The Domestic Anarchist said...

Thanks to everyone who has commented so far.. great to hear from all sides of this issue!!

Keep them coming! :)


FatQuarterQuiltFarm said...

OK Lisa I totally get what you are talking about (getting into Big shows with Big players is a Big deal)but what I've seen was at 2 different Non Juried SMALL shows( meaning first registered gets in)Is it just a prize $$ thing at that point?? ... to recoup the cost of entering like you mentioned? Still feels like Elvis won the local Idol auditions...LOL .. to me.

Lisa Sipes said...

Susan, usually local/regional shows have rules about who is allowed to enter. So if it is people from beyond your geographic area, it is likely that it is not a truly regional show, but a national one. I'd have to know which show(s) you're talking about to know for sure.
I understand your not wanting to say it in public and I have things to say that I'd rather not say in public as well.
But it IS possible for the "little people" to take home prizes in the big national shows. I'm not a celebrity and I haven't competed much, but I've managed to beat some heavy hitters so far. So keep your head up, keep improving, keep striving for the greatness you want to achieve and if you're to the place where you want to be, then that's all that really matters. The fact is that you're never going to be able to please every judge. So at least be sure that you're pleasing yourself (NOT LIKE THAT, SICKO!) :)

Robyn of Coffee and Cotton said...

Lisa I love your comments. Though you disagree with Maddie you are fair and gracious... AND you give your name... AND you don't stoop to name calling. Other than Sicko :-) heh

Chloe said...

Who knew the depths of intricacies of the quilting world. Thank you for showing me a glimpse inside.

FatQuarterQuiltFarm said...

ok meaning small shows that ANYBODY can enter not specifically region limited.I would call one of the shows a "National Wanna-be's" because they are starting to hire big names for the "show and attraction part" For an example: They( the show attendees) had never seen nor heard of a longarm.( at least the ones I was demo-ing to). Again so very weird to attend this new show (4th year next year)where they have extended the registration deadline ( to have enough quilts) to BOOM international heavy hitters exhibiting. I'm really not concerned personally competing against/with the Big Names.. it just seems like some of the big names cant ever get enough attention/ prizes /publicity to the point of over saturation .Maybe its because we see so much over and over all the time on the internet,FB and in magazines.

Mom said...

I have hesitated to comment, because I have much to say on the subject, and because I suspect that part of your rant is directed at people just like me. Or me specifically. The fact of the matter is this show is NOT a small regional show, anymore. I have entered quilts 3 years now, and like almost every other show in the country which I have entered, the caliber of quilter has increased. This year, there were probably the fewest number of hand quilted pieces. The good hand quilters, like the good machine quilters, though are in this business for the same things: recognition anywhere and everywhere, ribbons and prize money. We enjoy making quilts for shows, and like the process of sending them to shows. For me personally, I need the small bit of incremental income that earning a ribbon provides. I get quilting referrals from each and every show that I enter. The more people that see your work, the more business it generates. It's not purely a hobby here. I'll admit to being frustrated to seeing certain names (which I will leave off at this juncture) at a "smaller" show like this. It makes an up and coming quilter like me just want to run and hide because there is NO way of competing with them, ever. There are venues like Houston, Paducah and R2CA that are appropriate, so sending their quilt to Georgia is like squashing a bug dead with a steam-roller. You just want to scream "Go play in your own sandbox" loudly, but you can't. This is a gentile hobby in which we all have to play by a proper set of rules, despite the feelings of gross inequity. My best suggestion if you wish to visit more shows or place quilts in more shows, is to use them to your advantage. Know that there will always be those "untouchable" quilters. Go away from the show experience with new ideas that you could put into your own work. I try not to be offended by judges comments, even today with more than 40-50 shows under my belt. I know that one quilt may get lackluster comments at one show, but will take a high ribbon at another. Just take one thing from the comments and roll with it. I have learned how to bind quilts well, and to never lose points there. It's a small thing, but in this business, all small things add up to a big thing. The most important thing, probably, that I have taken away this year is to make what you like. Ultimately, if it is made well, quilted originally, the judges will reward you. Some will always like it more than others. That's a fact. The same is true for those that go to quilt shows. Carry your thick skin with you. You may not always hear words you appreciate, so smile and ignore. In Maine, many of the granny quilters are not fans of crystals. My quilts have had more and more of them each year, and I know that you just gotta ignore their comments. They said these very same things a few years ago when more and more quilts were being machine quilted. Opinions. Opinions. Opinions. Long winded this morning...Upshot: Quilting is a business. The more you learn and enter shows, the better your chances become at placing. The show quilters are not just going home to their home states to wait for their local shows. They are all over and that is not changing. Embrace that because these are the very people whose work inspires us in unimaginable ways to excell at this lovely craft we do. JMHO.

Unknown said...

I had no idea. No idea!
Obviously, feelings run deep in the quilting world!
I really enjoyed your post, Maddie, and reading the comments. Clearly, your post touched a nerve.
I thought you made some very valid points, and gave a creative suggestion for how the problem might be addressed.
I think my favorite metaphor in the comments was about Elvis winning the local talent show: ha! But it illustrates the point well, that perhaps at the smaller shows, there might be an area where quilts that have already won several shows might be displayed.
Thanks for the insights I just gained into the creative world of quilting, where folks feel very passionately about their art.
And shouldn't we all?
For the record, I never once heard you attacking people, Maddie. Just examining ideas, stating a problem that you see within a system, and offering potential solutions for the problem you see. How else do issues get resolved, unless we begin with discussion?

Gene Black said...

I have never entered a quilt show other than an online show. The simple reason is that I experienced much the same thing when I entered art shows. The same people won everything all the time. And while they did good work, theirs was not always the best or most creative in the show. It seems they were given extra points for having "a name." After all the press likes a big name to win - thus if a big name wins, you get more press.
It really bothered me when someone who had won with the same painting (for a time span of 3 years) was entering in the local show and they weren't local.
So I don't enter quilt shows so that I don't get discouraged with being a creative quilter.

Karen Marchetti said...

Maddie -- I agree so much with what Lisa said. And there is a "circuit" of quilt shows as they can only be shown for x amount of years. We were talking about this last night, and it's taking me til now to comment. Sometimes it's hard for me to take my feelings/thoughts and translate them into words... so let me say this: Do it because you love it - not because of a possible ribbon and/or paycheck -- they are just icing. Compete to create better skills and standards. Grow thicker skin... there are mean people out there - sometimes they use words to make themselves feel better. To sum it up... quilt it out, put your heart and soul in it, and share it with the world!

Anonymous said...

Your idea for changing it makes total sense to me. And I totally get the defeat. I've done weekly writing things where the same people win, and it deflates me. I feel like I'm not known enough to be an award-winning writer. That's a silly reason to get sad, but it exists in me nonetheless.

Lisa H Calle said...

I have been thinking about this for a good portion of the afternoon…. Here are my thoughts for what they are worth….
I remember when I first started to throw my hat (quilt) in the ring. I was so green you could have called me Kermit the frog. I was blown away by what the so called "big names" could do. I walked away thinking boy I have a lot to learn.
The quilts that won at that show went on to other shows and won there as well. They certainly were deserving of the awards they received. Instead of thinking that it was unfair, it encouraged me to best the best that I could be. Most of these "big names" also teach and are more than happy to pass on their knowledge to the rest of us.
I believe that anyone can compete and I encourage them to do so. I look back at those first competition pieces and love them. They taught me a lot about myself and my craft. Through the process I have found my own "style" as well. I make my quilts, not with the judges in mind, but with what will stretch me the most as an artist. If the judges like it great but if they don't, no sweat because I love it!

We all put a lot of time and money into our quilts whether they are for show or not so all I can say is ENJOY THE JOURNEY!

Anonymous said...

Well, I posted a big long commentary, but was told I do now own my identity. Talk about an identity crisis!

Anyhow, kudos to you, Maddie, for posting this!

Anonymous said...

NOT! NOT own my identity...

Anonymous said...

As far as I know and I will ask around a bit but NO QUILTER is ever paid part of the percentage from the show. If they earn anything it's the prize money from the ribbon won. Sometimes that covers the cost of a quilt and most of the time not.

A few months ago one of my quilts ribboned in a regional show that has special meaning to me. I worked damn hard on that quilt as did the gal I compete with. There is no prize money at this particular show but I was told that I should not have ribboned because. . . whatever the reason. Truth be told I was bothered by it.

I understand the feelings of inadequacy because I have them. I LIVE THEM. Even with a recently won ribbon. I know the location of each flaw on that quilt and know where I could have done better and that is even before I get the judges comments back.

I want to compete with the "big girls" and that's - my - choice. I want to get the feed back from the judges, I want to teach in your area, I want to play in your sandbox because I want to get to know you as a quilter. See if I enter your show you might invite me to your guild and then I can get to know you a bit better. If I don't enter your show I might not have that opportunity and it would be an opportunity squandered on my part.

Quilting is a gift in my life. I won't complain about what I can't do because the list is long. I can quilt, its my one talent, it's what I LOVE. I want to share that with you.

Maddie Kertay- The Domestic Anarchist said...

Thank you for all the great thoughts and comments.. I value what each of you brings to the conversation!