QuiltCon/Quilt Show Fun

Road Booths1I’ve been entering quilt shows since about the time I moved here to Southern California.  The closest one was Road to California, and in those days, I always was accepted.  Schooling interrupted my quilting, and when I got back to my craft, the ground had shifted underneath me.  I couldn’t get my quilts accepted any more.

I felt pretty badly about this the first time it happened, especially since the quilts I saw at the show seemed to be all spangle and sparkle and glitz and flash, along with quilting that was perfection, due to the advent of the longarm-quilted piece.  To say I was discouraged would be an understatement.

Grading Research Papers

I kept trying, and kept getting rejected. It felt a lot like grad school, where I’d write up my short story, or poem, and take it into workshop and they’d get out their figurative knives, blades, guns and other weapons and slash my pieces to bits, then shoot holes in them.  I think I cried all the way home that first time, but it got easier to separate myself from my work, and take the critiques in stride.  Some were helpful.  Some were NOT helpful.  I had to know that my writing still had value and worth, and to keep going.  It was the work that mattered.

Fast forward to this week, watching the feed blow up on Instagram as people cooed or moaned about their acceptances/rejections to QuiltCon.  Whether the organizers like it or not, they have created a couple of problems and I was watching the fallout happen in realtime, in people-time, as comments started flying.  The problems most prevalent appeared to be:

Sign Quilt Show

1) Too many entries.  This came about because there was no limit on how many quilts could be entered.  I haven’t checked every show, but the ones I’m familiar with limit how many quilts you can enter.  Because QuiltCon had 1300+ entries, and maybe only space for 400 quilts, well. . . you do the math.  But the odd thing was this line in the rejection letter (yes, I got rejected on all three of my quilts): “Please do not be discouraged. We received more than 1,350 quilt submissions and the jurors had to make many difficult decisions.”

This was weird how they commented on the recipient’s emotional state and then flipped it around so that the person being rejected should feel sorry for the jurors and their difficult work of wading through over a thousand quilts in order to chose the ones they wanted for their show.  Just the facts are necessary: “You didn’t get in.  It was a good effort.  Try again next time.”

Timna Tarr’s Valley Snapshots

2) The perception that there is a mysterious criteria that determines who gets in and who doesn’t.  The key word is “perception.”  And the perception, judging by what I read on IG, is that this mysterious set of rules is not given out to mere mortals, but only those in the inner circle, the claque, the clique, the friends and buddies of those running the show.  I can hear the snorting going on now.  Yep.  But this problem persists because the modern quilt movement can’t figure out what it thinks is a modern quilt enough to be able to describe it, or communicate it to the masses.  People like me.  And then they hold a contest in which we are all supposed to submit, which feels very much like going to the top of a busy freeway overpass and throwing our quilts over the edge, watching them sink down into the morass.

On top of that, there seems to be an overabundance of graphic artists at the helm, or with some graphic arts training.  Might this not mean that the graphic punch, that visual snap, the elements of high contrast off the grid have become ascendent?  Maybe.  Then put that into the judging/juror criteria and disseminate it.

When I entered, I was surprised to see there were really no categories to select into.  Yes, there are categories, but I didn’t get to nominate my entries into any of those; the assumption is that those on the other end of my internet connection will do that for me, further confusing the experience.  So I don’t know if my quilt was judged against other similar quilts, or if it was thrown into the pool of 1300+ entires, with bleary-eyed jurors watching quilt after quilt pass by their eyes, until the whole thing collapses into Let’s Get This Done, sort of like I feel when I’ve graded too many papers in a row.  I have total empathy with the jurors, but perhaps there are some solutions that might rectify this difficult situation. I hope they find them.  And I hope the show I’m about to see in Austin in February will put aside some of my concerns and be a great experience.  I am happy for those who got in, and can’t wait to see the quilts.

Sol LeWitt's Patchwork Primer_finalone of my rejected quilts

But in the end, what matters?  Are you only as good as your last rejected quilt?  Or are you the sum total of your work, the cutting, the sewing, the creating?  Given the number of times I’ve been rejected, I could have melted into a puddle on my floor.  But my training in grad school, although sometimes painful, gave me stories like this one:  a famous author used to mutter to himself “I’ll show them this time,” every time he started a new novel.  And the knowledge that I am more than just my latest quilt.  And that I won’t melt if someone tells me “no,” although it feels really good when they tell me “yes.”

colorwheel blossom beauty shotanother rejected quilt, soon to appear here on the blog for the first time–stay tuned!

One lovely side effect of all this sturm und drag (storm and stress) is that I have loved the reading on the #quiltconreject and the #rejectedbyquiltcon hashtags on Instagram.  I’ve been introduced to some fine new quilters, and fallen in love some new works from familiar quilters. It’s been quite the wild ride.


Yes, the modern quilt movement may or may not survive the problems I mentioned above.  But it’s not really my concern.  My concern is to get going on the next quilt, to say a hearty yes to this creative adventure.

23 thoughts on “QuiltCon/Quilt Show Fun

  1. I couldn’t give a flying fig about the MQG and what they claim to be modern or not. Having defined something with all their rules about negative space, etc makes me want to break all those rules and not conform at all. There’s several quilters I would actually identify in the #quiltconreject collective as being postmodern, a concept I am far more comfortable with and their quilts are stunning, there’s two in particular that I would buy right away if I had the bank balance to be able to pay what they’re worth. Latifah Saafir made an interesting post about how the selection works and as you’ve touched upon, personal preference of the judges comes into it and we are all so different so I’m glad you’re not too disheartened.

  2. Your quilts are amazing. I’d love to hang every. single. one.

    I didn’t enter anything because I couldn’t figure out what the rules were. I just didn’t feel like anything I’ve made or would make fit into the brief category descriptions they gave us to work from. Besides, I have that whole resistance to authority thing – they tell me what they want, I immediately (not even on purpose) start thinking of ways to bend the rules. I should be ashamed, but I don’t have it in me. hahahahaha!

    I do have to wonder though – as amazing as technology is – the jury process might be more successful if the jurors were all together in a room having conversations about the quilts they feel strongly about. Who knows, conversation might quell the wide range of subjective choices a bit. AND – I bet it would be a good experience for the jurors, maybe even change their eye a bit.

    Anywho, keep on keeping on. Can’t wait to see what is next!

  3. “Personal preference”, subjectivity………quilting is an ART and as such is subject to the same critiquing as sculpture, painting, etc, etc. Oh yes, there are (con)structural guidelines/rules that may be “checked off” but, generally, it falls into the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” category—-“public appeal”, if you will. It is very hard (impossible?) to give explanation to something that may fall into the ‘ethereal’ and evokes a ‘heart’ response. As (quilt) artists, we do what we do because we MUST but, make no mistake, it is equally important as to the reception (“perception”?) of our finishes for a “validation” of our efforts. I’m not speaking of the “Peoples’ Choice” category but rather acceptance by the designated peer group/event jury. This is where such things as blogs serve to encourage and inspire in the midst of such quagmires as the Mod Quilt Movement whose defining qualities seem to be more of a vapor than guidelines that may be explicitly communicated. Your quilts are beautiful, Elizabeth, and your inspiration and challenge to me personally is very much appreciated!!!! Major hugs and kudos to you on a post that is very much needed. I will be Reblogging this as it needs to be shared in its entirety!!!!!

  4. Reblogged this on Treadlemusic and commented:
    As Quilt Artists, what we do comes from our hearts. Appreciation and, yes, peer validation impact us but must not be taken as our sole reason for creating. We (and all other artists) create because we MUST!!!

    1. I have to agree with you Doreen. Who says any art form is good or bad? As you stated beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think the rejected quits are as perfect as the ones accepted. These shows and the winning entries make me refuse to enter my quilts. I would rather show them to friends and look at them in my home. We make what we enjoy and in a way that pleases us what other reason is there?

  5. The Quilt Expo in Madison Wisconsin is almost the opposite…you wonder how some of the quilts get in! They are poorly quilted and the color choices want to make you shutter. These are hung next to exquisite works of art. Your quilts inspire me. The color work is amazing.

  6. Wise words indeed! As one who had both her Quiltcon entries rejected I agree we need to move on and accept what has happened. I loved making both my quilts and in the end that’s all that matters. Onward and upward😄

  7. what is art, what is craft
    what is a quilt and what is art that uses fabric but not a quilt
    what is modern and what is not
    what is a career and what is a hobby
    what is accepted and what is rejected.
    difficult to attach words to creativity
    that’s why I enjoy shows that are not juried because there is something wonderful and interesting in all pieces, each tells a story.

  8. Great post Elizabeth. I think every quilt show has its issues. I’m glad that you are onto the next quilt. Your work is always lovely –and inspiring ; )

  9. This is the very reason I don’t enter my quilts. I don’t need to be judged. I make quilts to make people happy. Your quilts are beautiful. I like quilt shows but no judges. It’s art. Your list was very well written

  10. Like everyone else, I think your quilts are fab! I’ve never entered a quilt in a show but I’ve submitted academic papers for publication, etc., so I do have a sense of how this rejection-without-helpful-feedback feels. You just KNOW those quilt judges must have some criteria by which they are making their decisions. It’s only right and sensible that those criteria be shared with the makers!

  11. We have all experienced the feeling of rejection. If we haven’t we aren’t trying hard enough. It’s hard to put yourself out there and be turned down. It’s too bad there aren’t enough shows so that the good quilters can exhibit their art. I am reminded of the Salon des Refuses of 1863 that marks the debut of the Impressionist movement in Paris. Perhaps it is a time for a quilt show rejects show? I’d come!

  12. You are so articulate and I think you have some very good points. The whole definition, I think, is still a work in progress. Case in point, I’ve seen and heard some modern quilters define parts of modern quilting that are not in the definition but seem to be taken into account. Things like no feathers, a defined focal point, hard edges, industrial looking quilting rather than swirly quilting, etc. seem to rank higher on the list of what is considered modern (don’t shoot the messenger here!)

    Remind me when we meet again in person to share my biggest heart-wrenching rejection. It’s too hard to blog about, but something that was definitely a turning point for me and pushed me forward to where I am now.

  13. Interesting post, Elizabeth! Of course I zeroed right in on your comment about “an overabundance of graphic designers at the helm.” At the helm of the MQG? I don’t see that at all. Can you specify which MQG board members have graphic design training, because quite honestly I can’t think of a single one. I, of course, am a former graphic designer, but would hardly classify myself as being “at the helm” in any way. : )

    And, even if the overabundance-of-graphic-designers thing was true, why would that be a bad thing? In my personal opinion, I’ve always thought of modern quilting as graphic design in the form of fabric. In fact, I tell people that very thing in my trunk show lecture. And graphic design can be MANY things and can encompass a huge range of aesthetics. I consider every quilt I make—whether modern or traditional, minimalist or not—to be an example of graphic design in the form of fabric.

    And the final thing I want to say is that while I worked as a graphic designer professionally for over 10 years, I have zero formal training in design. My degree was in journalism—the closest I ever got to any design training was learning how to flow text into text boxes in QuarkXPress. One day I decided writing and editing was not going to pay the bills for me long-term, so I taught myself Photoshop and Illustrator and started applying for design jobs (and got one). My point being, graphic design is about as egalitarian a profession as there is. Anyone and everyone can be one, if they just have an eye for it and take the time to learn. And anyone and everyone can just as easily apply graphic design principles to their quilting. In fact, that’s one of the things I try to help people do in my lectures and classes. : )

  14. I enjoyed this post very much. You are such an amazing writer (are you tired of me saying that yet??) One of the perplexing things, to me at least, is that so many (at least it seems that way) had multiple quilts accepted, while so many didn’t have any. I wish the love had been spread around a little bit more.

  15. Yes, please, go forward with your amazing work! You don’t need judges validating your work, we quilter value it’s beauty and your abilities.

  16. Well the fall out to the whole Quiltcon entries has been very interesting to follow. I’ve bounced around a few blog posts, lots of hashtags and have decided I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said. I think perhaps most of the comments will have to wait until after the show so that we can see what was accepted – and how they are judged. I just realized that my step sis lives in Austin now. I’ll have to send her to the show and live vicariously. Oh, and I didn’t submit a single quilt. Pretty sure none of mine would actually qualify as modern!
    One comment that I haven’t seen anywhere and thought I would put out there. Our online community – where most Modern Quilters can be found – is so inclusive and positive and its so easy to leave nice comments, or to ‘heart’ a quilt on ig, that probably many of the people who submitted quilts haven’t dealt with either much rejection or even constructive criticism in regards to their quilts.
    And I do think your quilts are great. And I am way more jealous of you getting quilts into Road!

    1. I’m so glad I read to the end of the comments; I almost didn’t. Rachel, you’ve done a beautiful job of combining thoughts in this post and Elizabeth’s earlier post about our tendency to only praise. Not having a smart phone, I don’t do instagram, so I can’t confirm your theory–but it sounds possible.

  17. After reading several comments along this line–I don’t enter because I quilt for my own pleasure–I felt uncomfortable. An idea was forming. It’s not a binary. I don’t have to choose. I quilt for my own pleasure AND I enter juried shows. And though I am disappointed that my quilt didn’t get accepted, I have no less pleasure in it.

  18. I’m a little late to the conversation here but wanted to say how much I love your quilts and your writing Elizabeth! Both inspire me. I am sad that your quilts will not be displayed at QuiltCon but am happy this experience hasn’t curbed your enthusiasm for quilting or the upcoming QuiltCon. I can’t wait to meet you in February! Maybe we can stroll through the quilts on display together ;-))

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