Christa’s Soapbox: Thoughts About Being a QuiltCon Juror 2019

QuiltCon – the modern quilting show and conference hosted by The Modern Quilt Guild – has recently opened quilt submissions for their 2020 show, so I thought now would be an appropriate time to share about what it was like to be on the jury for this year’s show.

I’ve attended every event since the first one in 2013, have been lucky enough to have at least one quilt in every show, and have taught there 3 times so far (2016, 2017, 2019). In fact, I credit QuiltCon and The MQG with changing the course of my quilting career – for the better! So it was quite an honor and great responsibility when they invited me to be on the jury for the 2019 show, which took place in Nashville in February.

Cute QuiltCon Ribbons

QuiltCon award ribbons from the very first show in 2013

Now as you can imagine, I’m taking a bit of a risk here in even talking about this publicly since I know what a heartbreak it can be when your quilt doesn’t get in. Trust me, I’ve read enough “what were they thinking??” comments on social media to make my stomach turn. And I really do wish I could reach out and give every single person a huge hug for entering your gorgeous, wonderful, fabulous quilts!! It was truly a pleasure to see all 1800+ of them!!

Therefore, I thought it would be helpful and educational to talk about the experience in an open and honest way, with my hope for you to understand more about the process. I’ll be as transparent about it as I can, and would ask you the courtesy of being polite in your comments about this post.

My Quilt, “Charming Chevrons” hung in the very first QuiltCon in 2013!!

What’s a Juried Quilt Show?

First of all, let’s start with the basics. A “juried” show means that in order to display your quilt in the show, you must fill out an artist statement and include a high quality digital image of your finished quilt. A  panel of “jurors” (usually 4-5 people) look at each and every submitted quilt and then vote on which ones they believe should be a part of the show. The number one reason why a show is “juried” is simply because of supply and demand. There are only so many spots to hang quilts, and the number of entries far out weighs the number of spots available.

For example, each year QuiltCon receives approximately 1500-1800 entries and only has room for about 350 quilts. So that means 3 out of 4 quilts simply will not hang in the show due to space constraints. By comparison, a large national show (such as Road to California, Paducah, AQS, etc.) will likely have space to display 600-700 quilts or more, and my guess is that they don’t get anywhere near as many quilt entires. In fact, a friend recently told me that the upcoming International Quilt festival in Houston was able to accept about 75% of the quilts submitted this year. So please keep that in mind as I share more thoughts below.

To be clear, the JURY process and the JUDGING process are done by completely different people. The jury decides which quilts will hang in the show for the  judges to see.

Spiraling out of Control

My quilt, “Spiraling out of Control” hung at QuiltCon in 2015. Some day I’ll make a pattern!!

The QuiltCon Jury Process

Most of what I’m sharing here has been shared publicly so I’m not spilling any well-kept secrets. It’s up to an individual juror to decide whether or not they want to let others know they were part of the jury (after the show has ended of course). For obvious reasons, most people tend to stay silent about it.

Click here to read QuiltCon’s published judging and jurying documents.

In a nutshell, each juror takes a look at each and every single quilt that has been entered and gives it a numerical ranking. No juror knows how any other juror is voting and the final number is based on an average of all scores by all jurors. The juror gets to see two images of the quilt – an overall shot and a detail image. They can also read the artists’ statements if they so choose, but the juror does NOT see the names of who submitted each quilt. In this way, jurying is “blind” and fair.

The quilts that get the highest ranking are then accepted into the show, up until the maximum number of entries.  When there is a tie – usually for the mid-range of scores above the cutoff – the jury meets to discuss those quilts in more detail and decide which ones will be accepted until the total has been met. The MAJORITY of quilts fall into this category. So if yours didn’t make it in, I’m sure it barely missed the cutoff! (So try, try again!!)

The only category that was not juried was the youth category (quilts made by members under the age of 18). According to The MQG FAQ, “in order to encourage the next generation of quilters, in this category at least one quilt is accepted per quilter, should space permit it.” So if you know a child that wants to get involved with the show, I highly recommend encouraging them to enter!

My quilt, “Focal Point” from my first book hung at QuiltCon in 2016.

The Jury Takes Their Job Very Seriously

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard false rumors that the jury has an “agenda” on which type of modern quilt will be accepted (or not). That’s simply not true. I can tell you from my experience that the jury is a well-rounded group of folks with diverse backgrounds, quilting experience, and areas of artistic expertise. However, one thing the jury all has in common is that they make modern quilts and understand the modern aesthetic.

I can only speak to my experience doing this one time, but I can assure you that we were not instructed to favor any type of quilt over any other, we were not told to create a certain look for the show (other than modern) and we were expected to look at the quilts objectively without bias or favoritism. If we felt we couldn’t judge a quilt fairly on its own merits, then we could recuse ourselves from judging that quilt. There was no absolutely no drama when it came to any discussions and the whole experience was completely professional.

The jury IS allowed to enter a quilt into the show, (as are the judges) but they are NOT allowed to be judged- AND the jurying is still blind. So none of the jury knew if they were voting on other members quilts! For full disclosure, I did get ONE quilt juried into this year’s show – my Blooming Wallflowers quilt – but I had entered two more that didn’t get accepted. So yes, I got those “reject” letters, too!!

Diamond in the Rough Quiltcon 2017

My quilt “Diamond in the Rough” hung in QuiltCon 2017 and was in QuiltCon magazine that year.
It will be part of the Aurifil exhibit at this year’s International Quilt Festival in Houston.

Why Quilt Photography Can Make or Break Your Quilt

Unfortunately, there were a number of quilts that weren’t accepted simply due to poor photography. If we can’t tell if it’s finished or not, if we can’t see the quilting, if we can’t see the edges or the binding, it most likely won’t get in. If there are people in the quilt photo blocking the quilt, we can’t see what you are trying to show.

Also, some people try to get a “leg up” on the competition by creating a collage of more than one photo in the same image which usually works to their detriment. If we can’t tell what we are looking at, it most likely goes in the “not accepted” pile. We don’t need to see the back of the quilt unless that’s the side you are entering. Just show the front on a clear flat surface, with nothing distracting in the picture. And don’t “style” the shot. We just want to see the quilt, not a beautiful background or distracting props.

Also, it breaks my heart to see a quilt entry with poor lighting or fuzzy focus. There have been times where I’ve seen a gorgeous quilt photo later on social media (after the entries have been finalized) and I thought, why didn’t they use THAT image for their entry instead of the fuzzy one?? So again: good, clear, well-lit, uncluttered photography is a MUST.

Color Weave Quilt

The original version of Color Weave hung at QuiltCon in 2018.
it was in Modern Quilts Unlimited Magazine which is now sadly out of print!! 

My Personal Thoughts

The biggest take away from my experience on the jury is that it was extremely fair. For me, it was a very touching and heart-warming experience to look at each and every one of the quilts and read ALL of the artists’ statements. Some brought me to tears, others made me my heart sing with joy, and many made me think deeply about their work.

With over 1800 quilts to look at, I didn’t keep track of the hours and hours and HOURS I spent viewing all of the amazing, wonderful quilts. But It was the most uplifting quilting experience I’ve ever had – and if there were enough room, I would have accepted them all. I truly felt it an honor to interact with these quilts in such an intimate way.

One of the coolest things I heard this year was that so many quilters who were rejected previously were able to get something in this year. So you never know until you try. And I’ve seen many quilters who didn’t make it into QuiltCon go on to enter (and win) in other shows.

So I welcome your thoughtful questions and kind comments about the process. Of course I can’t speak to any individual quilts in the show as to why they were or were not accepted. And due to the sheer numbers of of quilts involved, there’s no feasible way to share individual juror feedback on any of the quilts. But what I can do is encourage you to enter future quilt shows.

Blooming Wallflowers by Christa Watson QuiltCon 2019

My one and only quilt that was juried into QuiltCon 2019 – Blooming Wallflowers.

It was so wonderful for my fellow jurors and I to be entrusted with your quilts. We all volunteered our time because we are just as passionate about quilts as you are. So please, if you entered a quilt and it didn’t get in, don’t think badly of the process, of THE MQG, or of your quilt. I can tell you personally that I saw your quilt and LOVED it – and would encourage you to keep making quilts, and PLEASE keep sharing them with the world!

I’m happy to continue this discussion in the comments as long as everyone plays nice. 🙂

25 thoughts on “Christa’s Soapbox: Thoughts About Being a QuiltCon Juror 2019

  1. Pip says:

    Thank you for sharing your insights on the jurying process. When I enter quilts in juried shows I never expect them to be accepted, but if they are then that is a win already. I’m attending Quiltcon in 2020 and I’m planning on submitting at least a couple of quilts, whether they are accepted or rejected it won’t matter as attending Quiltcon has been on my list for a while and it is going to be a wonderful experience.

  2. Zina says:

    Thank you for this post, Christa. I have entered several quilts into Quilt Con and have yet to get one accepted. It’s nice to know the behind the scenes process, and I will keep trying to get one into the show. Competition is stiff, and that’s a good thing!

  3. Lucy Blum says:

    Great article, Christa. I’ll be attending QuiltCon for the first time in 2020!!. I didn’t submit anything but would like to in the future. Does the quilt pattern need to be designed by the maker or can we submit any quilt/pattern?

    • Christa says:

      How wonderful that you’ll be able to attend! The quilt pattern does NOT have to be designed by the maker. However, in my experience, original designs seem to do better.

      Christa Watson Instagram @christaquilts website/blog: ChristaQuilts.com

  4. ANGIE TERRY says:

    Thanks for sharing this. So much information here.

    I noticed at QuiltCon2019, that one of the displayed quilts from the Michael Miller Challenge had used the wrong shade of one of the Hash Dot fabrics. It really stuck out to me when among the other quilts. I wondered why it was chosen since it obviously didn’t follow the guidelines. Now, after reading your post, I realize that in the jurying process, the fact that an Incorrect shade was used probably didn’t register in the photo that was being used. Thanks again for the info!

  5. FlourishingPalms says:

    I’m so glad you finally posted about this Christa! Though I was aware of your thoughts on the subject, I’m glad to see them all laid out. I have no doubt that jurying is a challenging job, and that you and your co-jurors went through the process thoughtfully, and with lots of time and car. Thank you for that! As much as I appreciate everything you said, whether it’s QuiltCon, AQS, Road to California, or whatever show, knowing all this still doesn’t alleviate the sting of being turned down – once, twice, three times. It’s tough to pick oneself up and try again.

  6. Maribeth Benedict says:

    Once again I am proud to see your development over the years. I love keeping up with all your experiences. Thanks for giving me an inside view. I especially appreciate your comments on judging as I started the process to become a certified judge partly because of your blogs and connections. Thank you, thank you, and thank you!

  7. Carole Lyles Shaw says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience as a quilt judge, Christa. I ‘shadowed’ the jurying process for QuiltCon a couple of years ago. Your insightful and thoughtful observations definitely tracked with the approach that the Jurors took the year that I shadowed them.

    I’ve submitted to many other national/international and regional shows. Some give feedback –some do not. Some of the quilts that I submitted have been rejected by one show and then won a ribbon at another show. I hate reject letters and I remind myself that it’s not personal.

    Like Christa, I encourage modern quilters to submit to other shows. Your chances are higher (in terms of the percentages) and you might get a bit of feedback. But, don’t expect in-depth critiques. I’ve shadowed judges at several quilt shows, and usually the Judges have only 2 or 3 minutes per quilt to make their comments for the scribes–it’s just not physically possible for them to give a long critique.

    I am very impressed with the job that Judges do for shows. Usually, in my experience, they get it mostly right AND they inevitably regret that there are quilts that they wish they could have accepted but couldn’t due to lack of space. They make tough calls with their heads and their hearts. The quilt world is lucky to have such talented and dedicated people willing to do such a tough job.

  8. Abbie Bill says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Very informative especially not knowing the process. I have a question and it’s probably not even feasible-do they give feedback to those that didn’t get in?As to possible reasons why. ie: quilting, lighting, not good photo, etc.

    • Christa says:

      I wish it were possible to give feedback with every quilt, but with the sheer volume, it’s just not possible. It would delay the acceptance process by weeks, just because of the time involved to do that. However, judges do give feedback on the quilts that were accepted which is super helpful 🙂

      Christa Watson Instagram @christaquilts website/blog: ChristaQuilts.com

  9. Kim from Calgary, Alberta, Canada says:

    Thank you so much for your insight and knowledge into the how the juried part of a juried show works. Your article was very clear and informative. Having your work rejected isn’t a great feeling, but understanding the process may make it easier for some to accept.

  10. Hedy says:

    You wrote a lovely and thoughtful blog about the jury process. Very encouraging to fellow modern quilters, I hope they try again and again. Pictures are so important and I’m glad you stressed that clearly.

  11. Heather B says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience and for all your hard work on the jury!!I love hearing that quilts that may have been rejected one year are accepted another.

  12. Sue Sweeney says:

    You actually have done the community a service by giving us a peek into the jurying process. I really hate those “what were they thinking”-type comments on quilts chosen for shows. No one wants rejection, of course, but each of us has a certain aesthetic that needs to be respected.

  13. Martha Cook says:

    Thank you for sharing a very impartial view of the process. Also the advice and encouragement to quilters to just take that step and participate.

  14. Maryanna says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience and this inside info with us! I have not yet submitted any entries to quilt shows, but I have been considering it. I appreciate the encouragement!

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