QuiltCon: My Experiences as a Juror
Foreword: Hey - Steph here! Welcome to my article on serving as a juror for QuiltCon. QuiltCon is a yearly modern quilt show put on by The Modern Quilt Guild. The article below expresses my own opinions and experiences. However, the MQG has read through my blog post prior to publishing to ensure I'm not violating any concerns related to privacy. No need to alert the MQG that this article is here!
I was part of a jury for QuiltCon at some point in the past. For anyone not familiar with QuiltCon, it's a modern quilt show put on once per year by The Modern Quilt Guild. I've now attended the past 6 QuiltCons and most recently came back from QuiltCon 2023 in Atlanta!
QuiltCon is a juried and judged show. Artists submit quilts with two photos (a full quilt and a detail shot), a title, a description, and some answers regarding size, category, and design origin. A jury of ~5 people selects from the pool of submitted quilts to be shown based on photos and title, and a panel of judges (usually 3) meet in person to view these quilts and select award recipients for various categories. It is my understanding that the jury is typically made up of three modern quilters, one MQG board member, and one MQG staff member.
While I'm open in sharing my experience as a juror, the other non-MQG jury members that I juried with are unlikely to be as open. One of them plans to never share that they were a juror and I am sworn to keep their identity a secret!!
As a member of the jury, my responsibility was to rate all quilts from 1-5 (with 5 being the highest) based on guidance around the MQG's definition of modern quilting. I was not involved in the jury selection process, but my general take on jury selection is that jurors are selected from the pool of active MQG community members. I was not paid for my time, which totaled ~30 hours. I committed to jurying several months before the QuiltCon deadline.
After ratings are delivered, the jury is responsible for participating in a very long Zoom to finalize the juried selections. We are to remain anonymous during and after the selection process, unless we want to reveal ourselves. Below I break things down into a few phases of the jurying process.
Note on recusal: Before I dig deeper, I will note that I recused myself from my own submissions and 1-2 pieces made from my patterns. I was not following social media a ton, so I didn't have a strong sense of who made which quilts unless that quilter had a very identifiable artistic voice. Even if that was the case, I aimed to rate quilts as objectively as possible.
Weeks before the Deadline
Submissions are open for the two months before the QuiltCon submission deadline – now usually the end of October. A very large number of quilts are submitted in the last few days before the deadline.
A few weeks before the deadline, I was granted access and started rating quilts via an online interface. I spent very little time looking at the quilt title and did not have access to the maker or description. I spent time looking at the full quilt photo. I usually examined the detail photo and quilt dimensions when I rated above a 2. I gave no 5 ratings in the couple of weeks before the deadline. See "My Rubric” for details around my ratings.
Days Before and After the Deadline
Starting ~1 week before the submission deadline, I spent multiple hours per day rating quilts. There was enough volume to get a better picture of my own aesthetic/rating patterns. As I was in this period, I would often look at entire categories sorted by my ratings to shuffle quilts around to adjust scores (up or down). Because I had been keeping up with rating incoming quilts to some extent, my time-intensive commitment of rating quilts ran several days past the deadline, and by then I had a pretty clear heuristic that allowed me to review quilts quickly.
Access to the rating system was revoked a few weeks after the QuiltCon submission deadline.
Below is an example visual of the quilt rating interface. Note these are all my quilts dropped in for this fabricated example.
The Long Zoom
A couple of weeks after jury access was revoked to the system, the jury members and MQG reps met over Zoom to review the quilts. All quilts with a specific average rating were accepted into the show - each venue has a target range of accepted quilts and this threshold was determined by the staff. As a jury, we reviewed those quilts, where we mostly spent time ooh-ing and ahhh-ing or sharing how much we admired specific pieces for things like color, originality, or shape/line work. At the end of that period, we were told we better pick up the pace if we want to get through the process in 5 hours!
We then took a pass through the "bubble” quilts. For all the quilts that were automatically accepted, there were about 2-3 times that number of quilts that were in the bubble. These were quilts that averaged just under the accepted threshold. The jury spent more time going through these quilts, often debating whether or not the quilts should be juried in.
The conversation for these quilts often went like:
- Juror 1: "Oh, I'd like to look at that one. I'm surprised it wasn't in the first batch. I feel that the XYZ in this quilt fits the modern definition.”
- Juror 2: "I agree, but I didn't give it a higher rating because of XYZ.”
- Juror 3: — agreement, disagreement or indifference with one of the positions above —
- Juror 4: — agreement, disagreement or indifference with one of the positions above —
- [Original] Juror 1: "Ok, let's elevate/skip this one.”
The conversation was respectful and thoughtful, by my observation. Each of the jurors had different perspectives by design. Each of the jurors had an internalized definition of their interpretation of "modern quilt", and an interpretation of each category. While the modern quilting and category definitions overlap between jurors, I believe there is subjective interpretation of the definitions.
Sometimes my jury couldn't decide about a quilt and we saved a quilt to talk about at the end of the bubble quilts. Debate on those quilts revolved around how modern or traditional the quilt was or how much we should select on craftsmanship.
After we went through the quilts in the "bubble”, we went through the quilts below the bubble. We could elevate quilts from this group if we wanted to. There were few surprises for me in this group, though I remember wanting to discuss why a couple quilts were quilts that I rated highly in this group but others did not – more on that in the "My Aesthetic" section. I don't recall that we elevated any quilts from this group to be included in the show.
The Touchiest Subjects
Artists with Identifiable Styles
During the long Zoom, we were allowed to ask if a quilt with an identifiable style is made by that quilter with that identifiable style. If it is not made by that quilter, there could be discussion on whether that quilt brought a distinct enough artistic voice to differentiate from the identifiable style. Obviously, this is subjective. One quilt that might look a lot like it was made by a well-known quilter who teaches a class may not bring something unique or new, while other pieces may bring something unique and new, and that novelty is open to interpretation.
Artists with Quilts Exceeding the Max Limit Accepted
After dealing with the first (juried in), second (bubble), and third (not juried in) groups, we went through the list of quilters who had more than the maximum number of quilts accepted, now 4 quilts. This is a touchy subject. People have lots of opinions over how many quilts should be allowed per quilter. I generally submit a lot because my style has evolved quite a bit over the last few years and I'm not sure what will be accepted, especially because some of my work overlaps with art quilts.
Anyways, the group of quilters-with-over-max-acceptances is generally small. Acceptances from this set of quilts were made with considerations of variety and category placement. For example, my jury aimed to select the most distinct set of quilts to represent the artists' work, with a secondary goal of spreading that artist's work across different categories.
Before you read this section, I want to STRONGLY NOTE that this is my "rubric" and system that I established upon reviewing many quilts. I'm not sharing this to offend anyone, but I realize that it may offend people. I recognize that receiving non-acceptance emails can be extremely upsetting to artists who have poured their soul into their work. I am sharing these details with the best of intentions – to be honest in my 20% influence on a curated quilt show.
Throughout the jury experience, I developed a heuristic or rubric to rate quilts. I was not instructed to develop a rating pattern - I found that it materalized after reviewing many quilts. Here I break it down a bit:
- If a quilt appeared to be unfinished, I automatically gave it a 1. For example, if it looked like there was no binding, I gave it a 1. If it looked like it had no quilting, I gave it a 1. And yes - there were a number of quilts in this group.
- If a quilt was too traditional by my judgment, I gave it a 1. Call it a hot take, but there are many many other shows for traditional quilts. There were a number of really amazing quilts in this subset technically, but the aesthetic wasn't right for my curation of QuiltCon.
- If a quilt had a modern aesthetic by my assessment, but the idea wasn't developed enough, I often gave it a 2. For example, quilts in this subset might need just one more iteration or step in development. I wanted to give feedback to encourage, "Oh, please take this idea just a little bit further!!!” I feel that some of my own work lands in this subset.
- If the quilt was not an original design to my knowledge but had a modern aesthetic, I gave it a 2. I heavily indexed on originality.
- If a quilt appeared to be commercial in intent, I gave it a 2. This is touchy and subjective, but I generally feel that simple repeating blocks that land in the commercial domain for reproduction are not the quilts for QuiltCon. I also feel that these are the types of quilts that tend to be heavily marketed and seen on social media, so they won't be as novel at QuiltCon. There are absolutely exceptions here, though!
- By my observation, if a quilt had a modern aesthetic and was conceptually complete, I often gave it a 3 and it went into the category pool to be rated against other 3s and 4s.
- If a quilt was conceptually complete, had a modern aesthetic, appeared to have great execution, and it was an original and compelling design to me, I gave it a 4.
- I did not give quilts a 5 during my first pass of rating. I often went back to look at entire categories and elevated a quilts to a 5 when compared to the other quilts in the category. These tended to be quilts that had received a 3 or 4 and were then elevated by relative comparison.
Seeing the Show
I didn't have any mind-blowing prolific moments seeing the show that I was a part of jurying. It was fun to see some of the quilts that were heavily debated, and I'm glad they were shown!
If you are curious on how awards mapped to my ratings: A lot of my favorite quilts received awards, and a lot of them didn't. That's not surprising given the judges are completely different from the jury, and the judges experience all the quilts in real life, so they can appreciate detail and technique beyond photos.
My intent of sharing all of this is to share my experience so that you understand the process and consider how or whether it may influence your work. I hope it mostly doesn't, except for a couple of summarizing thoughts:
A Lot of Quilts
There are a lot of quilts submitted. There is so much amazing and inspiring work. Period.
I felt inspired seeing all the work, variety, and novelty in submissions. For every quilt that gets accepted into QuiltCon, there were a lot of quilts that were in the bubble, and there are a lot of amazing quilters who don't submit to QuiltCon in the first place.
QuiltCon is one curated show with one aesthetic with different jury members and judges every year. You can throw everything I wrote out the window because the jury is constantly changing! Any future jury candidates are likely making and experiencing art that will shape their view of modern quilting and how they might jury quilts. Some of you in the MQG community may know that there has been some effort put into the MQG definition of modern quilting – perhaps an updated definition will shape QuiltCons of the future.
There is no mechanism or [quite frankly] time for moving quilts between categories. The only quilts that I'm aware of that get moved are non-fabric challenge quilts moving into "small quilts” because they fall under the small quilt dimensions, or quilts that get moved into the group category when more than 3 people contributed to them.
While the MQG has historically reported that they move quilts between categories, I believe they no longer make this statement. Managing category placement of 2,000 quilts is too much work.
I even have my own challenges selecting categories. I was asked a few times this year why I put one of my quilts into modern traditionalism and then had a 10 minute conversation about it. Having a 10 minute conversation about the placement of 2,000 quilts puts us at about 333 hours, and that multiplied by 5 jurors would be a significant investment.
In my experience, there was no target amount of quilts accepted per category. If you are familiar with the QuiltCon category counts throughout the years, you know that some categories tend to have a higher quilt count. As a jury member, there was no category quota we targeted. Ratings and discussion drove acceptances on a quilt-by-quilt basis.
The negative space category is confusing to me and 80% of those who submit to that category. I recognize that there is a formal definition of this category for the show, but submissions have a wide range of interpretation.
There are great quilts in negative space, but I'm even more confused about the category definition after jurying.
I tended to index heavily in color or design complexity, and originality. During the Zoom, it was clear that my aesthetic preference was to highly rate pieces with complexity in design, color, or construction. I can usually reverse engineer less complex piecing, so I was less interested in jurying those pieces into QuiltCon - with notable exceptions (e.g. minimalism!).
I tended to give weird quilts a higher rating, usually because they overlap with my affinity to complex color or design. There were a few quilts featuring organic or weird shapes that I tended to rate highly over traditional, predictable layout and shape. My fellow jurors had less of an affinity for some of these weird quilts - we balanced each other out and that's great!!!
Strategizing or You Do You?
If you are one who aims to strategize to achieve acceptances or win awards, maybe this helps. I don't know if my particular rubric is of any value because of the rotating judge and jury, but my hope is to share the experience with transparency and reiterate the ~20% influence a single juror has on the overall selection for one show.
I think that you as an artist should aim to develop a strong and distinct voice that shines brightly in your artistic originality. Once you have an established and evolving voice, you might spend time executing in the way that you intend to execute for the intended design and use of your quilt. Some shows will favor technique and execution, and some may not. I appreciate those artists who refine their craftsmanship by making pieces from patterns - but that is coupled with the perspective that QuiltCon is not necessarily the show for those pieces.
The more you make, the more you can develop your skills and artistic voice. If QuiltCon happens to be one way that you share your original work, great! If not, that's great too - there are many other communities and opportunities to develop and share your work.