I recently sent a couple of my quilts off to Quilt Con – the first Modern Quilt Guild National Conference for the quilt show there.  I’ve never submitted a quilt for a formal juried show and I was nervous but excited.  I submitted two quilts into the show and was delighted when they were accepted to be part of the show.

The first was a small applique quilt I made as part of a swap.  It’s one of my favorites!

Secret Dreams

And the second was a Zig Zag Twin size quilt I designed and made as part of a QAL here on my blog.

I wasn’t able to be at Quilt Con myself.  The cost was prohibitive for me and I frankly needed that time to sew.  But it sounds like lots of people there had a great time.  And they helped keep Austin weird. 😉

I couldn’t see my own quilts in the show and lived vicariously through the pictures people took of the quilt show.  It was great fun to see all the quilts.

And then, the awards started coming out.  It was quickly clear that I was NOT a winner.  That’s okay.  Seriously.  I was fine.  I did have some hmm? moments about some of the winners but I chalked some of that up to not seeing the quilts in person.  I put that behind me and focused on my current work and the fun time I was having with some quilty friends in Atlanta that weekend instead.

Today I opened the box with my returned quilts from the show, excited to read the judges comments on my quilts.   Excitement quickly dwindled to confusion and then to heart ache as I read what they thought of my work.

Let me preface this by saying I do not know who the judges were and I DO NOT think that they were saying anything about me, Angela Pingel.  I feel that they were talking about my work.  And it’s awfully hard to distinguish that from myself but I’m working on it.  I feel no animosity towards the judges…I’m just sharing my experience with my first juried show.


This quilt… a little piece of me for sure, was unoffensive to them but definitely not their cup of tea.  They found nothing extraordinary about it and it was described as being “overly personal”.

Confusion.  Isn’t quilting about being personal?  Isn’t this about taking a piece of ourselves and putting it out there?  Is Modern Quilting just graphic images and straight lines at wonky angles?  I didn’t think so before this, but now I’m not sure.  There was no mention of the detail or work it took to make this.  Did I make it look too easy? lol  Because trust me.  It wasn’t.

So whatever.  Obviously not to their taste.  So I opened the letter to read about my zig zag quilt.  And my heart sank.


They pretty much hated everything about this one.  They didn’t like my fabric choices…thought they should be “more special”.  They DID NOT like the binding fabric – apparently it cut off the design of the quilt. ???  The quilting did nothing for them.  Apparently it did not accent the design of the quilt.  And the kicker.  They said it had NO VISUAL IMPACT.  They said it was not particularly modern (It was in the modern traditionalism category) nor original.


I’ve got to admit.  That was really hard for me to hear.  I cried a few tears and tried to understand what they would want.  I didn’t EVER think that my zig zag quilt had a chance in hell of winning anything.  I even joked with friends that I thought my quilt was accepted in order to make it obvious that their quilts should win (I think I was right on that).  But I didn’t realize that by entering it I was opening myself to this type of critique.  I want to have a conversation with them and explain that the fabrics were deliberately chosen to highlight the pattern and not the fabrics.  That the quilting was difficult and done by me on a conventional machine using 17 bobbins.  I thought that the juxtaposition of the large pebbles was interesting against the straight lines of the zig zag.

I wasn’t expecting puppies and rainbows but I don’t want to feel like it wasn’t worth their time.  Why did they accept it in the first place?  But most of all I struggle with the fact that they (whoever they are) have made me ASHAMED of my work.

I’ll recover.  I’ll move on, scarred but stronger.  It will certainly take a lot for me to ever enter a competition like this again.  I’d like to think I can take criticism but maybe I can’t.  I don’t have any other experience with juried shows so maybe this is what they are all like.  Regardless, they are not the place for me.  I feel less like I belong than ever before.

*shutting down the comments so we can all move on.  Please feel free to email me if you have further concerns.  I’m doing well and I will be happily sewing in the future.*

208 thoughts on “Judged”

  1. You are an artist, not just trying to fit a mold and win a prize. Don't let them get you down and please don't let them change you or your vision… I love what you do and most importantly, so do you! Remember that is what counts, ALWAYS.

  2. My first thoughts were: Ouch how harsh! I mean you don't get feed back like that from a county fair judging. Its either they like it or they don't and you get a ribbon or not. No feels are hurt. Then my next thought was; If they [the Modern Quilt Guild] keep boasting about how free form and open minded modern quilting is as far as designs go and then turn around be so harsh on the folks who enter, isn't about time someone sat down and put guide lines on what modern quilting is considered to be?

    I will be honest I adore your mini! It really does tickle my heart! I see the work that was put into it and if I had to choose a category for it, I would put it under art quilting because that is exactly what it is…a piece of art.

    Now that I think about it, now I see why the ladies in my non-modern quilt guild give me such discrimination when I say that I love modern quilting. Here I just thought that they did not get me. Now I see the underlining of it all and my next thought is: What hypocrites to put on a show as if they were judging traditional quilts!

    I guess you can chalk it up as an experience but I would not give up on entering your quilts in any more shows. If anything try entering into a traditional show to see what they have to say and I will guarantee that there will be some critique but nothing as harsh as what you received from the modern quilt guild. Oh, also keep this in mind when you do enter a show; is that it is not anything personal about you as a quilter but you are just at the mercy of the judge that day. That is something that I learned while being in 4-H as a kid. I know its a hard pill to swallow but once you get your mind set to it, you will be like: Whatever, I still love it no matter what you have to say!

  3. Dear Angela: I am feeling your pain on this issue. Long ago, I had some similar experiences with woven items I entered into juried shows. One piece had already been in a fairly prestigious art garment show in San Diego, and yet the judges in the small show in NM just tore it up. That is when I decided to leave judging my work to myself, and perhaps my peers, if I chose to ask for their opinions. I hope you can do the same. Those people are, after all, just other people who have opinions, and placed in a position as judges so they may feel compelled to say more than is necessary to make their points. Your work is just fine. Please don't be discouraged. Stay the course!

  4. This is ridiculous…it simply wasn't appropriate to write comments in that manner. I've only gotten a quilt into one juried show, and it was a traditional show. For all the complaining the "modern fok" do about the quilt policing the "traditional folk" do, I was pleasantly surprised by how nicely written it was – both comments that complemented (I mean, there was SOME reason why the quilt got in, this is why I don't understand the way they seemingly tore apart your quilts…) and offered constructive criticism. For example, instead of saying "you did your borders wrong", they said "don't miter your borders". Eh, I'll still miter if I want. But it was CONSTRUCTIVE…and I think that's why the comments you got were so inappropriate. They weren't constructive. They were just, I don't like this or this or this. That's not constructive and doesn't help anyone improve as a quilter. Saying what worked well about a quilt is even more important to help someone improve as a quilter, rather than only saying what is "wrong" about it. I disagree with their assessment ENTIRELY…but they should have at least been professional about the way they wrote it. That way you could disagree. They way the wrote it WAS attacking-seeming, and completely unnecessary. I'm sorry you had to experience this…bah. Can't believe this.

  5. Oh my, I am going to write this comment before I read all the others. I was at QuiltCon and I so loved seeing both these quilts in person. I remember watching the progress on your mini in the swap. It is a quilt filled with happiness and the wonder of the imagination. I love every thing about it. The zig zag quilt is another of my favourites. I remember your QAL and how I never managed to get moving. I love how you designed this particular zig zag and how you chose the fabrics. I love zig zags, they are timeless in my mind and some of my favourite quilts, modern and not. This one has a nice interesting design twist.

    I am more than surprised at your comments. The comments my quilts got, and now reading yours, makes me think that they are not experienced judges and were not sure what to say or do. They certainly seemed to forget that critiques should include positive thoughts too.

    I think that they were wrong on both your quilts. Completely wrong. File them away and carry on being the amazing quilter and designer that you are.

  6. I'm also going to comment before reading all the others. I've been reading your blog for a couple of years now and love seeing all the amazing things you make. I was awestruck with your small applique and could only dream of having the vision to make something so beautiful. Totally inspiring.
    Your Zig-zag quilt is fresh and vibrant and one I would be very proud to own or be able to create.
    Remember, everyone is entitled to their opinion. On this occasion, the judges just clearly don't know a good thing when they see it!
    Keep inspiring others.

  7. I had to watch my kids go through things like this in 4-H. Some judges aren't experienced enough to judge without mean criticism. Quiltcon is not the place for such behavior. You are amazing to be able to even blog about this. I appreciate your honesty and feel so bad you had this experience.

    I always told my kids this is just one person's opinion at one particular time. Tomorrow they will have a different opinion. Opinions are like … ….., everybody has one. lol

    I love both quilts.

    Chin up!!

  8. I can't believe they wrote that!!!! I LOVED seeing your quilts at QuiltCon, thought they were both gorgeous, and fit right in with all the other amazing quilts that were there. I even voted for your mini quilt for crowd favorite (shhh 🙂 )
    That is so not what I thought QuiltCon was about, and now I am debating my decision to submit a quilt for the next one…If your beautiful, well constructed quilts weren't "good enough" for them, then nothing is!!
    Keep creating exactly what makes YOU happy, and forget the dumb judges!!!!

  9. You should definitely take the comments with a grain of salt. Judging is always subjective, and I think there were some growing pains associated with this first "modern" show. I do know that traditional, trained judges were asked to judge the quilts based on technique alone, without taking design into account, as the modern vs traditional aesthetic obviously has some major differences. The organizers could not find any judges willing to do this.

    So, yes, the judges were inexperienced in the world of judging, to be sure. They also had to write commentary for over 700 quilts in two very long days. After reading your comments, my first thought was that they were writing the commentary as they went along, giving themselves the reasons why a quilt may or not move on. While I can understand the need for that for their own use, it seems incredibly harsh not o find the good in the quilts as well.

  10. DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED! Remember you make you quilts to please you or whoever you may choose to give a quilt to – judging is so arbitrary and I don't see how they can compare quilts – or judge our fabric choices. It IS intensely personal! I love your work – it is fresh and pleasing to the eye – and full of YOU (or at least what i know of you from your blog). (And you didn't even need to pay an entry fee to hear me say that!) 🙂

  11. I was at Quiltcon, and I think the judges were stuck in an oldish Modern movement…like 1970s era. Improv, dull fabrics, asymmetrical. Where were the bright colors, the kitschy, the fun embroideries, the cool hexes? The online New modern sewing community is way more open-minded and accepting. I was thrilled to see your beautiful quilts in person!

  12. I made a decision long ago to never submit my work to a judged competition. Mostly that's because I'm an academic, and the majority of my work is subject to peer review. Reviewing is done by people working in the field or a closely related one, not by expert reviewers, and I suspect that the same is true of quilt judges. The best (maybe 10%) identify the strengths of the piece and make suggestions for improving the areas they see as being weaker, i.e. they provide constructive criticism. As a reviewer myself, I know that such professional courtesy takes more time than many are prepared to give. And some individuals, when asked to review, seem to forget that the process is one of "peer" review, and mentally elevate themselves while simultaneously relegating the author to an inferior position (never mind that professionally the opposite might be true). They then proceed as if this superior position gives them licence to be dismissive and often rude. Sometimes I think that the reviewers have watched too many episodes of American Idol and model their comments on Simon Cowell.

    Notice that all of these comments are about the reviewers, not the work (and definitely not about you). The work is exactly the same as it was before you submitted it. It has all the same fine qualities. It is still beautiful. It still brought you pleasure to make it. It still challenged you and helped you to develop your skills. Don't let the uninformed comments of the anonymous reviewers lower the value of the work in your own eyes. (As an aside, I suspect that the anonymity contributes to the problem.)

    Weighed against your many successes (publications, winning the Moda design challenge, etc.) it's relatively minor. Fortunately, you have those successes under your belt. (I pity those who received this type of feedback the first time they submitted their work for evaluation.) And those harsh words from one or two judges are nothing compared with the mass of people who love your work and are happy to enjoy it on a regular basis. So I'd say that the important thing here is that you don't let this experience assume a disproportionate importance and let it inhibit you in any way. It's just not worth it.

  13. Your mini quilt is how I found and then subscribed to your blog. It is absolutely the most dear quilt ever. I don't think I have ever commented before, but I just want you to know that there are probably hundreds of other silent quilters who love what you do and find it so inspirational as opposed to what is now becoming a very humdrum repetitive look in the "modern" quilting world.

    Thank you for sharing your experience. It is a good reminder of why I choose not to even try to enter these types of competitions. I hope the outpouring of support for you helps to take the sting away.

  14. I wasn't there so maybe some of the winners were better in person but I have to say that I love your quilts so much more than the actual winners. I think the personal of them is what makes them good. I'm particularly fond of the zig zag quilt. I think it is both modern and an innovative way to do zig zags.

  15. your quilts are lovely. your blog is real. you do a wonderful job. it's too bad you had some terrible judges who weren't able to encourage you in your work/art and instead had a negative impact. i hope you don't let them get the best of you!

  16. You and I have already discussed this via email, but I think it's worth leaving a comment here for the record. I think your quilts are wonderful—these are two of my absolute favorites—and I completely understand your confusion. I'm not so full of myself to think I'm a perfect quilter, but I thought I had a pretty good idea of what my strengths and weaknesses were. The judges had a completely different idea of what my strengths and weaknesses are, and a completely different assessment of what my best work was. That's confusing, makes me question myself, and makes me question whether I should continue to enter quilt shows. And this is from someone who had one quilt that placed! That should tell you something.

    1. Thanks, Lee. I needed to read this. I didn't feel like my quilt was the ugliest one at QuiltCon, but when I got my judging sheet, I thought THEY thought it was! I understand so much about their perspective, but to see that your quilts were judged harshly, and their comments made you question yourself?? Sigh.

      I don't think anyone — MQG Board or MQG members — expected this kind of criticism and backlash about the judging of the quilts.

      Thanks. 🙂

  17. Repost due to a typo –
    Your post just broke my heart for you – Your quilts – ALL of them and especially those you entered – are fabulous. Those comments weren't the types made in a true critique, and aren't worth the paper they were written on. You are an incredibly talented quilter and designer. Thank you for sharing your work so selflessly on your blog. Your many admirers and followers know and appreciate the beauty in your work, and you do too. Don't let the turkeys get you down.

  18. You have a lot of other comments telling you how amazing your work is (it is!!!) but I'm kind of sad by all the comments dissing the winning quilts. Someone's heart went into those as much as your heart went into yours.

    What I wanted to say though, is that art critique can be really valuable. It's hard at first (and WOW they delivered it in a really harsh way!!) but I hope it doesn't really keep you from entering your quilts into future shows. That would be a disservice for all the other people (other than possibly a few judges) who take away something personal and meaningful from being able to see your quilts in person.

    Also, it may be tough, but I hope you're able to process the critique (and realize that even though they're not worded that way, they're just suggestions) and perhaps reflect on your work and how YOU would change it, and grow from it. That's what the critiques are really for. I'm very sad that the judges didn't take the time (obviously they had hundreds of quilts to review and they sound rushed) to give the feedback in a more constructive manner, though.

  19. Oh Angela, I'm so sorry to hear that the critiques were confusing and hurtful. I did not enter any quilts in the show myself, but your work is some of my absolute favorite in the blogosphere! And you appear to be a genuine and loving person, which is bonus. 🙂 I can tell from the comments here that your blog post has not gone unnoticed, and will hopefully make people (whether they are judges or blog readers) stop and think before critiquing another person's work… if the impact of their comments are really worth it. Lots of quilty love!

  20. I personally have loved your Thinking Girl small quilt since day one. I believe that judges opinions are like noses, we all have them! Take it with a grain of salt and move on to the next lovely self expression of fabric ART!

  21. I think it's horrible that the judges were so harsh. I hope that the organizers of Quilt Con are following your blog. If many others received such harsh critiques they may start have trouble getting people to enter. Many years ago I was involved with a small quilt show that hired judges that made horrible comments on what "they" considered lesser quilts. After that year and the complaints we received, the judges were reminded to consider the feelings of the quilters and find some good in every quilt. I really feel that we would have lost our participants(and they would have been justified)if we hadn't made the changes. Let's face it…without quilts, quilts shows don't happen.
    The comments about your quilt being too personal are just plain ridiculous. Every quilt I make contains something of my personality and tastes. I am not a "modern" quilter and I don't want that label. I find labels too limiting. That said I have made some "modern" quilts and have still found a way to personalize them. I hope that being a modern quilter doesn't mean having to remove all emotion and personalty. I would hate to see quilting, which I consider a very personal art become that sterile. Both of your quilts are lovely. Shame on Quilt Con for hiring such unbending judges.

  22. Piffle upon the judges! They clearly don't know lovely when they see it. The little girl and heart quilt is so charming; dopey judges. And the zigzag is bright and contemporary.

    Your work is wonderful, and if the quilt police don't like it, well they clearly don't know quality.

  23. Angela, I absolutely LOVE your quilts entered into the ring of unknown judges!!
    I think you said it yourself, don't take it personal (too much) and above all be PROUD of YOUR work!! In my book, you are talented and your blog is an inspiration to me all the time. I wish I had half your quilting talents!! Keep making quilts that make your heart sing and I'll do the same!!

  24. Oh Angela, I'm so sorry. I hope some of these comments have cheered your heart. The mini is one of my all time favourite makes – it is so inspiring and creative! I wish I had made it! The binding on the zigs zags is totally perfect in my opinion!! And it is a beautiful, modern design. Do the things you love Angela, you do it so very well 🙂 xxx

  25. My quilts have been judged in shows, and even when I've won something, like a blue ribbon, there's still something I've done incorrectly. "Points don't meet" or somesuch as that. And when I received a "Best of Show" award, there were STILL criticisms with the unevenness of the quilting designs I chose, or the not appearance of perfectly round quilted circles. I'd bet you money that Victoria Finley Wolfe, the best of show winner, was also critiqued and found wanting in some aspect of her work. Honestly, it's to be expected when you're judged. We all just hope the judges comment in a positive manner that points us to room for improvement. I still like both of your quilts!

  26. The very first quilt I made I entered in the county fair. It was torn to pieces in the judges comments too. I decided that I would just not enter competitions any more. I think quilting is personal. Maybe some people aren
    t bothered by the comments they receive. Obviously that is not you or me. Your quilts are beautiful and lots of people looked at them and enjoyed them.