To Show or Not to Show
I am a competition quilter. Through and through. I have no idea how I got that way. I told you last time I was an only child--no competition there. I avoided sports all through school--I was the girl who would run up to the soccer ball and fall over it. I did go out for cheerleading, but only because if you were a cheerleader, you didn't have to go to gym class. I hated those baggy gym suits we had to wear. We were always trying to make them more stylish--a little colored belt, a scarf knotted under the collar, a couple of scatter pins. But, you never made it out the locker room door that way. Gym teachers have sharp eyes!
There was never any competition in my working life, either. I worked alone, in some corner of whatever house we were in, or I worked in the costume houses, where everybody had their own things to do. There was never any "My Kismet headpiece is much more spectacular than your Oriole's mascot head--so I should get a prize!" Nope, none of that.
Dancer's headpiece from the Baltimore Opera production
of "Kismet" @ 1985. My rendition of a drawing by designer/director
John Lehmeyer. Made from buckram, wire, foam tubing, "Las Vegas
beads" and lots of hot glue.
So, when I first started quilting (in my retirement) a non-sewing friend asked me, "What are you going to do with all those quilts?" I answered, "Well, so far, it's not a problem, I've only ever made three".
But, the fourth one was different. I made it at a quilt retreat. Other "retreaters" kept nonchalantly walking past my table and I could see them whispering to each other. What were they saying? Was there something the matter with my quilt? WHAT was the matter with my quilt??! Finally, one of them said, "you should enter that in a show". Yeah, right! .........Right............ Huh............. Well, okey, how do I do that? And the Competition Monster raised it's ugly head!
The first show I entered was really more of an exhibit...and, surprise! my quilt was accepted! It was held at the Goldstein Gallery at the Textile Dept, U of M innesota, in St Paul. My "Fire in the Rain Barrel" was going to the show!
"Fire in the Rain Barrel" @1994, from a book by Mary Hickey
Now, at that time, at least in my mind, there was "quilting royalty" ----the people who had been instrumental in the surge of innovative work in the 80s-- Michael James, Jan Myers Newbury, Yvonne Porcella, Ruth McDowell, Debra Lunn, among others. They were, and still are, awesome. They made quilts that you had to study for a long time. How did they do that?? Is that fabric??
I found out that this exhibit was hosting two of these immortals, AND my quilt was in the same gallery. Wowzer!
Not only that, but, I found that if I crammed myself up against the inside doorway frame and peered over my right shoulder, I could just see my quilt at the same time as Debra Lunn's and Jan Myers Newbury's quilts!! Oh my! If you don't think that was a major shove into the world of shows and exhibits, you would be wrong.
Inside the Goldstein Gallery. My quilt hanging on the
left, Jan Myers Newbury's on the far right.
So-------I was all pumped up to enter my wonderful Bargello quilt into the local guild show. Here I come to turn in my artsy-fartsy wall hanging with the appliqued black tubes dripping silver beads, wildly multi-colored backing and imaginatively named "Heart Throb".
Oh yes, I was the one who had "my work" at the Goldstein Gallery, last month. Yes. That was me. Pretty obnoxious.
So. the next day, the show opens and I was there bright and early to see my "Art Quilt" hanging. Probably the star of the show, I thought.
Uh oh, it wasn't there.
I looked everywhere, getting more and more anxious--no Heart Throb. I was too embarrassed to ask anyone. Maybe they hated it and decided not to hang it. Maybe it broke some Quilt Police rule that I didn't know about. Maybe they LOST it! Finally, on my third trip around, I spotted some familiar fabric--and there it was! Backwards! They had hung it backside out, because they didn't recognize the Bargello front as a quilt and they thought the multi-colored fabric back was pieced. You could practically hear my head deflate. First lesson in the quilt world--if you can't be modest, for goodness sake be quiet about it!
And here's another lesson--don't lurk around your quilts at a show. You will almost always hear something you'd rather not know about.
It was 1998. We had come out of the sweet calico period and were starting to use brighter colors, batiks, more hand-dyes. I made a quilt I called "Passionflower"., for which I designed a Diamond Pineapple block. It has a LOT of different fabrics in it--and a couple of--Wow!--Animal prints. I think it was the first time I used a "swatch board" to keep everything straight.
It is green, turquoise, coral, gold, black and white--a lot of colors for then.
It won the "Best Use of Color" Award at the Pacific International Quilt Festival, that year and the best thing was that a friend and I were going to that show! Boy! was I excited! My first big award! It was a great show--lots of wonderful quilts, omigosh, so many vendors, and exhibits. There was a huge collection of gorgeous hand-done Baltimore Album quilts and an excited crowd of applique fans that came to see them.
Me with swatchboard for another quilt.
I was gazing at my Passionflower, admiring the ribbon and the big award sign, when an older couple came along. The woman looked at my quilt, studied the sign, checked out the ribbon, turned to her husband and said--"Best Use of Color!!? Whatever were they thinking?! It should be Most Use of Color!" and chuffed away.
"Passionflower" 1998, (pattern ava
Of course, I know that Judging is a terrible, rotten job. My friend, Shirley, whom I wrote about, a couple of blogs ago, was asked to judge a local guild show--fortunately not in our immediate locality. It was one of those guilds where the same people have always won, so the expectations were that they always would win, Shirley disagreed. And she did what they had invited her there to do--she judged the show. There was so much hulla-baloo about the winning upsets, that Shirley, fearing for her very safety, snuck out of her host's house in the middle of the night and drove all the way home before the show opened! She didn't even collect her hazardous duty pay!
I've heard it said that you should never make a quilt whose primary reason for existence is to go into a competition. I know, I know, you're supposed to please yourself when you make a quilt. Well! Isn't that the silliest thing you ever heard of? That's like your kid wandering into the gymnastics competition at the Olympics and expecting to win because she's a cutie! For another thing, I am a bona-fide deadline-driven person. Everything I have ever done--or will do--has a time-frame. If I didn't have that little guy with the whip, sitting on my shoulder, saying, "The Paducah deadline is this week!! ", I know I'd sit around all day, reading trashy novels and devouring boxes of Russell Stover's maple nut creams.
For another thing, why on earth would I ever take the trouble to hand-sew those little binding corners shut, if it wasn't that I knew some Judge was going to make that the reason my quilt didn't even get an honorable mention? So, no, I disagree. If you are into competition, you think about every little thing that could put your quilt over the top. And THEN, when it doesn't win, you say, "oh, I just made it for our bed, anyway" and try and paste that big smile on your face.
So now, 25 years later, I've got this quilt thing figured out. I MUST get in touch with that friend who asked me what was I going to do with all those quilts? I think I've gone from three quilts to about 68 or more, and here's what I do with them: I'm one of "those people" who enter them into every single show they can possibly go to. They travel the world in their little cardboard boxes, earning their keep and sometimes bringing back pieces of paper that translate into cash money--just like Fagan, in the musical, "Oliver"---sending his youthful pupils out to glean what they can from the pockets of wealthy Londoners. And then, when they have been hung, taken down, looked at, judged, written about, lectured about, photographed, copied, patterned, packed and unpacked a few bazillion times, they will be allowed to retire, gracefully--into the quilt cupboard in my downstairs studio. Out to pasture, at last. Maybe even out to stud.
Here are a few quilts that have won nice awards. If you'd like to see more quilts and more information about them, you can go to the page entitled "quilts from my designs" on this website.