Sunday, 14 August 2011

Explanation and story behind "Life (Measures of Time)" and Judges Comments

I've had a little bit of contact about this quilt which is at the Festival of Quilts.  It's truly delightful that anyone is interested enough to post photos of it and ask about it, and it's also interesting to read what other people have got out of it.

I left a comment on a blog to say that I would explain it in more detail, so that's what this posting is about.

Can I just say that Foq got the name wrong on the label; it's Measures of Time not Measure. Plural because there's two tape measures.

Judges comments at end of posting.

First of all this isn't a self portrait, the lady isn't me but a professional life model, and was at a class I went to. I did a few paintings of her and enjoyed her curves (usually the life models in these classes have all been young, female and thin) It was obvious that the lady had no worries about body image at all and I found that inspiring.

After I'd stitched the outline of the body onto cloth, I needed to quilt the body to avoid too much loft - I dislike puffy!  I didn't want to use contour lines of any kind and thought I'd add an extra layer of meaning by using the poem by Jenny Joseph, "Warning" It's the one that begins.....

” When I am an old woman I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t   suit me,  And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves……etc  etc.  

She also has "Happy in my skin" and "pass the cake" on her nipples. It reflects the models happiness with herself and also my sense of humour, which try as I might to stop, just sneaks itself in. After the stitching, I painted her in exactly the same way as I would tackle any painting, using acrylics. The cloth is absorbent so I needed to do many many washes to build the colour. You can treat the cloth first with acrylic gel to stop this and make a less absorbent surface, but this makes the cloth hard and almost impossible to stitch through, and I wasn't sure if I'd finished stitching at this stage.  

The rest of the image just grew out of my imagination as I was doing it.  I wanted to put in the table which was behind her in the life class, but I decided to make it mine by adding sewing stuff. The mug is the largest I own and I use it a lot because I like to drink heaps of coffee (decaff of course!)  The plate is a favourite too.  I had just recently told that I needed to go on statins, so they were large in my mind, and after I'd given myself a cake to have with my coffee, I thought of my doctors comments about ageing, and gave myself some statins to offset the fat in the cake!  But, I had to chocolate coat them to make them acceptable. I love irony.

The quilt on the table is pieced over papers and is a miniature of one of my hogweed quilts, which I have put there as a momento of them, as they have all been sold now. The hogweed outline also appears in the background on the wallpaper.

The hardest part was the quilt over the chair.  I draped one of my bedquilts over a chair and took a photo of it.  I used this photo as templates for the pieces. Having selected the colours of fabric I wanted to use, it was then just a matter of hand sewing them all together. A pain as the curves are difficult with this method of piecing.  It was then appliqued into place. I had to paint it to give it the illusion of 3D because as it is, the eye couldn't make sense of what it was seeing.

The flowers at the back were stitched in outline and painted. The vase is appliqued, after being discharged with circles.

And the snakes?  Well, that's the meaning of the title,  "Life - Measures of Time" bit really.  The bottom snake is pointing to , well, you can see for yourself! Both snakes start off as tape measures and change half way down. The snake is used quite often in paintings as an image for sex and original sin. The top snake counts up from 10 to 21 and the bottom snake counts from 53 onwards.  I can honestly say that I put these in without thinking about the connotations, and it wasn't until afterwards that I realised what I'd done; which is to make a comment about women ageing and going through puberty and menopause.

And, yes, I guess that from a quilt point of view,  it could have been better stitched, it could have had less paint and more fabric to make it more vibrant. But, it's just a reflection of what I was thinking and feeling at the time, and I used a quilt to express that. I made it mine in my own way.

Thank you for reading, and thank you everyone who was kind enough to look at the quilt at FoQ, or indeed at Leamington Art Gallery Open 2011.

Footnote: Judges Comments.

I don't normally open the comments envelope which comes back with your quilt. This is because, in the past, I've been miffed by occasional injustice! Things like, "I liked the black, and thought it offset the colours beautifully" when there was no black. Or, "not applicable" under applique when the whole quilt was appliqued.  Such inaccuracies and lack of judgment cause unnecessary upset imho.

Anyway, I was asked what the judges said about the above quilt, so have opened them and share them here for anyone interested.

There were 3 judging slips. All boxes were ticked on all three slips of paper. I won't go through each point, just some of the anomalies. The judges can mark each point as 1) not applicable 2) Excellent 3)Good 4) Satisfactory 5) Needs Attention.

Under "Surface Design and Embellishment" one judge said it was "Not applicable," one said it was "excellent" and one said it was "satisfactory." Conclusion? I haven't the foggiest. One wonders if they talk to each other during the judging process.

Under "Applique: Design and Execution"  One judge said it was "Not Applicable", but two said it was "good". It had lots of applique so not sure why it wasn't applicable.

Under "Design" (fulfils category, visual impact, emotional response, originality, content, composition, colour, and choice and suitability of materials) 2 judges gave me 5 "Excellents", and 1 judge gave me 3 "goods" and 2 "satisfactories".  Quite a difference. I get a strong feeling that judge 3 simply didn't like it much!

Piecing: 1 excellent, 2 good
Quilting Design: 1 Excellent, 2 Good.

They all said nice things in the comment's box. I feel it's unfair to everyone to mark in such a way as this, and am sure more consistency is possible. For example, how can they get away with saying  Surface Design and Embellishment, or Applique aren't applicable, when they obviously are, or have I misunderstood?

The Bamboo piece

This was marked in all categories as good or excellent with the exception of 1. Under Design Composition and Colour it was marked as "Satisfactory."

There was a little note attached from one judge which said: I've probably been too hard on marking you down on the "colour" section, as this reads better from a distance than close up. Lovely use of light to indicate sun"  But, she didn't feel inclined to alter her marking!

Make of it what you will. I find I'm not wounded! Past years have had me hopping mad, and I've written extensively to the organizers to try and get things improved, but I just can't be bothered any more!


  1. Thank you so much for that. I think I'd guessed most of it, which is what you want: the work speaks for itself, but its great to hear the full story, which is brilliant, affirmative and must chime with many of us!

  2. Everytime I see this quilt/painting I get something else out of it. It just gets better and better.

    Of course, I still really love it, it's taking quilting into a whole new area which I find really stimulating. BUT! I had never 'seen' the tape measure / snake before!! Wonderful.

  3. Congratulations on getting a 'Highly Commended' award- very well deserved. I loved seeing it 'in the flesh'. As it was hung next to mine ( and one can't help hovering!!)I can say it caused a lot of interest - there were always people around it and a lot of rueful smiles. Well done!

  4. I had to show this to my daughter (16), although she is not into textiles, she was very intersted in your quilt and what it was about.

  5. Ahhh, I didn't realize about the "Measures" either. Tape Measures. Very clever! Thanks for sharing this. I found it very interesting and like that you've tried to get meaning into your work. Peter Willis, Cardiff.

  6. I don't think the judges do talk to each other, which could be a good thing as the persuasiveness of the judge won't effect your marks so much.

    I tend to feel that if the judges are one mark apart that's to be expected, but like you I find some of the things they find not applicable quite strange, and often you are left wondering if they were looking at the same quilt as you.

    I like the idea of just leaving them in the envelope, don't know I would have the discipline to do it :)

  7. Judges!
    I wonder if some of them can leave their prejudices at home when they come out to judge?????
    There are systems better at some shows more than others for sorting out the wheat from the chaff.
    So many people hold so much value by what the judges write. It is almost always worthless (unless they write lovely things of course, in which case they are the wisest judge in the world).

  8. Sally: you do make me larf!! On a serious note, I have no idea of the differing judging systems, but if there are better ones than this, it makes you wonder why they don't use them. I'd be behind change if it was on offer! And yes, prejudice does play a large part, it's so obvious at times, and I wish it didn't.

    Ferret: Yep, it does make you wonder if they were looking at the same quilt sometimes! I also agree with you about being one mark apart and it not mattering, but to be so different, is unfair. If this happens to me everytime I enter, it must be the same for others. Why do we put up with it I wonder?

    It's easy to throw them away. Just grit your teeth and do it. If you have a shredder even better!

    Peter: thank you....the foq named the quilt incorrectly, so I'm pleased to be able to explain.

  9. I've seen how the FoQ is judged and it's tough for the judges too, they don't have long to look at each quilt. They basically use a points system as I understand it. I think I like the method where the judges walk the show and mark the ones that stand out as better than the rest. Then go back and study those in detail. In the nicest possible way you can walk about and quite quickly rule out some quilts. This then reduces the work down to something manageable. It also gives scope for the judges then looking at ones where they strongly disagree and trying to come to a consensus. I liked the fact that last year they did have notes under the winners with who the judges were and why the quilt had won. It sounds like they didn't do that this year.

    If you are a member of The Quilt Show watch Stitched the movie, it shows how the Houston show is judged. It's sort of like the method I mentioned but none of the quilts are hung yet, they are paraded past the judges. I'm not sure it's the best method but knowing what happens has given me some ideas on how to improve my quilt for that show.

  10. I agree Ferret, The Houston Quilt show sounds more like the Royal Academy Summer Show, where they parade the art works past the panel to get an initial yes or no, and then study them closer. This makes more sense to me when there's so many quilts to look at.

    I know the judges don't have long to look at the quilts but surely they should ask for more if they need it. Twisted Thread have the quilts 10 days before they're hung, so there is scope for a preview of some kind. I know money is of the essence for them, but I can't see that it would cost that much more to hang them a day earlier, or preview them at a different venue.

    I've only entered a very few shows and none abroad, so I have no conparisons really.

    Good luck with your quilt Ferret..I'm sure you'll do brilliantly.

  11. Quilt judges? Hah. When I want feedback on my work, I'll ask for a critique from someone who has art training, as I'm likely to learn from that, rather than be bemused by the variety of views. This is a really strong and well conceived piece, Annabel, portrayed with sensitivity, and I really like it. I would really like to sit with it for a while, and hear its story, something which I've only ever felt like doing with paintings. Well done, you.

  12. I suspect hanging the quilts a day earlier would cost a fortune. The NEC can't be cheap to hire. On the other hand the judging could probably be done somewhere else. We need to remember though the Festival is run by a business to make money, if we want them to spend more on judging our quilts I'll bet we will have to pay for it.

  13. Thank you Marion, that's praise indeed! You're welcome to sit with my lady for a while because it makes my two girls want to leave the room. I really don't ever want to paint or quilt young thin things again. Sadly, there the only ones I have access to on the modelling front.

    Ferret, Yes I guess it would cost a bit extra! But too much if done somewhere low key? Maybe Twisted Thread aren't too bothered as not many people feel strongly about these things, and they have no real need to respond. I can't see quilters having a riot; I think a petition might be thought a little strong!

  14. Annabel, I'll come and sit for you any time...there's lots of me. That's a serious offer; email me and we'll talk.

  15. I just chuckle these days. Having been judged in the same category I can confirm that one judge was noticeably meaner than the others (also placed in the the comments box "a picture of sea and sand" - I had realised that so not sure how it should be helpful. Quilting ranged from excellent to satisfactory (I thought they'd at least be close on technical stuff). On the gannets miniature I had one line of goods, one of good/excellent and one of mainly satisfactory; two said applique was n/a even though shadow applique was the main technique. One thought the water should have been colouyred in (THERE WAS NO WATER and from a design point of view the colour NEEDED not to be coloured) On a general point I think some judges are a great deal
    better than others: some have years of experience. Not sure that the QG charging an arm and a leg to qualify as a judge is the best way to get the best people... Like the system used in Houston - having been involved, in another life, in assessment methods I don't set much store by the tick-box system!

  16. This is a strong quilt in so many ways. The messages and symbols within the images, the paint handling on the figure, and I think the way you have rendered the draping quilt is excellent. Thanks for sharing your process.

  17. This mirrors my experience of quilt judging too. I also have had wholly inconsistent remarks back and am seriously considering in future shows asking to enter and not compete because frankly there is no point. The comments like the ones you got do not help you become a better artist. Some may say thats not the point, that you are not being offered a critique but a method of distinguishing between quilts. But inconsistent comments ( or plain wrong comments) do not give any confidence that the competition is fair or relevant either. Not having sufficient time to do the job properly is not an excuse r a good reason but a restatement of the very problem and if true shows a disrespect for the art. I personally find the whole competition shebang rather dispiriting anyway. I do want to be a very good artist but I see no need to strive to be a better artist than someone else in the show in order to define my own success.
    Hmm. Feel better with that off my chest!
    And it goes without saying that I very much admired the quilt and feel the viewing experience enriched by the blog entry detail. Thank you.

  18. Hiya Helen,

    I have always thought similar things to you....sometimes feeling very dispirited by the marking because it's been so unjust. And that's the nub of it really........they need to judge you in order to award prizes, but then do a bad job of it. I have asked the organizers before about entering but not being judged and they've told me this isn't possible because of the organization involved. (although that was about 4 years ago, so things might have changed) Not reading the comment slips helps me, personally, to not get annoyed, but doesn't solve the question of inaccuracies and injustices.

    I think one or two comments have already suggested that Twisted Thread change to a Houston style judging system, and this may well be better but I don't have experience of it.

    Perhaps we should get together and ask en masse for a review? Quite happy to spearhead if anyone is interested.

    Thanks for your comment Helen; they are indeed not commenting on your success as an artist, because they can't, and I don't feel so angry this year by this aspect of it. I realize that they don't have a mandate or the authority and experience to pass judgement. They are merely doing their best within given guidlines and they make lots of errors without even realizing. It's unjust but I find myself not too dented. The real problem is with the organizers who are simply there to make money out of us...they're a business. If enough people care, they have to change, but at the moment it's easier and cheaper to keep the status quo.

    Annabel xx

  19. Just wanted to say that I loved being able to see your work in the flesh so to speak. When my sons quilt came back I read his commenst first as the envelope wasn't sealed. I only showed him two of the three comments, need I say more? One day at about 5.15pm I overheard two ladies in front of your quilt, the conversation was something like this "this year I have seen the most nipples ever in a quilt show. There ought to be a rule against body parts. Next year there might be quilts with (wait for it)a penis!! Now that is a challenge for someone.....

  20. Good on your son for giving it a go, but I think you did the right thing. It's one thing taking informed criticism and another having to suffer ill-informed remarks from someone who hasn't really looked. If it was the latter you did well to remove them. We need to nuture young people's creative souls not crush them! (sorry, but the harm that a careless remarks cause!)

    Anyhoo, thank you for relaying the conversation you heard. That's quite funny....a ban against body parts! I'm very happy to be so challenging to such folk, and I will be doing more. Most people have liked the quilt and have been very supportive, but the worst comment so far was this morning, when someone said they "preferred my abstract quilts, as they felt this one was....well, perverted" That was her actual word! I explained the quilt to her just to make sure there was no misunderstandings, and she said yes she understood, but snakes? I said I took the idea from the Bible. Silence. (except for me going "yes!" and punching the air behind her back!!) Then I thought, snakes and nudity perverted? Surely this says more about her than me? What on earth was she thinking?!!!

  21. Annabel, thank you for the commentary about your quilts. I really liked the bamboo one but the nude was absolutely fabulous and among my favourites in this show.

  22. Thank you Carrie! I've had a few odd reactions, but I like your sort best!!

  23. Loved the nude and all the symbolism. I can't understand how judges can mark something a quilt has as being not applicable, it doesn't make sense at all.

    Perhaps your applique so brilliant and your entire painting so lifelike they couldn't make out the applique and surface design areas? I think nudes just evoke a negative reaction in a few people though - I love your rainforest quilt too, but I would have thought that technical difficulty and execution would have been greater in the nude.

  24. Annabel,
    I can't understand all this marking on technique it's the content which is important your piece is fine art! Work should be indvidual including the way we stitch!! My work would fail as I stitch how I please and it would not fall into any guidelines.

  25. I loved this quilt so much at the FoQ and stood looking at it for some time, so I was very pleased to see the story here. I'm not a quilter but am very inspired by your work.

  26. I just found a photo of this quilt at Quilting Gallery and came to you blog to find out more - thanks so much for all the info - its a fantastic quilt - thanks

  27. Like Daisy, I have just found your blog and this quilt explained. I saw it at FoQ and loved it by the way. I have not yet entered anything at FoQ. In many ways I am more an embroiderer than quilter - that makes me hesitant, but what is great is the way both blogs and exhibitions enable us to share our work with others, and as I grow more confident in my artistic life I find I want to share my own work and to enjoy more the work of others. So, to anyone reading this, don't be put off by the judges - after all it is subjective.

    I love this picture - who cares what the judges think. It is bold and 'out there' and frankly would look good in an art gallery!

    Lovely, lovely stuff and thank you for sharing the technique.


  28. My sister and I absolutely loved everything about this quilt - you are an amazing artist. We have been to the FOQ many times and this time, each day we went back and had another look and saw more and more. It's lovely to read the detail about the quilt. We don't mind the nipples at all in fact we loved them!

  29. Susan: that's extraordinarily kind of you to take the trouble to write a comment like that....I'm chuffed, thank you.

    Thank you everyone else who hasn't had an email from me yet to say thank you....I've just coming to the end of another Life piece about the decisions we take in life, and will be starting another called Switching Off just after which that blue, pink, white and green quilt will make another appearance!!