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Quilt Show Thoughts

Last week on Instagram and Facebook, lots of people were posting about their quilts that were rejected by QuiltCon, and a few were posting pictures of their quilts that have been juried in.  I want to say: Congratulations to everyone whose quilt was accepted! I really do think it’s great, and someday I may submit a quilt again, and I hope that if I am accepted, I don’t get any hateful or envious comments about it.

I didn’t enter this year — partly because the quilt I would have entered is all about self care and self worth.  I’m caring for myself by not entering and not having to deal with another rejection letter — especially this year!  So my opinions are not coming from a place of rejection, but of observation.

For you non-quilters reading this, QuiltCon is the yearly quilt show sponsored by The Modern Quilt Guild, which is the national organization that many modern quilt guilds belong to.  Because of the number of people who enter, there are always lots of hurt feelings when the rejection emails go out.  Over 1800 quilts were submitted to the 2016 show, and only about 300 were chosen, so just a little over 15% of the submissions are accepted!

In addition to a lack of showing space compared to quilt entries, I think a big problem with QuiltCon is that there just hasn’t been much transparency about how they jury quilts into the show. Earlier this year, they published a post about derivatives that was questionable in its take on copyright law. This caused a big stir on social media (check out the comments!), and the post has since been taken down – it is a big deal because some quilts have been rejected from QuiltCon due to a conflict based on MQG’s definition of derivative, and membership was not included in creating those definitions.

Another huge issue with the MQG is how national leadership came to be in the first place – and how those leaders approached the local guilds.  Our local guild was started years before the national guild.  Some of our members seemed to be very tight with the national leadership, and perhaps saw this new organization as a great opportunity to market their patterns and books and further their fabric design aspirations.  Not surprisingly, many of these same people tended to have quilts accepted into the first QuiltCon.

Many of us who did not have aspirations of being quilt industry professionals questioned the rush for a national modern quilt guild and wondered why we should join.  The self-appointed leaders sent a spokesperson (who became the Executive Director of the MQG) to our guild, supposedly to explain to us how it would work and what benefits they would be offering to local guilds.

When we asked questions like, “How will joining a national group help our local guild?” and “Will we get to vote on the leadership?”, she was very short with us, as well as very short on any useful information.  People felt intimidated by her aggressive attitude and stopped asking questions.  All the while, our local leaders were strongly pushing us to join.  The scene that night was so uncomfortable that some of my guild friends never came to another meeting.

The MQG representative promised us that electing national leaders would be a democratic process and that we would have the opportunity to vote within a year.  She said that we were the largest local guild, and that the national guild needed our financial support.  Our local leaders insisted that we had to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit by the end of that year. They may been heavily persuaded by the national group… I’m not sure why we needed to jump on that so quickly, no one explained the rush to us. 

Based on those promises and the urging of local leaders, we voted to join the national guild. I missed the vote because I missed that meeting, but I was against it personally. Not against a national guild forming and connecting members, but against the way it formed: how it excluded most of its existing members, and how it seemed to become a platform for marketing… as if national MQG was becoming a professional guild for those in the industry. 

Well, we never did get that leadership vote, and those roles are now permanent paid positions. It may look like we chose them at some point, but we never did. They never let us.
I think that is a very important distinction to make as we move forward.

This is the reason why I’ve had some issues with the national guild, and why I understand others’ frustration with them. In fact, I just listened to a great interview with Quilters_Without_Leaders (QWOL)- on Katies Quilting Corner.  I want to tell her: “I feel you!” This interview has given me a little courage to speak out on this taboo topic, and to give perspective from my non-industry eyes. 

Since we can’t go back in time, I just needed to ‘clear the air’ in my head on this topic since our local guild looks like it will continue national membership. I’m also writing this because there are many newer members who have questions about why some people are not as excited as others about the national guild.

That said, I am super excited for our new local board this year and its plans interact with the MQG to express our concerns, try to open lines of communication, and implement some changes. This makes me happy… and it’s why I’m speaking out now! I want it all to work out for everyone. I would like the national guild to be used as a tool towards the purpose of promoting and connecting it’s membership,  while curating a diverse quilt show that includes as many members, and guilds as possible. We can’t change the past, but we can come together to and be more inclusive, welcoming, and supportive as we move forward into the future.

I was really happy to see a new friend get a quilt accepted into QuiltCon this year *Congrats Karen!*  —  I’m always happy for the friends who make it in, and it’s really cool when it’s someone from our guild! It’s an awesome feeling to see your quilt hanging in a show, and if that’s you, you should feel great about it!!

There are so many quilt shows now that have added Modern categories, too — so QuiltCon is not the only place to show a modern quilt! I’m thinking of trying a few new shows in 2017, but I want to build up my emotional well being first so that I can be ready for rejection if it happens — because that truly is part of the process of showing quilts 😉

9 thoughts on “Quilt Show Thoughts”

  1. Really great post, Gail. I am really enjoying getting different perspectives about quilt guilds & the MQG right now. So happy to hear that your new leadership is making you feel positive. I have heard more negative comments about your guild than any other, and I’ve often wondered if it’s because you were one of the first (growing pains, power dynamics) or if there are other reasons. I look a lot to the earlier modern guilds for inspiration with what we are doing in my guild. I will continue to watch how you guys roll! Thanks.

    1. Thanks Allison. Our guild is pretty big – so it’s hard to know what everyone is thinking or feels about things, but – for most of the people I know in guild, we just want to make pretty quilts and show them to our friends 🙂

  2. Having missed the meetings where these difficult issues were discussed, I really appreciate your perspective, Gail. My opinion of the national guild has really plummeted over the last year. I will be very interested to see how our new local leaders proceed.

    1. Yeah, this topic has been on my mind for a while. With the new local leadership, and hearing questions from newer members – I thought it was a good time to share my experience.

  3. Great post Gail!
    I’d like to see us break away from the national guild. Really don’t see any benefit we, as a guild, gains, I know the national guild benefits from us tho.
    I remember that meeting and how defensive Alicia got. It was really off putting and there was a great pressure from certain people to join.
    At the meeting in November we had a bit of a discussion about what it means to be part of the national guild. Some people were getting really irritated that we were even having it and don’t want to quit. I’d be interested to know how many people are dissatisfied.
    Thanks again for this thoughtful post.

  4. I find what you are saying interesting. I live in Australia, and was a member of the Melbourne MQG before they decided to incorporate. Prior to incorporation it was a relaxing, reasonably friendly group that met on a Friday night. My style doesn’t meet the modern aesthetic as it was evidenced there, but I enjoyed the group.

    The leadership, who were all self-appointed, decided to incorporate and as part of this to also join the MQG in the US. Some applauded this move. Others of us didn’t see any advantage and started asking questions. We were told that we would receive the same benefits that you have discussed. I didn’t understand how we could, given that not only are we not in the same country we are many thousands of kilometres away. Attending something like Quiltcon is out of reach for most people here and certainly was for the bulk of the proposed membership.

    The whole thing got very nasty. The self-appointed leadership behaved in exactly the way you described. Those who asked questions about the running of the guild were accused of slander and pilloried. When we applied to join the new guild our applications were rejected with no explanation. This was several years ago, and to the best of my knowledge the elections required by Australian law still have not occured.

    Frankly, I’m glad to be out of it. Reading of the same issues in the USA makes me doubly glad. My aesthetic has been called contemporary by gallery curators and other artists, which I find a far more appropriate description. I never fitted what the modern label, and therefore would never have qualified for something like Quiltcon. Frankly, looking at the quilts being produced by members of the Melbourne group, I struggled to see how a quilt based so closely upon something that originated 100 years ago could be classed as “modern”. My belief is that if many quilers feel they need to be labeled, they would be much happier as “contemporary”. Far more inclusive and way less nasty, in my personal experience.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Helen! I was wondering how this all worked in other countries. I’m sorry to hear your modern guild was exclusionary – at least you have found your own way and are still creating! Labeling ourselves tends to kill creativity because we try too hard to fit into a specific aesthetic.

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