To Show Or Not To Show…That Is The Question

By Gail Sirna

This article first appeared in NANthology, the NAN newsletter, in winter 1996.

Just a few days ago I was sitting in a class offered by my local chapter when I heard one of my fellow guild members remark: “My family just thinks my quilts are so wonderful, but I look at them and all I see are my faults, my mistakes, and what I could have done better. I would never put them in a show!”

To which I replied: “Caroline, you know that I don’t quilt, and you do know that I am a certified judge. When I go to a quilt show, I don’t go there to find fault, to criticize, to evaluate every little nuance of the quilts. I go there to feast my eyes on color and patterns, to marvel at the hand work of my fellow stitchers who are so skilled at a craft to which I can only aspire. I don’t quilt, so I go to admire, to enjoy the efforts of those who do. When you put a quilt in a show you are sharing it with others for their enjoyment, not to be judged. If you happen to win a prize, that’s just icing on the cake.”

I do believe that those words are true. I love to go to needlework shows, to see what my fellow embroiderers are producing, and also, I will admit, to see what the judges have determined to be the best. Sometimes I don’t agree with their choices, but I always love the show.

All over the U.S. there are needlework exhibits. The EGA and ANG national exhibits are very prestigious events. The competition for ribbons at ANG or even to be included in an EGA exhibit is well-manneredly fierce. (We are ladies and gentlemen, after all.) Callaway presents a lovely exhibit every year. Our own NAN is struggling mightily to establish a prestigious exhibit.

NAN, who prides itself on producing some of the most noted teachers of embroidery, is forced to beg for entries from among its membership. So why are people reluctant to put their work in an exhibit?

Some people, both professionals and amateurs, just do not want to be bothered. One must fill out an intimidating form, agonize over whether the piece is Original or Adaptation, and be fearful of being denounced if he or she made a mistake in this choice. Then there is the mechanics of the thing. One must find suitable wrapping, and even more challenging, one must procure a box which will hold the embroidery. Next is the trip to the Post Office or UPS, both places rife with long lines and, in my experience, not very conveniently located. On top of all this, it costs money to enter, to ship the pieces and for their return. Entering a show anywhere out of town requires real motivation.

Some people are reluctant to send their pieces through the mail, fearing that they will go astray or be damaged. But we who teach, and especially those in certification, are often required to send our treasured, newly completed embroideries. We have learned to rely on UPS and its Ground Track system. I think most of us have learned to wrap our pieces in layers of bubble wrap and waterproof bags for their protection. As an alternative, many exhibits that are held in conjunction with a seminar will allow hand delivery of the pieces just before the show. So, delivery should not really be an issue.

More commonly, I have heard that teachers are reluctant to exhibit because they think that it might deter the amateur who would be loath to go into competition with the “pro.” There is a bit of validity there because I have heard some grumbling that the “teachers are winning all the prizes.” Usually this is because often only professionals enter the Original category, and these are frequently the entries that attract more attention from the judges for special awards like Best-of-Show or Judge’s Choice. They are also more likely to be featured in needlework magazines because they are original work and the publication will not face multiple copyright issues.

However, this is almost a moot point because now most shows offer two categories: Professional and Amateur. This is good as it offers more opportunities for ribbons and should have the effect of encouraging more people to participate.

If you have not entered at least the NAN show, you should look deep in your heart to search for the real reason. I suspect that it is because some of us are not risk takers and are afraid that our pieces might not measure up. Puh…lease! If you are teaching, you are already putting your pieces in competition for teaching slots every time you send in a proposal. If you are chosen for some seminars or chapter workshops, then you are, in effect, winning every time one of your pieces is selected. So…why not put some of these wonderful pieces in the NAN show for starters? We need you.

In my mind there are two really good reasons for exhibition. One is to share your embroidery skills, your passion for the medium, and your creative energy with your fellow embroiders. The other is to educate the public about the beauty and artistry of the needlearts. These are noble and altruistic motivations. If you also win a prize, then so much the better. If not, it is disheartening, but you will survive and live to enter another show. I always think back, painfully, to the first exhibit of my brand new EGA Chapter’s sponsored show. I was young, about thirty-three, chapter president and chairman of the show. To be supportive, I entered seventeen pieces and did not win one ribbon! I got over it, but I guess I have not forgotten. Subsequent shows have been more gratifying.