Rejection Hurts Without AquaNet

Author’s Note: As many of you may be new to my blog, courtesy of The Honey Pot Bee, be aware that the following essay has curse words, sexual references, feelings of jealousy, pride, disappointment, and elation, and therefore may not be appropriate for all audiences. Rejection hurts, but this dalliance does have a happy ending.

It ain’t no surprise that Molli B Sparkles can be a bit of an egomaniac at times. It’s one of those quirks that you just gotta take with all the other good, bad and indifferent. It’s usually inspired more by wanting to over-exude confidence, so that you, the Glitterati, can soak some of it up for yourself. To be perfectly honest, I was not a confident young person, and it took a long time into my adulthood where I could finally love myself to the fullest. When I discovered how to do that, my perspective on life completely changed. Any of the people or things that previously would have affected my confidence became empty shadows to me. So now, I try to stand shoulders back, looking squarely at the metaphorical air fans so that my blonde hair extensions cascade behind me at all times! (How very Mariah Carey!) But, alas, sometimes hair gets caught in my mouth, too. Ugh.

That’s what happened late last year when I entered the Sydney Modern Quilt Show. I was rejected. Twice. It felt like someone kicked the air fan across the room and my weave was swirling around my head with nary a can of AquaNet in sight. I mean, this is the show that two years prior I had won the inaugural Best of Show ribbon. This is the same show that the year before I had won first prize in the Minimalist category. Now, I was staring blankly at a rejection letter in my inbox to even have a quilt in the show. “What the actual fuckity fuck,” stampeded across my brain synapses.

I knew it would be somewhat of a challenge for the jury to select my quilts, considering they dealt with mature themes. Yet it was always my intention to enter these quilts into this show, and it was my honest-to-God expectation that they would be accepted for their originality and confidence. I guess a quilt cartooning male genitalia, and another boldly (though subversively) describing a gay man’s sexual preference during intercourse constituted too much of a stretch. Having grown up in the Bible Belt of Oklahoma, my adopted home in Sydney, Australia represents the liberal antithesis of this experience. I heartily expect my current world to embrace differences, welcome challenging concepts, and encourage dialogue that may not have been presented before. So when the rejection letters came with a simple keystroke, not only did my heart break, but my faith in the quilting community broke a little bit too.

But I didn’t say anything. I understand that the quilting community does constitute a slightly more conservative gene pool than I live in day-to-day. Even amongst the “modern” (and I use that term lightly) crowd, I can see how a quilt with sixteen, twelve-inch, multi-coloured, metallic dicks stitched into it might be off-putting. I also considered the argument that there may be kids at the show, and my quilts may not be family-friendly.  However, if we are truly asking the public to respect quilts as works of art—rather than simply a hobby craft of needle and thread—we need to be prepared for the concept that not all art is generically, family-friendly. Or rather, it is family-friendly, as long as parental guidance is available to explain. Despite all this conceptual explanation, I simply had visions of some six year old pointing at my quilt shouting, “Mummy, it’s a weiner!” Hilarious! Kids say the darnedest things!

Regardless, I went to the show out of support for my brethren. I liked, not loved, most of the quilts I saw that day. I don’t necessarily think my rejected quilts would have elevated my experience to the next level, but they definitely would have been a talking point for others! Sex has a tendency to do that amongst the masses! I heard a vague rumour that some spots at the show had to be filled at the last minute, and I chuckled to myself because I certainly didn’t get a call. (Nor would I have expected one at that point in time). But I had a good time, love was in the air, and I had moved on from those rejection letters. “Maybe this just wasn’t the quilt show for me,” I thought, “but QuiltCon is right around the corner!”

Now Quiltcon. The mothership of modern quilt shows, right? Maybe my dear ol’ Sydney wasn’t as liberal leaning as I expected (conservative Premier Mike Baird will do that to ya). But Quiltcon, Quilt. Con! That was the place for me. It was only last February that I had walked through the front doors to discover my No Value Does Not Equal Free quilt was literally positioned directly opposite the entrance. Even though it was no value, visitors would be hard-pressed to miss the Best Machine Quilting Framed ribbon garnishing its edges that I shared with long-armer Jane Davidson. I had somehow won a prize with my debut entry!

So yeah, QuiltCon would love my latest quilts! The internationality of it all would certainly be highbrow enough to get “it.” So I entered the same quilts as I had to The Sydney Modern Quilt Show, except this time I added a third one which dealt with themes of gender identity. I filled out the forms, updated the descriptions to one hundred words or less, paid the entry fee, (thirty bucks for them to look at three pictures of my quilts—pop!) Pressed send. And you know what, I sat back in all my Molli Sparkles-ness and thought, “I’ve got this, they’re gonna love the shit out of these quilts.” Dear reader, I’m sure you can see where this is all going.

Then sometime in December, (ahem, 15 December, 7:32 am) I woke up to an email telling me that my “outstanding” entries 998, 1006, and 1014 were not chosen by the panel of jurors to be included in the show. Sad face. And then I laughed, because there was no point in crying over these quilts that I loved so much. If the jurors couldn’t see my vision, that was due to their blindness, which I knew I could not correct. A different jury may have selected all three. Plus, rationally, I do understand the concept that not every quilt can be accepted. Trust me, I get it. Fully. Just grant me this indulgence.

Now, Molli B a liar if I didn’t tell you I sulked a bit. Probably not as hard as after the first rejection by the Sydney Modern Quilt show, as at the time, they felt more familial. However, such is life, and with each rejection, it gets a bit easier. (You should have seen my love-life as a young teen!) But as I said in the beginning, this story does have a happy ending, and I promise I am getting to it.

As the fog of all that rejection lifted a few days later, I stumbled across an art show that was being held at a New Year’s Eve gay festival in country New South Wales, called Tropical Fruits. I had been to this festival in previous years, and despite not being able to attend this year, I inquired about the show’s requirements. Maybe they’d want a piece of the Sparkle, even if no one else did! At this stage, I really didn’t have anything left to lose except my dignity! The ironic thing was that I knew they wouldn’t disapprove of the subject matter, (Hello! Gay men are all about the dick!) but I was unsure if they would embrace the quilts as viable pieces of art appropriate for the show. While solely in my head, I felt disenfranchised by both sides!

I made a last minute call to the curator explaining my situation. (I’m talking two days before the show was set to open). He said to me, “Molli, if you can get them here, we can hang them here.” And like that y’all, I was finally going to be able to show these quilts! Fortuitously, I had friends driving up the coast the next day who would not only be able to take my quilts to and from the show, but would be at the festival to bear audience. So I scrambled together the application forms, I paid the zero dollar entry free, and I put price tags on all three quilts. I knew there was a prize pool of money to be won for the winning art pieces, but I no longer cared about that (although a first prize of $500 would help deflect all the entry fees I had previously paid for naught). For me, finally getting to show these quilts to a live audience who could appreciate their content was privilege enough.

I could stop this story here, because I feel like it already has the happy ending it deserves. But you know what, I’m gonna take it up a notch, because I’m Molli B Sparkles and that’s how we do things around here. No, you can relax, none of my quilts won first prize and got that $500.00. Sad, but true. However, I did get a call from the curator the day after the show opened to let me know that my quilt, “I Sleep On the Bottom Bunk,” had sold for my asking price of $750.00 to a Melbourne designer who intended on framing it as art for his design studio. Plus, the curator has asked for more quilts at next year’s show. Alas, there it was, and how it was all meant to be. So upright those air fans, and brush the weaves out, because we need to get back to making damn good quilts!

The ultimate moral of my story? Never leave home without AquaNet.

37 Responses

  1. Donnalee says:

    Those gentlemen seem delighted to be sharing the scene with your great quilt. I’m glad you sold the one, and really, a happy ending IS a happy ending. Enjoy and keep quilting!

  2. leanne says:

    I’m more than a little shocked that they were rejected from the Sydney show but I’m so glad you got to show them and woohoo that you sold one !! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Barbie says:

    Oh Molli B, I knew this gray haired lady was a kindred spirit with you but didn’t know why until I saw you grew up in bible-belt Oklahoma. OMG…you got as far away and you possibly could. It has been a source of much joking about me from my friends that I was born in the middle of rural Oklahoma. WTF?! I got away too although some days it feels not far enough.

    I love your outrageous quilts and encourage you to keep applying to all possible shows and challenging the status quo but know also your BUYING audience and make sure they see your work. Glitter on….

  4. jeanette says:

    Luv you Molli!
    You always make me smile and laugh. Your expertise with tonge and cheek word play while having the courage to share your un-(gendered)bias opinions so openly astounds and thrills me. If only others could hear you with the same openness, we’d all be in a better place.

  5. Linda says:

    Dear Molli,

    I’m sorry to hear about your rejections. There are a LOT of people in this world that say they are open-minded, but when they look difference in the face, they can’t pretend any more. I say any gay man that escaped Oklahoma in one piece and with a can of Aqua Net in his purse, is a force to be reckoned with! (I know this because my sister, the queen of the racists, lives in the southeast corner of OK, and she’s a pip, let me tell you!)

    Do you know Chaun of completely cauchy? If not, she’s a quilter who speaks her mind in her quilts – literally. You two would make a great collaboration. If you do know her, you know she has gotten flack for her quilts, too. I love her quilt about gun violence (I’m so against guns, that I wouldn’t even let my kids have water pistols when they were young).

    I’m so glad you got to display your work at “Tropical Fruits.” Love the name…lol. That picture of your friends there in their glittery S&M gear made me chuckle out loud. They’re adorable.

    If you ever run out of Aqua Net, let me know. I have a can of extra hold!!

    xoxo Linda

  6. Becky says:

    I adore your Dick quilt and plan on making one this year once the cast is off my hand and I am done with PT. so glad I found your blog sparkling with your gayness. I am currently living in Oklahoma (CA transplant) and find it very . . . Puritan. Love reading about your fabric buying trips. Keep sparkling!

  7. Kelly says:

    Molli, you sparkle so wildly that all the way over here in Portland, Oregon I stood up, shook out my weave, and sang a chorus of Born This Way so loudly my dog decided to howl along – all to salute the unique brilliance of your fine self and your fine art. This post is perfection. An artist’s life is filled with just such moments as these (well, at least the rejection moments). The triumphant thrill of having your work find its admiring audience is joyful for your readers but comes as no surprise. You are destined for accolades. Thank you for sharing the bitter and the sweet.

  8. Brenda Iwami says:

    Dear Molli, I don’t care what a person’s preference is…a “Happy Ending” is a happy ending! So glad you found your artistic audience! While those who don’t “get it” wander aimlessly among the mundane and dismal world, we who rock to Molli salute you! (sorry couldn’t resist a QUEEN reference ;oP Love you tons!

  9. Jane REiter says:

    LOVE! Always move forward Baby!! Best wishes from Michigan, USA 🙂

  10. Clair says:

    Ah! I wondered why I didn’t see it when I went to Sydney…this all makes sense now. In my humble opinion it would have bought a real giggle factor to the show. Art shows and especially modern art shows should always have something edgy and confronting, if we always sit in our comfort zone then nothing changes and nothing progresses. Your dick quilt has always had my tick of approval, Molli.

  11. Wendy Welsh says:

    Thank you for your honesty – and your persistence to get your quilts exhibited. I hear more and more people saying we should keep trying until we find a show that suits our style. Rejection is very hard to accept, but we just need to keep trying other avenues. You proved it’s worth it. Instead of a bunch of women frowning at your quilts, you had a bunch of gay men loving them! Congratulations.

  12. Serena @ Sewgiving says:

    I think this quote from your text above says it all “However, if we are truly asking the public to respect quilts as works of art—rather than simply a hobby craft of needle and thread—we need to be prepared for the concept that not all art is generically, family-friendly.” … I’m so happy you prevailed … and sold art, no less, isn’t karma fabulous!

  13. Thanks for your honesty about the rejection road trip you’ve been on. Congrats on another sale, and the commissions. And for tellin’ it like it is.

  14. Katy says:

    There, see, they found their perfect home in the end! And yeah, I don’t think the modernistas are that cutting edge TBH, nor that liberal for the most part (at least judging by my IG feed during the last election over in the good ole US of A), so I wasn’t hugely surprised, although I think they really ought to have an outré category at Quilt Con, hell, I might even try and go if they did! BTW that last pic made me howl with laughter, the guy on the right looks so like someone I used to work with, but he was always clad in brown polyester suits, I’m not sure I could ever look him in the eye the same way again if I ran into him 😀

  15. Beth LaMotte says:

    Oh Molli, so glad to hear you lost none of your sparkle throughout the story you shared. Regarding the quilts, bitchin’ stitchin’ Molli!

  16. Rebecca says:

    As much as I loathe it being said to me and at the risk of you flipping the bird to this bird
    “You’re where you’re meant to be for a reason”
    Hair flick ensues 🤣😘😘

  17. Janine says:

    I laughed, I cried and then rejoiced at this story with it’s happy ending. Personally, my favourite quilt is the Bottom Bunk and it’s wonderful that some one loved it enough to buy it. You got some chutzpah Molli!! 🥂

  18. Molli, that rocks! I’m so happy for you! It just goes to show how non-personal quilt shows really are. I have never been juried into QuiltCon except once by default,, but I have a solo exhibit of 20 original quilts opening at a large regional quilt show in March. The opportunities are abound and there are so many other places for us to try.

  19. Sue says:

    I love your quilts & I love your honest, no holds barred, post. Keep making the quilts you want to make Molli & if some people don’t like them or think they are ‘appropriate ‘ ignore them. Keep sparkling 🍸😘

  20. April says:

    Possibly a bit of truth tea but what if them being rejected from QuiltCon had nothing to do with the subject matter and everything to do with the fact that aesthetically they just don’t fit into QuiltCon? The quilts are glorious no matter what but assuming that the jury couldn’t handle the sight of a penis seems presumptuous.

  21. MJ Snyder says:

    Milli: Cheers to you! Perseverance and passion…you are a gift. Keep on keeping on… Love your work . Be true to yourself. Xoxo

  22. One sold, and requests for next time, that sounds pretty good to me. Rejection, take it on your chin,or shoulders, grin, and remember, that there are so many of us out here who love your quilt.

  23. grannyonabroomstick says:

    Mollie I am so proud of you! You never sink, THE UNSINKABLE MOLLIE B (have I heard that somewhere before )?

  24. You.are.amazing
    I can’t tell you how much I admire your spirit and I want to be like you when I grow up.

  25. Wendy says:

    Good for you Molli! I fail to see how your quilts aren’t family friendly. Half of all kids have a dick and plenty of the other half have seen their brothers! I sleep on the bottom bunk would be taken literally by a child! I think kids need to learn about homosexuality and how anyone can love anyone from an early age to battle all the prejudice that still exists

  26. fi says:

    Woo hoo Molli, congrats on your success & thanks so much for your honesty about rejection, we all feel it but very rarely write it as well as you! What a fab community you have here x

  27. Genevieve says:

    Congrats on finding someone to display your quilts! Your quilts are amazing, seeing WIP shots of your Don’t Be A Dick quilt on IG is what made me want to follow you and subscribe to your blog, because I love that someone would use this art form to express sexuality. I look forward to seeing what you create this year and hope you display your work in the UK at one point in the future so I can see your work in reality.

  28. Crystal says:

    I had no idea what Aquanet was… The more you know! Rejection is a hard, jagged little pill to swallow. for anyone, at anytime for anything. It sucks. Big time.

    While I don’t personally agree with ALL of the quilts hung at the show in Sydney, I do agree that the process was fair, without bias and a task the none of the jurors took lightly. As the jury process is blind (for both Quiltcon and the Sydney MQG), they are only seeing your quilts. No story behind them, just presented as they are.

    I imagine its less to do with the sentiment behind the quilts (and boldly emblazoned across them) and more to do with the design. On face value, did the *design* break any rules? Was it outstanding and provided a wow factor to the juror etc? Just because a quilt says something controversial or has a dozen dicks on it, does that constitute a good design – and one that fits the criteria of the show? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Don’t forget Quiltcon and the MQG has some real angst around what is modern, and they are very protective of their little description.

    Your quilts have a place and they have a purpose. you just had to sift through a few other places to find it. Just think, if one of them made it through to Quiltcon, you would probably not have chased the art show, which sounds far more successful.

    Quilt shows are not all that and a bag of potato chips. Keep on making art and quilts that are from your creative heart and you will keep true to yourself. Thats what its all about and at the end of the day, YOU will know that you created true.

  29. Kitty says:

    This is perfect. I’m so glad you got your happy ending, and really… it seems like it was meant to be. Having your quilts hang at Tropical Fruits is way cooler than the other comme ci comme ca quilt shows!! Plus, your writing always makes me laugh. Love it!

  30. Julie says:

    Oh goodie! I am going to use my adult language because it is the only thing that fits how I really feel… I am over (did you hear that?) over whatever anyone decides is modern… I don’t even care anymore. I have never entered a quilt show… not because I am afraid of rejection but because I don’t give a Shit (oh I said it) what other people think of my quilts. I make quilts for me and I won’t let anyone else tell me what is good enough. If I show it to you then it is good enough for me because believe me there are a few that have never seen the light of day. But you would expect to have a few rejects after 30 yrs right? Love you darling and I am so happy that you found the perfect place for your art!

  31. Betty C says:

    Congratulations to you for getting it in the end!
    ;-}

  32. Tina says:

    I really suspect that the fact that I typed “I sleep on the bottom bunk”will mess up my Internet search record for good and I will probably get to see a ton of interesting advertisement on social media in the weeks to come – lol. because: i totally didn’t got it. AT ALL. I thought it was a really odd text for a quilt maybe suitable for a youth hostel. Maybe the ladies from the quilt show didn’t get it either. Or maybe you explained in your submission.
    In the end, it turned out the way it was supposed to be.
    Look at the happy faces of the guys under the dick-quilt! Probably the best audience the quilt could have wished for.
    Probably it is not the success that makes us grow, as human beings and as artists, probably it is the way we handle rejection and defeat.
    You won, Molly. Big times! congrats!
    And I learned something new.

  33. I’m sorry for the rejections, Molli, but I guess if it hadn’t been for GA skipping you, you wouldn’t be up $$$! And that’s been my favorite of those three of yours – I love the “subtly” ; ) and I’m glad a collector loved it, too! Congrats on getting them out in the world to be appreciated in person!

  34. PennyDog says:

    That’s a wonderful story. It’s also comforting for the rest of us rejects that if someone as great as Molli B Sparkles is rejected then it doesn’t feel as painful. Thanks for sharing.

  35. Ms. Sue says:

    You’re the man!! Congratulations on your quilt sale, nothing says “I told you so,” like $ in the pocket.
    I will have a cocktail in your honor. 🙂

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