Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Thoughts on Modern Quilting (Does Anybody Care?)

As introduction I will quote a few prominent quilt bloggers.  Please see the links for more on these blogs:


From Freshly Pieced - http://www.freshlypieced.com/

“The new definition, as stated on the MQG website, is as follows: "Modern quilts are primarily functional and inspired by modern design. Modern quilters work in different styles and define modern quilting in different ways, but several characteristics often appear which may help identify a modern quilt. These include, but are not limited to: the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work. 'Modern traditionalism' or the updating of classic quilt designs is also often seen in modern quilting."”

From Cut to Pieces - http://cuttopieces.blogspot.com/

“…their previous definition of the Modern Quilt movement was:

Modern quilting is a new twist on the traditional art of quilting. This may mean something as simple as using a traditional quilt block and updating it in a fresh, fun new way. That includes using modern fabrics, modifying the block arrangement or even the scale of the block. The piecing could be improvisational and wonky, or it could be very exact and measured, following a pattern or creating your won. The quilting could be traditional stippling, clean straight lines, or a very "free" have fun and quilt-as-you-go style. Fabrics could be upcycled vintage sheets, custom digital printed fabric, a yummy selection from one of the new modern fabric designers, or an old fabric from an ever growing stash.

“Modern quilting is sometimes difficult to define because in many ways the definition is as individual as the quilter - changing from quilter to quilter. In addition to reflecting the individual personality and personal style of the quilter, it also reflects the current aesthetic of the day.

“Modern quilting is also about the attitude and the approach that modern quilters take. It respects the amazing artistry and talent of the tradition of quilting, while allowing the quilter to challenge the "rules". In fact, if there were one rule in modern quilting, it would be that there are no rules.

“The concept of modern quilting is not meant to divide or segregate. It is meant to welcome new quilters, of all ages, to the world of quilting in a style that they can relate to. In many ways, modern quilting takes us back to the basics of the early quilters, when women of the day used the colors and styles of their time to express themselves creatively"”

From Marcus Fabrics - http://www.marcusfabrics.com/
“It's been described as the natural evolution in quilting, and according The Modern Quilt Guild an international organization, modern quilting is a reflection of one's own style and personality. Even as some say it has its roots in rebellion ("break-the-rules" quilting), a set of principles that define and guide the movement, is beginning to shape the concept of the modern quilt. In general, modern quilts would share some of these characteristics, to name just a few:

  • Asymmetry in quilt design
  • Frequent use improvisational piecing
  • Bold colors, on-trend color combinations and graphic prints
  • Increased use of solid colors, including grey and white as neutrals
  • Simple, minimalist design using geometric shapes
  • Less emphasis on block repetition
  • Increased use of negative space
  • Designs exhibit influences of modern art and architecture
  • Reinterpreted traditional blocks
  • Unconventional block structures

“Even with these seemingly new approaches to quilting, it's easy to see how the modern movement gathers inspiration from the past. The artistic, free-style piecing of the Gee's Bend style of African American quilting, and solid color combinations of Amish quilt traditions are clearly influencing the movement.”

From Piecemeal Quilts - http://piecemealquilts.com/

“For me, modern quilting is about a new generation of quilters putting their spin on the tradition of quiltmaking as a creative yet practical art. Through the years, quilts have been made for a purpose (warmth). They’ve also been a creative outlet and a way to add beauty to our lives. Some were made from scraps and others from found cloth (feedsacks, old clothes) or specially purchased materials. None of that has changed.
“The biggest difference I see is color/fabric choices. Modern quilting leans toward clear colors rather than grayed colors. Solids are more prevalent. (Based on those two qualifications, modern quilting is very much like traditional Amish quilting.) Prints are either very large scale, graphic, or whimsical as opposed to traditional florals and calicoes. Modern quilting also pairs fabrics much more… um… adventurously. I also see a change in the patterns. Instead of representative blocks, like traditional stars, baskets and flowers, they lean toward geometric designs with less emphasis on symmetry (although there are also some very symmetrical modern quilts). I also see scale playing a greater part in modern quilting, either very large or very small. However, I think a traditional pattern with modern fabrics is more likely to read as modern than a modern pattern with traditional fabrics.”

From Quilting Gallery – http://quiltinggallery.com/

Pat Sloan discusses various quilts and quilting styles, including modern, with contributors:


Why would we need another essay on Modern Quilting?  Why has it been on my mind?  I’m not sure I can answer the why, but because it has been on my mind, and those who know me will never accuse me of being under-analytical, the topic has prodded and prickled and insisted on some solidification in my brain.  Therefore, I write.

I can agree that there is a “modern” style going on in quilting at present.  There are various styles, even “genres” if you will, in quilting as in much of any art, craft or design arena.  Styles are quite definable and recognizable by a person educated in art or design history.

Some examples of historical design style are Art Nouveau, Rococo, Victorian, Mid-Century Modern, Arts and Crafts, French Provincial, Bauhaus, and on and on.  If you look up design styles, you will find style names applied to interior design, architectural design, clothing design, fine arts, music and other performing arts, literature, and a number of other expressionist (a style in itself!) forms in the world.  Even scientific research can fall into a style of work.  Does each person have his/her own unique style in life?

In one sense, the style of a quilt is defined by the way it is constructed rather than the design, such as pieced, appliqued, whole-cloth, sashiko, embellished, hand or machine quilted.  In another sense, the style comes from the intended use – a bed or lap quilt for warmth and comfort, a wall or art quilt for aesthetic enjoyment and display.  Often the functions can be interchangeable in the same quilt.

Does the current (say, 2000-present) modern style stand apart from past modern styles?  That may remain to be seen, when in 10 years or 20 the current modern style becomes known as Early 21, or Simple Modern, or Young Modern Movement of the early 2000’s.  Stylistically, much of the current Modern Quilt movement resembles past design categories (Amish, Gee’s Bend) with some significant twists in color palettes, print scales or construction methods.   But I do believe there are uniquely recognizable and definable elements that set apart today’s modern style.

After much internet research of definitions and mulling in my head, I made and entered a quilt in the AQS Des Moines Quilt Week Modern Quilt Challenge.  It was accepted along with 112 others, and I mailed it off.  My sisters and I had already planned to go to the show this year.  It was exciting to see my quilt hung in the show, and to enjoy viewing the artistry, skills and vision of the other entrants (and those in all the other exhibits totaling over 1600 quilts!)  When I got home, my email included a notice from AQS that they were going to include a modern category in each quilt competition for all seven quilt weeks in 2014.  The basic structure of their competition rules includes two main categories, bed quilts and wall quilts, loosely guided by size.  Each division is broken into further groups of hand quilted or machine quilted, etc. – mostly defining technique.  The modern category falls in the wall quilt division though the Modern Quilt Guild includes “primarily functional” in its definition (which I interpret to mean keeping someone warm.)

Because of my conclusions that modern quilting is a style and not necessarily a brand new beast, I believe AQS is wrong to define a modern category.  They do not have categories for any other particular style of quilt.  If they wish to encourage modern style entries, or feel they need to be judged apart from the rest, then a separate challenge seems the way to do so.  For one, it seems there is so little agreement on what modern means that any quilt can be claimed as modern.  AQS would probably be wise to examine all their categories and perhaps revise in light of new methods and style definitions.
However, lest you read discouragement in these notes, I do not advocate any limits on what quilters can and wish to do.
The technology of today allows smaller scale (in the home) yet faster and cleaner production (of just about anything), hence a huge proliferation of quilts in the world – not a bad thing at all!  We can always use more quilts in this life.  Technology also has made communicating about quilts (and any other hobby or occupation) easier and more accessible.  The advances in such areas as photography, blogging and internet community, publishing, ease of travel, and fabric production have all made the world of quilting an exciting and lovely place to be.  However, I don’t believe these advances are unique to modern quilting.  All styles of quilting and design can “benefit” and are benefiting from the new technologies.

So am I attempting to demote or debunk “modern quilting” by putting it on the same playing field or level as all other styles?  Perhaps it appears so.  But there is never a reason to disrespect or demean any quilt, style or quilter.  Quilting today is fabulous, traditional (whatever tradition you mean…), modern, art, or any combination of the above.  Each person quilting today is unique, has his/her own unique tastes, resources, skills, talents and creative capacity, yet puts his/her heart into each and every quilt made.  I love that each quilter is encouraged by all the others, whether by reading beautiful quilt books, looking at the wonders of quilts on the internet, gathering in guilds or smaller quilt friend groups, traveling to quilting events, shows, classes and retreats, visiting fabric shops galore on land and “cloud”, or being inspired by the treasures of the past.  Keep up this good work, quilters of the world.  It’s truly a gift to peace.