Sunday, 13 July 2014

What is Modern Quilting?

The girls asked me to write a blog post talking about modern quilting. “Oh sure,” I said. “Easy peasy.” Yeah, it should be easy, since it’s what I live and breathe and immerse myself in, day in and day out. I know what it looks like, I know what it feels like, I know I love it. But man, it’s a really hard concept to define. Someone please hand me some chocolate.

So I started to research the topic. I read the official definitions of the Modern Quilt Guild, I read up on the history of it. I read about whether we’re modern quilters or contemporary quilters or just quilters. And at some point my eyes may have started to bleed and I begged for the chocolate (I do that often, the chocolate bit, not the eye bleeding bit) and then I stepped away from the computer screen.

 And then it hit me. Why not just tell you what we consider to be modern quilting over here at Make Modern? Obviously we all feel a connection to the modern quilting movement, or we wouldn’t have whacked Modern in the title of our new magazine. We all identify as modern quilters, even though not everything we do is wonky or full of white space or even all that radical.

For us, modern quilting is about a mindset. We’re all significantly younger than the average quilter, though modern quilting isn’t about age. All three of us are women, though it’s definitely not about gender. We all feel a deep need to create that comes from somewhere we can’t necessarily explain, especially in a world full of store-bought, instant gratification. And now we’re getting somewhere. For us, modern quilting is simply the way we choose to express our creativity.

 Many things helped to bring about the modern quilting movement. It’s not all about being dissatisfied with what was offered before, but it is about discovering something that resonates with us more. 

Personal story: I began quilting almost 20 years ago (I’m the old one around here), and while I made a few quilts in the mid-nineties and into the early 2000s, I was drastically younger than the typical quilter. I appreciated many traditional quilts, but didn’t necessarily want to make them. I never took a formal class (though I frequently called on the expertise of a good friend in the days before the internet). I used a lot of solids before it became the done thing. And then I became frustrated by the lack of interesting fabrics and moved onto other crafts than seemed fresher and newer. Fast forward to 2010 and I’d occasionally pick up quilting magazines and see some new trends sneaking through. Like fresh, amazing fabrics (oh when will they reprint Denyse Schmidt’s Katie Jump Rope!?!). I turned to the internet for more inspiration and discovered a whole new quilting world had developed that was amazing and bright and fresh while I was off having photos developed and playing with papers. And I was hooked, again. Sucked back into a happy place of fabric and colour and cutting fabric into tiny pieces and stitching them back together again. 

 But – and this is a big but – thanks to the internet and blogs and social media and digital cameras, I discovered that I wasn’t alone in my love of quilting. There were plenty of others who’d discovered the creative benefits of quilting, who felt the sense of satisfaction that only comes with handmade. And we shared our love and our inspiration and our knowledge. The use of the internet and technology was critical in the development of the modern quilting movement. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in all quilting circles, but it’d be fair to say it happens more in the modern quiltosphere. 

In conjunction with this, fabric companies started to expand their focus and a lot more fresh, modern quilting cottons hit our shelves. Designers like Amy Butler and Denyse Schmidt brought a new demographic to the quilting world. Fabric became exciting again.

And of course, another critical aspect of modern quilting is the design – which is obviously different to what’s been popular in recent years. We’re not saying it’s all new and different because of course it’s not. The Amish nailed the use of solid fabrics way before Kona made colour cards. And the quilters of Gees Bend mastered improv decades before we did. Many antique quilts look surprisingly like modern quilts... or is it the other way around? 

But one thing modern quilters do is push the boundaries. We explore settings, we choose to quilt our own quilts, we make quilts to be used (seriously, is there anything better than seeing a quilt you made wrapped around a kid you made?), we play with colour and negative space and we do wonky and improv and imperfect. And then we do more traditional stuff with fresher fabrics, or English paper piecing or appliqué. And we work out which rules to break and which ones we should keep (like ¼ inch seams).
Modern quilting is not a definition we throw around to distinguish or isolate ourselves from other quilters. Quite frankly, if you’re in the practice of patchwork, we love you. Let’s face it, finding others who understand that you’d rather spend $100 on fabric than shoes is golden. But it can’t be denied that modern quilting is out there and it’s an aesthetic more and more quilters identify with. Our job is to foster these quilters, to bring them together, to celebrate the manufacturers who get us. We are not saying we’re better than traditional quilters, we’re just saying we’re here, we like what we like, and we want to see more of it. 

 And we’re here to represent you, fellow modern quilters. Or contemporary quilters. Or just quilters – whatever you want to be called. We know that you, like us, can’t get enough of this amazing, creative, so-much-more-than-a-bed-cover hobby, and we love you for that.

                                                                                              - Jane


  1. Great post! When I read, "It’s not all about being dissatisfied with what was offered before, but it is about discovering something that resonates with us more," I wanted to shout with joy. I think some definitions of modern really belittle quilters with a more traditional slant. Each makes his/her kind of beautiful and our world definitely needs a lot more all the forms pretty can take.

  2. Lovely interpretation of the modern quilt movement! I believe we now have so much around us for inspiration to enhance our quilting. I love your thought of pushing the boundaries. It's the unexpected twist that makes a quilt modern. Good luck on your new magazine!

  3. Thank you for putting into words how I think and how I feel!

  4. I was thoroughly confused about the whole traditional/modern/contemporary thing, but I found a little clarity at a session organised by our local quilt association. They were explaining how quilts were judged at competitions, and part of the explanation was getting the group to shout out which category we thought each quilt was and explaining why or why not – according to the local competition rules.
    So I learned that traditional is what most people think of as quilts. Modern often uses negative space, asymmetrical design and bright fabrics, is finished on a domestic machine and is intended to be utilitarian (actually used by kids and hubby and have the jam washed off later). Contemporary uses paint and glue and other media. We all agreed that people have different interpretations of the categories, but this explanation still helped me no end!
    It doesn't matter what type of quilts you make; you are still a quilter.

  5. Modern quilts value technique, but we value learning and experimenting, expression of creativity and beloved use over perfection.

  6. Jane's story is similar to mine - quilting for awhile at a younger age and getting re-energized about quilting in just the last couple of years! I love quilts that are based on modern art and graphic design - it's such a fresh aesthetic!

  7. Excellent article!
    I discovered quilts in the '70's during the US bicentennial. I was a teen and pulled articles out of my mom's magazines. I made a full size quilt from a pattern and a Puff quilt in queensize quilt for my sister's wedding. I made little wallhangings as I couldn't afford fabric to make bed quilts for many years. I've always loved traditional quilts, reproduction quilts, batik quilts, art quilts. I've tried many different techniques. If it's a quilt, I see it's value. I started enjoying "modern" quilts as the online world started creeping in more and more. Modern quilts to me are more clean lined, fresh colors, more graphic, quilted heavier (sometimes too heavily to me), new twists on traditional blocks and more improv. Sometimes the quality of the work isn't the best, but that's not the whole story. The story is the number of quilters who are now excited about making quilts. Young, old, male and female doesn't matter. It's the act of creating. There is no right or wrong, no better than, just different. Different is ok and I love it!

  8. Very interesting and I think I would agree with most of what you've said. I would perhaps like to ask - Who is the "typical/average quilter" you mention? (Maybe that's the subject for your next article.) I am older than you all (probably "significantly" or"drastically" older) but I don't think I've ever yet met an average/typical quilter. Does she/he exist? There has been research carried out in the USA every three years since 1994 in order to learn more about quilters there and to measure the time and money spent on the hobby - the last "Quilting in America" report was in 2010 (I read about it here:- ) Presumably the next one is due to be published soon and it will be interesting to see what has changed and how/if the Modern Quilt movement has altered things. However, I am not aware of any similar research elsewhere. This only tells us something about the USA, you are perhaps talking about your idea of the "typical/average" Australian quilter and I have some experience of patchwork/quilting in the UK and France. I am no expert but I see some differences: eg in France a great many stitchers (probably the majority) piece and quilt by hand - is that representative of the typical/average quilter worldwide? I don't know and I doubt it but it might be the case in some other countries too. Money spent on materials here (and to a degree in the UK) would not buy anything like as much as could be bought in the USA for an equivalent sum! So an average/typical quilter would be hard for me to define. The diversity and creativity (which has nothing to do with age in my humble opinion) in the worldwide patchwork and quilting population is one of the things I enjoy most about blogs and long may that diversity continue to thrive. There is room for everyone.

  9. You know how I would define modern quilting as opposed to traditional quilting? It's nothing to do with the patterns, or prints, or solids, or anything like that. It's the absence of the quilt police. Anything goes... that's what modern quilting is all about.

  10. I'm a longarmer specializing in modern quilts, so I would argue that modern quilts are not just quilted on a domestic machine. Personally, I would define modern quilts mostly as above, but to me, the key characteristic is that these quilts are being made to be used, and made to fit into someone's "curated lifestyle" in a sense. Modern quilting, to me, fits into the larger renaissance of DIY and homesteading, and the modern quilt is meant to be on a bed or functional in some way.


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