Sunday, June 17, 2012

A whole new animal?

"Marvelette" 2012, with linear long-arm quilting by Tomme Fent
The American Quilt Study Group has recently been having a discussion among members of the "Yahoo!" group, and the topic is the Modern Quilting movement. What is Modern Quilting? And is this quilt, "Marvelette", a modern quilt?

I'm very interested in the topic. There is a Modern Quilt Guild in Portland, and they meet monthly at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in the Pearl District. I gave a lecture to the group last year, and also attended a 1/2-day textile conservation workshop they hosted this year. It is a diverse group of mostly women, but I do know one man who has recently joined, and I think I'll join, too. Of course, I'm also a member of the Northwest Quilters. I like both groups, but each has its own dynamic.

To answer the question, "What is Modern Quilting?" I have to rely on the information from the Modern Quilt Guild website. Here's what they have to say.

What is modern quilting?
Modern quilting is a new and rapidly growing movement in the quilting world. A group of quilters applied their current tastes and points of view to this traditional craft and shared their work online.  Their fresh approach and new designs attracted sewers and quilters and the modern quilting movement was born.
Modern quilting, like all art, changes, grows and adapts from quilter to quilter as they find their own voice. Modern quilts reflect each quilter’s personality and personal style, and as the movement has grown, a modern quilt aesthetic, a set of principles that define and guide the movement, is beginning to emerge.
Modern quilts and quilters:
  • Make primarily functional rather than decorative quilts
  • Use asymmetry in quilt design
  • Rely less on repetition and on the interaction of quilt block motifs
  • Contain reinterpreted traditional blocks
  • Embrace simplicity and minimalism
  • Utilize alternative block structures or lack of visible block structure
  • Incorporate increased use of negative space
  • Are inspired by modern art and architecture
  • Frequently use improvisational piecing
  • Contain bold colors, on trend color combinations and graphic prints
  • Often use gray and white as neutrals
  • Reflect an increased use of solid fabrics
  • Focus on finishing quilts on home sewing machines
Modern quilting has its roots in rebellion, in our desire to do something different, but simultaneously its feet are firmly planted in the field of tradition.  Modern quilting is our response to what has come before.  We are quilters first, modern quilters second. There are however, characteristics that set modern quilters apart from our traditional and art quilting friends.

Modern quilters are a diverse group of woman and men, young and old, experienced and novice, yet each of us feels the need to differentiate ourselves as modern quilters by how we work, the fabrics we choose, and the aesthetic of our quilts. We create in a way that supports our individual creative needs and our lifestyle preferences.  Modern quilters resist the imposition of hard and fast rules for making a quilt.  We pick and choose traditional techniques and methods that work for us and at the same time feel free to redefine or reinvent what is possible and allowable in making quilts.

Modern quilters have embraced the new options available in textiles: bold colors, graphic prints, larger scale prints, and Japanese fabrics.  Much like the Amish quilting tradition, many modern quilters are also exploring quilt designs made exclusively with solid fabrics or with just a hint of print.

The Internet has played an integral role in the development of modern quilting.  Through blogs, online tutorials and social media the modern quilting community interacts, providing inspiration and friendship for each other.  This has helped the community grow at an astounding pace, providing feedback and support at a moment’s notice.

In many ways, modern quilting has taken 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 while finding friendship and community along the way.  Welcome to modern quilting!


Very interesting! So is "Marvellette" a modern quilt? It wasn't really done with that intent, but it's almost a cross between an art quilt and a modern quilt. The dense, linear quilting gives it a certain stiffness, which I like in an art quilt...but not so much in a functional quilt. It does use white and gray as neutrals, but it doesn't include solid fabrics. Some of the prints are bold, but others are small-scale. There are also batiks.

The quilt wasn't finished on a home sewing machine, it was long-armed by Tomme Fent, who also happens to belong to both the Northwest Quilters and the Portland Modern Quilt Guild. It does use improvisational piecing, relies less on the repetition and interaction of blocks, and it is inspired by modern art and architecture.

Sylvia Gray did a great job with the pieced binding
Some people look at it and think crazy quilt. Others see elements of Gee's Bend. It isn't really either. So, it appears "Marvelette" is on the fence. Were all the rules broken, not knowing there were any rules? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't...or maybe it's a whole new animal. What do you think?


  1. Great post! I'm a member of PMQG! I think it's unfortunate that we're using the word "modern"
    When it's really more "post modern" IMHO.
    Im thrilled to be enjoying the fellowship of my peers at PMQG and not feel the pressure to be more traditional.
    But I sometimes miss the focus on craftsmanship of my local traditional guild.

  2. I was going to post a conversation Rachel (2nd ave studio) had on her blog recently but I see she (you!) have already weighed in. I agree, post modern feels more suited to what we do. I think many of the people I know who I'd consider 'modern quilters' work with composition, color and design the way many other designers do - in other words, there seems to be a crossover with what is currently happening across many design disciplines - and modern quilting is directly connected to it. And I think someone had to call it something, so they picked that. I think Marvelette does fall into the modern category. Why? Because I said so!

  3. Modern quilts reflect each quilter’s personality and personal style. Sorry, I find alot of the Modern Quilts to be very cookie cutter quilts following the lead of a few fabric designers & authors.

    Quilts and quilters all evolve whether one thinks their style is traditional or modern. We are all at the mercy of the available resources.

    The longer I quilt, the more I believe there isn't anything really new in quilting.

  4. There's been more discussion about this in the Quilts-Vintage and Antique page on Facebook, and one person made a comparison between the Modern Quilters and the Bauhaus. It was an intriguing comparison in my opinion. Both movements seem guided by manifestos. For quiltmaking, that may be a departure, since Quiltmaking in America has traditionally been more grassroots.

  5. Who cares what we call things.? Just do what you like doing. There is nothing new under the sun,they say. Were the ladies in Gee's Bend "modern" quilters? I'm glad this group is growing and adding enthusiasm to the quilt world. We needed a boost!

    1. I don't really care what we call things, but I do try to stay within the framework of accepted terminology, especially when writing or lecturing.

      The Modern Guilt Guild seems like a movement. If it was just one person saying, for example, "We don't call it fussy cut anymore. We call it selectively cut," I wouldn't take any stock in it at all. But because of the numbers of people getting involved with the Modern Quilt Guilds across the country, the whole thing has really triggered my curiosity.

  6. what I like about the Modern Quilt Guild is that it can really be so many different things. To me, it's less snotty about precision and many items that frustrate me in quilt judging at shows (and some of the long-standing guilds).I really am not interested in the quilts that win awards at the big quilt shows: lots of overwhelmingly elaborate piecing and quilting, and all those added crystals. but there are things I don't like about some of the MQG: they seem to be setting rigid standards too, just different ones. I see more influence of Gee's Bend in your quilt than I do MQG. Not enough blank space, solid fabric and designer prints...

  7. This change will be good for has brought a in group of younger quilters. This movement is a natural cycle as with many things. By the end of the 20th century quilts were getting so complex and dark, that it is natural to move to a new style. At the turn of the 19th century quilts were dark and then came the 30's and 40's with its lighter colors and "colonial" and art deco patterns. So it goes around again.

    I suspect that as time goes on "modern" will become more formalized. The improv quilters will always be a minority, since it takes more thought and skill to make them. The average quilter will still be using patterns and kits, but with a modern flavor....this is already starting.

    I think the difference is that the quilt movement of the 70's on was looking back as there was nostalgia for the agrarian (country) lifestyle and today's modern quilting is much more urban. It reflects the culture of today's quilters. Life is moving faster and quilters want more calm, do-able quilts. I find it all interesting.

    Since we are all products of our culture. I think that this began with the home design concept of cottage, where white was it. It is post modern. Think about those ubiquitous white lawn chairs where form followed function. Think of the embrace of Ikea...pared down to essentials.

    I have quilted since the 70's and I welcome the future of quilting even though I am stuck in the bastion of traditional quilting of the midwest.

  8. "Marvelette" is NOT a "modern" quilt.

    Toyna says modern quilts have standards too, just different ones. Gray - White.... really dumb....

    Bonnie says modern quilts have brought in a group of younger quilters.

    and so much of this seems market driven... subtle but still looking for new customers.

    Will be interesting to see where it is 5-7 years from now... if the newbies have made their half dozen quilts and are done with this medium.

    I like some modern quilts, I just think the hype associated with these quilts is over done.