16 September 2010

What is Modern Quilting?

I stumbled across a post about whether Modern Quilting is a revolution or an evolution. Reading it triggered a sore spot of mine that has developed after looking through the Flickr Fresh Modern Quilts pictures. I wrote out the following reply to the post but when I realized how hugely long it was, I realized that it might make a good discussion blog post too. Keep in mind, I'm not trying to bash anyone. I think I just have a different way of looking at quilts and quilting than some, and I wanted to share why I think the way I do. So read on, and pass this on if you like it or think that someone else would want to see it. I'd love to hear other peoples' thoughts on the matter!

I realize that I'm really late to this discussion, but I wanted to chime in, even if nobody will ever see it. I read this article and all of the comments, and have mulled over what to say for a while now. It almost seems to me that many who call themselves modern quilters and just make quilts from kits with a single line of fabric and maybe one solid fabric mixed in or, if not from a kit, at least they make their fabric choices based off of a single line or two of fabric, are afraid. Quilting is something that so often today is associated with grandmothers. Grandmothers who sat up late, working on incredibly intricate blocks just like their grandmothers. In our society, we are taught to fear aging - you should look like you're 20 for the rest of your life, right? Botox, cosmetic surgery, all of the age-defying products on the market...we as a culture in the US, anyways, are afraid to seem old. So why would we want to do something that our grandmothers did?

While we love quilting, we also want to separate OUR quilts from THEIR quilts. We want a way to say "I quilt, but I don't do it like old ladies...I'm not old, I'm modern!" so that our friends, when they find out we quilt, don't instantly think of us as shriveled old women. We use fabrics bought at the store specifically for a quilt so we're not scrimping and saving everything the way the quilters of old did. Don't get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against buying fabric for quilting...quite the opposite, if you look at my stash. I have a problem with the way we don't push our boundaries. We're lucky to live in a world where quilting isn't a necessity anymore. We don't have to make a quilt in order to keep our newest child from freezing to death in the middle of the night. And that's great. But that has changed quilting.

I'm not going to lie, I get sick of looking at flickr pools that are all full of the same quilt designs - they're great designs, but the quilts aren't really unique. I'm not going to name any because I don't want to make anyone mad, but there a few newer designs that have been showing up almost daily in the FMQ pool. Traditional designs, sure - everyone recognizes a 9 patch quilt, and it's one of the simplest ones out there. I just don't understand why, after seeing umpteen other quilts that are identical, just with different fabric, you'd want to make it yourself. Maybe I'm just jaded, or too stubborn and independent, but I've made a few quilts with traditional designs (Log Cabin, Disappearing 9 Patch, pinwheel, Trip Around the World, etc.) and am rather proud that I've never made someone else's quilt.

At the same time, my quilts are still in the FMQ pool. I submit them to a lot of different flickr pools, but every time I submit a traditional-designed quilt to the FMQ pool, I feel like I'm being a rebel. After all, my quilt isn't modern - there are quilts hundreds of years old with the same design. The first few times I submitted images to the FMQ pool, I wondered if my quilts would make it in, since every other quilt had white sashing, multiple borders, and designer fabrics. I'm not using designer fabrics, either - I think I have 2 Moda fabrics. Maybe 3. I have less than a yard of each, as I picked them out based off of the color and design, only later realizing that they were made by Moda. I have FQs from Joanns, Hancocks, Hancocks of Paducah, and all sorts of other stores. The fabrics aren't even usually bought as bundles - I don't really do coordinated stuff, I just pick out a few individuals that catch my eye and work them into my future quilts.

I'm not trying to bash Moda or any other fabric line, but too many times other quilt bloggers buy tons of it, post pictures of it on their blog generally with the caption "delicious" or "yummy" something similar, and never use it (or it's a "Wordless Wednesday" post, but I just laugh as I don't even know what fabric it is). They complain about never using it, too, which bugs me. What's the point of a fabric if it never gets used? I have trouble finding homes for some of my fabrics, too, but with each quilt I design, I try to use at least one untouched fabric. I'm a scrappy quilter, so I might have as many as 10 or 15 different fabrics of one color (say, brown) in a baby quilt, let alone in a larger one! It might take a little more time for you to pick out your fabrics if you don't just pick up a charm pack or layer cake or jelly roll or whatever, and you'll probably spend a little more time cutting since your pieces of fabric aren't already partially cut for you. But it's not that much me, I work full time, and I still manage to do it!

My challenge to "modern quilters" out there - try something different than everyone else is doing. Make a quilt that doesn't involve pre-cuts. Make a quilt that doesn't have sashing in between the blocks and a narrow and wide border. Make a quilt that you designed - it's not that hard, even if you don't have EQ software. It takes a little longer to count how many squares you'll need, but it's totally doable. For me, maybe I'll try some of those things...sashing, or borders. I don't use them at all, so it'd be a step out of my comfort zone. Because that's what modern quilting really is - it's us trying something new, and knowing that we won't be rejected for it. After all, if a traditional block with no sashing and no designer fabrics can make it into a modern quilt pool, break out of the wonky log cabin rut and try a real log cabin!

So...what do you think? I hope I didn't hurt your feelings, but I would love to see this post foster some healthy debate/discussion! Do you agree? Disagree? Tell me in the comments!


  1. Emma, this is a very thought-producing statement and I'm glad to have stumbled across it and you. I agree with much of what you write about contemporary quilting. I think that we are saturated in the US with so-called 'designers' of fabric, but, I like to think that at least our beloved craft is expanding because of them and those that will follow. Quilting was not chic in the 70's, and I have watched it gather energy through the last three decades. This is good news! Even if we don't use those precuts and kits, at least our fabric choices are vast. I like that. Keep quilting!

  2. I know what you mean about seeing the same five or so designs all over the place, made out of only the 30-40 fabrics in one design line or another. It's funny to see it called 'modern', but it was the same with a boy's long hair in the 60's.......they acted as if it had never been done before !

    Everything that comes around goes around , and everyone has to come to something in their own way. Anything that gets the next generation quilting and sewing, rather than just texting or playing video games, is not to be argued down.

    As my eyesight fails, and my patience wanes, I am thoroughly enjoying making some of the simpler patterns that I see EVERYONE making. Maybe the next niece I give a quilt to won't snarl up her nose and say, "a quilt.....uh, that's nice, Aunt Dolly."

    I've spent over 20 years winning ribbons and counting stitches....I'm ready for a break......the new quilters will take their turn too ..... they're just sharpening their skills!

  3. Hi Emma, I had to check out your blog when I saw your name, my baby girl's name is Emma. I think modern has a different meaning for each generation. "Retro" sure has a different meaning now than it did when I was a girl in the sixties. My grandmother's quilts are different from mine, but her fabric choices were a lot different than mine are now. The patterns really haven't changed all that much, just the colors and the fabric stores. When I grew up, our town only had one fabric store, now it has 3, plus all the online opportunities we have now for shopping. I tend to shop local, and make up my own patterns if I can. Anyway, that's my 2 cents, and I'm so glad I found your blog.

  4. Emma, you can get all caught up in labels, and you can surf a million quilt blogs but if you have an ounce of creativity, you'd rather be quilting, and for me, when I am quilting, I don't want my quilt to look like anyone else's quilts.

    You can do traditional patterns in untraditional fabrics, you can skew the traditional patterns, you can do a million things. You can create your own original patterns, you can break the molds and if you use old fashioned fabrics, it will have a traditional flavor.

    I have some prejudices; one is that I like to make usable quilts; quilts that can be used, quilts that can be washed, so all my quilts have seams, not raw edges, but . . . I am preparing (one of these days) to do one of those fluffy quilts that are entirely raw edge, but they are both usable and washable and in addition, they are totally soft and cuddly.

    I guess I am saying you have a lot of talent and I would not waste a minute worrying what other people think or what other people might label. Quilt for yourself. Make yourself happy. it's all for YOU. :-D

    Schlaf gut, Emma!

  5. Emma,

    I have been quilting 25 plus years and I love tradional quilts, and I create my own patterns for quilts to be used on beds.

    I play with modern tools, modern fabrics etc so that sort of makes me modern but I am not a Modern Quilter because I have found my way and have no need to follow the leader.

    I look at the Modern Quilts and what I see is a lot of people finding their way in a new world .. perhaps they will find their way one day and become creative and original, which I value far more than Modern.

    Judy B

  6. I just stumbled upon this blog and love your stans. I recently attended a modern quilt meeting and showed off a quilt I made and the girls were going on and on about this Amy Buttler fabric I used. My response to myself was Amy who? I bought it cause of the colors. But during show n tell it was just constant discussion about what fabrics I used and little about technique, creativity, or originality. If there is not a shift in thinking now, The modern quilt movement will become "boring" and fall flat on it's face. There needs to needs push towards new and fresh thinking, not reproduction and $15 a yard designer fabric!


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