1. If I were to begin teaching design again, I would rely heavily upon the modern quilt movement for teaching aids. More than any single genre, modern quilts display an effective use of the principles of design: movement, unity, harmony, variety, balance, contrast, proportion and rhythm. Most interesting to me is that most modern quilters employ these principles organically, without any formal training or structure—they simply create what is in their hearts and minds. This, in my opinion, places modern quilting alongside ancient and indigenous art and designs as expressing the inborn drive of humans to create beauty.
The defining design principles in modern quilting (so far) are rhythm and movement. Modern quilts may be flowing or hopping, or some combination of those, but they are never still or static. Some have rhythms of nature and many have rhythms of urban life, but they all have an almost audible rhythm and an almost palpable movement.
I see parallels between modern quilts and the quilts that were created by American pioneer women of the 19th century. Both groups of people started with observations and impressions, and then stylized them into patchwork patterns. I have a Flying Geese quilt hanging on my wall that was made in the 1800’s by a woman in South Dakota, but looks right at home with any modern quilt. It is supremely simple, having only triangles and rectangles and two colors, red and white—but this quilt has captivated my mind every day for the past 10 years.
Modern quilting bridges over some of the excesses and complications of the last few decades to connect us back to the quilters of the past who only had their hands, needles, thread, and precious scraps of fabric to express their thoughts and emotions. Modern quilting really takes us back to the roots of quilting, reinforcing the idea that there is nothing new under the sun.
2. I am fairly new to quilting. By this I mean I have not grown up with a needle and thread in my hand, but learned to sew and quilt in 2007 at the age of 28. I was taught by traditional quilters who loved to tell me the endless rules of quilting. These rules included border sizes, color and fabric choices, and that one should never use anything but cotton or God help you. To be fair, I learned a lot from these women and still seek their advice. I also began to seek out alternative ways to quilt and groups who would encourage this type of behavior.
In my search I came across I modern quilt guilds and was introduced to modern quilting. After reading several blogs and looking though several resources I believe there is a definition for modern quilts. Much like modern art, modern quilting throws out the rules. Bold prints, exclusive use of solids, geometric patterns, negative space, and borderless quilts are all elements that I commonly see in modern quilts. Modern quilters have a different perspective and do not mind experimenting.
Modern quilts have many inspirations from the past. The quilts of Gee’s Bend are brought p often and for good reason. The quilts of Gee’s Bend are amazing in their use of recycled fabric and bold patterns. They also have unusual fabric combinations that turn off a traditional quilter. These women were modern quilters before there were modern quilters.
The Amish communities also were a big inspiration for modern quilters. The Amish use primarily solid fabric and create fantastic geometric blocks. Traditional quilters favor calico or small prints and find solids to be too flat.
What I like best about the movement is the acceptance to anyone. The guild I belong to is a very diverse group of people from all backgrounds. Some enjoy traditional quilting. Others have more of an art quilt background. Others have been stretching the limits of what fabric can do in order to create really amazing pieces. Everyone gets along!
Some of us old ladies took up quilting as youngsters and we had (and still have) the same thrills you’re experiencing now: appreciation for the elegant geometry and poignant history of traditional quilts, the fun and accomplishment of making objects both useful and beautiful, the ineffable joy of watching a baby sleep under your creation. We also treasured the companionship of a shared craft, learning from and helping one another as we stitched and talked.
One difference: you have a lot more tools and support than we had. Quilting fabrics come in a myriad of colors and patterns that weren’t available decades ago. Books, patterns, workshops, Internet tutorials and blogs abound for those who want ideas and instruction. Rotary cutters and mats, not even invented in our day, make construction easier.
As I read about modern quilting, I find people saying they want to break the rules, but not specifying which rules they find so bothersome. I think this is an existential complaint and perhaps has more to do with social rules than the technical or design rules. Society’s rules say that people should buy stuff rather than make it. But traditional quilting society has its rules too, many boiling down to “age before beauty.”
So revel in your freedom to hang out with people like yourself, who want to talk about the activities and concerns of a younger generation rather than complain about high taxes and health problems. Take advantage of the online community, which can connect you to friends and mentors even if you can’t find them in person.
And use this freedom to flex your muscles and move into new territory. Choose your own fabric combinations instead of buying a designer line. After you’ve learned the basics, graduate from other people’s patterns to making your own designs; heck, make a quilt without a pattern! And maybe even make friends with an old lady.
4. To me the adjective in modern quilting has little to do with the aesthetics of a quilt. Take a look at the primitive solid quilts of the Amish and Mennonites and the free form and wonderfully abstract quilts of Gee’s Bend. You can’t say that what quilters are making today is new and uncharted territory.
So what is it then that makes a modern quilter? One common trait I’ve noticed is unabashed creativity. Originality and untamed lines are applauded over perfection. There is NO FEAR in the modern quilter. No fear of shame for not having perfect points, no fear of seam allowances being measured, no fear of angles or colors. When the fear of breaking rules is gone the creative juices flow with much more force.
But what if you want to make traditional blocks with perfect points? That’s okay too! Another attribute is the acceptance and embracement of all styles and methods of quilting. Sometimes making a classic block is a rewarding challenge. Hand quilting? Machine quilting? Both are cool. The modern quilter moniker is more about attitude and less about construction.
You can’t overlook the new social networking aspect of quilting either. Blogs, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and message boards are the new quilting clubs. My own introduction to quilting was a blogger’s quilt-a-long with the participants joining a corresponding Flickr group. I was able to ask questions, show my work, get feedback and see what everyone was doing all while on my laptop in my living room. I became friends with several people in the group and we became mutual blog followers. Some of these friends live halfway around the world and, yet, I feel like we are in a virtual quilting guild together. Even if you live in an area with no quilt shops or associations you can grow in your skills, get advice and tips, and feel kinship within the global modern quilting community.
So my interpretation in a nutshell: No fear. Acceptance. Social Networking. Degrees of these three elements combined in one quilter = one modern quilter. What do you think?
For example, a traditional quilt will use white or muslin as a background fabric, while a modern quilt will use black or blue or maybe even orange as the background fabric. A traditional quilt will use the same fabric type for the entire quilt (all flannel, all cotton, etc.) while a modern quilt may mix flannels and batik, or cotton and Minke. Another difference is that traditional quilting follows certain rules, where modern quilting isn’t required to follow rules. Modern quilters may choose to follow rules, if it suits their mood, but other times rules just fly out the window and colors can go together willy-nilly as long as it looks good to the quilt creator. In short – modern quilting is the freedom to do whatever you want to create your quilt, with the security to know there is a long history and well established rules to support you if needed.
After many years of trying to put myself into a “box” I’ve discovered that there isn’t one that fits.
Could I be a modern quilter? I have a great deal of respect for traditional quilters, and I enjoy art quilts, but my own work is just that, my own. Describing it is difficult as it doesn’t fit into any real category. It’s traditional in its framework and execution, and yet it’s definitely not what many people would call a “quilt.”
I can’t resist pushing the edges of the envelope. I get bored with traditional patterns and fabrics, with simple machine or hand stitching, with colors that don’t pop or even clash a little. My quilts are so laden with beads and buttons and other odds and ends that they weigh a ton, (although they hang well!). They also take forever to make.
I start off with one idea and end up with something completely different. I keep up-to-date with what’s current and yet resist going along with the crowd. If everyone else is doing it, I don’t want to.
Perhaps that’s what modern quilting is. It’s not a box or a category or a style, it’s quilters doing what they want the way they want to and loving every minute of it.
Modern quilting is an adventure. The fabrics are exciting, the patterns are fun! There are no such things as templates in my world of modern quilting. All cutting is done with a rotary cutter, but the blocks are not necessarily symmetrical. Lines don’t have to be straight. The end result is fabulous.
Modern quilting understands that as a mother of three young children, my quilting time is limited. I don’t have to spend hours painstakingly piecing stars and hand appliquéing intricate designs to make something worthwhile that I would be proud to showcase in my home. The fabric designers have done most of the hard work for me. I love their fabrics and want to show them off. The larger the blocks, the better the quilt. If the fabric is cut into too many small pieces, many times the effect is lost.
Modern quilting is having fresh ideas. It breaks the traditional mold. It isn’t afraid to use different textures and embellish with a variety of mediums. In short, there aren’t any rules. Your imagination is your only limitation.