Christa’s Soap Box – More Thoughts on Modern Quilting

I just finished the biggest WIP of my life – my first manuscript, and the quilts are on their way to the publisher this week. So hopefully I’ll be back to a more regular blogging and sewing schedule.

I’ve been thinking a lot about modern quilting lately, why I love it so much and why it’s having such an influence in the quilting community. So here are a few of my random thoughts on the subject. I’d love to know what your thoughts are too – even if you agree or not. It’s always fun to discuss quilting, isn’t it?

20140905_optical_illusionA new design I am just itching to start, now that  I have a little more free time!

The Influence of Modern Quilting

I think modern quilting is gaining in popularity partly as a pushback to what I call the “fast-food-ization” of quilting. Although it’s fun to finish a quick project, many who embrace modern quilting seem to enjoy the process of slowing down, taking it one step at a time, and completing the entire project from start to finish.

On the other end of the spectrum, modern quilting’s influence could also be a response to the abundance of bedazzled perfectionist quilts that may take hundreds or thousands of hours to complete and, although beautiful, are usually not allowed to be touched. Many modern quilters embrace utility along with creativity, and feel that a quilt from the heart doesn’t have to be computer-perfect to be both functional and beautiful.

The current modern quilting movement was born online out of a need to share one’s own work and be inspired by the artistry of others, whether they live around the corner or across the globe. It has enabled quilters to break down communication barriers as well as redefine what constitutes a quilting bee or sewing guild. I’m excited to be a part of this growing community and I’m excited to see where the future of modern quilting is headed!

35 thoughts on “Christa’s Soap Box – More Thoughts on Modern Quilting

  1. Liz says:

    I have been quilting for about 15 years now and have seen a lot of changes over that time. I’ve been very fortunate to learn from many teachers – from local to internationally known. As quilters today we are very fortunate to have access to so much information sharing and products and it is truly wonderful. I think we can over-complicate things though. What is “modern” or “contemporary” today is not likely to still be contemporary a few years or so down the road because new styles will be emerging. For most of us quilting/sewing is a craft or hobby that we enjoy and have the pleasure of sharing with others, and we can use it to give gifts to our family and friends and to contribute to many good causes within and outside our communities. We may want to challenge ourselves to make an art quilt that will only hang on a wall, or with a complicated pattern and have it beautifully and extensively quilted, or we may want to make something that will be well used and loved. Does it matter? I personally enjoy many different types of fabrics and patterns and may hop from solids and large geometric designs, to civil war…to Kaffe…to batiks to geeky and texty prints and back around again. I enjoy the process of making tops and not so much doing the quilting. I have a wonderful quilter for that. I would like to try again to quilt tops on a smaller scale (and that’s how I found your site with your educational tutorial), but if I never make the time to do that because I am busy enjoying other portions of the process I don’t think it makes a difference. There is no requirement that quilters have to make a quilt from start to finish any more than there was a requirement that hand-quilting was the only acceptable method to finish a quilt and machine quilting was not. I see a lot of new people and ideas coming into this craft and I very much look forward to learning from them and growing in my skills and knowledge.

  2. quiltcharette says:

    The only thing I DON’T like about modern quilting is when people turn their noses up at traditional quilting – or vice versa. It’s all so great! I’ve been exploring it all, discovering what most appeals to me, and I don’t like being labeled.

    Last year I made a quilt similar to the one you designed here. I was inspired by a book of optical illusions. It’s called the ‘cafe wall illusion’ and it was very fun. You’ve played with the spacing of the rows. I played with the color to see if using color would destroy the illusion. (It didn’t.) Anyway, you can see it at my blog, I’m not much of a blogger so it shouldn’t be hard to find. 🙂

    I’ve enjoyed reading this discussion. Thanks much for posting!

  3. Krista says:

    I find that the definition of modern quilting varies so much that we should make sure we define what we mean before discussing it. For instance Bonnie and Camille’s work is extremely traditional, but uses popular color schemes amoung younger people and are quick to make because of their large block sizes (or extremely small projects!). So a lot of people think of it as “modern”. Denise Schmidt is thought of as a pioneer of modern quilting but all her work is very traditional. I don’t understand that.

    I think of Gwen Marston and Nancy Crow’s work as modern, but they are firmly encamped in the “art quilt” category. Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr’s work is self-described as modern and they have their own definition of this category that excludes nearly everyone else.

    The Modern Quilt Guild has a definition but most of Jackie G’s famous quilts are really best appreciated on the wall and aren’t really utility – they are art quilts.

    So modern can be defined in several ways, but my favorite is a quilt that reflects the time and situation of the quilter and is not a copy of a quilt from a previous era. There are a lot of subcategories under there and y’all can discuss that amongst yerselves!

    I find the most interesting phenomenon with “modern” quilting is the use of the internet (and the abuse of bloggers and quilters by the fabric companies). From the start, the bloggers and instagramers have opened the world of quilting up to newbie young quilters, and really benefitted our craft by the introduction of all those wonderful people. It seemed to take the manufacturers awhile to figure out there was a huge marketing potential, but now it seems like the blogs are series of free advertisements for fabric lines. I can’t even order fabric and start a project before the blog has 2 or 3 more. I’ve often wondered if the blogger has any chance to actually sew. Must be why they have so many giveaways.

    Also along those lines is a peer-pressure to do the popular quilt alongs, bees, and everyone is making the same thing. Scrappy trip? Trianges? Cross block? Economy block? What’s the IN THING right now? Although it’s fun to sew like that in small groups, the internet has made it seem like doing your own thing is “uncool.”

    My last concern about modern quilting is that very few high profile quilters quilt their own quilts. Quilting is an integral part of the finished product. I’d love to see credit given to people who’ve mastered the whole thing, not just a design or piecing.

    Modern quilting has definitely re-energized my quilting life. I love most aspects of it, and make quilts that would probably fit into every category.

  4. springleafstudios says:

    Congrats on the manuscript completion. Look forward to seeing the final book. I always find dialogue on modern quilting to be interesting to say the least. Personally I find the labels harder and harder to clarify these days. When I first started quilting, I didn’t feel like I “fit” the traditional mold of most of the quilters I knew because my color/fabric choices were always much brighter than everyone else’s. At the time I thought of myself as a contemporary quilter. Enter modern quilting and now I feel like sometimes I “fit” and other times not so much. I’ve come to realize my designs fall into two categories, repeating block quilts that can be modern or not depending on the fabric and more non block related designs that do fit the modern definition. Belonging to the local Modern Quilt Guild helps keep the aesthetic to the forefront and yet some members don’t even make modern quilts according to the MQG definition. I’ve made the decision to simply make what I feel inspired to make with the fabrics that inspire me and not get too hung up on the label. Not sure this is terribly coherent but just wanted to comment. My thoughts could go on and on. Bottom line . . . do what you love but also appreciate what others do regardless of the label.

    • Duluthgirl says:

      I really agree with your statement ‘to simply make what I feel inspired to make with the fabrics that inspire me and not get too hung up on the label’ Virginia Findlay Wolffe wrote yesterday, “I only make things that bring me joy”. I think if we took your and Virginia’s approach there would be less debate and more fun. Sometimes my creations are traditional, sometimes they are modern, sometimes they are weird ( lol), . They have all been fun to make and rewarding to me personally.

  5. Elizabeth E. says:

    First off–this comment is voluntary and I don’t really need a reply, unless you want to. (I think it’s all gotten a little out of hand with all our “mandatory” replies, so please answer only if you want to. I also don’t always check back for in-the-stream replies either.)

    Secondly, congrats on the ms being delivered and the quilts finished! I have been convinced for years that you are a person who never sleeps, and I’m happy I’ll soon be able to have my very own Christa book for my shelf.

    Third, I’m enjoyed reading everyone’s comments about your post, and find myself agreeing with a lot of them. What a great discussion you have going on here.

    And finally, I saw the design you present on a tiled wall in a subway in Montreal a couple of years back. I’ve always been so fascinated how it can look like an optical illusion–our eye making it move. It will be a great design in your hands!

    Once again, congrats on the book!

  6. Jenn @ A Quarter Inch from the Edge says:

    I embraced modern quilting when I realized that I wouldn’t have to struggle to fit these quilts into my home. For a long time, I made quilts, but then they sat in a closet. I liked making them, loved the colours and fabrics, but they just didn’t seem to fit with the way I decorated. I am by no means saying that art has to match your sofa, but I like my quilts to be loved and used! From Day 1 of my quilting, I stayed away from florals…. they just weren’t me. Modern fabric design has given me so much more to work with than what used to be available!

  7. jess says:

    I really think, at least online, the “modern” quilt community is the opposite of what you describe, so many finishes, churn, churn, churn. And really simple quilt designs. I love finding those that enjoy the process, mull it over, like april two eighty. Modern is a specific period of design, with specific elements, so to me “contemporary” quilting and “modern” quilting are different although most use the term interchangeably.

  8. Kristy Daum says:

    Sometimes I feel like those companies or people hopping on the “modern” bus because it is trendy are actually the ones muddying the waters as they try to force things to be modern when they aren’t (ex: Fabric Painting). While “modern” may always be a moving target, at least in my opinion it is a pretty clear aesthetic if one takes the time to understand the elements.

    Congratulations on the manuscript, I look forward to hearing and of course seeing more!

  9. zippyquilts says:

    I agree that modern quilting is in part a reaction to the excessive perfectionism of traditional quilting for show. However, I am disheartened to see that the modern quilts that win in shows frequently have extensive (and expensive) quilting that makes them just about as fussy in a different way. Or, as one of my quilting friends says, “You, too, can spend $1000 to have your piece professionally custom quilted and win a prize”

  10. Ruth says:

    I am a quilter who is confused by what a modern quilt/er is supposed to be. I see the use of a lot of solids but then there are modern prints(which to me resemble prints of the 60’s and 70’s. I see no borders and then I see borders. Perhaps modern quilters need to define the term. I find it interesting that some people claim that the modern movement allows them to quilt without perfection. I guess if the lack of perfection is the definition of a modern quilt, I have been a modern quilter since I started quilting!

  11. farmquilter says:

    One thing I have noticed about modern quilting is that it always is quilted by machine. If you have ever quilted a modern quilt, you will know that it is not a fast process – more like quilting an extreme custom job! Putting together an improv style quilt is much harder for me then to make a quilt using conventional blocks. Guess my quilt math isn’t very good!

  12. hummingbirdthread says:

    I have also been a little confused on modern vs. traditional quilts, but have to say I love all of them. I love the more vintage, yet still modern fabrics of Fig Tree to the bright, colorful fabrics of Me & My Sister, to the solid, yet interesting pieced quilts. I even love the rather plain quilts if they have a great quilting design. So many people out there creating wonderful quilts!! And I love moving from one type of quilt to another, whatever rocks my boat at the moment!!

  13. stitchinstein says:

    The term ‘Modern’ is a reference to the art design style Modern and not to mean ‘Today’. There are actually very distinct characteristics of Modern Design. I joined the MQG to expand my quilting journey. Whereas my local quilt guild accepts all design aesthetics the MQG is really about that ‘Modern’ design and pushing that envelope. It is also about doing all the work yourself as the artist and not necessarily the collaborative but who knows, that might change too as it evolves.

  14. Hedy Hahn says:

    I am not a modern quilter nor do I care for most of them. However, I am grateful that others can pursue their interests and dreams regardless of what I think. Isn’t this what life is all about ?

  15. Susan says:

    I personally have not seen much of “…many who embrace modern quilting seem to enjoy the process of slowing down, taking it one step at a time, and completing the entire project from start to finish.” What I seem to be seeing/reading on blogs is–get the top sewn, send it out to the LAQ and chalk up another finish.

    Along with others, I am still uncertain of the distinction between modern and traditional quilting. I have read that it means using modern fabrics. Somebody needs to define modern fabrics. If modern quilting means free-form design I could see somewhat of a distinction. If modern quilting means making any quilt using updated techniques (like FMQ, LAQ, rotary cutting and modern tools, etc.) I think I could say almost everyone is a modern quilter. But I do know some folks who make all their quilts entirely by hand sewing and yet they use “modern fabrics” and “designs”.

    I am also reading what seems to me like a contradiction between your 1st two paragraphs. In the first you say, “…many who embrace modern quilting seem to enjoy the process of slowing down, taking it one step at a time, and completing the entire project from start to finish.” In the 2nd you say, “On the other end of the spectrum, modern quilting’s influence could also be a response to the abundance of bedazzled perfectionist quilts that may take hundreds or thousands of hours to complete and, although beautiful, are usually not allowed to be touched.” This process seems slow to me so I can’t see how modern quilting is response to fast quilting.

    In my opinion, traditional quilters would also, “… embrace utility along with creativity, and feel that a quilt from the heart doesn’t have to be computer-perfect to be both functional and beautiful.” This was their main purpose in quilting in the first place. As it evolved, it became an outlet for one’s artistic touches, design and creativity.

    I am a musician and I liken the development in quilting to the development of music. It started with monophonic compositions (i.e., chant) and developed to polyphonic compositions. All “modern music” (including country, rock, etc.) all contain the same fundamentals of music that music from the past does. It is all music, though some may beg to differ because of what kind they like or don’t like. I think the same goes for quilting.

    I will get off my soapbox now. 🙂

    • Christa says:

      Ha ha! You are right about that – a lot of people just make the top and call it done. Hopefully my little voice will add to the growing number of people who want to learn how to make the whole quilt from start to finish. 🙂

      I try not to speak in absolutes, but like to explore reasons why modern quilting applies to different people. For some, modern quilting is fast, but not thoughtless, for others, they will take their time from design through completion, even throwing in a little handwork into the process.

      You are right – the basic fundamentals are all included in quilting, no matter the style. I’m so glad there’s room for all of us in quilting, especially up on our soap boxes!! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your opinion 🙂

  16. Maggie says:

    I find the whole modern quilting movement to be confusing, because I feel like so many of the things people say. like your comment about bedazzled perfectionist quilts- were individual choices even before this new movement. Somehow while I could admire the perfect quilts in shows I never felt like there was anything wrong with my less than perfect ones. Plus there were always quilters who emphasized function, making quilts for family and friends to use and none for the walls.

    Also, the use of solid fabrics seems like a trend that cycles around periodically. When it makes its exit would that mean the quilts aren’t modern any more? Not trying to be a pain in the arse, I truly get confused when people explain modern quilting.

    • Christa says:

      No pain here – I welcome your thoughts!

      The clearest explanation I’ve found is that a lot of it is based on style, not whether or not the quilt has been made in the present. So a lot of “modern” quilts have been around even before the “modern” movement existed. A lot of it is based on mid-century modern design – clean lines, graphic designs, etc.

  17. Debby says:

    that is how I feel about quilting also. I love going to quilt shows to see the beautiful quilts with the beautiful colors and designs and intricate quilt stitching. but for my projects, I want them on the beds or to snuggle on the couch. okay that is not 100% true because I do have a small quilt that is for hanging up at Christmas. 🙂

  18. Susan says:

    You know, I’m not sure that modern v traditional is true for me. It is a very blurry line. I like to do whatever the heck I want to do rules (for either style) be danged. I’ve been really lucky and have found myself mixed up with a fantastic and talented group of ladies. Some of us are really finicky traditional quilters with a stash of brown and micro florals. Some of us are true moderns with a pile of solids and an affinity for improvisation. Some of us are in the middle and you never know what we’re going to do next. The beautiful thing is, we all have something to learn from each other. They are amazing and I’m certain my ideas and work will continue to evolve in ways I couldn’t have imagined because of their influence. I really understand how quilting has been a bonding experience for women as long as it has been around and I’m glad the modern movement has made room weirdos like me too. 🙂

  19. Lisa in Port Hope says:

    A similar question I have been contemplating today is, can a quilt be modern without using modern fabrics? We use modern fabrics in a traditional pattern, such as a sampler, and call it modern. Ok, so what if we use civil war repro fabrics in an improv pieced quilt, or a non-block-based pattern such as your design above?

  20. catskillquilter says:

    Feeling joy in the process does not seem either modern or old-fashioned to me; I think many fine artisans take pride in the act of making something well, not rushing it, not necessarily hunting for shortcuts.It does seem as though quilters who are clearly not in a race to the “finish” line are able to add creativity in piecing (a different way to contrast lights and darks in a block), perhaps add more detail in their applique, take a bit more time to densely quilt the layers together. I love your comment about modern quilters being interested in utility and function!
    Your comment, “modern quilting’s influence could also be a response to the abundance of bedazzled perfectionist quilts that may take hundreds or thousands of hours to complete and, although beautiful, are usually not allowed to be touched” also struck a chord in me. It can seem overwhelming at times to contemplate all of those masterpiece quilts! What I find most inspiring about modern quilts is the attention to detail in ALL aspects of making a quilt.

  21. Judy Cinerari says:

    To me modern quilting has taken the perfectionism out of quilts. It has enabled me, as a mere mortal, to aspire to make quilts as I know they don’t have to have exactly matching points or 10 stitches to the inch hand quilting. My quilts can be whatever they want to be and I can call it modern quilting and they have a place in the world. Anything that brings about the creation of a quilt is a good thing.

  22. Vera says:

    What is modern to one might not be modern to other. Is your latest design modern? I don’t really care, I see inpiration by café wall illusion and I’m looking forward to see it made out of fabrics.

  23. Sally simmons says:

    I appreciate your comments! I also think the modern quilt movement is somewhat a response to the interest in “mid-century modern” decor. Many of the modern quilts have a mid-century or even earlier feel, when artists were exploring space, function, and relationships.

  24. quiltingmod says:

    Your quilt design is a bit of an optical illusion, so it almost appears to be moving. It’s actually making me a bit woozy when I scroll. Your first two points of quilting are interesting in that that are opposites, but both have validity. Modern quilting is slowing the process down and speeding it up. I also noticed what a different picture can be applied to the term “quilting bee”.

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