It’s been fascinating to watch the evolution of the modern quilting movement. First it was all about solids and negative space. Then prints were added to the mix. Lately, traditional quilting blocks have made an appearance.
Part of the change may be practical. The sewing skills of modern quilters are improving. Some modern quilters now get picky about precision. Quite a change from all those wonky quilts. Part may be market driven. Fabric companies are always eager to increase their markets, and the infusion of the modern aesthetic into fabric has been invigorating. And part may be the design/art background of many of the modern quilting practitioners who have emerged as bellwethers. Like Bob Dylan, they may be moving on to their next reinvention as they explore the fabric medium further.
The most recent discussion I’ve read on this topic is by rOssie on her blog, Fresh Modern Quilts. Her post was occasioned by a MQG challenge quilt she made using very nontraditional fabric (Zombie Apocalypse!) and the very traditional ocean waves pattern. She concludes that fabric choice doesn’t necessarily make a quilt modern.
“You see, at last year’s QuiltCon there was a section of quilts called ‘Modern Traditionalism’ and when I walked through that section of quilts I was a bit overtaken by confusion. Because the quilts don’t fit my definition of ‘modern quilts.’ And while I could go on a bit about that, I think that what it boils down to for me is this: fabric choice is not enough.”
She goes on to consider calling her quilt “modern traditional” but decides to reject that label.
There are lots of comments in response to this post, so I suggest you read them rather than have me try to put words into other people’s mouths.
Ahem, so how do I define modern quilting? Does it even matter to me? I started thinking about this after I read Thomas Knauer’s Quilt Matters columns in Quilters Newsletter. I confess I still don’t know how he defines a modern quilt, though he does say this:
“Modern quilting does not step outside of the quilting tradition; rather it is by and large a response to what the term traditional has come to mean.”
And what does he think that term has come to mean? As he understands it, “traditional” became used in the 1980s to differentiate quilts meant for use from art quilts meant to hang on a wall. From there, certain approaches became traditional while others didn’t. He talks about this leading to more complicated and difficult work being given a higher priority.
I guess in some ways modern quilting’s stress on the functional nature of a quilt is a reaction to those highly complicated quilts (like the ones on the cover of Quilters Newsletter) that would never find their ways onto children’s beds or into washing machines.
According to the Modern Quilt Guild, “Modern quilts are primarily functional and inspired by modern design. Modern quilters work in different styles and define modern quilting in different ways, but several characteristics often appear which may help identify a modern quilt. These include, but are not limited to: the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work. “Modern traditionalism” or the updating of classic quilt designs is also often seen in modern quilting.” I think that last sentence may be a recent addition. Overall, the above statement seems to boil down to you’ll know it when you see it.
Barbara Brackman’s blog, Historically Modern, has been a bright spot for me in all the murk surrounding what is/is not modern design. She addresses modernism in a much broader art context than just quilting. Her recent post on Sophie Taeuber-Arp helped reinforce my ideas about “modern” – asymmetry, negative space, broad swaths of solid colors, and a keen sense of balance in the design. Taeuber-Arp painted Moving Circles, the piece below, in 1933.
A side note: I just love Barbara’s post about one principle of modernism – no sentimentalism. Quilts with anthropomorphized animals (puppies, kitties, bunnies and the like), pumpkins, Xmas cuteness, etc., set off my gag reflex. Yes, it’s my personal taste and it’s why I’m the Snarky Quilter.
Actually, I’ve decided that it’s not productive to try to parse what is a modern quilt. I view quilting as a very big tent. Lift the tent flap and come on in. There’s something inside to appeal to everyone. Just don’t think that your approach to quilting is the only true way.