Category Archives: Modern Quilting

Playing With Solids

The double whammy of the recent Circular Abstractions bulls eye quilt exhibit and a quilt group program on Nancy Crow’s design methods led me to pull out all my saved solid fabric strips and sew them together. I hope this link to Pinterest gives you an idea of the exercises students do in Nancy’s workshops. She offers several multi-day classes that range from beginner to expert.

My design wall became colonized by stripey units in various stages – just stripes, units cut from stripes, units with added cross stripes… As always, it’s fascinating to see which colors enhance each other and which just stick out their tongues at each other. So far I’ve worked only from scraps, though some of the scraps are about fat quarter size. If I want to make larger units I may have to break into stash.

For now I’ll set these assemblages aside to mellow a bit and wait for further inspiration. My fellow group members had fun playing with strips. Here are some of their efforts.

You begin Nancy’s workshop with lots of strip piecing, which you then build into units, and finally you do an overall composition. Since I made my units above before our group program I didn’t exactly follow Nancy’s dictates.

I learned that Nancy takes away everyone’s ruler after a few days; that she wants you to cut towards, rather than away, from you (I find that scary); and that she wants you to backstitch at the start and finish of seams.The ruler thing is amusing as Nancy once lent her name to an acrylic ruler.

I also learned she uses the same rotary cutter blade for a long time, even up to a year. Apparently she doesn’t sharpen it. We all wondered how that was possible, given the amount of cutting involved with her method.

All that cutting is the reason I won’t be adopting Nancy’s methods in a big way. Pressing down to get through multiple fabric layers and seams doesn’t do my shoulder any good. I plan to develop some of my starts further, but after that, who knows.


Filed under In Process, Modern Quilting, Project Ideas, Techniques

Look At The Birdie

My paper pieced birds project has moved right along. I’ve completed the quilting, and only binding it remains. I got tired of paper piecing the birds, so I stopped at 23. I placed 22 of them on stylized branches and reserved one for a label.

My original inspiration was this quilt which introduced me to the McCall’s Quilting bird pattern.

paper pieced birdsMy quilt doesn’t have quite the same modern feel, but I was going with scraps and some Fossil Fern fabric in blue. I tried a layout with just straight branches but felt my birds needed to be a bit more grounded (or treed.)

birds5You can see I’m trying to branch out from the birds’ perches.

Ultimately I ended up with this. The quilting is a chevron pattern done with a walking foot.


Right after I quilted my birds I saw the wall below on a trip to my local grocery store. Maybe the image wormed its way into my subconscious, but I could swear I never noticed the pattern before.




Filed under Completed Projects, Modern Quilting

Maple Leaf Rag

If it’s June it’s time for my Quilt Canada pilgrimage, which a friend and I just completed. After years of meeting at various universities, this juried show seems to have settled in the International Center near Pearson Airport outside of Toronto.  The good thing – it’s all under one roof. The bad thing – some charm is lost, in my opinion. The Center is your usual airplane hangar type corrugated metal building.

As is customary, the show is actually a few shows. Front and center is the all Canada juried show, whose judges ensure the entries are at worst very competent. Most often I find gems in all styles to admire. Then, the Fibre Art Network (FAN) shows its members’ work, which is often an exhibit of a set theme or size. This year the TrendTex fabric challenge quilt entries were displayed, and the Toronto Modern Quilt Guild had a mini show.

Over the next few posts I’ll share some of my favs with you, but if you’re impatient and want to see all the award winners, go here. I’ll warn you the best of show quilt is MUCH better looking than the photo on that site. In fact, I’ll show you the photo I took of it. Please excuse the waving hand of an enthusiastic quilter.

Helen FujikiQuiltCanadaBestofShowHere’s a detail shot.

BestofShow detailIt’s called Election Night Euphoria, but I don’t know if it commemorates Justin Trudeau’s win or what. And yes, you picky folks will note that the circles should have been lined or pressed differently so the turned under bits don’t show.

We were happy that Quilt Canada lifted the no photos rule as we like to take shots of details that don’t show up in the catalogs offered for sale.

This year I noticed a lot more landscape and abstract quilts and fewer traditional appliqued, etc., quilts. I guess that’s a function of the judges, who change for each show. I know Anna Hergert was one of the three judges this year. She wrote about her experience here. Since she runs Art Quilt Campus, I feel safe in saying that’s her area.

I was intrigued at a category for quilts made from patterns, books, and workshops as a way to group non original quilts. I was surprised that any quilting done by a person other than the quilt top maker only got a subdued mention. Some of the quilting was spectacular, and I felt the creators of it should have received more prominence.

Of course there were hot and cold running vendors. I was restrained with my purchases as my haul consisted of a roll of 14 yards of 1.5 inch bias cut fabric, a spool of silk thread, and a Japanese fabric fat quarter. When all my loonies were spent, I was done.



Filed under Art quilts, Modern Quilting, Quilt Shows

Occasional Wednesday Salon

Today I want to focus on the negative, space that is. Within a few days of each other I read a post on the use of negative space category at QuiltCon West from the Plaid Portico and one on Spanish graphic designer and illustrator Jesus Perea. I was struck by many similarities between the modern quilts and Perea’s work. Let me know if you think I’m onto something or simply on something.

First, Perea’s work, which is flat out abstract and uses large blocks of color. The only information I have on him is date of birth and school degree. He sometimes works in collage, though I don’t know which of the following are collages.


JesusPereaAbstractComposition578JesusPereaAbstractComposition689JesusPereaAbstractComposition724I’d love to make these up as quilts. He’s done tons more abstracts, which you can see on his website.

Next, a few quilts from the use of negative space category at QuiltCon West.

Sunset on the Bay by Julie Smith

Sunset on the Bay by Julie Smith

Echoes by Leanne Chahley

Echoes by Leanne Chahley

Activating Space Medallion by Jacquie Gering

Activating Space Medallion by Jacquie Gering

Retroreflective by Stephanie Ruyle

Retroreflective by Stephanie Ruyle

The quilts above are similar to modern quilts made at the beginning of that movement – solid colors, large areas of negative space, and fairly basic quilting. I really like them.

Editorial carping, feel free to skip this: I find it odd that quilts with such characteristics have been bundled into their own category, while other categories such as modern traditionalism and handwork have been added. I realize that quilt shows like to spread around ribbon winning opportunities, but modern has become vastly diluted, in my opinion.



Filed under Commentary, Modern Quilting, Quilt Shows

Fun While It Lasted

With QuiltCon West underway in California it seems a good time to declare that I am over modern quilting, as defined by current modern quilt practitioners. Back in 2012 I had high hopes for a bolder, less pretty, more personally defined approach to quilting. I read and was inspired by many of the blogs that sprouted daily, and joined a local modern quilt guild. I made several quilts in the spirit of modern quilting.

Now, four years later, I say goodbye to all that. My local modern guild limped along on life support for two years, and finally vanished without even a whimper. Many of the blogs I enjoyed have ceased publication or have devolved into advertisements for fabric collections, patterns, and other items for sale. I gather it’s called branding, which I always associate with cattle ranching. Certainly there are outstanding exceptions, but many modern quilting books either lack substance or recycle “traditional” quilt book topics like half square triangles with new fabrics. Modern quilters jump from one “must have” fabric line/pattern to another. The owls, the deer, sheesh! What happened to the originality? I see a lot of “me too.” And the workshop lineup at QuiltCon West features a lot of traditional topics – hand applique anyone?

It may be that I’m holding modern quilters to higher standards than I do traditional quilters. Yeah, probably. I just had such hopes for self-determination – design your own quilts, make them with less expensive solid fabrics/vintage sheets/whatever, learn to sew and FMQ in a month. Then, the marketing juggernaut struck. And who wouldn’t be tempted by the chance to make money from your hobby? BTW, I’d be interested to learn of quilters who support themselves on modern quilting.

I do treasure what I’ve gained from the moderns. The bold, off kilter designs were a shot in the arm. The exuberance of new quilters who had no idea something might be hard was a spur. The sheer thrill newbie quilters got from their first efforts reminded me how fun quilting can be. You can see from the winning quilts at QuiltCon West that plenty of great quilts are being made; not all has been drowned out by marketing. I still think, though, the definition of modern quilting remains as slippery as ever.

Here’s some of my modern quilts that were most directly inspired by the modern quilting movement. One, Breezeblocks, is even very close to the original in Quilting Modern. I still treasure that book.

Curves Ahead 2Curves Ahead (based on Pinterest pin)

Spring@60MPHSpring @ 60 MPH (layout by Timna Tarr)

Where did all the hexies goWhere Did All The Hexies Go? (from my head)

107 pyramids107 Pyramids (based on a drawing by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr)

boxed-trianglesBoxed Triangles (from scraps)

Color SlideColor Slide (my own invention)

Impact 2Impact (concept from Terry Aske)

tipsy_lampshadesTipsy Lampshades (concept from Quilting Modern)

WPMWPM (layout based on Esch House Quilts design)

Breezeblocks_quiltedBreezeblocks (based on Quilting Modern)


Filed under Commentary, Modern Quilting, Snark

“The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters”

I’ve been vacillating about reviewing this book by Sherri Lynn Wood as I admired parts, and became extremely impatient with other aspects. Other quilters have responded much more positively to this book (see Fresh Lemons Quilts for an example) so be aware that responses vary wildly.

Wood improv handbook cover

It’s another modern quilt focused book about freeing your work through improvisational quilting. Lucie Summers (“Quilt Improv”) and Alexandra Ledgerwood (“Improvising Tradition”) have written recent books on the topic.

Wood’s take on improv is to divide different types of improv into scores (as in musical) that correspond loosely to squares, string piecing, flying geese, curved piecing, etc. She devotes a chapter to each, showing how she made a quilt for each score. I like that she includes quilts made by other quilters to interpret the scores. You can see many of them on Wood’s website. She also gives a lot of guidance for techniques to deal with the fallout of ruler free improv work; the pleats, the lumps, the gaps, the overlaps, etc.

You read that right – ruler free. Wood’s approach derives from Nancy Crow and the Gee’s Bend quilters. Crow doesn’t permit her students to use rulers but trains them how to cut by eye. The Gees Bend quilters lopped off and added fabric to make pieces fit and didn’t worry about squared off edges.

Anyone trained in classical quilt making with precision points and lots of ruler use will shudder while reading this book. Wood celebrates all the by the seat of the pants make-dos that are drummed out of new quilters. That may not be a bad thing. Too often quilters get so focused on the technical aspects of their work and following the pattern they forget about the fun of just in time decisions and building a quilt to suit themselves.

However, these improv techniques can be dangerous (joke!) in the hands of quilters inexperienced with making independent design decisions. Wood studied with Nancy Crow and has made quilts for many years, so she has developed a sense of design and color.

The improv round robin quilts featured in one chapter were clunky and awkward to my eye.  I know that’s judgmental, but I don’t believe every improv quilt is great or even OK. It takes far more effort than is apparent to make a good looking improv quilt, and I think that half of the improv quilts I’ve made don’t hit the mark.

I mention this only because quilters new to improv shouldn’t get discouraged at their initial results. It’s always fun to cut up a “failure” and reuse it.

Wood gives helpful advice on beginning improv work, though I winced at some of her word choices. Here’s her synopsis for the strings score: “curate your fabrics, set limits for three distinct string sheets, define your patchwork procedure, create a composition with the string sheets.”  (Sorry, I have a knee jerk negative reaction to curating anything. Can’t I just pick my fabrics?) Actually, this is similar to The Parts Department used in “Freddy and Gwen Collaborate Again,” which was published in 2009. This review by Dining Room Empire captures the flavor of Gwen Marston’s and Freddy Moran’s approach.

Lovers of fine quilt construction will gasp in horror when they read the techniques section of this book. Wood shows how to take a dart in a quilt top to remove a bump. Personally I thought I would do that in some circumstances. Same with darting across curves. I know, I know. If you constructed your top correctly you wouldn’t have to resort to such methods. Wood is definitely not a strict constructionist. One of her quilting references is “Accidentally On Purpose: The Aesthetic Management of Irregularities in African-American Quilts” by Eli Leon.

Wood’s method of wedge strip piecing on a curve is about the only technique I’m inclined to try, mostly because I’ve already done a lot of her other techniques by accident or design. I have issues with the finishing methods given here for binding. I just hate overlapped binding ends because of the lump created.

My larger issue with Wood is her application of new-agey concepts to quilting. I’m to nurture an improvisational mind, journal, center myself before I start working, be present, and cut from my core. Not only are my knees jerking, but my eyes are rolling. Personally, I find such stuff pretentious, but I understand these terms may appeal to many. Quilting is a big tent with many roads to it.

Since pictures speak louder than words, here are quilts created by other quilters for this book that appealed to me. From the top they are “Burning Love” by Mina Kennison, “Indigo Bloom” by Latifah Saafir, and “Letting Go” by Drew Steinbrecher.  Each shows a well developed design and color sense.

Score for Modern Block Improv Mina Kennison Score for Bias Strip Petals Latifah Saafir Score for Get Your Curve On Drew Steinbrecher



Filed under Books, Modern Quilting

Settling In For The Long Haul

Somehow I always forget it’s not a good idea to quilt a large top when the weather’s hot. All that fabric and batting draped over one’s person doesn’t promote cooling. But, it’s pinned and I’ve begun. The working title is Bumblebee. I mentioned this project a while ago as one I actually followed a pattern on.

Bumblebee pinnedI’m fortunate to have a friend with a very large table and the generosity to share it for pin basting large projects. This top measures 60 inches by 80 inches, which is huge by my standards. I used to work on the floor, but my knees have let me know that’s no longer an option.

I began sewing my stabilizing quilting on a hot Saturday, and plan to peck at it a few lines at a time. My sketchy quilting plan is horizontal and vertical lines that will form a kind of plaid on top of the piecing. Here’s the thread colors I’ve chosen so far. Right now I’m quilting with a winter white thread, and may try a few black/very dark gray lines as well.

Bumblebee threadsThe batting I chose is Quilters Dream poly request loft (the thinnest.) For a lap quilt I like the lightness and suppleness of this batting and it’s very easy to sew on. I realize that I won’t get as much texture with the poly after washing, but the weight trumps appearance for me.

The backing consists of three large hunks of clearance fabric, sewn with the feather panels on the outside. I know the feathers fabric was designed by Lonni Rossi, but can’t recall who did the one with the bitty squares. While they don’t go with the black/white/yellow theme of the top, they do go with each other if you squint.

I have no deadline for this, so it will be my mindless sewing project when it’s cool enough to drape over my shoulder.


Filed under In Process, Modern Quilting