What follows is a crazy essay of sorts…I hope you are in the mood for reading!
First, if you’ve yet to take the opportunity, please go and read this blog post from Cheryl (Naptime Quilter).
I’ll wait here.
Back? Wasn’t it great? Okay, here were my favorite bits:
“Yes, the importance of history and tradition is acknowledged, but people often come to modern quilting as either an evolution or rebellion from traditional quilting. Well, I would now argue that modern quilting is actually just really, really traditional quilting. Before people got caught up in intricate pieced patterns with a million different templates and detailed quilting.”
“So, this whole modern quilting thing. I can say for sure that I have a new perspective on it. And I don’t think it is as revolutionary as some think it is. It really is a throwback to the traditional, traditional quilting, as this post also mentions.”
I really dig what Cheryl is saying here.
Here’s how I would boil it down: Modern Quilting is in an odd space because it is really not some crazy new-fangled thing we just made up and yet it is not recognized as traditional either.
Cheryl’s post reminded me a talk I saw on TED
a while back. In this talk, Philippe Starck encourages designers to be aware of both how they *are* mutants (by which he means both an evolution of what came before and importantly dissimilar from what came before) and how they are *not* the final mutant (and therefore owe something to the future as well as the past).
(the section I’m talking about is from 5:00 -8:00)
Starck: “That is our beautiful story: mutation. We are mutant. And if we do not deeply understand, if we don’t integrate that we are mutant, we completely miss the story. Because every generation thinks we are the final one….I am not sure of that. Because that is our intelligence of mutation, there are so many things to do. It is so fresh. … Nobody is obliged to be a genius, but everybody is obliged to participate.”
I think that for quilters who want to participate in the quilting world more generally (and I should add, that you absolutely don’t have to if you don’t want to!) it is crucial that they begin to talk more about where their ideas come from, to the extent that they can figure that out. Doing so will mean creating knowledge for the next mutant and it will also allow everyone to get a better grasp on where their visual discourse comes from (what it is that they are a mutation of).
I feel like modern quilting has arrived. 2450 members in Fresh Modern Quilts, hundreds and hundreds in the Modern Quilt Guild, new books coming out all the time.
Anyway, I think arriving is only half of the battle. Now we’ve got to explore this destination.
I think there are two important steps to take: Cheryl mentions one of them.
More from Cheryl:
“What else is on the rise? Easy, fast quilts.”
“I would add that blogging might make the churn worse. We all want content, right? I don’t know many who quilt for the sake of blogging, but ask yourself if you pick simpler projects just to have something to post? At least every now and then? Or, ask yourself how some of your favourite bloggers manage to finish so many quilts? Lifestyle aside, look at the quilts and the detail of the quilting they post.”
I have to say that I have noticed this, too. While I’ve stitched together charm squares for patchwork gifts and don’t see anything wrong with this practice, it isn’t art, it isn’t design, and I don’t find it interesting. I don’t think it counts as participation in the greater flow of visual discourse.
When you are making a quilt for the sake of enjoying the process, why not push? Given time and resources, I’m all about pushing. That’s why I’m into dyeing and discharging and using only one fabric from a given commercial line in a quilt. I want to see where I’m going and when I let fabric designers and pre-made kits and patterns with strict little rules determine what I’m doing, it just doesn’t seem like I made the end product. It’s not me, it’s not mine.
I was reading about a quilt exhibit in Turkey
and found this idea stated quite plainly, “Learning new techniques and broadening the horizons of quilting are important aspects,” Kenter said. “Our aim is to share our hobby with everyone. This is a form of art only if a person discovers new techniques,” the association’s founder added. “Without discovering a new technique or creating something entirely new and different, I cannot call patchwork a form of ‘art.’”
Pushing is going to mean different things for different people. For some it will be a lot of effort to mix in even one fabric of their own choosing into a quilt kit. That’s fine. Start where you are. For others, who have already pushed themselves quite far, pushing might mean dyeing or folding or patchworking with one color. It’s all about creating, not re-creating. Push and create.
I would love to see more bloggers showing their processes and talking about their processes. This can take the space once filled by fast, easy quilts. What does your design wall look like right now? Can I see a page from your moleskine? Do you have any cool fabric stacks laying around?
Does that make sense? To those of you who want to do more with quilts than use them to stay warm, will you push?
I said there was a second step. This is something that I’ve been thinking about for a while, but have been sitting on. In part, this is due to my position as admin and photo-approver for Fresh Modern Quilts. Let me just say, that what I’m about to say has nothing to do with which photos go into the Fresh Modern Quilts pool.
I don’t think that everything ya’ll call modern is modern.
I think a lot of it would be better labeled as contemporary.
I think a lot of it would be better labeled as geometric.
I think a lot of it would be better labeled as art deco.
I think a lot of it would be better labeled as millennial.
The reason I never say these things in public is because I think people would be offended if I said that I consider their quilts to be contemporary. But somehow the fact that the Modern Quilt Guild uses the word modern and modern seems to be the word of choice in new books coming out solves this problem for me. Fine, hey, the umbrella term for this wave of mutant quilts is going to be modern. Okay, so let’s start naming the types of styles that fit under that umbrella.
Can we please?
Taxonomy is the practice and science of classification. Can we start to pull out the strands of these modern quilts? Put them in groups, make names for those that are similar? And not just blocks, but the whole overall look? Can we make or find a vocabulary for this?
I think this is crucial in terms for future mutants to understand where they are and what they are.
Again, I think an increased transparency on the part of bloggers and flickr users about their processes will help. For example, I’m trying to get a quilting bee that is inspired by mid-century modernism off the ground, if quilters in that bee can show where they get their ideas from, then that could increase everyone’s understanding of one part of this visual universe.
I don’t think we need an official taxonomist or rule book for this. As Starck would say, we don’t need a genius, we just need people to participate. Say where you got the idea for your color scheme. Say where you found the inspiration for your design. Explain whatever you can about your roots. In doing so, I think you’ll let others find their own. It couldn’t hurt, right?