Mutant Quilting

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?

This Post Has 50 Comments

  1. This is all very interesting. I reread it a few times over and am still processing what you wrote! I think quilting, like so many other things, is inspired largely by what others have done before, with people putting their own stamp on what they do. Look how many quilts use "modern" versions of the log cabin?

    I think you do have a tough role of moderating the Fresh Modern Quilts group, because a lot of submissions are probably a stretch. But I suppose if the owner classifies their piece as modern quilting, then they really believe what they're doing is fresh and different. In my search for local members of the MQG I'm looking for people who aren't doing the maroon and hunter green, or mauve and purple, quilts that my own mother made so many of in the 80s and 90s. I don't want to see NASCAR or Betty Boop fabric.

    I'm mostly rambling. But I guess what I'm saying is, thank you for the thought-provoking post and the link to Cheryl's. I'm looking forward to what others say as well.

  2. Thank you so much for such a well-written, well-thought out post. Lately I have been thinking about the differences between the words 'modern' and contemporary' in quilting as opposed the the art world, so it's fantastic to see another person bring this up. And I feel like while I am a modern person, my quilting must be modern,too, I find a lot of inspiration in and similarities to quilts from the first half of the 19th century. And the secret librarian in me loves the idea of a quilting taxonomy. I mean, is there a term for quilts with a lot of white and use of bright colors? I really hope you continue to post in this vein, and this starts a new kind of dialogue beyond gushing about the latest fave print (which I am guilty of, myself.)

  3. So much to think about. I do like the idea of blogging more about process. I have made quickie quilts because I make so many quilts for gifting purposes, not for blogging purposes. I would like to step back from making so many gifts, because I do feel like I have a hard time pushing myself to new things. Very interesting thoughts.

  4. Hello, my name is Sam, and I'm a Mutant. I'm older than most of you, started quilting in the sixties, and have made almost every quilt "pattern" over the years. This is a subject I dwell on frequently. When I first became aware of what I call freedom quilting, and Gwen Marston, a true academic artist, calls liberated quilting, I was elated. I am an abstract thinker, a process person, and I cannot copy other people's work.
    The newest movement is exciting partly because most of the new quilters don't know the "rules" and while they learn to sew and create traditional quilt patterns, they are breaking down walls of judgment. So what if they all use the same fabric and make the same three quilts? They are building skill bases which will prepare 1% or 2% of them to become the great artists of the new generation. Meanwhile, I have the freedom of making a fun easy quilt and not worrying about reception in a juried show. When the true artists emerge, they won't need labels for their work.

  5. Love your post Rossie. So thought provoking. Thanks for putting the time and effort in to share your thoughts. I agree with so much of it. I think I need to share more of my thought processes in my blog posts. However, I'm scared I'll reveal some of my ignorances. For example, I'm not sure what the difference is between contemporary and modern. But I'm sure I'm not alone, and these types of discussions will get the ball rolling!

  6. both you and cheryl are spot on. I like trying out new to me techniques and playing with fabric combinations. for some reason I don't make quilts for me in one fabric line, but baby quilts I have. maybe I find them calmer for a baby? I don't know.
    I'm starting to wonder if we're getting lost in the words. do most people know what they are saying when calling their quilts "modern" or calling others "contemporary"? are we using definitions from the art world? something else? are we really post modern or post post modern?

  7. Yes! Yes! Yes!

    I don't even know where to start in response. One thing at a time.

    Taxonomy. This would be a tough one and sure to offend someone. I wonder what some of the quilt historians would say? Or current judges? Let's ask them!

    Process posts. Please, pretty please. This is something I've always tried to do. And I always try to post about my inspirations and motivations for a quilt. These aren't art quilts, but a patchwork piece can definitely be motivated by something. This emphasis on process is also something I try to encourage through the Workshop in Progress – a virtual design wall of sorts. Maybe that needs to evolve a bit more?

    Mutants. Sign me up. I always considered myself a mutant anyway. Right down to my hazel eyes when they should be blue.

    Push. Indeed. Hubby and I actually made this one of our wedding vows, that we would push each other to be more than we are. Can we all promise to do that?

    Dialogue. Let's keep it going. For me, I see a regular series of posts to push the conversation, and indeed that evolution of the Workshop in Progress.

  8. I've wondered some about this myself. I am a member of a Modern quilt guild. Now, I don't actually feel like I made "modern" quilts… I use some traditional patterns, I don't flock to the popular modern fabric designers, I don't have Kona cotton in 27 colors in my stash.. I just do what I like and frequently make things without patterns. I DO however consider myself a modern quilter. I have never fit in very well in a traditional quilt guild, and I've been going to them since I was 16 or 17. So, I am happy to finally be among like-minded quilters, who don't think it's sacrilegious to make up my own pattern or to choose completely opposite colors from the class sample.
    I will look forward to hearing more about this, from many perspectives.

  9. Krista: Thanks!
    "In my search for local members of the MQG I'm looking for people who aren't doing the maroon and hunter green, or mauve and purple, quilts that my own mother made so many of in the 80s and 90s."
    Exactly, I think this is why it is important to keep modern quilting as an explicitly open enterprise. I would never want to turn off or turn away someone with genuine interest. Being open must always be balanced against whatever else is going on.

    Love this thought: "And the secret librarian in me loves the idea of a quilting taxonomy. I mean, is there a term for quilts with a lot of white and use of bright colors?"
    Wouldn't it be useful if we did have a term for that? Because then when you got stuck on a design, in the same way that you might look at a color wheel to see if it offered a way out, you could think through these different syles (easier if they have names) and see what they have to offer.

    Thanks for commenting. I wonder if it would be useful to come up with a list of ways to push. Even writing the blog post and thinking about it I kept naming ways in which I already knew to push. There have to be so many more!

    I think you and I differ in that I see so many modern quilters as true artists. And I find labels often liberate. I don't have a big problem with fast and easy quilts, I just want more of the other thing!

    I would love to see your sketches! I often wonder when certain things happen to your quilts. Like that little tan stip coming down in the left hand corner of the Wave Quilt…when did that happen? And does it know how awesome it is?

    I would love to see more of your process. I would worry about ignorances. I think the mark of a good blog post is the genuine question.

    I think using the words to *find* something will be the real trick. It's easy to use words to get lost. "modern" vs. "contemporary" can be 18,000 grad school seminars in which nothing is resolved.

    Hey lady! Again, I have too much to say in response to your having too much to say.
    One point, though: "Taxonomy. This would be a tough one and sure to offend someone."
    Oh, I'm sure people are just itching to take offense! : ) I think I might begin by sorting my own quilts. And then giving myself the silent treatment. Who do I think I am?

    Thanks! I've been trying to email you and it's bouncing!

    This really goes back to the first commenter on this post and the importance of keeping modern quilting open to everyone and hopefully, this dialogue, whereever it goes, open as well.

  10. I love reading your view on this. I really love the mid century modern aesthetic and would love to make more quilts in this style. I am starting to get sick of quilts made with only one line of fabric (quilts I've made myself included). It seems like the popular fabric lines today will turn out to be the dreaded maroon and hunter green color scheme of the 2010's.

  11. Oddly enough,I just read Cheryl's post earlier today and loved it. I especially resonated to the part you quoted about how modern quilting is a throwback to very traditional quilting. I don't know that I'm a modernist or a traditionalist. I'm sort of a rover, I guess, because I like it all. I have to say, though, that I tend to choose extremely complex quilts, because I DO find them more interesting. There's a certain amount of enjoyment that comes from rummaging through your scrap bin and creating something truly unique. This is why my UFO list keeps growing, I'm sure. Anyway, I appreciate your post as well as Cheryl's, and I love the idea of hearing more about where people's quilt/color inspirations come from.

  12. Wow… thank you for this. I realize now that I haven't been thinking about "modern quilting" in any conscientious way. You put words to some things I've definitely been thinking and feeling. And, of course, brought up more questions. Okay, intense rambling on its way….

    I think, in general, that I'm not too comfortable with labels, but I realize now that part of the draw of "modern quilting" is that people involved feel somewhat marginalized by traditional quilting. I know I do. And now we have a way to identify each other. So, I have definitely taken on that label, perhaps without questioning its exact correlation to design style.

    I'm also not that big into designer fabrics (though I do have a few faves), mostly because they seem to hide stitch lines, and that texture and detail is what I'm consistently drawn to.

    But I think it is important to realize that we are members now in the quilting story. And I think we should probably approach that with respect and knowledge. Enough postulation: I guess I'm off to the library!

  13. what great discussion here! i loved cheryl's post, too. i'll be chewing on all of this for the next several days if not weeks. lately i've been wanting to go back to piecing traditional quilt blocks (vs. modern quilting) because i'm so sick of the same "modern" quilts being done to death. (i'm guiltly of some of that myself, i'll admit it.) maybe i'm just feeling the need to push myself, too. i don't know. but i do know i would LOVE to see more on peoples' processes and inspiration. i'll have to adopt that to my blog posts from here on out. thanks for continuing this discussion!

  14. Ok Let's try one more time without kid interruptions.

    This was a thought provoking read. Oddly enough I define modern vs. contemporary vs. traditional quilts in the same way I define architecture. When I look at a "modern" house I KNOW it is modern, the architecture and the aesthetic is very clear. Just like when I look at traditional or a contemporary house they are so very clearly defined by the architectural parameters they were meant to represent.

    Or how about chairs, those mid-century designs that look as modern today as they did 50 years ago. Certainly very different then contemporary or traditional designs.

    I see quilts the same way. The design and pattern (architecture) is clearly evident and is either representative or not of the modern aesthetic.

    So I see two paths, one is to take a traditional design and dust it off, polish it up and call it modern. The other and a much more difficult one is to create your own. Using the same techniques creating your own patterns designs and architecture. Creating something that is pleasing to the eye, unique, one of a kind. And how about making it usable, functional, well made, as well as artistic. That is the challenge modern quilters face. That is the challenge I face.

    Then and only then can we truly "mutate" and become something unique, new and different. And we can contribute that gift to the new generation of quilters to come.

  15. I've read this post and Naptime Quilter's post several times and I think both are outstanding!

    I am relatively new to quilting {3 years} and I am amazed at how much it has changed in such a short amount of time. I have become frustrated lately {enough to write about it as well} at the quick churn of new "quilts" that lack depth and interest so I was so pleased to read that I'm not the only one.

    Modern quilting does have it's place, just like Liberated & Traditional quilting do. No matter what the genre, I think the main goal should always be to grow and stretch as artists to create something that others can truly say "wow" about.

    Jennifer 🙂

  16. Rebekah:
    That’s the thing about fashionable quilts…they go out of fashion!

    Thanks for your comment. I find it fascinating that you switch from traditional to modern and back again. It probably makes your projects so rich and compelling.

    I agree that labels can be problematic. I think “modern” has come to mean (and I’m not the first person to say this) the quilter who isn’t at home in traditional quilt guilds, shows, and the rest. So, in that use, it is not about the quilt, but the quilter.

    And I want words to talk about the quilts. I love me some labels. But I’m nerdy, nerdier, nerdiest, so what else can you expect?

    I know, right, the library. I wish someone could give us a syllabus.

    Amanda Jean:
    We definitely need some new forms. I look forward to seeing you push and I think there will be a new sensibility about process in some of my favorite blogs. Woot!

    I love your comment. I’ve read it repeatedly.
    I think it is time to start focusing on the aesthetic and on making something new. So much to think about.

    Right? I just want to serenade people with U2’s song…”Hold me, thrill me, kiss me, kill me”

  17. I love this. While I have not yet shown a quilt (I craft primarily for gifts, and actually do not own a quilt I have made), a recent quilt show really gave me pause. There was not a single quilt in over 100 that came close to what I do. There was plenty to admire and look at and draw inspiration from. But, like Cheryl, I felt like what I do doesn't belong in the traditional show. I have since been told by a number of people that I should thus feel obligated to show, simply for a different point of view.

    But I don't know.

    I love your idea of pushing. This is something I am working to do with each project. In the past year, I've tried everything from improv to paper-piecing, followed tutorials and read books and blogs and taught myself different ways to do things. I love reading about the processes of different people, and I do hope that there is an additional movement toward sharing that side of the craft.

    I do agree with Digs, above, about the modern being more about the quilter than the quilts they produce. I think we tend to be more solitary, or have been, prior to the MQG movement of late. And that this has pushed us to create and think differently than had we been sitting in large groups with traditional quilters.

    Ultimately, thank you for this post. My wheels are turning, and I feel several blog posts about my own process in the works.

    Push on.

  18. What a fascinating post for someone who considers herself a quilter but not an ARTIST.

    I recently purchased a book called The Gentle Art of Quiltmaking by Jane Brocket. I have so enjoyed the pictures and color(however, sometimes photos are too artsy-stop showing me a little snippet of fabric and SHOW ME THE QUILT already!)but have wondered about the distinction between quilting and artistry/design. The author is definitely a quilter who enjoys the process-she loves color and fabric and tells the "stories" behind her quilts but no patterns are really needed because she favors simple squares and rectangles in different sizes. Does the artistry come from the difficulty in the pattern alone?

    I also have been musing on history-reproducing versus history-making. I love that quilters look to the past to make their quilts and appreciate what came before and want to continue in this vein. I guess I consider these women quilters. I also appreciate the women who push boundaries and make "new" fabrics(which are often reproductions with new colors!) and "new"(old designs with a twist?)patterns. They are making quilt history(or now, I am getting confused, are they really re-making?!)for the next generation.
    Goodness, so much to think about from a simple quiltmaker like myself! I do appreciate the discussion from all of you in Blogland!

  19. Just discussed my comments with my daughter and we were talking about the difference between being a skilled artist/craftsman versus having IDEAS. She brought up Leonardo da Vinci versus Jackson Pollack/Andy Warhol. She was talking about da Vinci being an Artist(because of his skills and craftsmanship). And Pollack and Warhol being Artists because they were the first to do what they did(the Ideas they had, not necessarily the Skills involved, is where the artistry comes in.) She talks about people who copy them as artists with a small A, because they were simply followers. But if you use what they made, and add your own twist to it, then the capital A comes in again.
    I guess this is what I was working my way through with the Jane Brocket book-the line between artist and Artist, between being a quilter and being a Quilter.
    Must go rest my brain now…

  20. I am an art quilter and have been for ten years now. The work that I do is intended for hanging on the wall, not something that is functional.

    The art quilt community has gone through tremendous growth. One of the things that I enjoy the most about being a part of it is the constant want (and need) to break through and find new ways of working.

    We most certainly draw from each other and talk regularly about our processes, trains of thought and how we get from point A to point B. Its the tie that binds us together – its a common mindset.

    I have to say that I have been very intrigued by modern quilting. Having never worked in traditional quilting (many art quilters come from a traditional quilting background, I went straight into art quilting when I entered the fiber art world), its really caught my interest. Its made me look at functional quilting with a different eye so I thank you for that. I'm looking forward to watching as you all grow.

  21. This discussion is so interesting, it makes me question what I am doing as a quilter, myself. I certainly can relate to the term "mutant", I love to think I am inspired by history, and that I am also playing with references that are contemporary. Colors inspires me as well as other bloggers. Different fabric inspire me, the design, palette and style – the diversity that's out there. Maybe there's a parallel to food and cooking, sometime I start with certain ingredients and try to make an interesting dish, sometimes it's the dish itself that's the motivation.
    On a level it is so personal, I think people have very different references when they start quilting. Some are more adventurous than others. Some have a need to develop their own voices and expressions, and some don't. What I like about quilting is that it can be done on so many levels of skills and enthusiasm. And it's a treat to be able to meet and share with other quilters who share your level of commitment.
    I like the idea of reading more about the design process, the inspiration, the abandoned quilt and the ufo's. It is something I will try to do more…

  22. I know I just commented on your newest two posts, but after reading this one I had to comment again!

    First – I love reading your educated and well chosen words. I miss the smartness of things I read (and wrote) in college, and though this is not the theology I studied, it reminds me of the preciseness of it.

    Second – Amazing idea/thought pattern. I actually have been thinking a lot of the process of quilting (my own and others) since I do read a lot of blogs where people (who definately have more time and skill than I) post pictures of new finished quilts twice a week. I have made maybe a total of three quilts. It has been taking me a long time to start my current quilt project for fear of ruining my fabric, so much so that I contemplated making another "easy" quilt. Although I like to let the fabric speak for itself sometimes there's not much creative in making a quilt of plain old squares. I wanted a challenge but was affraid of it too.

    Third – I would love to learn more of the individual histories of quilters. How did we learn the skill, are we self-taught, how do books and patterns play into our knowledge base, how do they deter or encourage from creativity…etc.

    Fourth – Finally someone tells me it's ok to post pictures of pages from my quilting notebook to share on my blog. 🙂

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  23. This is the most well-written, thought-provoking post I've read in a long time. I'll return to it again and again, I'm certain of that. Thank you.

  24. Marit's comment about cooking really resonated with me (so much so I had to go blog about it myself).

    I think it's fascinating to hear about how others came to quilting, what traditions they do (or don't) know about, and have embraced or rejected.

    I don't have any answers, just thoughts, and am so glad you guys are out there to start the conversation!

  25. We are all really mutants, aren't we? Even me the traditionalist. I do love to post about the process. And the finished quilt is nice too, but I'm not about the fast finish. I do believe I'm about the process. I'd hate for us to all be remembered as the era of the Turning Twenty! Yikes! I do love blogs for the inspiration and for the thought provoking nature. Thanks, fellow mutant.

  26. I read Cheryl's post awhile back, and just now stumbled upon yours. Thank you for giving me something to think about as I mow our vast expanse of lawn! I almost didn't comment because I view myself to be a 'quilter', rather than a Quilter. I love color first and foremost and am completely guilty of following trends and loving all the new fabric collections etc. I also love simple, basic designs and while I love reading the blogs of the talented and inspired quilters (including you) I want to keep quilting what it is for me now; a fun, creative outlet. For me to keep it that way, I have to keep from categorizing myself and my quilts. I can't let myself think, "this doesn't fit my style", or "this isn't modern". etc. I want to make things I love, because they speak to me and make me happy. I also want to keep out of any competition to come up with the neatest idea, make something with the lastest fad, etc. But if I DO fall in love with hexagons for example, I'm gonna make a hexagon quilt, and who cares if they're trendy. I guess this shows that I'm more of a crafty person, as opposed to an artist.

  27. Fabulous post! I somehow missed Cheryl's earlier post and followed your promt to read it first. At the end of my long comment to her I wrote…

    "…So, everything that has most inspired my 'modern quilt making' has it's roots in the past! The thing we must strive for is staying aware of why it inspires us. What is it that touches us so deeply about the work of the past, and how can we translate those emotions into our own work. That's what will make what we do modern, and hopefully meaningful and relevant to the next generation of quilters."

    … then I went back to reading your post and see that I am Mutant! (and damn proud to be one!) I try to always openly honor the past that has inspired me and strive to harmoniously incorporate my individual voice with the voices of the past hoping that it continues to resonate deeply into the future.

    I love your urge to Push. Without push their can be no growth, and we will become stagnant.

    I especially like your idea of 'Taxonomy'. I no longer even know where I fit into the modern quilting category, (or if I even do anymore) and would find it most interesting to see a development of different classifications that would fit under this ever bulging umbrella.

    Thanks so much for this well written and thought out post!

  28. Ha Ha, I have been chuckling everytime I see the term modern. That's because "modern" was the term used to describe the new look, a break from the look of, say, the 50's/early 60's. It was about 1966-1969 (without doing research to check my memory) when I started sewing. A tumultous time to say the least, but that is another subject. Modern became the buzzword for sewing, needleworks, fashion, home decorating especially, cars and so on.

    Mutant. Guess I am one too, altho I hesitate to use the term. I can't leave pattern well enough alone, I have to change something. My last (2nd quilt) I mostly followed the pattern, but carried the idea to the backing and the pillowcase.

    The Process. I love the whole sewing process, not just quilting…the hunt for the fabric, picking the pattern, adjusting the pattern. washing ironing cutting, unsewing…. and the best part….handsewing the binding down.

    count me in.

  29. thanks for this thought provoking post Rossie! this is exactly where I am with my quilting situation. I don't like cookie cutter, although a lot of the elements of my quilting are from a template, I want to put my own spin on things. I rarely use fabrics all from one line and I hate following a pattern. To me, modern quilting is more about a feeling. No quilting police, no right or wrong.
    This may not be the "correct" way to look at it, but my opinion is that it's not so much about what the quilt looks like once it's finished, but how you got there that makes it "modern".
    My journey right now is to start thinking more about colors and designs and quit settling with my quilting. I want to delve deeper, be more aggresive, and more attentive. I want to be able to notice color in my everday surroundings that speaks to me instead of glossing over the inspiration that presents itself each and every moment of the day.

  30. I've finally had time to come read this post and I'm in awe of your thought processes. This has really got me thinking about my own quilting and how it would be classified. A friend was showing some pieces from her guild and called some traditional and some contemporary and to be honest I couldn't figure out which were which, except for the more "artsy" type pieces. I suppose I lean towards traditional type patterns though I have designed many of my own and there is usually nothing quick and easy about the patterns that attract me. As a hand piecer/quilter/appliquer, I don't want to do the same block over and over again and hate doing large blocks, nor do I often follow a pattern without changing a block (often to make it more difficult to piece) and color/fabrics is what I like, not the designers choice. Well, I seem to be rambling here and not really making any point LOL. I just want to say that I wish more quilters would look at a pattern and see how they could make it "theirs" instead of making the same dang thing all the other "quick" quilters are making. I'll be back to see what else you have up your sleeve :0)


  31. I thoroughly enjoyed this thought filled discussion. As someone who believes in being part of a flow…inside and out..and experiencing all aspects of both the journey and the ride, I've been and tried most if not all of many processes.I didn't realize when I wrote my post titled What Type of Quilter Are You? that we had might have a new mutation 😉 Check out my descriptions of various types of quilters and let me know what you think!

  32. Right on! I agree, quilting is so much more about the process than it is about the destination, and while there is a time and place for the make-it-snappy-quilt-in-a-day projects, those aren't the ones where any new ground is being broken.

    I'm not the edgiest quilter on the planet (yet!)but I do try to challenge myself on every project, and I blog about works-in-progress for another reason: I keep misplacing my notes about what worked/what I wanted to try differently, but if I blog as I go I can always find my notes again in cyberwold!!

    So, we're mutants, hunh? All I can think about is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… I have little boys; sorry! 🙂

  33. 1. It's all quilting.
    2. It's all good.

    I've been quilting since the 70s and still love it almost beyond life itself. Anything that makes a person want to make a quilt makes me happy. Call it modern, call it contemporary, call it traditional.

    See 1 and 2 above.

    Just promise me one thing: don't allow yourself or your quilting to be pigeonholed. Think, expand, SEW!

  34. Excellent post, as is Cheryl's. Both very thought provoking.

    For me my quilting is secondary to my embroidery and I am trying to learn and expand upon both. At some point they will come together permanently but it's going to be a long slow process 🙂

  35. I remember talking about modern and contemporary quilts and saying that what people were calling modern quilts weren't and that modern had a very specific meaning, and I was pooh poohed and told that I was a snob, and had people say rather archly "Well, I don't have an art education, and neither do most of us, so we're not talking about what you're talking about" (the subtext of course, was "sit down and shut up") but I don't have an arts education either, but I want to know what we're talking about when we talk about things!

    Hi! lol

    I'm Kit and I found you through Generation Q's feature on your process pledge today and I've spent the last hour reading all the links to the links to the links as well as (of course) your post and I'm just really pleased that this conversation is going on someplace else besides my head, or between two textile artist friends and I.

    Thanks for a great post.



  36. I just now found your post and I LOVE it! I want to continue exploring your blog to see if there are further posts about this subject. I'm a member of my local modern quilt guild and the thing I love most about the women in our group is that they are open to all types of quilting. From traditional mariner's compass, floral applique, to wonky monochromatic, "we don't even know what to call it" quilting. I've struggled with "modern" quilting and the definition of it. Glad you started the conversation. I think some taxonomy would be fantastic. I always fear that I shouldn't call myself a "modern" quilter because I'm not modern enough…but then think its silly because what is modern? Here's hoping that we all push ourselves and really bust outta whatever box we're in…but also that we appreciate where ideas come from and the beauty of all quilting.

    Thank you for a wonderful post.

  37. So, does this mean that I'm not some kind of mutant (or, maybe I am!) when I talk about designing a quilt totally from scratch, no pre-existing pattern, no formula, no label ~ just my original art concept? My mother-in-law (and her mother, rest her) is a fabulously talented quilter, and it's funny because it was her first quilt that inspired me, and woke in me a longing to get my hands and heart into the fabric, and CREATE. It was a simple, simple thing, but had tons of original detail, no pattern, just LOVE (she made it in memory of her mom when she passed away 6 years ago). I seriously hope she somehow sees fit to leave it to me after she herself goes home someday. Anyway, it's funny because she's big into following patterns, and if it had not been for her own first quilt, I would likely still think quilts were boring (sorry, sacrilege, I'm sure)! So…maybe being a mutant isn't a bad thing, after all?

  38. Rossie, thank you for coming to speak to ChicagoMQG on Sunday. I enjoyed your talk so much. It got me thinking, and it also put words to some thoughts I had already had. You articulated ideas and feelings that I hadn't taken the time to fully develop, and it was invigorating to hear your opinions on quilting like an artist.

    I do have a few questions, as I mull over this subject. I know I was picking your brain about patterns (thank you for indulging me). But at the time I wasn't able to articulate something I wanted to ask you in regards to patterns, something more philosophical than practical. You are encouraging quilters to push and do their own thing and develop their own style. Yet you also sell patterns, which could be at odds with the idea of quilters pushing and developing their own style or processes. How do you square those two ideas? I don't mean to sound accusatory. I'm curious. Maybe I'm setting up a false dichotomy here, but it seems to me that patterns are a bit out of step with your overall philosophy of quilting and moving the quilting world forward… so I'm wondering how you feel about adding to the canon of published patterns… is it a conflict at all? Or do you have another way of looking at it?

    In your talk you said, if I'm remembering correctly, that you do think there are quilts that should be labeled modern, but not all "modern quilts" should be called modern. So how do you, Rossie, define modern? Can you give some examples of what you see as a modern quilt? This doesn't really matter, but, again, I'm just curious!

    Finally, I love what you say about pushing, and showing processes, publishing pages of sketch books or pictures of design walls. If you are trying to submit a quilt to a magazine for publication, you can't share those things, right? Are there ways to show your process when what you are working on is destined for a publication? Do you purposely make some quilts that will not be published in magazines so that you can share more of your process as you go? Just wondering how you handle your commitment to share process while also trying to be a published, professional quilter.

    Thanks, again, so much for your words and thoughts and opinions! I think I've encountered more opinions about quilting on your blog as I've devoured it this week than I have on any other quilt blogs I have read in the past 4 years combined. 🙂 I love how you say what you think, and how you think so clearly and critically.

    1. Hi Laura!

      Thanks so much for coming to the talk and for our conversation afterwards.

      I do think that being a person that writes and sells patterns is a bit at odds with being a person that regularly advocates that we not use patterns as soon as we don't need to use patterns/only as palette cleansers.
      Here's how I square those ideas:
      (1) Have you heard of Hollywood actors who do a low-paying edifying art film for every summer blockbuster? Soemtimes I feel like that. It’s just a necessary contradiction. And there’s nothing wrong with summer blockbusters. Some of them are truly wonderful movies that give people entertainment and ideas that they need.
      (2) Additonally, I do try to write my patterns in a way that pushes the art side.
      (a) I write "straight" patterns that give exact yardage and sitting diagrams and piecing instructions, but I also write improv patterns that give rough yardage and outline the steps in making a block, but leave far more up to the quilter.
      (b) I show variations of the quilt pattern from the beginning. I endeavor to make at least two versions of every quilt, which show some important variation. I use pattern testers and ask them to make a quilt that shows even more variations, and flip/ignore my color placement guidelines if they want. I show as many variations as I can from the outset to give lots of options for self-expression.
      (c) I build choices into my patterns. There are multiple sizes, there are optional extra cutting diagrams for keeping directional patterns flowing one way, there is encouragement to "make the pattern your own.”

    2. (d) I explain quite clearly where a pattern came from. So, the Greek Plus Puss pattern that will be out on August 4th is clearly named after the two traditional blocks it borrows from (the Greek Plus & Puss in the Corner). There is also an explanation of that heritage on the pattern and the blog will show the lineage even more clearly. There’s no pretending that it isn’t a remix quilt.
      (e) I also think that it matters that I write the highest quality pattern possible. A lot of patterns are poorly written and having to deal with bad or missing instructions is a problem for quilters. It makes them doubt themselves and their abilities. That doubt can be an impediment to branching out later, so I make sure I’m not planting any doubt. I try to ensure that quilters to have a positive experience so that they feel emboldened and ready for the next thing to be more of a stretch.
      (f) I use a type of copyright protection that allows people to remix my patterns into their own patterns and sell those—so long as they also use the same creative commons license. I try to then show and allow for a lifecycle of my idea/pattern—it came from somewhere and you can take it somewhere!

      As to your other questions…
      () My personal definition of modern is all about the quilts themselves and the aesthetics of the quilts. For me the word “modern” refers fairly specifically to mid-century modernism. I actually fairly well agree with a lot of what the MQG has laid out as being the look of a modern quilt, though in contrast with them, I don’t think quilts that are “traditional with a twist” or “modern traditional” should be considered fully modern, because it confuses the issue.

      Other folks’ definitions of modern refer to the community and the regrowth of interest in quilting. I think that can work, too. However, I think then you are talking about people as “modern quilters” or not rather than quilts as being modern or not. And this also gets tricky because almost the entirety of the history of patchwork quilting has occurred in “the modern era” so its easy to look like there is no real distinction. Which may very well be where we headed—fine by me, but not terribly useful from an art history perspective and then modern becomes just a marketing ploy.

      As for sharing process – if you are writing patterns or making quilts for magazines, 90% of the time you need to do that work in secret. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t share the process, it just means you can’t share it in real time. So, there’s really no reason I can’t record my process as I go, and then wait and publish those after the publication comes out. The secret quilt that you saw with the blue sashing has a blog post about the process ready to go once the magazine comes out. This works nicely as I can promote my work without breaking from the usual voice I use on the blog. Also, it’s worth remembering that the point before publication is just a short part of the quilt’s life cycle. After publication, the quilt comes back to me and I can blog about it as often as I like, show it when visiting guilds, and submit it to shows. The story is always with the quilt once it is public, there’s just a delay in having it be sent out there.

      Also, I don’t make my quilts for my self-published patterns in secret. Those regularly appear on my blog and Instagram.

      And because I do tend to be working on a bunch of quilts at once, there are inevitably quilts for public consumption being talked about on my blog/Instagram while secret sewing is happening in the background. This isn’t something I orchestrate on purpose, just kind of how it is!

      Thanks again for your kind words. I hope my answers help.


    3. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. This all makes a lot of sense. I read both Austin Kleon books while on vacation and I'm starting to get my head around how and what to share (and why). I like to come back and read your posts to see how it all applies specifically to quilting. What you said about patterns makes complete sense. Thanks again!

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