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What Makes a Modern Quilt?

What Makes a Modern Quilt?

By Janelle Cahoon, Quiltcentric

Modern quilting’s fresh approach to a traditional craft has led to a rapidly-growing international movement with over 100 guilds and thousands of enthusiastic modern quilters worldwide.  As I enjoyed the quilts on display at QuiltCon, I pondered what made them so different, appealing and “modern”.

The website of The Modern Quilt Guild describes Modern quilts as ones that are “functional, include bold colors, and are inspired by modern design.  Minimalism, asymmetry, expansive negative space and alternate grid work are often a part of modern quilt compositions, as are improvisational piecing and solid fabrics.”

For more insight, I turned to members of the modern quilt community.

Gillian Smith, a member of the Boston Modern Quilt Guild, explained that many modern quilters have been inspired by the freedom and experimentation of the Gee’s Bend quilts.  She feels this experimentation, combined with simplicity of design, bold (often solid) colors and creative use of negative space helps define a modern quilt.

I also talked to Kathy Miller, of Michael Miller Fabrics.  She praised the modern quilt movement for its environment of encouragement, its absence of rules and freedom for individual interpretation and creativity.  She also noted its inclusiveness, welcoming all ages and levels of skill.

Cynthia Porter, a member of both the Austin Modern Quilt Guild and the traditional Austin Quilt Guild, was one of the white-glove ladies at QuiltCon.  When we talked about what makes a modern quilt different from traditional quilts, she talked about the sense of fun and freedom she gets while working on a modern quilt.

“You can get wild and crazy if you want to,” she said.  “There aren’t any quilt police and you don’t have to follow the rules if you don’t want to.”

The Modern Quilt Guild website lists a few guiding principles that are beginning to emerge in the modern quilt movement.  These are:

  • Make primarily functional rather than decorative quilts.
  • Use asymmetry in quilt design.
  • Rely less on repetition and on the interaction of quilt block motifs.
  • Contain reinterpreted traditional blocks.
  • Embrace simplicity and minimalism.
  • Utilize alternative block structures or lack of visible block structure.
  • Incorporate increased use of negative space.
  • Are inspired by modern art and architecture.
  • Frequently use improvisational piecing.
  • Contain bold colors, on-trend color combinations and graphic prints.
  • Often use gray and white as neutrals.
  • Reflect an increased use of solid fabrics.
  • Focus on finishing quilts on home sewing machines.

Modern quilters reflect these principles in different, creative and individual ways according to their own style, personality and vision.

Cynthia Porter summed it up.  “You can feel free when you’re working on a modern quilt,” she said.  “You’re not bogged down by traditional rules.  You can just have fun.”



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