Monthly Archives: February 2014

More Thoughts On What Is A Modern Quilt

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.

flying-triangles-HollieLobosky(Flying Triangles by Hollie Lobosky)

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.

sophie t arp 1933 moving circlesA 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.


Filed under Commentary

Coming To Terms

Over the past year I’ve been noticing that my fingers are clumsier with hand sewing, my hands ache after free motion quilting, and I can pretty much forget about sewing on dark fabrics at night even with all the lights on.  I suspect this is my body’s way of saying that I better get ready to make some accommodations in my quilting.

I had already stopped making large quilts as it was just too hard to maneuver the bulk around the sewing machine and ironing board and sandwich the quilt layers.  Besides, how many bed quilts do I (or my family members) need?

So, here’s some work-arounds I tried with a recent small piece called 12 Carat Diamond.

12_Carat_DiamondThe blocks are extremely simple and done with freezer paper piecing – no lengthy cutting sessions.  I wanted the fabric to do the work.  I used fusible batting so I didn’t need to use safety pins.  Even with that helper gadget I find closing and opening the pins to be hard.  I used my walking foot for much of the quilting and kept the free motion work to a minimum.  That way my arthritic hands got a break.

For the binding I used Sharon Shaumber’s starch and glue technique to stiffen and then hold the binding in place while I stitched it down.  I’ve settled on cutting my binding strips at 2 and 3/8 inches for “normal” bindings.  That gives me enough leeway to machine stitch down the folded over edge.  I do nothing fancy.  I just stitch in the ditch on the right side and make sure I catch the binding on the wrong side.


12_Carat_Diamond_binding_backThis is not a quilt that will be entered in shows so who cares if I don’t hem by hand.

One thing I tried this time was to wash the quilt after it was quilted but before it was bound.  I wanted a crinkly finish but didn’t want that on the binding.  Here’s what the edges looked like after washing but before binding.

raw_edgeI stitched about 1/8 inch in from the edges before washing.

Of course, I could try to persuade my husband that living in a warm climate would help my aches, but then a friend and I wouldn’t have gotten the idea for a guild program on methods and tools for quilting with an aging body.

As I was photographing this quilt I realized that its color palette was a good match for my hair color, or lack of it.  I guess my unconscious was sending me a message.


Filed under Commentary, Completed Projects

A New Image – Literally

If you glance at this blog regularly you’ve probably noticed it has a new header.  Note how it incorporates different machine stitches, patchwork, and the weave of cloth in the letters.  As to the sinuous lines, I’ll leave the interpretation to others.


Filed under Commentary, Everything Else

One Quilt Leads To Another

My quilting bucket list has long included doing a quilt series. I’d occasionally consider some likely subjects for a series, but never settled on anything.  Then, what I view as a series just happened.

Ever since I was lucky enough to win a stuffed envelope of Vicki Welsh’s muslin strips from her dyeing business I’ve been using them up.  I made a baby quilt for my great niece Olivia with some bright paired rectangles and used black and gray strips in my Moon Rising top. (It awaits quilting.)

PaintbrushCasting about for an easy project (it’s my way of taking a breather from more detailed work) I remembered I had a bunch of leftover rectangles. I sewed some together with the idea of making a four patch design, and even tried a disappearing four patch, but found I needed more color contrast for that to work.  The rectangles had too much white space to clearly delineate a pattern.

Somewhat dismayed that my easy project wasn’t so easy, I started grouping my patches by color affinity.  And then the idea for a series began.

I realized that I had four palettes, each roughly corresponding to a season of the year.  I sewed the four patches together in long, thin strips and bordered the strips with narrow coordinating borders.  Then I added much wider borders to emphasize the appropriate season.





As you can see, there’s no fancy piecing going on.  I wanted to feature the wonderful color variations in the fabrics. Each panel is about 20 by 30 inches. I plan to use an overall leaf quilting design and I may face, rather than bind, the edges.

I thought these could be used on a table in the corresponding season or hung individually or all together. At one point I tried to combine the panels into a single top, but decided each season needed its own space. To every season there is a time…


Filed under In Process

New and Rebooted Books

Two books I’ve been perusing recently have made me feel like Janus – looking forward and backward.  The look ahead was Lucie Summers’ Quilt Improv: Incredible Quilts from Everyday Inspirations. The look back was a reissue of two books by Pat Speth and Charlotte Thode, called The Big Book of Nickel Quilts – 40 Projects for 5-Inch Scraps.

I’ll start with the look back.  Speth and Thode’s book is a combination of Nickel Quilts and More Nickel Quilts.  There’s no new material or quilt patterns.  All the quilts are based on 5 inch fabric squares that are cut up in various ways to make blocks.  The different block variations are described at the beginning. The projects lend themselves to scraps, charm packs, and layer cakes, though I don’t think layer cakes were around when these books were first published.

I made a few quilts from these books in the mid 2000’s, and found the instructions gave me some nice tricks for maximizing my fabric.

bluegreenHere’s my take on the Tillie’s Treasure pattern.

I wish some of the quilts had been remade in more contemporary fabrics to appeal to newer quilters. Those calicos can look really dated. The revised and reissued Quilts! Quilts!! Quilts!!! remade many of the original designs in today’s fabrics, and the results are very appealing.

Lucie Summers’ Quilt Improv: Incredible Quilts from Everyday Inspirations also starts with a handful of techniques (she calls them building blocks) that are used to make the book’s projects.  Many will be old news to experienced quilters, though it’s always fun to see the old made new through fabric and little twists. These techniques are combined in twelve projects.

Here’s Lucie’s take on improvisational quilting: “Probably the biggest difference in making an improv quilt compared to a traditionally made quilt is that the decision making largely takes place during the making process rather than before.”

The punch of this book comes from Lucie’s descriptions of her creative process, from inspiration (seed trays, lattice work, manhole covers, and other quirky sources) to design, color choice, and piecing map.  There’s a short section on general techniques – pressing, quilting, binding, etc. – but I think you can just go with whatever works for you.  Lucie uses a lot of closely spaced straight line quilting that’s easily doable with a walking foot.

As I looked at the building blocks section I realized I have never made a chevron quilt, so I started one as the latest Project Quilting challenge.  I turned it into a pillow.

Necco Wafers

One caveat about Lucie’s book is the print; it’s very light, and many reviewers on Amazon have commented that it’s difficult to read.  Actually, I think the problem is with the font. I don’t know if the e-book format suffers from the same drawback.


Filed under Books

For My Valentine

heart_in_goldHeart in Gold


Filed under Completed Projects

Improv Quilting Workshop In Akron

If you’re within easy driving distance of Akron, Ohio, consider taking a class in improvisational piecing at the downtown Akron Art Museum.  My quilting friend Patty Altier is leading this class on Saturday, February 22, from noon to 4 p.m.

I’ve taken this class from Patty and can vouch for her technique, enthusiasm, and helpfulness.  She doesn’t know I’m writing about it, and she hasn’t asked me to do so.  Fun fact about Patty – she has a whole room filled with fabric and nothing but fabric.

patty_improvThese are samples she made up for her class.

You can find more information about the class at the art museum’s website.

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Filed under Techniques

The Glass Factory

Lately I’ve been composing fabric made of small scraps in one color family – red, pink, yellow, blue, green, etc. Some of that made fabric, combined with cerise fabric, hand dyed seam binding, and a deep stash batik, turned into Broken Glass.

Broken GlassAs I sewed down the binding I finally realized what image was niggling at the back of my mind  – a memory of huge dumpsters filled with pieces of broken glass, sorted by color.

A few years ago my husband and I took a road trip through southeastern Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky.  I insisted we stop at the Blenko Glass Company in Milton, West Virginia for a tour as I owned some of their work.  I did gain a greater understanding of how the glass was made, but I was most struck by those vast bins filled with bits of glass sparkling in the sun.

I guess my subconscious was trying to recreate that image in this quilt.

Stained_glass_closeupI quilted it with acutely angled boxes that spiral into the center.  My aim was to have the changes in quilting line direction mimic the way light reflected off the bits of broken glass.

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Filed under Completed Projects, Inspiration

This Candy Won’t Rot Your Teeth

I’ve continued with the Project Quilting challenge, which has a candy theme this week.  My sweet treat for this challenge is Necco Wafers.  They were my reward for being quiet in church when I was very young.  They lasted a long time if you ate each piece individually, they weren’t messy, and they were my version of communion wafers.

Necco wafer photoAs I’m not really a candy person I wouldn’t have done this challenge if I hadn’t wanted to try a new (to me) technique.  Oh, I enjoy fine dark chocolate and eat Twizzlers when my dark side comes out, but a month without candy is no big deal for me.

When I read Lucie Summers’ Quilt Improv I realized I had never made a chevron quilt.  Her method, based on Seminole piecing, seemed quick and scrap friendly.  So, I decided that strips of chalky pastel solid type fabrics would look like stacked Necco wafers and I started creating chevrons.

Chevrons in processAfter one attempt at a border didn’t work out, I decided to create a pillow with a flange and back in the blue and red-orange colors of the candy’s wrapper.

Necco Wafers trialI think the partial circles and sharp angles of the chevrons fight each other.

Necco Wafers

Here’s the finished pillow, which awaits a pillow form. I made a button closure on the red-orange back.

Necco Wafers back


Filed under Completed Projects, In Process

Quilt Sketches

I seem to turn out a lot more quilts than I used to but I think it’s because at least half of what I make are sketches rather than full blown “important” works.  I like working small scale with very limited expectations beyond slap the fabrics together and see what develops. I sometimes set limitations to work within, such as my fabric has to come from my “to be filed” box, or I can use only light colored fabric.

I do try to at least quilt and finish the edges of these works.  I can always use them as quick gifts or pads on a table.

pale_assemblageThe above sketch resulted from the light fabrics only limitation.

Chutes_and_LaddersThis piece came from my box of strips no larger than 2.5 inches by 8 inches. I combined them with brushstroke patterned fabrics.

dark_circle_on_backingThe wonky circles are a technique from Jane LaFazio combined with leftover pre-fused scraps and ribbon remnants.

Sky_and_WaterSky and Water was a practice free motion quilting piece that I turned into a pillowcase.

It seems I’m not the only one who is into quilt sketches.  Gwen Marston chronicled her sketch series in 37 Sketches (published in 2011).  No, I’m not comparing my work to hers. I gather from the one negative review (and the only review) on Amazon and the book’s limited availability that this isn’t her most widely recognized book. You can read more about it at See How We Sew.  Here’s a link to how to order a copy from Gwen.  I haven’t gotten my hands on a copy as no library in the state of Ohio owns it and I don’t know if I want to spend $30 for a 96 page book, however lovely.

While Gwen made small (about 9 by 10 or 11 inch) pieces she completed in a day, I usually spend a few days on each sketch. Also, my pieces tend to be larger, about 13 by 18 or 19 inches, but no larger than 24 by 24 inches. The first rush of design and piecing takes me about a day, and fine tuning and finishing go on for a few more days.  Sometimes this happens in one fell swoop, but I’m more likely to let my first drafts age a few days before revisiting them. A few have been aging in a drawer for years.

Of course, sometimes I never finish the piece as I decide it’s fatally flawed.  Sometimes I reach that conclusion after finishing it. And sometimes I set it aside to use in a larger future piece.

Why do I like doing this?  It’s therapy for me to sew bits of fabric together just to see how they look.  I feel freer to slash through a piece that’s not working and try something else if it’s not a “good” piece.  I get bored easily so a small piece can be finished faster, in theory.  I can work on two or three sketches at the same time.  And they make a nice break when (not if, please note) I get stuck on a larger piece.


Filed under Commentary, In Process, Inspiration, Project Ideas