QuiltCon Aftermath

The second annual QuiltCon wrapped up at the end of February, and I’ve been looking at photos of the modern quilts exhibited there. Hmmm, I can see certain tropes being codified as “modern.” Plus and multiplication sign quilts, anyone?

Look over some of these links to photos of quilts exhibited, and make up your own mind. Here are photos of the winning quilts.

i Quilt by Kathy York won Best in Show. I think it’s a cute idea, but nothing technically challenging. At first I thought the i’s were birthday cake candles.


The Plaid Portico blog is performing a great service by showing lots of the quilts, especially the details. Here’s a post of some of the charity quilts exhibited. And here’s the second post on the charity quilts. Yet another post features quilts in the modern traditionalism category. The latest posts feature the quilts in the improvisation category(part 1) and (part 2.) I believe there’s more photos to come.

In the quilts assigned by the judges to the modern traditionalism category I saw great reworkings of blocks such as kaleidoscope, LeMoyne Star, flying geese, and pineapple. However, I’m mystified by the judge’s ribbon choices, especially the first place quilt. I find it a jumble with no focal point and no fabulous quilting.

I’ve spent some time with the improvisation quilt photos.  I like Sunburst Quilt by Tara Faughnan, Fade Into Gray by Stephanie Ruyle, and Lite Brite by Maria Shell, but I confess I’m a bit tired of the usual modern palette. Marianne Haak’s Shifting Impressions uses ombre fabrics so it’s a welcome exception. I’m taken with the quilting on Neva Asinari’s Intersection, and I give Face #1 by Melissa Averinos full props for being something completely different. Again, I find the choices of ribbon winners mystifying, though I admire the use of thread color and stitch types in the first place winner, The Rabbit Hole by Serena Brooks.


Let me take a minute to talk about the workmanship of some of the quilts exhibited. A friend who attended came back appalled at the waviness of many of the quilts. She said they buckled and billowed. Another blogger talked about the quilting birds nests on the back of the best in show quilt.

Why am I being so picky? Because this was a national juried show. Many quilters had their work rejected. (I didn’t enter so this isn’t sour grapes.) I realize you can’t judge workmanship well from photos, but closeups should reveal glaring issues. Of course, I haven’t seen the judges’ criteria, but surely they can’t be too different from those used for traditional quilts.

I recall seeing some of these problems in a modern quilt exhibit at the 2013 International Quilt Festival. My thought at the time was that experience would smooth out such issues. I guess not. Or maybe the early modern quilters have learned, but relative newcomers are still learning.

In the photos of the different guild charity quilts I noticed that many had complex free motion quilting designs. Some just didn’t suit the quilt or were somewhat clunky. I applaud the willingness of modern quilters to jump into free motion quilting, a no go area for many traditional quilters, but I think it wise to keep it simple and looking good. Of course, the underlying thought may have been “it’s for charity so why not experiment.”

If you attended QuiltCon or have spent time looking at photos of the quilts let me know your thoughts. Am I off base here?



Filed under Commentary, Modern Quilting, Quilt Shows

33 responses to “QuiltCon Aftermath

  1. I spent a few minutes to re-read all these comments, which I thought were insightful. I do hope that as new quilters grow in their skills (design and technique), they can use their enthusiasm to enrich the long history of quilting. It is good to have a new point of view, but it doesn’t necessarily negate what we already believe.

  2. I have been enjoying reading through the discussions arising out of QuiltCon. I probably skew modern in my design preferences, but I do think that good construction is essential, and even in design, there is a difference between what is deliberate choice and what is just poor execution. A few inadvertent ‘design elements’ can be add charm, but I would hope that quilt shows, particularly national juried ones, would be examples of quilts that inspire and that we can aspire to. On a different note, I find the quilting on many of the quilts uninspiring and basic. Sometimes simple straight lines can really enhance a design and sometimes a quilt calls for an all-over design…but sometimes it just seems to me to be a cop out. One blogger I follow (whose quilt I really liked) commented on how one of the quilts in the show went together more quickly than anything she had ever made. As I said, I really liked the quilt, which had a simple design and simple quilting that enhanced it beautifully. Nor should the amount of time spent be the prime indicator of the quality or worth of a quilt…but I look at some of the quilts in the show and wonder what exactly it is that is being identified as worthy of aspiration.

    • Hear, hear, about such big national shows as showcases for the best work to aspire to. As to the quilting, I think that quilting with a walking foot can be creative if well planned. It’s time consuming, of course, especially if you’re changing directions a lot. Again, it comes down to design.

      • Yes, I agree. Walking foot quilting can be creative and inspiring, and there were some great examples from QuiltCon. Maybe the difference between those quilts and some of the less inspirational ones shows the importance of design and planning regardless of design style.

  3. You’re not off base, at all. I applaud you for writing what many of us are thinking.

    Not every quilt style out there is my taste, but I still appreciate looking at something well designed and executed. Even dada-esque pieces can still be well balanced, etc. But far too many ‘modern’ quilts (don’t get me started on that word) just look off to me. You hit the nail on the head – the ones that look ‘off’ are messy looking, just like a charity quilt that’s whipped out in a couple of days without much thought put into the quilting itself, or the finishing details. And it sounds like they get rewarded.

  4. I like reading about the show and seeing all the photos but I am still completely confused as to what makes a quilt “modern.” Maybe I just have an attitude . . .

    • From the Modern Quilt Guild’s website:
      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.

      There’s more at http://www.themodernquiltguild.com/content/about-mqg

      • So, would classic Amish quilts be considered modern?

      • They certainly almost tick all the boxes on the MQG definition, don’t they. The crucial difference, to my mind, is they aren’t inspired by modern design. Rather, they have helped inspire modern design.

      • Interesting distinction! It’s just fascinating to me how it seems that every new generation of quilters looks to re-define quilting, or what they do with quilting.

      • Unless you come from a family of quilters everything about quilting seems new when you discover it. At first, you try to make quilts that are like the ones you loved that got you started in quilting. Then, you may branch off into other quilting styles as you learn more. And yes, everything old is new again.

  5. no, you are not off base.

    i enjoyed the show (i went in person). there were some interesting implementations of traditional and non-traditional designs. very few of the quilts seemed to focus on elegant technique however. they all seemed to shout, “prototype” rather than juried quilt. i think modern quilters are mostly new to the craft, so they have a different focus entirely than those of us who have been quilting for decades. no doubt that’s why they’ve given these quilts their own style name. there are some elements of this newer style that i really enjoy, but i do believe these quilts would benefit from a little more precision and attention to detail.

    • Yes, if you’re new to a craft all those techniques may be unknown to you. And some modern quilters are very precise about technique. Check out Elizabeth Hartman’s books and free Craftsy class on quilt backs. But…if the flaws detract rather than add to one’s enjoyment of the quilt, then some improvement is needed. After all, part of doing crafts is mastering techniques.

  6. I am surprised at the waviness I have seen in some of these quilts too and the birds nest on the back – I do not understand the sloppy work at times getting into the shows.

  7. jennyklyon

    Thank you for this excellent post! I love the Modern movement, its exuberance, the fabulous quilts and it’s all just so fresh!

    I have not been to QuiltCon and did not realize that there were technical issues with many of the quilts. I sure don’t want to squash all the enthusiasm with something “Quilt Police”ish, but I do hope over time that the technical aspects are given more attention. It’s not hard to make good corners or get the quilt to lay flat, it just takes a little bit of knowledge

    You gave some great commentary and links-thank you!

    • You’re welcome. It’s funny that the conversation on modern quilting seems to be moving away from what makes it different. I’ll be watching to see if the freshness you talked about continues.

  8. This year, for the first time, I am finally hearing some honest feedback on the “modern” movement. I fear it has become a talisman for mediocrity. I don’t think any of the quilts at QuiltCon would win ribbons in any other show and most wouldn’t even be juried in. I go to quilt shows to see the quilts that I can’t make yet but aspire to be able to make. But I think that the thing that annoys me most is the whole sense of “we invented something new”. There’s absolutely nothing new about solids, big graphic elements, not using borders, white backgrounds or wonky piecing. It offends me that no one is interested in crediting our art and quilting history. The quilts that are being made in this ” movement” are a fashion trend just like solid fabrics in the 70s. What happens to the movement when the trends change or when a member decides she wants to do something more advanced or different? Is she kicked out?
    I am thrilled that we have new quilters but I am disappointed that we are perpetuating in the quilt world that horrible school habit of giving every child a gold star for participation. QuiltCon can’t survive if their objective remains mediocrity especially with a national membership of over 8000. The next few years will be interesting.

    • I think some of the early modern quilters have moved on, sort of. They’ve become professionals – teaching, designing fabrics and patterns, etc.

    • patty

      Vicki, you are spot on with your comments. These younger quilters attitude like they invented quiltmaking is a ridiculous. All they are doing is dissing the mature quilters with disposable income that are not going to buy in to their stich. When you see the modern quilters selling patterns for improv pieced quilts you know they do not understand the road they are traveling.

      • Whoa, I don’t believe the intent of modern quilters is to diss mature quilters. I think the moderns have found their groove, and some even turn out quilts called traditional modern (or is it the other way round?) As to the patterns, I did have to laugh when I saw patterns for Gee’s Bend quilts a few years ago.

  9. Quilt Writer

    Modern quilting is a lot like modern art. The beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder. I admire modern quilters, because most times, they are not just following a pattern. They are breaking rules and the result is amazing and eye opening. I wish I could bring forth such originality and implement it into a quilt. Personally, I find charm in the imperfections and feel that it adds character to the quilt. I could see that if you are a traditionalist, it would be hard to see the beauty or the talent involved. Too many rules running through your head.
    It’s like when you watch Dancing With the Stars – Len’s not such a fan of the freestyle, but Julianne sees it through different eyes. They both look for the basic rules, but one is more likely to bend them for the sake of expression and originality.
    I’m just happy to see that quilting is just for old ladies anymore!

    • Quilt Writer

      Oops, Is NOT just for old ladies.

    • I guess I distinguish between deliberately doing something that’s not the “done” way and inadvertently creating imperfections. At one point quilt functionality was a biggie with modern quilters. If a quilt isn’t well constructed, it’s functionality will be reduced. I think that’s why attention to techniques that contribute to a quilt’s lifespan is important to me. Many of the more well known modern quilts are wonderfully original, but not everyone has the design skills to achieve wonderfully original work. My guess is you’ll see a lot more modern quilt patterns, to judge by the number of books and magazines devoted to the topic.

    • patty

      So in your eyes breaking the rules means it is ok to reward someone for poor workmanship just because they made a simple quilt and called it modern? They will only be able to keep up this “movement” until the money runs out. I went to the show, I wasn’t impressed by 75% of the quilts hanging.

      • I think it’s important to distinguish here between design and structure imperfections. Cutting off the points of triangles would be considered a design imperfection by some. A quilt with poorly executed quilting or binding would be considered a structure imperfection, by me at least.

        As to how long the movement continues, I predict you’ll see modern quilters branching off into whatever style best suits them, if they continue quilting.

  10. Thanks for the links and comments. I just scrolled through the modern traditionalism quilts and was pleased to see I liked many of them very much. I thought from a design standpoint the #2 quilt was at least as good as any others. Have to admit that #3 and #1 might have dropped toward the bottom of my list, though. However, I DO NOT LIKE samplers, almost as a rule. So that’s probably not surprising.

    As to technique rather than design, that can be hard to see in photos, as you say. However I’ve seen a few, including prize winners, that I was kind of shocked by. The quilting in particular left the pieces waved and distorted. Some were stiffened by excessive quilting. I did look through the charity quilts earlier and wondered how those quilts would be useful for their charities — certainly they wouldn’t do as comfort quilts, and mostly they would have limited value as fundraisers.

    There is a popular author/designer/blogger who recently blogged how she does the corners of her binding. Basically she said, “I couldn’t ever get the hang of how to do them right, so I figured out how to do them wrong.” She pinches the fabric from both sides of the corner and then makes a messy tack stitch. And she was TEACHING others how to do same. I was disappointed to see that, to say the least.

    • I agree with you about liking the second place quilt in the mod/trad category – good twist on a traditional design, and I dislike almost all sampler quilts as well. I’ve seen a few by Margaret Miller that have worked because of the way the blocks were set. As to the quilting issue, I get the impression that many modern quilters have adopted the designs of folks like Angela Walters without really fitting them to their own quilts. And that binding corner business – it’s just not that hard to do a mitered corner or a butted corner. I realize there’s a reaction to strictures that insist there’s only one right way to sew something, but I know at least 3 ways of handling corners that don’t involve tack stitches.

    • patty

      I saw that post to on how she was doing her binding corners – I was horrified!

      • I didn’t name names! 😉 But yes, it was unfortunate. We don’t all have to be good at everything. And she has designed some wonderful things. It’s great to try new ways of doing things, and certainly as we learn and figure stuff out as we go, we don’t always do things well. But that’s the thing — it wasn’t well done. It didn’t look good, in my opinion. There are better-looking ways to do that, which aren’t any more difficult.

      • A now forgotten quilting author, Robbie Fanning, used to say about techniques, there’s this way, that way, and your way. I think your point – that it’s great to try new ways to do things – is good. However, I think they also should look good, which is also your point.

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