Fun While It Lasted

With QuiltCon West underway in California it seems a good time to declare that I am over modern quilting, as defined by current modern quilt practitioners. Back in 2012 I had high hopes for a bolder, less pretty, more personally defined approach to quilting. I read and was inspired by many of the blogs that sprouted daily, and joined a local modern quilt guild. I made several quilts in the spirit of modern quilting.

Now, four years later, I say goodbye to all that. My local modern guild limped along on life support for two years, and finally vanished without even a whimper. Many of the blogs I enjoyed have ceased publication or have devolved into advertisements for fabric collections, patterns, and other items for sale. I gather it’s called branding, which I always associate with cattle ranching. Certainly there are outstanding exceptions, but many modern quilting books either lack substance or recycle “traditional” quilt book topics like half square triangles with new fabrics. Modern quilters jump from one “must have” fabric line/pattern to another. The owls, the deer, sheesh! What happened to the originality? I see a lot of “me too.” And the workshop lineup at QuiltCon West features a lot of traditional topics – hand applique anyone?

It may be that I’m holding modern quilters to higher standards than I do traditional quilters. Yeah, probably. I just had such hopes for self-determination – design your own quilts, make them with less expensive solid fabrics/vintage sheets/whatever, learn to sew and FMQ in a month. Then, the marketing juggernaut struck. And who wouldn’t be tempted by the chance to make money from your hobby? BTW, I’d be interested to learn of quilters who support themselves on modern quilting.

I do treasure what I’ve gained from the moderns. The bold, off kilter designs were a shot in the arm. The exuberance of new quilters who had no idea something might be hard was a spur. The sheer thrill newbie quilters got from their first efforts reminded me how fun quilting can be. You can see from the winning quilts at QuiltCon West that plenty of great quilts are being made; not all has been drowned out by marketing. I still think, though, the definition of modern quilting remains as slippery as ever.

Here’s some of my modern quilts that were most directly inspired by the modern quilting movement. One, Breezeblocks, is even very close to the original in Quilting Modern. I still treasure that book.

Curves Ahead 2Curves Ahead (based on Pinterest pin)

Spring@60MPHSpring @ 60 MPH (layout by Timna Tarr)

Where did all the hexies goWhere Did All The Hexies Go? (from my head)

107 pyramids107 Pyramids (based on a drawing by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr)

boxed-trianglesBoxed Triangles (from scraps)

Color SlideColor Slide (my own invention)

Impact 2Impact (concept from Terry Aske)

tipsy_lampshadesTipsy Lampshades (concept from Quilting Modern)

WPMWPM (layout based on Esch House Quilts design)

Breezeblocks_quiltedBreezeblocks (based on Quilting Modern)


Filed under Commentary, Modern Quilting, Snark

26 responses to “Fun While It Lasted

  1. Your thoughts on where the Modern Quilt Guild and movement has gone are exact mirrors of mine. You nailed it sister! When I joined, also about four years ago, there was so much energy and lots of sharing and innovation and learning about design and open attitudes existed. I too find it is turning into just another quilt marketing juggernaut. For the last year, I’ve felt kinda lost and my creativity stifled. I am going to work on my art quilt and fabric and fiber stuff much more this year.

  2. Steph Lindsay

    I appreciated this post a lot, and I am feeling a bit post-modern sometimes too. I enrolled for Quiltcon the day it opened. But in the months that followed, I felt a growing awareness that the markety-trendy side of the mqm was pulling me away from my core quilty values. But that is on me, not on the modrtn quilt movement. I elected to take a year long fabric fast, and spent the vacation days at home working on quilts to donate to a homeless shelter instead. Don’t get me wrong, our local mqg is thriving and I love the folks there and everything I am learning from them. But I do not want to fall into a trap of designing (and purchasing on trend) to fit in. Instead I am going to adapt what I am learning, my decades-spanning stash, to charity and group projects, even if the results are more hippy than hip!

    • Good for you! Ultimately my wish for all quilters is they find their own path and follow it. I think you’re wise to be inspired by but not subsumed by the modern quilt movement. Take from it what works for you.

  3. I have a very visceral reaction to the whole idea of ‘branding’, particularly of individuals needing to worry about their ‘brand’. In my work I see a real push to bring marketing concepts like brand into the nonprofit world as if this will somehow make the difference between an effective and an ineffective NGO, to the extent that image ends up more important than content. In quilting, I suspect the branding-related flood of marketing maneuvers — book blog tours, fabric promotions and the like — contribute to the lack of experimentation and originality. Everyone is so busy making quilts to promote a particular fabric line or someone’s book, and compelled to jump on the ‘trends’ so they can monetize their blog, that there is little time or mental space for rebellious creativity. That said, I have bought fabrics and even a book that I saw as part of a blog book tour or other promotion, so as a marketing strategy, it may work well, and if it enables some quilters to make a living through what they love….

    • Well, in the end slick marketing cannot make up for lack of content. That said, oftentimes excellent content never sees the light of day for lack of marketing. Interesting point about how the need to be commercial can throttle creative work that isn’t commercial.

  4. I think the struggle over the definition of Modern Quilting is an index of how much money is now involved. Despite the attempt at definition by the MQG, the choice of quilts shown at QuiltCon seems idiosyncratic at best. And I love your quilts–do what YOU like, regardless of how it’s labelled.

    • I’d love to see some financial data on it. Your use of the word idiosyncratic is apt. While I enjoyed looking at the winners, I could put most of them into categories other than modern.

  5. Pam

    I’ve been thinking about your post since I read it early this morning and I still don’t know how to respond (I thought it was a ‘good-bye blog’ post when I saw the title and I was happy to see it was not!). I can say this – I am completely overwhelmed by the amount of fabric available and the advertisement of it. As much as I would like to go to a big quilt show, the idea of a vendor mall makes me dizzy – like going to Ikea after too much coffee. Oy. So let’s start here: a modern movement in any art form, from painting to film, simply reflects the times. So let’s ask ourselves, why is quilting is so popular now, and what is it about contemporary culture that has driven quilting to it’s most basic execution?

    • No, I’m not planning to stop this blog just because I’m getting an amiable divorce from modern quilting. And yes, the choices out there are overwhelming. It’s a bit easier if you’ve discovered what kinds of quilts you like to make. For me that means I can bypass almost any florals and novelty fabrics. Also, I can bypass any patterns as I just don’t use them. I am a sucker for any vendor who offers hand dyed fabrics or a great selection of thread. If you go to a big show you can plan your shopping in advance from the list of vendors. Just go directly to the booths of your selections. I’m interested in why you think quilting is so popular right now. I can’t tell as I deliberately spend my time with quilting devotees rather than the general population.

  6. sandy

    I’ve always thought this…..strong graphic quilts???? Really….???? Have you looked at the designs of the Gees Bend Quilters? “Modern” quilting has always been around and hasn’t been discovered by anyone.
    After 35 years of quilting, and looking at quilts from every source, I’ve come to the conclusion that in art, noting is truly original.
    I’ve struggled to understand the movement, but refused to join. Because really what’s important is workmanship. Many of the “modern” quilts I’ve seen at shows are severely lacking in workmanship.
    Nobody has a market on new ideas. Many, many of our ancestors who quilted came up with truly new ideas every day. Just like quilters of our generation have.
    I refuse to allow myself to be boxed into some limited movement. All artists deserve to be evaluated by looking at their own work. Even if the inspiration came from the backs of fellow quilters. I’m not ashamed of that.

    • Strong graphic quilts, large areas of negative space, “functional.” Here’s my take on some of these issues, from last year:

    • I believe at least one of the leaders of the modern quilt movement, Jacquie Gering, became a quilter because of the Gee’s Bend quilts. Cross pollination and borrowing of ideas are important to develop new art. The Impressionists were influenced by Japanese wood cuts. As to workmanship, or its lack, I blame that in part on the demise of home ec in schools. Students aren’t taught to sew anymore. Ok, ok, that may be an overstatement, but certain principles of working with fabric apply no matter the quilt style.

      • sandy

        Also…I’m shocked at the number of quilters I talk to that can’t do math. I mean…just cannot picture doing the math to design a quilt. It’s fourth grade stuff. But you have to be able to do it if you’re going to do anything other than follow a pattern, or improvise with no idea what the finished product will be.

      • I really think graph paper helps with quilt design, as long as you can grasp one block on the grid equals one inch (or whatever base unit you choose.)

      • sandy

        I use graph paper to design. I am a visual learner, and cannot do the math any other way. I can see it when I draw the picture.

      • If I’m doing a geometric design I rely on graph paper. Also, I still love to color.

  7. Wow, you expressed many of my own thoughts in this post…”branding” for one. I must say though – love your quilts. And wonder where your passions will lead you. Stay Snarky!

    • As Monty Python said, “And now for something completely different.” Well, not quite, as the design inspiration I took from the moderns will continue. I do love strong graphic quilts. I now realize that the style I like could be better described as contemporary or minimalist.

  8. Wait wait! What about the “and now …” What now for you?

    You show a lot of great work here, whether inspired by others or not. I’m not sure I could pick a favorite. It’s clear you learned a lot, achieved a lot, by trying some “modern” methods and designs. I imagine what you’ve learned will continue to show in your work in the future.

    But yes, the branding/marketing emphasis on sales rather than on quality, the obsession with fabric brands and motifs, and the excitement about inventing new things that have been around for centuries, it is tiresome.

    • And this: this is not the first “modern” movement though perhaps first labeled that way. (Darn labels!) I had the pleasure of spending time with a fat stack of quilting magazines from the late 1970s and early 80s. Some of the work done back then was truly innovative, and seemingly squashed down or beaten into submission since then. You can also see the evidence in even mainstream quilting books of the mid-80s. That’s not to say I like all of it, but certainly a lot of it broke out of the grid and used space in different ways than “traditional” quilts do.

      • I know what you mean about some work done way back when, and I realize that, as with clothing designs, what gets commercialized is whatever is most likely to appeal to the most potential buyers. It’s telling that this year’s QuiltCon has an exhibit of quilts by Molly Upton, who quilted in the 1970s. Everything old… I did find a review of a 2000 exhibit of some of her quilts

    • Now what remains to be seen. To quote the Magic 8 Ball, “Ask me later.” So far this year I find my work is more realistic. I think that’s because I’m sketching ideas again in response to the monthly prompts from my master class. And I’m very literal – I look for a photo of movement to portray it. Other classmates are turning out intriguing abstract designs.

  9. Ursula

    I suppose one learns to live with the fact that things nowadays have to be commercialized in order to “survive”. I remember a number of projects following frugal thinking and fresh ideas not only in sewing. They either disappeared or embraced Marketing.
    Hopefully you continue your blog despite the setback. If I were anywhere near you I’d be more than happy to be part of your modern quilt guild. Love your work, especially the Color slide is great.

    • Thanks for the kind words. I realize that people can’t live on air. I just get sad when I contemplate the number of bottom up creative efforts that have become simply a way to sell stuff. Internet, I’m looking at you.

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