Going post-modern

I didn’t get to go to Quilt-Con, but I eagerly read all the blog posts about it and also enjoyed the lectures on Craftsy. I remember it got a lot of people talking about labels and in particular the Modern Quilt Guild’s definition of “modern quilting.” I don’t think it was long until all the hullabaloo caused the MQG to adjust the definition to be a lot more inclusive.

This is the definition right now:

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.

The thing is, I’m not sure this definition goes far enough yet to include quilters like me. I’m not inspired by minimalism and negative space and solids. I admire it, but I don’t enjoy doing it. Clearly that last sentence tacked onto the end of the definition is supposed to make me feel included. They’re trying. 🙂

I want to make it clear that nothing I’m saying here is meant to be controversial or negative in any way. I recognize the tremendous contribution the Modern Quilt Guild has made and continues to make to the quilting community. I just find this topic really interesting and fun to discuss. Truthfully, this is more about me finding my place in the community than about me making judgments on the kinds of quilts others are making or should make.

One reason I find this so interesting is that I’ve been searching for my own style and I think I’ve been able to narrow it down this year. My goal is simply to make really educated decisions about what quilts I choose to spend my time making. I want to love my quilts when they’re done. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • For me, life is too short to use solids, even for backgrounds. Why use plain white when you can use polka dots or a subtle text print? A huge part of my enjoyment of the process has to do with how absolutely stunning printed fabric can be.
  • I prefer scrappy quilts – the more fabrics the better. It’s too repetitive to make the same block over and over in the same prints. I love to vary the background fabrics too.
  • I think it’s really fun to “deconstruct” large scale prints by using them for piecing and not just large borders or backings.
  • I like low-contrast quilts that need to be really examined for the design to come out. High contrast is good too but not necessary.
  • I like really elaborate quilts that take a long time to make: true modern heirlooms. On the other hand, I always like square patchwork- especially when it’s really scrappy.

So the question I’m asking is this: are we going post-modern? I feel like I’m seeing less of the truly minimalist super-modern quilts. Maybe I’m just more likely to follow the blogs of people who make quilts like mine. But I’m really curious whether you guys think the tide is turning back to more traditional designs.

And just because I know you don’t want a post with JUST WORDS here are my latest Penny blocks:

DSC06505 DSC06501 DSC06494 DSC06490 DSC06486 DSC06483

Apparently I was in a bit of an Anna Maria Horner mood.

Apparently I was in a bit of an Anna Maria Horner mood.

Thoroughly post-modern if you ask me!

Linking up with Needle and Thread Thursday  and Thursday Threads since I’m never ready in time for WIP Wednesday lately! Oh, and this new one. Check it out.

23 thoughts on “Going post-modern

  1. I love both modern and traditional quilts. I haven’t made a modern quilt but I think they are absolutely gorgeous. I hope quilters keep making them for a long, long time. I have never made a solid quilt, never wanted to but something about them is now very appealing to me. Scrappy quilts have been and continue to be favorite.

    Your penny blocks are fabulous!

  2. I am in love with the roses in that first block! What fabric line is that? I agree, most of us are probably not really true modern quilters, I like how the definition squeezes us in there too:) We just love modern fabric used in a traditional way. I like some of both, so maybe post modern is the perfect word! Good topic…just call me a quilter and I am happy:)

  3. In my recent quilter’s manifesto, one of the entries was to refuse labels. This is what I was getting at. My tastes change from year to year; sometimes from day to day! I don’t want to box myself in with a label and feel like I’m limited. Let’s all just make what we like instead of trying to fit into a mold.

  4. I think you mentioned something really important about finding your style – you want to love your quilts at the end. That’s the most important thing. Interestingly I’m a little bit opposite of you. I thought I really liked scraps and prints but my last 5 out of 6 have all been completely solids! Funny, huh?

  5. I love those roses too! Are they AMH or JH? Just a guess. I’m a simple girl. I’m not really into labels for me or my “work” (aka stuff I make). I am a member of the Austin Modern Quilt Guild but I love a wide range of quilting styles. I think it is important to be open minded and draw inspiration from a variety of sources.

  6. I find “modern” to be such a loaded word to use, even though it’s used everywhere. When I hear “modern” art, it immediately calls to mind art that’s made now, that relates to the current world we live in … and yet in art the term modern in art primarily refers to specific styles of art and an era that ended almost fifty years ago. The etymology of the word makes it touchy. The same could be said for traditional quilting – it implies all of these old-fashioned things that really may not be the case.

    For myself, I’ll never be a truly modern quilter. I’m drawn to fabrics and patterns that are more modern than traditional, but my favourite part of the process is piecing my blocks. I’m not going to find joy in making a minimalist quilt top, though I admire the ones others make. I’d rather enjoy the time I spend making my quilts, and the end result itself, than worrying about what label I should have as a quilter. It’s definitely an uncomfortable place sitting between two camps that feel very pitted against each other though.

  7. Why do we feel a need to be labeled? We do, but why? Glad to hear you are finding your style and are making quilts you love and enjoy making. That is the real goal and it is something I have been giving a lot of thought to lately. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  8. Your penny sampler blocks look great! And great analysis of the evolution of quilting styles (and artistic expression in general). I agree that the most important thing is to make something that makes you happy, who cares if other people like it as long as you do 🙂

  9. I agree that the important thing is to make quilts you love, as well as trying to push your skills. I could make patchwork square quilts my whole life because I love them, but I want to work and improving and learning new skills too 🙂

  10. Great post! I think the term modern is useful but not particularly well defined lol not that it’s a problem 🙂 I think we need more people talking and thinking about this. What we do is art as much as it is creating something warm to sleep under. It’s always good to move beyond “I like/don’t like that quilt” to thinking about why and how it makes us feel. I agree, life’s too short to make quilts I don’t love. Although I must say, I am a big fan of high contrast 🙂 thanks for linking up!

  11. What fantastic blocks. I don’t feel that labels are truly necessary. I make the quilts that speak to me with the fabrics that fit the style of the pattern chosen. I sew almost exclusively with donated fabrics, so making quilts is a true adventure for me. I like what you had to say for sure!!

  12. Here’s my opinion on this topic, though I admit, I haven’t really thought about it much before reading your post. So you can take it or leave it. I won’t be offended. 🙂

    The scrappy quilts that I make – the ones that harken back to an age when people used to make quilts because they needed to keep themselves warm and they used whatever they had to do it, – are based in that old tradition. They are “traditional quilts”. Scrappy, warm, used everyday, beautiful, cozy. By far my favourite kind of quilt. To look at and to make.

    Modern quilting is an entirely different animal, that imho, is based in modern art. Modern quilting/modern art. They are related. Maybe we should change the name to “modern art quilting” to avoid confusion.

    Personally, I don’t want to give myself a label. I want to be able to make whatever kind of quilt or art piece that I want to make on the day. I don’t want to limit myself. But I think people like labels because it simplifies conversation more than anything else. The question: “What is your style?” is much easier to answer with one-word labels like traditional, modern, scrappy etc. People can more easily create a visual by using them. But often these labels fall short of the reality and are wholly inadequate. They simply don’t capture the richness of our actual human experience which is why I question their usefulness.

    Okay, I’m done now. Have a beautiful day! 🙂

  13. Your recent posts really have been leaving me with a lot to think about (in a good way!). I also followed all of the quiltcon discussion surrounding “modern quilting” when I was first looking into quilting as a potential hobby. It was actually encouraging to me because it seemed like the quilting world was really stretching it wings and exploring new territory. These modern designs are what drew me into being interested in quilting and then on the flip side, actually inspired a greater appreciation and desire to make traditional quilts.

    As many of the other comments here have said, I try not to label myself or style in anyway that could be limiting. However, I do think it’s valuable to know and define your style (at least your “at the moment” style) and what types of styles make you happy and leave you feeling more energized. I’m still working to figure out what would be on my list, but I think it would be opposite to yours in some areas – solid obsessed, not too scrappy (I hope we can still be friends! :)). I do think things are leaning more traditional though, but maybe like you said it might just be the blogs I follow.

  14. Love your blocks, and I completely agree with you. I don’t find that I’m truly a “modern” quilter in the strictest sense. I enjoy modern, bold fabrics, but I much prefer more traditional, symmetrical designs. I don’t use a ton of negative space, and I usually only use solids as sashing or sometimes in the background. I think it’s hard to make quilters fit into boxes though, because I’m not saying I’ll never make a quilt like that. It’s just not what I prefer. You made an important point though- we all have to love our own quilts. If not, then why are we creating them?

    Thanks so much for sharing at Needle and Thread Thursday!

    🙂 Kelly @ My Quilt Infatuation

  15. Pingback: Go buy a lottery ticket, Sarah | Sarah Quilts

  16. I loved reading your lessons learnt – it’s so valuable to oneself to assess things along the way and take stock of things. And you are right – you want to love your quilts when they are done.
    It’s also interesting to read your thoughts on post-modernism. In terms of finding your sense of style, mine sounds the opposite of yours but I always love your quilts! When I make something, I need negative space, I like solids, I like controlled randomness – maybe next year I won’t, who knows? One thing I do know is that I love making things and sharing them with other people who love making things.

  17. Ooooh, I have lots of thoughts of here. : ) I think it’s important when we talk about these things to remember that the Modern Quilt Guild is here to be a reflection of us, NOT the other way around. (Or at least, that’s what it *should* be doing.) So I don’t agree that Modern Traditionalism was tacked on just to make you feel better. : ) I think it was added because Modern Traditionalism is a growing movement that is gaining popularity and has legitimately modern characteristics. WE collectively decide modern quilting what it is, and that is exactly why the definition was changed after the hullabaloo in February. I was glad to see them being so responsive, because it’s what they should be doing all the time.

    However, I also think it’s important that if we’re going to call something modern, we need to have reasons to back it up. We can’t say something is modern just because we like it, and therefore we want it to be modern. We need to be able to explain WHY it’s modern and what makes it that way: Because it’s asymmetrical. Because it uses value or color to create an interesting secondary design. Because it doesn’t use a traditional grid of repeating quilt blocks. Because it’s inspired by modern architecture. Whatever—as long as you can make a good argument for it (and to me personally, “it’s a traditional pattern in bright colors” is NOT a good enough argument, but that’s just my opinion). The possibilities for taking a traditional pattern and making it modern are endless. But it’s important to think about our reasons for calling something modern, or pretty soon “modern” won’t mean anything at all.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  18. first of all, LOVE the penny blocks! AMH – perfect.
    i never know exactly where i fall on the modern and traditional spectrum, either. i’ve heard the term “modernitional”, which i think means either a blend of the two or traditional done in a more modern way, which to me is quite different than the more abstract or improvisational modern quilts. i think lee’s 2 cents were great!
    i’m also defining my own style more and more as i move away from patterns (which are awesome) and make my own designs (so fun). i like how you’ve identified what you’ve noticed about yourself here. it’s really helpful, i’m sure, when making decisions about where to spend your time and money. both are limited for all of us, so it’s important to make good choices.
    great post, sarah!

  19. I like the suggestion up there that “modern art quilting” is a good name for what the modern quilt guild is choosing to represent. That really brings it back to their influences and takes away a sense of this is “now” quilting, a little. Yes, I think post-modern quilting is what most of us are doing. It’s something beyond check lists, boxes and labels. It’s something you feel more than classify. It’s something very personal with lots of “gray” areas. It’s not so much about being for this style or against this style as it is about finding yourself as you explore different mediums. Very post-modern.

  20. I’ve had this blog post on my to-read list since the chat last Monday and just finally got to it. And I’m so glad that I did! It is a fun one. And oddly enough I agree with every one of your bullet points on what you like to see in a quilt. Every one of them. I don’t think that happens often. Like in the MQG definition I can get on board with part of what they say in their definition. Even excluding the last line (which is totally “me”), I can get on board with some of it. But not all of it for sure. And I don’t think I (or you, or anyone) has to really follow any movement in every particular (and I don’t think you think so either) but it is fun to find another quilter liking ALL of the same things I like. And to see it defined so concisely. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Interesting points you raise. I don’t know what I am in the world of quilting but neither am I bothered or feel a need to define what I think I am! I was mentally going ‘yup, that’s me’ as you were defining your bullet point list of what you think you are.
    To me, quilting is ‘just a hobby’ and just like any hobby there will be different styles within it (eg Dance – tap, modern, ballet etc etc). I find it really exciting that there are so many different styles within my hobby and am not bothered by how or what we are labelled!

  22. Pingback: Penny sampler: last update before the BIG finish (I promise) | Sarah Quilts

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