You know how some quilts are a joy to make and they just kind of make themselves and you have nothing but fond memories of the making of them and feel a little bit sad when you finish? Well – full disclosure – that was not this quilt! This quilt was a struggle to piece but a joy to quilt and I went from thinking i’d give it away for someone else to finish, to declaring it a favourite!
Do you describe yourself as a ‘type’ of quilter? A Modern quilter? A Traditional quilter? Somewhere in between? I’d never really given it much thought until I entered a quilt show and had to categorise my making. Well I don’t much like boxes, especially in this identity politics world where rather than bringing us together this constant defining of what we are seems to take us further apart and I especially don’t like the box labelled ‘Modern Quilter’ because its so ambiguous and it means such different things to different audiences.
Sometimes people talk about i) modern quilting as a making style and ii) younger/new quilters and kind of conflate the two. I think you can make modern quilts at any age, and you can be a younger modern quilter who loves traditional styles, and guess what, you can be somewhere on that spectrum and not fit neatly in either!
Now I applaud people being open to new styles and types of quilts, being interested in asking about something they are seeing that’s new, and engaging – I don’t want to sound curmudgeonly. But the thing is that a modern quilt isn’t the same as a modern quilter in my eyes and to assume that both or either are a completely new phenomenon that just sprung to life with the category at the Festival of Quilts 3 years ago or the formation of the MQG in 2008 is also a bit wrong headed. Now this is a well discussed debate that has raged over the last few years in America around the Modern Quilt Guild but being neither American or a particularly Modern Quilter i’ll let you explore that for yourselves rather than try and paraphrase it here, but the general complaint is that modern quilts are an artistic genre rather than a thing that was made in a particular time ( ie now) in a movement, therefore modern quilts have always been made, they share an aesthetic rather than a time in history – its just that lots more of them are being made at the moment because its a ‘thing’, like when everyone painted impressionist paintings in the late 1900s, and now some people do and other people just moved on to cubism when Picasso arrived? So basically you can be a young/new quilter and not be a Modern Quilter and you can be a elderly quilter and make a Modern Quilt after a lifetime of traditional quilts – I hate constraining boxes around these things but I love that the MQG has bought such energy to quilting again, but I also value those Modern quilts that have always existed through time by makers inspired by modernism as a way of looking at art.
People can get very exercised about categorisation, and never more so than in a quilt show. I love Festival of Quilts because it allows self categorisation. If you feel that your quilt is Modern, for the purposes of the show it is modern and whilst the judges might advise that it would be better judged in another category, you can beg to differ and enter that style again and that’s your artistic prerogative!
One of the things I love most about being part of a national Guild is that you get exposed to all sorts of quilts and all sorts of quilters. I love Modern quilts as evidenced by events like Quilt Con which show the best of the best, but I also love the soulful and scrappy nature of quilts rooted in more traditional styles. I’m not sure that they are two different things, and neither increasingly is the Modern Quilting community because you can enter categories like Modern Traditionalism at Quilt Con now. I think that the evolution that brings new eyes to old ideas is where artistic creative growth comes from much of the time. Yes the shock of completely new ideas from genius’s like Picasso do occur that break the mold, but when you look back at the mood and time around these ‘new’ ideas we see that they too were rooted in an evolution from an older idea. We reject ‘traditional’ quilts too quickly if we see them as ‘old’ and modern quilts as ‘new’ the reality is that they have coexisted, cross fertilised and both thrived for the cross over.
Anyway, little foot stamp over, this leads on to why I wanted to make this quilt and what I wanted it to say. I was given this great book by a neighbour having a clear out a few years ago and it’s a great mini resource. Each page has a different ‘style’ of quilt and a little bit of guidance about how to draft your own pattern to make it. What I love about it is that it dates from 1982, so it’s a brilliant portal into how quilting looked nearly 40 years ago to the pioneering new wave of makers who were coming to it afresh then. In the book is a quilt called Kaleidoscope that is subtitled ‘A Modern Quilt’, and that validation that a ‘Modern Quilt’ was so defined then, and would still be defined as such today fascinated me. In 1982 my littlest brother was born and I had just started primary school and its the first year I really remember events like the Falklands war on the TV and the birth of Prince William so I was excited to make a quilt from my childhood that still looked so fresh and new today.
There wasn’t a pattern for this quilt but it was pretty simple to see it was based on a grid system so a quick back of an envelope plan yielded a pattern, the simple geometric shapes were created through trial and error drawing around cups, plates and cotton spools to replicate those in the picture in the book.
For the fabric, the original was made in solid fabrics and I knew I needed good strong colours so I decided to raid my precious Denyse Schmidt fabrics. I began quilting before the new wave of fabric designers started shaking up the traditional palette of muddy reproductions back in the early 2000s. I remember so vividly when Denyse’s Flea Market Fancy was launched and eagerly awaiting the parcels my husband bought back from business trips to the states around 2005 when I was on maternity leave and not travelled with my own job, and how much I loved the clean colours of her modern fabrics with their retro patterns and designs. Denyse’s perfect mix of old and new remains my all time favourite designer and so I decided I would use some of these precious fabrics for this old/new blend quilt.
I’d made a lot of hand sewn quilts this year and I have a big backlog of hand piecing and quilting so I decided to seek a fast finish for this and against my (usual) better judgement I thought i’d fuse them. Now I have a BAD record with fusibles, but that record was 15 years ago at least so I figured it was time to give it another go – bad decision! Now I know that loads of people swear by this technique and I had lots of fantastic advice from kind peeps on IG but I hate the stuff and that feeling had not changed! Gluey! Hard! frayed edges, iron killing….ugh! what was I thinking?
Anyway, I persevered and anything not properly sewn down got caught in by the quilting which I planned to make it super textural – this one went on the longram frame and a very long 12 hours of quilting later it’s as stiff as a board and I love it! Its pretty much the polar opposite of what I usually look for, soft texture, scrappy colourway, but I hope that I bought a bit of 2019 sensibility to a 1980s idea that is as relevant now as it was then…and I hope it makes you think about what is a modern quilt? What is a modern quilter? Do we need more boxes in this world anyway?!