In case you want some guidance in your modern quilt making, here are the top five things you need to know:
- use of expansive negative space.
- improvisational piecing.
- bold and graphic.
For an explanation of modern quilts, I turn to the Modern Quilt Guild. They say:
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.
This means you can throw the quilt in the washing machine. I see a lot of modern quilts used as wall hangings and they function as art, but you could still throw them in the wash and they don’t need to be sent to the dry cleaners. I take this “functional” label to mean they aren’t embellished with beads and such.
II. EXPANSIVE NEGATIVE SPACE
The key word here is “expansive.”. Traditional quilts use negative space. My Vintage Moments quilt uses negative space but it isn’t a modern quilt:
Expansive negative space uses large areas of the same color of fabric and it seems to use minimal piecing.
I like the use of large areas of solid fabric in a quilt, but to make it functional, that negative space needs quilting and all that free motion quilting seems to me to be no different than piecing. Either way there is a design in that space. Thread versus piecing — I don’t know the answer to what is negative space. Maybe it has to read as a solid background and it has nothing to do with negative space design. The blog, KnitNkwilt, has a discussion about negative space in modern quilts. I’m still trying to figure out what this means.
III. BRIGHT AND GRAPHIC COLOR PALETTES (HIGH CONTRAST AND GRAPHIC AREAS OF SOLIC COLOR)
Again, my Vintage Moments quilt uses high contrast with the black and white. High contrast in a modern quilt must mean something more than that. The following photo is a quilt which won third place in the QuiltCon show for best handwork.
This quilt (right) uses high contrast and graphic areas of solid color. I like bright and graphic colors but I’m also in love with muted colors which I think could be modern.
IV. IMPROVISATIONAL PIECING
I love improvisational piecing. I think “improvisational piecing” is akin to my understanding of “liberated” quilting. Last year I made a quilt from pieces of scraps from previous projects and quilts, mostly traditional. I made wonky log cabins but the “logs” were white or white-on-white fabric, also left over from previous quilts. I call it Sentimental Soup.
This category seems the easiest for me to understand. Perhaps it is because I see it as Modern Art.
This is a painting by Brice Marden. I recently saw it as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The work is titled, “Meritatio.”
This painting looks like a minimal quilt.
I recently finished a quilt, titled Muppets Minimal. I know I named it ‘minimal’ and so it must be minimal. Right?
This quilt is my husband’s favorite and is perfect for long naps. Functional – check. Expansive Negative Space– check. Bright and Graphic– check. Minimal– check. Improvisational Muppets– check. This must be a modern quilt. The LOVE quilt at the top of this post checks some of these blocks — improvisational, graphic, functional but not minimal and not much expansive negative space. This quilt is called, Love is messy, and is my tribute to the LOVEWorks sculptures throughout Virginia. The point is that a modern quilt doesn’t have to be all these things at once, and that just isn’t possible.
VI. TRADITIONAL WITH A TWIST
I’m drawn to quilts which use traditional blocks in a new way. The Modern Quilt Guild recognizes these quilts as “modern.” The Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild explains:
Modern quilting is a new twist on the traditional art of quilting. This may mean something as simple as using a traditional quilt block and updating it in a fresh, fun new way. That includes using modern fabrics, modifying the block arrangement or even the scale of the block. The piecing could be improvisational and liberated, or it could be very exact and measured, following a pattern or creating your own. The quilting could be traditional stippling, clean straight lines, or a very “free,” fun, quilt-as-you-go style. Fabrics could be upcycled vintage sheets, custom digitally printed fabric, a yummy selection from one of the new modern fabric designers, or an old fabric from an ever-growing stash.
Modern quilting is also about the attitude and the approach that modern quilters take. It respects the amazing artistry and talent of the tradition of quilting, while allowing the quilter to challenge the “rules.” In fact, if there were one rule in modern quilting, it would be that there are no rules.
I like this description. THERE ARE NO RULES!
VII. FINAL THOUGHTS
I believe art, and modern quilts, must have some connection to the person who is creating the art or the quilt. Merely producing a replica of a piece of modern art is hollow. I have to find what speaks to me and what I want to create. I want my quilts to have a story.
Telling stories one quilt at a time,
Update: after writing this post I realized I completely forgot about Alternate Gridwork which was the requirement for the QuiltCon Charity Quilt I helped make.
5 thoughts on “There are no rules in making a modern quilt, but just in case. Five Things you should know.”
This is a great summary of all the components of modernism in quilting. Sometimes I struggle with what I believe my own definition of modernism is, but I appreciate having all these points laid out neatly with the pictures so I can wrap my head around the Modern Quilt Guild’s interpretation.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around what a modern quilt is. I feel pushed to create “a modern quilt”, more so since I’ve been blogging and looking at others’ work online. I’m a member of the Modern Quilt Guild but the last year leading up to QuiltCon and the show competition made me compare my work to others more than I had before joining MQG, and in many ways that comparison sapped the joy from my creative process. Luckily I have a wonderful “liberated” quilting group in real life that keeps me grounded and happy with what I’m doing. I keep repeating, “there are no rules.”
Hey Wanda, thanks for the great post. I just wanted to point out that the painting by Brice Marden is titled “Meritatio,” not “Meritalio.”
Dylan, thanks so much. I corrected my mistake immediately. I appreciate you letting me know.