Minimal Quiltmaking: what I learned

I am intrigued by minimal quilts. It’s funny, though, that a minimal quilt takes large sections of the same fabric. That usually means buying the same fabric in large qualities you might not purchase otherwise.  So not so minimal.

Gwen Marston’s book, Minimal Quiltmaking, was one of the first modern quilt books I purchased. I’ve not been at this modern quilting for that long. I got the book through American Quilter’s Society, which I joined last year.

Marston explains that her quilt, Red Square in Purple, had its roots in the early 1800s and was based upon a New England quilt.

She writes:

Discovering quilts like the c.1800 one is exactly why I’m always harping on the value of knowing what came before. The grandness of the old quilts, and others like it, is one of the reasons I value the tradition of quilting so much.

In keeping with that philosophy, she created “A Baker’s Dozen” of very minimal small quilts with extraordinary hand quilting. That was my inspiration for my quilt, Star-Crossed Canoes. I started with the idea of using a traditional block, Crossed Canoes, in a modern way, and to hand quilt all that negative space. This is the result:

Star-Crossed Canoes Full View

The traditional Crossed Canoe block is in the middle. The block itself has four parts so I made four blocks with the canoe surrounding by the background fabric, followed by blocks with one of the canoe colors added. It’s an exploration of this traditional block. I hope you can see I hand quilting some “ghost” canoes. I left some of the sections unquilted and love how they look like water. Star-Crossed Canoes Detail View

I did not use a traditional folded binding. Instead I used facing binding. I wrote about how to do this technique in a previous post. The cut-out at the bottom was difficult, I will admit, but worth it because it looks like another canoe or maybe a shark attack — haven’t decided.

I learned that making a minimal quilt is a thoughtful process and it takes more than just large amounts of the same fabric.

Minimal at heart,


There are no rules in making a modern quilt, but just in case. Five Things you should know.

In case you want some guidance in your modern quilt making, here are the top five things you need to know:

  1. functional.
  2. use of expansive negative space.
  3. improvisational piecing.
  4. bold and graphic.
  5. minimalism.

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.


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.


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.


Fill the Void by Cinzia Allocca Pierrefonds, Quebec, Canada Pieced & Quilted by: Cinzia Allocca

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.


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.

sentimenal 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.”

Meritatio By Brice Marden ,1978

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.


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!


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.

Downsizing: stage three.

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

–William Morris, a textile designer from the 1800s

In the first stage of downsizing, we moved into a two-bedroom apartment. The second stage was emptying the storage unit we rented when we moved into the apartment. I’m now in the midst of the third stage of downsizing.

It’s no longer about storage or efficiency. Everything fits nicely in our apartment. I feel this need, probably thanks to Pinterest, to create spaces which are more minimal. I want to appreciate every item I have around me.

I started with the kitchen:


I got rid of everything that was on top of the upper cabinets. I stored the cookbooks in the bottom cabinets. I kept the plates on the walls because I love them for their simplicity, but also because they belonged to my mother and grandmother. They have good memories attached to them. I know my mother touched them, and even though I’m not a very good cook I hope her things will channel a little good grace my way. The refrigerator still has photos and artwork on it, but it’s a start.

That’s where I am: in the middle. Just the little bit I’ve done makes me feel more calm. I’m struggling with finding a medium between minimalism and a comfortable home. Combining both beautiful and useful means balance between those two things.