Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Modern quilting - what's in a name?

Every year at Festival of Quilts time there is a lot of discussion as to whether particular quilts have been entered in the right category.  This argument is often about the 'art' quilts and 'contemporary' quilts.  I know it is a dreadfully hard decision to make when entering the competition and I well remember way back in the early days phoning and changing the category of my entry after I had sent in the form!  I am sure you would not get away with that these days.  This discussion has gone on again this year but there is also another
discusssion that is wider than deciding which class a quilt belongs in.

The Modern Quilt movement started up in the USA a few years ago and there are a number of groups in the UK.  My understanding a couple of years ago was that the movement began among younger quilters who were looking for something different from established groups.  The aims were to make functional quilts that used lots of white, bright 'pure' colours and possibly traditional patterns but not slavishly.  For a definition of Modern Quilting go to  I remember being told that these new quilters were media savvy, liked blogging and used social media rather than going to meetings in church halls and adult education centres.  I could sympathise with where they were coming from as, like many of my generation who had demanding jobs, I had very little time for textiles (I originally did a lot of embroidery) and I did not have the demands of a family as well.

So when the Quilters Guild launched a specialist group for Modern Quilts at Festival of Quilts I did not think it was for me.  I joined the  Contemporary Quilt specialist group when it was first set up and these days I call myself an art quilter or a textile artist in places where people have a very narrow traditional view of quilting (this includes Cornwall).  However, mainly because I said I was keen to see more younger people in the Guild and because I would love there to be more members down here, I found myself signing up to their Yahoo group.  I was not the only one of 'mature years' and long experience and I am interested to see that I am also not the only one to be asking myself whether I am willy-nilly a modern quilter.  Go to Google images and search for 'modern quilt images'.  You may be surprised at what you find and, if you are a quilter, how many of your quilts would qualify.

Now look at these.  They are quilts that I have made, a lot of them a long time ago, without giving a thought as to their 'type'.

This one was made about 1990 and is tied (badly) rather than quilted.

Early 2000s.  I made this one totally by hand as I wanted something to work on at the quilting group I went to.

Another one made around 2000. This one is still in use on a sofa and much appreciated by one of our cats.

I have made several quilts using designs by Jan Mullen in her book 'Cut Loose Quilts' and I suspect some of them would qualify as 'modern quilts'.

And I noticed one quilt on the Modern Quilt images site that was very similar to this cot quilt which I made in 2005.

Now, to see how this discussion is influencing us, go to Susan Briscoe's blog Sashiko and other stitching and find the entry for 14 August which is on the same subject as mine.

I cannot help but have another slant on all this, however.  My academic background is in social psychology and this leads me to ask myself why people want their quilting  to be labelled/put in a box such as traditional, modern or contemporary.  Is it because they need to identify with a particular group of like-minded people?  Is it about rejecting a different group?  Or rejecting certain techniques and approaches, e.g. wet work?  And is it possible to identify with more than one group?

In the end I wonder if it matters.  I learnt to do patchwork as a child and became serious when I realised quilting was a better occupation than embroidery if you were short-sighted.   I just knew that I wanted to 'paint' with fabric and that I did not have the patience to make sure all my points met and so I became a contemporary (art) quilter.  The different definitions hardly existed when I began and I think I have decided that you should just do what you want and not worry about which boxes you tick.

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