There is an interesting debate about modern quilting that is happening on several quilting blogs. I won’t summarize them, but here are some links for your own reading:

http://piecemealquilts.com/2011/03/18/the-dumbing-down-of-quilting
http://sewmamasew.com/blog2/2011/05/weighing-in-on-the-great-quilting-debate-three-guiding-principles/
http://lavieenrosie.typepad.com/lavieenrosie/2011/03/dear-nancy.html
http://tallgrassprairiestudio.blogspot.com/2011/04/response-to-dumbing-down-of-quilting.htm
http://stitchindye.blogspot.com/2011/03/word-about-criticism.html
(If you know of others or have written about this subject on your blog, please feel free to add links in the comments.)

Some of those posts are general and some of them are about particular people. While I don’t like calling out individuals, I do think the comments from both parties are an important part of the modern quilting debate. And I should mention that I am a fan and blog subscriber of Stitch in Dye and Tallgrass Prairie Studio. I’m not really interested in passing judgement on what any of those ladies wrote, but I do want to share my thoughts because I was inspired by theirs.

The question of what makes quilting modern is particularly interesting to me because I am a relatively new quilter (3 year quiltiversary next month) and I am the president of a Modern Quilt Guild (holla, Dallas!). When I started the Dallas branch of the MQG, defining quilting in a little box as modern/art/traditional wasn’t something that even concerned me. I was more interested in meeting others who wanted to talk about quilts and fabric. I identified my aesthetic and style as most aligned with what was happening in modern quilting – the fabrics, the designers, the simple patterns and geometric shapes are what drew me into quilting – but I didn’t lay awake at night worrying about what made quilting modern.

But after my first dozen quilts, I found my tastes maturing. The super popular blogs that first drew me into quilting no longer appealed to me. I wanted more challenge, more innovation. I started to accept that patterns could be useful and sometimes flying by the seat of your pants just made you end up flat on your face. There is a point where modern quilting becomes just a series of squares floating in a background, and they all start to look the same. I mean, take a look at my circa 2010 completed quilts. Talk about squaresville!

Since I started the DMQG last February, my opinions on quilting have continued to change.  Becoming part of a real-life quilting community has been a very positive thing for me. I’ve learned a lot from the women in my guild and the shop owners and long-time quilters that I’ve met through the guild.

Some of those lessons:

The online quilting world is not the real world. Blog photos create the idea that quilters live dreamy aqua and pink lives in soft-focus. Quilts are always fluttering perfectly at the edge of a lake. Sewing rooms are filled with beautifully folded fabric stacks that teeter just so. No one lives like that. I love pretty pictures, and I love taking them, but I promise you this – my sewing room is a hot mess 80% of the time. Sewing is chaotic and messy. Go on a quilting retreat and you’ll see that a half dozen women can turn a perfectly clean empty room into a fabric-filled disaster in about 10 minutes.

Nothing is new. Some people are definitely innnovative with color and there are art quilts that are just that – art. But when it comes to sewing fabric together, it’s all pretty much been done before. There is a running joke among my quilty friends about inventing things. We’ll show each other a new technique or notion, and say “I invented that.” Some of us have even claimed to have invented the 1/4″ seam. This is all the result of another online quilting world fallacy – some bloggers think that they invented the string/spiderweb/flower basket/feathered star/cathedral window blocks they’re making. I’ve seen so many blog posts bemoaning “copying” and not “giving credit” because someone made a string quilt*** that looked like someone else’s. If someone thinks your work is pretty and wants to emulate it, that’s flattering, right? Of course, it’s nice if they tell you that, but at the same time…it’s a string quilt! How do you know they didn’t see one at a garage sale or in a Pottery Barn catalog and think it was the best thing since sliced bread? This competitive side of blogging is one of those cringe-inducing things for me. I think the rules are pretty simple – If you use someone’s pattern or tutorial to create your piece, then it’s nice and correct to credit them. But it’s not fair to assume everyone who sews 5″ squares together is copying your quilt made of 5″ squares. [And to those of you who have been blatantly ripped off, I don’t mean you. There are bad, bad people who do copy others’ work and steal their photos to sell stuff on Etsy. But those people are too busy pushing old ladies and kicking puppies to even read my little blog.]
(***I’m using the string quilt as an example because it was one of those hot trends and it’s a very simple block.)

There is room for everyone. The DMQG is full of women with a huge variety of skill sets, taste, experience, and motivation. My friend Michelle (who blogs at Urban Spools) is a perfect example. She’s been quilting for 10+ years and her own tastes have varied from super traditional to modern. In one year, she’s made this quilt and this one. Could they be more different? I think it’s important to surround yourself with people who are different from you  because that is how you learn and challenge yourself. I can honestly say that I learn something every time I interact with the women in my guild and I have forged friendships that I know will last a lifetime.

Some people use art and creativity and taste as a means to exclude others. If you are making clown quilts, but they think cat quilts are the hottest ticket in town, you’re pretty much a pariah to them. How silly is that? Unless they insist on making clown quilts for your house, why should it bother you if they applique clowns onto every fabric they can get their clown-happy hands on? This goes double for shop owners. If someone asks for a style of fabric that you don’t carry because it’s not your taste, is making a face at that person really good customer service? If you’ve experienced this kind of exclusionary behavior, just know that there are lots of groups out there that want to have you as a member and there are shop owners who will gladly order that possum fabric you’ve been lusting after.

There comes a point where critcism is just critcism. If you don’t like the quilt, stop looking at it. If you bought the book and were disappointed, return it. At the end of the day, quilts are just blankets. There. I said it. Most people sew for the pure enjoyment of sewing. They’re not trying to win ribbons, sell books, or impress fancy pants quilt connoisseurs. If they only want to make square quilts forever, there is nothing wrong with that. How many melted clocks did Dali paint? (Answer: way too many) If you enjoy making perfect flying geese and your points always match, YAY! You should be happy and proud, but it’s not a reason to look down on the work other people do. My flying geese are spectacular but I don’t judge any of you. (JOKE). But seriously, I really think that the only value in a quilt is intrinsic. If enough people like it, that quilt can also have monetary value. To some people, Gee’s Bend quilts are amazing works of art. To other people (my dad) they are “all crooked and messed up. It looks like they just sewed a pile of crap together.”

Modern quilting is a movement, not a style.  Modern means “characteristic or expressive of recent times or the present; contemporary or up-to-date.”  So by definition, only what we’re doing right now is modern and the trendy colors, patterns, and fabrics are constantly changing. The modern quilts we’re making now will not be modern in 10 years. People will look at them and say, “That’s so 2010. Ew. Even Salvation Army couldn’t save that quilt.”  The idea of modern quilting may be just a passing trend. In 5 years, maybe Civil War quilts will be all the rage. Considering all of the “modern” fabric I’ve hoarded, this is my biggest fear. I have to use all of that up before it goes out of style. Oh, the pressure!

At the end of the day, all that matters is that you enjoy the process. Every single one of us can spot all of the flaws in our finished quilts, but the work you did to get there is the important part.

With [vintage] modern quilting love,

Lisa