Guest post | Books: Modern Quilts

by Admin on 30/03/2012

in Books, Guest Blogger, Quilting

Julie is a slightly unhinged fabric junkie! She is also stitching and crafting obsessed. As well as being addicted to tea. And cake. She is mumma to three beautiful little girls and cares deeply about the world they will inherit.  Julie blogs sporadically at Relish.

Modern Quilting

The “Modern Quilting” movement is happening around us and yet, what is modern quilting? What does that term mean? And how many people are actually aware of the movement? With the release of a number of books with the title “modern” recently, I have been thinking about what the term, in relation to quilting, really means.

When looking at art, there is a (reasonably) definitive period into which modern art fits. There is a generally accepted timeframe (from about the 1860’s to the 1970’s) and within the overall modern art movement, there are many styles (including impressionism, cubism, expressionism and fauvism). There are also many interpretations of the styles by many different artists but collectively, they form a movement that was an important turning point in the way we see art – these artists shifted art from being commissioned pieces for the wealthy, to being accessible to the greater population. Artists began to create for the sake of art rather than for a specific purpose (i.e. portraits of the privileged), they formed communities and practiced together, developing technique, discovering mediums and refining skills.

For me, there appears to be a great difficulty in defining modern quilting. However, when I began to think about modern art, I quite quickly drew parallels to the modern quilting movement. As modern quilters, we too are stepping aside of tradition, using colour in new ways, changing the rules if you like. We too have many styles within the movement and we too have developed communities, both online and in the real world. We are inspiring one another to push boundaries and experiment with our craft. Modern quilting, for me, is a movement that does not discard tradition but rather uses it as a basis to embrace change, to explore and to bend (and break) the rules.

While thinking about what modern quilting is, I have also been wondering about how popular or well known it is. A recent conversation with a quilter friend posed some interesting questions for me. My friend is very much a “traditional” quilter. The quilts she produces are stunning, technically precise and more than worthy of quilt show prizes. She is prolific in her crafting and belongs to both the local guild and a social quilting group. Yet, she knew very little of the online quilting community, did not understand what I meant when I mentioned modern quilting and was completely unaware of the style I was referring to. In addition, my local quilt shop stocks virtually no solids and certainly none of the fabric ranges that immediately come to mind when I think modern – certainly no Anna Maria Horner, Joel Dewberry, Anita Hoey – I do most of my fabric shopping online for this reason. When I have taken some books into the store looking for fabric that may be suitable for a project, the owner has not heard of the authors and is not aware of the blogging crafty community that I feel so connected to.

I want to know if this modern movement is known amongst quilters outside of it, are others aware of it? Can they appreciate modern the way I appreciate traditional without having to work that way? Or do they just not know that there are other options, because like me, their LQS does not stock the fabrics and books that allow them to branch out and they don’t follow the online quilting community? I wonder if modern quilting will one day be studied as we now study traditional quilting? Will it be recognised as a time of change, of inspiring a new generation to become sewists?  Modern quilting raises so many possibilities but what I’d most like to know is what you think? How do you define modern? Are you a modern quilter? And if not, how do you define your style? I’m really interested to hear your thoughts…

Two modern quilting books

I have so many books on the shelves that I just like to look at. I buy them and love them and am inspired by them. I also use them to get a creative fix when children and life get in the way of me actually stitching. Today I want to tell you about recently published ‘Modern’ quilting books which inspired the modern quilting thoughts above:

Book 1: Modern Mix by Jessica Levitt, (Stash Books 2011), features 16 sewing projects including quilts, pillows, bags and other projects (apron, camera case, table cloth, wall hanging) made using vibrant saturated prints and a range of Kona solids. The ‘modern’ aspect of this book centres on how the designer uses fabric and colour and the author offers advice on fabric selection and design and colour, which can be useful for building confidence in making a selection.

Book 2: Modern Minimal by Alissa Haight Carlton, (Stash Books 2011), features 20 minimalist quilts in a variety of sizes. I have serious quilt envy after coming across this book! While the design of each quilt is simple, the effect of the bold colour and contrast is stunning. The author provides two quilting options for each quilt and those who are more experienced can challenge themselves with the quilting detail as the designs lend themselves to showcasing stitches.

Comparison:  This is the hard part. Both books are beautiful and I am inspired by a number of the projects in each. I really like the layouts, Stash Books have achieved a clean and clutter free design (a modern essential) with lots of white space that makes these books easy to read. Both books contain projects that are straightforward and many would suit beginners.

In terms of ‘modern quilting’ I am more drawn to  Modern Minimal for the contemporary designs, use of colour and contrast and the move away from traditional blocks. It provides an inspiring platform of ideas from which to launch further creativity. It guides while encouraging exploration. In Modern Minimal I felt I was seeing something new, I enjoyed the improvisational piecing section and also the clever use of colour. This book is a beautiful example of ‘modern’ as it moves away from the traditional block assembly. The quilts are all achievable in terms of difficulty level and time – (which appeals to this time poor Mumma). In addition, as these quilts are made with solids, they are relatively budget friendly. While Modern Mix provides a variety of projects suitable for all levels of sewist, and the use of fabric and colour is bold and eye catching. By simply changing the fabrics and colours the traditional quilter would feel right at home with many of these designs — perhaps this will help to expose the modern movement to a broader audience.

Do you, like me, enjoy books just for the eye candy? Or do you purchase them because you will absolutely make a pattern you’ve seen? I like the tactile nature of a book so often I will purchase one that I see online because I just have to touch it, I just have to touch and flip those shiny new pages… Are you satisfied with reading online or do you like to touch too?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 sewlindaann March 30, 2012 at 8:39 am

I like to have the book when it provides inspiration I’ll keep going back to or patterns I will use. I’ve learned that one good picture does not make a good purchase! I learned after cleaning out half my books unfortunately, but better late than never!


2 Relish March 31, 2012 at 7:31 pm

You are far more restrained than me!! I do agree that one good picture does not make it, however I often find myself forgetting this when faced with a beautiful book, even if it has little substance other than the pictures ;)


3 samantha March 30, 2012 at 11:53 am

I confess, I have a huge “books as eye candy” problem… My shelves are overflowing with books from which I will probably never make a single project. But oh, the inspiration! When life is too hectic for me to have time to make something myself, flipping through my book stash gives me vicarious crafting thrills…


4 Relish March 31, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Hi Samantha – EXACTLY why I like them. Life can be crazy sometimes so it’s handy to have an outlet for creative frustration, even if it is only living vicariously through others – that’s what I love about blogs too!


5 Alissa March 30, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Thanks for your super kind review of my book!! So so nice of you!


6 Relish March 31, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Hi Alissa. It really is a great book – it’s fresh and clean and clever and encouraging. I look forward to the next one soon! Jules


7 Jane March 31, 2012 at 1:34 am

Thanks for this post – I consider myself a ‘modern quilter’ was just the other day saying to another modern quilter that I think we forget we are still very much the minority – because I read lots of modern quilting blogs and look at modern quilting shops online, I forget it’s not where everyone else is! Great discussion.


8 Relish March 31, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Thanks Jane. Yes, it is easy to forget about being the minority but I say, let’s take over the world (he, he).


9 Jacqui April 1, 2012 at 4:13 am

I have a bit of a craft book problem, but I justify it by telling myself (and my husband) that in terms of guaranteeing my happiness it’s cheaper than drugs or booze! I’ve been burned a few times by a pretty cover and little content though, and now I try and get them from the library before deciding whether to buy or not.

I often wonder about modern quilting’s impact – I think we’re so involved in our little online world that perhaps we over-estimate our influence. Here in New Zealand it seems more and more shops are coming to grips with the fabrics and books and those that don’t suffer. I feel a bit bad for those owners who can’t adjust to online and new ways of communicating because in some levels it is a quantum change, though in others it’s essentially the same information transmitted in new ways, a lot faster, and with more options.


10 Jules April 3, 2012 at 5:54 am

Hi Jacqui. Great tip re the library – thanks for sharing! Thanks for your considered comment re modern quilting too – I love reading other peoples thoughts. Jules


11 Sandy Gray April 6, 2012 at 8:13 am

Julie, I have a small patchwork shop in outback western Queensland and I am very much aware of the “modern” movement. I stock many Kona plains, Amy Butler, Kaffe, Kate Spain, Aneela Hoey as well as traditional, novelty and reproduction styles. My customers are probably fewer than most and spread over a very large area, but are as diverse as the country we live in, so I love being able to cater to all types. I also carry several of the modern quilting books.


12 Jules April 22, 2012 at 8:37 am

Hi Sandy, please tell me where in QLD you are and if you mail order. I’d love to support an Aus shop where possible. My email is relish {at} live {dot} com {dot} au. Jules


13 Connie May 29, 2012 at 8:24 pm

I came across your post from a few months back while searching for other posts on modern quilting. I love your commentary and thoughts on the modern vs. traditional communities. While at a LQS over the weekend, I commented on a modern-looking fabric to the shop owner, and she said that she ordered those “for the kids”!! I thought that was a hilarious, but interesting, comment on the modern quilt movement!


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