So what exactly IS modern quilting?

Ask ten quilters “What does modern quilting mean to you?” and you’ll get ten different answers.  I know, because I did.  

There are a squillion opinions out there in googleland, but if anyone knows the absolute definition it would the Modern Quilt Guild right?  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.”

Hmmm, let’s unpick that statement for a moment.  “Primarily functional… may help identify…  include but are not limited to…” So, not really a definition so much as a guideline then.

I think that’s the important thing to remember.  Modern quilting isn’t a defined movement.  It’s not about pitching modern versus traditional.  If you describe yourself as a modern quilter, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make something in a traditional style if the desire takes you.  They’re not mutually exclusive clubs.

Traditional or Modern?

Good news!  You can have both!

So back to those ten quilters.  When we asked the attendees of our inaugural Modern Makers Retreat “what does modern quilting mean to you?”, I found myself nodding along and muttering “I hear you sister!” as I read their responses:

“All I know is that when I see modern quilting I get a dopamine rush! Something about the colours and shapes being fresh and eye-catching gets me every time.”

“I do really love clean lines and swoon over straight line quilting.”

“To me personally it’s geometric/graphic designs with contrast between colours and background. That’s the stuff that makes my heart sing.”

“Modern quilting strikes me as something breaks the traditional mould – whether it be a traditional design made with more modern fabrics, a quilt that incorporates a lot of negative space, minimalism, bold graphic and geometric designs, high contrasts in colour and design. But I also find designs incorporating only low volume or whole cloth quilts that focus entirely on the modern quilting aspect to be very modern.”

bryan house

Winning Love Mini @jackiegillies

Some pointed out that for every “rule” there is an exception:

“A lot of people would say improv is quite modern, but when it comes down to it improv has been done for many many MANY years, it begs the question, is any idea truly original?”

“I used to say (tongue in cheek) that as long as there weren’t any batiks or much brown in a quilt then it could be called ‘modern’. But then I challenged myself to make a brown quilt and I loved it… .and would call it modern!”

“I’m a firm believer that nothing is new in sewing/craft, just an individual’s take on something old to make it new.”


Aurora by @blossomheartquilts

And then the discussion turned to the question of whether we need to differentiate between modern and traditional quilting at all:

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The definition of modern quilting is as individual as the quilter I say!”

“Modern is whatever rocks your boat.”

“Modern quilting is whatever you want it to be. A modern quilt for someone like my Mum, who has been making quilts for decades, may not be what I class as modern – but for her, it is! I absolutely HATE labels, and given the amount of crap I have seen and read over the years in regards to people’s interpretation of modern quilting, I’ve steered clear of ever labelling a quilting style.”

Woah, did that last statement get a LOT of thumbs up! It turns out that a number of bloggers have also questioned the need to define modern quilting, or labelling quilts and quilters as modern or traditional:

“The concept of modern quilting is not meant to divide or segregate. It is meant to welcome new quilters, of all ages, to the world of quilting in a style that they can relate to. In many ways, modern quilting takes us back to the basics of the early quilters, when women of the day used the colors and styles of their time to express themselves creatively.”   Cut To Pieces

“For me, personally, I just want to make and create works that speak to me and brings joy to others. I want to share my excitement and passion for quilting with others who are easily excited about their quilting journey.”  Gnome Angel

“To say you are a ‘modern quilter’ (a label I am quite fine with applying to myself, by the way), or to say you like ‘modern quilts’…. that is totally okay. But it doesn’t have to be a completely exclusive concept.”     Make Modern magazine

“Whilst I still feel that my work is modern, I’m back to listening to my own definition of modern.  I’m not going to worry about what other people define it as, I’m just going to make quilts and be happy.”    Pretty Bobbins


Love Tula by @quiltbystarlight

So why did we call ourselves ‘Modern Makers’?  

For Jackie, Jane and I it’s just a matter of personal taste.  When we’re scrolling through Instagram, 90% of the quilts that we stop at, open-mouthed and drooling, are of a certain aesthetic. That doesn’t mean we don’t like or appreciate quilts in a more traditional palette and style, it’s just that they don’t give us goosebumps and set our hearts all a-flutter in the same way.  And we want to be surrounded by the people who make the quilts that we fall in love with.  

Our Modern Makers.  

Alison x


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