Friday, May 24, 2013

Modern Quilters: Minorities of a Minority! (aka the longest blog post ever)

I am on several email lists and groups that are quilting and art quilting related. Very recently, one of those groups had a multi-day discussion about modern quilters, or as they put it "modern quilters". (I'm pretty sure that 90% of the time that quotes are used, people use them passive aggressively.) This whole conversation was a response to an article in the Wall Street Journal about modern quilters and the recent QuiltCon.

Here are some snippets of that conversation (quotes are literal, not passive aggressive):

"...makes it sound as if this is the only thing that has happened to quilting for one hundred years."

" my humble opinion, ALL articles on Modern Quilt Movement make it sound like no one has been quilting in the last hundred years!"

"Sounds like 'someone' just discovered quilting and is touting MODERN QUILTING as the new thing, it is not new."

Also, more times than not, modern quilters, was put in quotes.

I don't know about you, but it sounds a little bitter doesn't it? I did not become involved in this discussion, maybe because I was afraid of losing it on them. I was pretty pissed off that an ART QUILTER group was being so judgmental and catty to another group of fiber artists. I'm always baffled when a minority group decides to go after another minority group, seems a little counterproductive and hypocritical.

I decided to contact some of the quilters that were interviewed in the WSJ article, and pick their brains a little about the perception of the modern quilters by the rest of the community. Here are their thoughts - also, stick through to the end and maybe a little faith will be restored!

The Ladies:

Flaun Cline: Flaun Cline is a working mother and loving partner with an all-consuming passion for quilting. Raised by an English major textile enthusiast, love of the fiber arts was ingrained at a young age, but did not manifest prominently until 2009. She is the President of the Minneapolis Modern Quilt Guild. Her work can be found on Flickr, Instagram and on the world-wide web under the name of I Plead Quilty! Also, if you ever get to see one of Flaun's quilts in person, always be sure to look at the back. I swear some of her quilts it would be hard for me to choose which side to use as the front!

Maddie Kertay: "With a passion for quilting and enough sass to fuel a power plant." Maddie runs the site/Facebook page for The BadAss Quilters Society - this ain't your everyday group of quilters!

Lisa Sipes: A longarm quilter by profession, a serial sewist by nature. She can't help it, it's in her blood! Lisa is an amazing quilter, check out her blog ThatCrazyQuiltyGirl

Do you feel current modern quilters think they "invented" modern quilting?
Goodness, no. Perhaps traditional quilters feel that way because of our portrayal in recent media reports or because we don't feel a great need to follow what the "quilt police" say we should. Many of us don't prewash, we don't always press to the dark, we use polyester thread... It doesn't mean we disregard everything that came before, just that we question everything and find other ways to get great results!

I suspect that off handed comments and division promoted by the media has set the teeth on edge for both who cling to the term modern and those who feel a call to more traditional quilting. Honestly it is all a bunch of
spitting into the wind. It is much like buying a house. If you are shabby
chic at heart you are not going to be happy living in a Frank Lloyd Wright
home and if you are all cutting edge coolness living in a ramshackle farm
house full of fluff and ruffles is going to feel claustrophobic to you and
yet we don't go around criticizing people for the type of house they choose.
Then add Art quilters into the bunch.. they never get respect from either
group and have to be happy with their own work since these poor dears are
going it alone no matter how you cut it!

At the heart that is why I opened BAQS, it is a place where all who are
about support and not only being with those who support their particular
style can come to roost.. a passion for what you do is always important as
well as an open enough mind to know that others might choose another path..
or they might mix up their paths. I know personally I am all over the map
when it comes to quilting and I am happy not to be pigeon holed as anything
else but BadAss :)

Though this is a difficult question to answer, because different people think different things, I think that largely, the answer is no. I doubt anyone thinks that anything has been "invented", however things *are* being done in new/different ways.

Are the quilters labeling themselves as modern quilters, or were they labeled as such by the community?
We mostly label ourselves, but there are those who assume, for example, that a certain longarmer is a modern quilter, when she doesn't feel that way at all. (I think you know who I mean.) It's a side-effect of being human; we need a label for everything. Boy/girl, black/white, straight/gay, modern/traditional, we feel better when we can put things in a box. I don't feel labels matter that much, but more modern quilts resonate with me than traditional quilts.

I think at the time it was the name that felt best for those who started the
groups but I do take issue with it since modern is only a function of its
time in space. I honestly don't know a better word but it is a poor fit at

Again, this is a difficult one to answer. I think that a lot of people do label themselves as a modern quilter, then others, like me, have been labeled as such by the community. I don't call myself a modern quilter. First and foremost, because I'm not a fan of labels. With all things. We've become a society of labels, I'm not about that. When I'm in any type of relationship with someone, I don't need to label is as any sort of sub-type of relationship. I don't need to label my body type, my style, etc. I just want to live, let live, love, let love, and really - just do what I like. So with my quilting, I just do what I like. I think that working with Thomas Knauer was a big turning point in my quilting "style", but I still have no label for it. I like to put out good work. That's all that really matters to me. I think that maybe labels help some feel like they have an established identity or purpose, but I'm sort of the opposite.

The first machine quilters were shunned by the hand quilters, the longarmers were initially shunned by the machine and hand quilters, the art quilters were (are?) shunned by the traditional quilt world, and now it seems as if the modern quilters are starting to be judged by the traditional and art quilting community. Have you experienced any judging or negativity because you're a modern quilter?

I haven't personally experienced any judgement at all as a modern quilter. That may be an effect of my attitude, though. I was told by a wonderful designer at Market last week that she, as a woman in her fifties, has experienced a lot of up-turned noses by more recent quilters (who tend to be modern). If modern quilters come with a chip on their shoulder and a lack of willingness to listen and learn, even if they don't agree, they're going to get negativity right back.

Some would call some of my work "modern" but if you are to use the
guidelines of the movement itself my work does not cut it in that world. I
shun straight lines like a hooker shuns a tent revival, I am not simple, I
don't quilt on a home sewing machine. I like wildly quilted feathers and
cross hatching.. I would say that my style is fresh, colorful and Badass..
but modern it is not.

Absolutely I have. I wrote a rather opinionated blog about it, and it's funny because I only expressed about 1/10th of what I wanted to. We all know it is happening. And we all know why. Am I going to have to put it out there and say it? I will say it. It's happening first and foremost because change is difficult to swallow. While people may not believe anything is "changing", and they think that the newer generation of quilters aren't doing anything different, things ARE changing. Otherwise there wouldn't be so much friction. The other thing, and I hate to use this word, is jealousy. The modern quilting movement is getting a lot of attention. And I think it should! Because it's good to give attention to things that are helping such an old craft stay alive. And modern quilting is playing an integral part of keeping the quilting community alive and dare I say prosperous. It is putting a lot of attention on something to a whole new group of people that typically don't know, nor do they care about quilting. But it's different now. Things ARE changing. What is changing? Who knows? You can't always put your finger on it, you can't always label everything. But you know it's happening. You can feel it. And I think that there is perhaps a bit of jealousy that it's getting attention. No other reason, because really, there's no other reason for jealousy, is there? People think that modern quilters lack skill and ability. But those same people that think that, have not taken a moment to look deeper at it. People think modern quilts are "simple" and don't deserve attention. There is nothing simple about what I do. May I repeat that? THERE IS NOTHING SIMPLE ABOUT WHAT I DO. There may be simplicity to the design of something that I do, but complexity of the execution. And vice versa. Everything that I do, and how I do it, is done for a very specific reason. Thomas's In Defense of Handmade is probably the best example of that. They're not all simple. Are some? Yes. But so are some traditional quilts. So why point the finger at modern quilt artists that are just trying to do what they love?

Why do you think the new generation of quilters are so attracted to the modern quilting style?

I think each generation feels the need to distance themselves from the previous generation. Styles evolve in music, movies, art, fashion, and younger people in the process of discovery want the new, not what's been done before; that's for their grandparents. Of course, styles tend to be cyclical, as well, and a lot of what is seen now in the modern quilting world is heavily influenced, or even directly copied, whether consciously or not, from Mid-Century Modern design, De Stijl, and even the Amish. We do not have a corner on this "modern" thing. That having been said, modern quilts can be more simple, eliminating a lot of the intimidation factor for novice quilters. I think there is also more intense, saturated color in modern quilts than traditional, thereby creating more attraction in our media-bombarded brains. (The Contemporary and Art quilt worlds seem to fall somewhere in-between, to me, utilizing intense color for certain pieces, and more subdued in others.)

I think that the generally easy shapes, simple quilting and low detail
orientation of these quilts makes these quilts seem achievable to the person
just thinking about sewing. Over time I suspect that the movement will
mature, and change as its members gain more skills and confidence and
perhaps bore with boxes and straight lines Or maybe it won't - who the hell
knows. I do know that the quilts I saw at market were generally more
complex than what I am seeing in the blog world right now so maybe that is
some indication. I know that the quilt that won at Quilt Con was not
simple at all and actually violated just about every mandate of the MQG
manifesto.. so who the hell knows!

I think it's because they want to make pretty things, mainly. The thing is, what is "pretty" depends on who you ask. We ALL want to make pretty things. Right? Or meaningful things? Or happy things? I think a lot of it also may have to do with the hardcore online presence in modern quilting. We are a community. We share with one another and we are happy to post our work online... blogs, flickr, instagram, etc. So when you've got that community support so easily accessible that is somewhat lacking (?) on the "other side", that is going to be a big draw for people.

Are there any personal thoughts you'd like to share?

We modern quilters tend to be less conventional. Some of us have tattoos, piercings, and update not only our quilting style, but our cocktails and music while shaking up our get-togethers; we enjoy the company of passionate quilters with a different perspective. I think the updated attitude and style of the modern quilting movement has injected a lot of new blood into the quilting community at large. The Minneapolis Modern Quilt Guild is quite inclusive and has members from their 20s to their 80s! We enjoy everything each of us brings to the meetings and we'd love to see you there, just make sure the quilt police are off your tail.

For me this bickering and division among quilters is painful to watch and I
want no part of it and strive for a supportive and meaningful exchange at
all times. Most bickering comes from insecurity (if I am to take a page
from my parenting experience) so I would say to be true to your passion and
let the rest do as they must and will. Don't worry about what other quilting
groups say or think. There is enough creativity, fabric and inspiration out
there for all of us!

A ton. I have a ton of personal thoughts to share, and they are my thoughts and mine alone (though I know of several that agree with me). So I'm not speaking for anyone but myself, here okay?

To me, modern quilting is about making quilts that matter. Modern quilting is about making quilts that tell a story, convey an idea, make you feel something. Am I saying that all modern quilts accomplish that? No. Am I saying that no traditional quilts accomplish that? No. However, there's something to be said about making a quilt that tells a real story, versus throwing together a bunch of star blocks with fabric that you like. I think that mostly, the modern quilting movement is so grossly misunderstood (or at least that I AM), and that is why there's confusion and friction and even animosity.

The things that I read online before QuiltCon made me seriously wonder about humanity sometimes, because the judgementalism was just... whoa, dude. But then, everyone is entitled to their opinion right? But you really just don't need to try to tear down an entire group of people just because you don't agree with what they're doing. And I hope you realize I'm talking in a much larger scope than just quilting. :)

For the most part, I think modern quilters just want to be left to create and quilt. They appreciate traditional quilts and art quilts. It's not their fault that modern quilting is getting media attention lately, and frankly I think both the traditional quilters and art quilters need to chill the hell out and realize that there is no such thing as bad publicity in the art world. Publicity is publicity, and if an article gets more people in the "real world" looking at and talking about quilting as a viable business and/or art form, then by all means, LET IT! If we could teach ourselves to avoid labeling everything, I think it would help in that there wouldn't be those invisible lines segregating us. Does that make sense? There's no need for segregation in quilting. We are all making things, which is hugely important. To make things, rather than buy them. Because it feeds the soul, and the industry! It gives us a sense of accomplishment. Yes. Making things is important. It doesn't matter if what you make sucks, because if it sucks, it's supposed to suck. A lot of people make stuff that sucks (though who is to judge, right?) because you have to make stuff that sucks to learn how to make things that are good. And "good" should only be what is "good" to the individual. Try not to get sucked up into the arguments and negativity because that kills creativity and makes you doubt yourself. The most important thing is to give yourself permission to do what you like, try new things. You don't have to do what everyone else is doing. And you don't have to listen to the people that have negative things to say. But, it is also important to be able to determine whether they're actually being negative, or offering constructive criticism to help you on your way. If it is the latter, then it is also your choice whether or not you take it to heart and make changes. You know? I'm getting way too babbly now. But these things are important to me. Basically, can't we all just get along? And make lots of stuff?

To give a little hope to the situation, I want to share another quote from the original discussion about "modern quilters", this one made me feel better:

"We owe it to them to accept what they're doing and encourage anyone who we see experimenting. Just a few years ago we were bemoaning the fact that no young women were sewing anymore, so however they start that's great!"

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Firstly I'd like to say how much I enjoyed reading this blog post! Reading informed opinions from people who are actively involved in the quilt world is always a good thing. I have been quilting for 30 years and have won a few prizes for both art quilts and traditional quilts (although on a VERY much smaller scale than your three interviewees). My take on the modern quilt movement? Anything that gets new/younger quilters involved is great. Anything that adds to the quilting tradition is a GOOD thing, otherwise the craft would start to stagnate and die. I'm sure that with time this new style of quilting will grow and mature over time, and will be looked on as a legitimate style of quilting (at least I hope so). I remember when machine quilting, machine applique, painted fabric, improvisational piecing, etc were all new and looked down on as not being in keeping with 'tradition'. Would there be anyone now that would say that Karen McTavish, Gwen Marston and Hollis Chatelain, just to name a few, are not 'real' quilters? I doubt it. We are ALL real quilters, even if our quilts aren't made the same way. Hmm, I think that's enough rambling. Thanks for posting this conversation.

  2. To be fair, the number of people on the list who were being negative, was very limited. I would say far more people were positive. Also, people who have never posted to that list before were chiming in. As one person put it (initials TG), "It seems so natural to me that a new generation of quilters wants to make quilts in their own way. Some of them may feel they have invented something new and some of them don't, but I don't see that that is important. They share an aesthetic that feels fresh and new to them. They are sharing something they like and feel speaks to their generation. And really, it is more about making their own community and not about rejecting or putting down what has come before. Isn't that what we have all done along the way? I think community is, and always has been, a huge component of quilting."

    And: " The Modern Quilt movement, like the Country Quilters and the Depression Quilters and the Amish Quilters and the Gees Bend Quilters and, and, and... will, in time, be a part of the rich history of quilting. And isn't that a good thing? A GRAND thing, really! "

    Yes, it is a grand thing. When many of us started quilting in the 1970's and 80's WE felt like we were not only doing something traditional but also doing it OUR way. Art quilts were just a natural extension of this. I identify with both groups....while I am an artist and I do make fiber pieces that can be (loosely) defined as quilts I also still enjoy making quilts that can be used as something other than JUST decoration. Maybe I am odd in the art quilt world....if I am, so be it.

    All I know is, what I see of the "Modern Quilt" movement (no passive-aggression intended), I LOVE it...and the people I have met as a result of embracing it.

  3. I am 65 but relatively new to quilting. The classes I have taken were for traditional quilting with "rules" and patterns. I tend to be more right brained and love diversity. I have been so completely enthralled with the photos I see on fb and blogs of such quality artistry I am blown away. In my mind there is room for everyone to express their own way of creation. It is akin to going to a museum and seeing everything from realism to impressionism to abstraction. All are different from the others, but all beautiful. I say cast out rules, create and enjoy. I love you all! Yes--I am jealous of your talent, but I shall practice and perhaps one day I will be able to create something I myself feel is quality.

  4. One thing I have noticed is that the people complaining are rarely the ones who are actually MAKING stuff. Critics always seem to be frustrated artists. Knowing this, I generally just ignore them and carry on, making lots of stuff, as Lisa so aptly said!

  5. "We owe it to them to accept what they're doing and encourage anyone who we see experimenting. Just a few years ago we were bemoaning the fact that no young women were sewing anymore, so however they start that's great!"

    Why can't we all just get along?

  6. I think there is room for everyone. Promoting division and acrimony seems to have become a way of life. There are quilts I like and quilts I don't like, big whoop. Some people like vanilla and some like chocolate. I am glad there are young women in quilting. I used to be one of them; now I'm not. They are doing what they want, as am I. Don't waste your time and energy on petty bullsh**. Go make a quilt!

  7. In defense of some of those who put modern quilters in quotations, they may not have had experience with groups as broad and accepting as you all. In the run-up to Quilt Con I remember a lot of defining going on that sounded pretty exclusionary -- and it was coming from self proclaimed modern quilters, such as in this article in the Austin Chronicle:

    Personally, when I hear that it's only modern if it has a lot of white (-space, -fabric, or both), I assume I wouldn't fit in to the group and walk away. When one hears things like that, and has already had the experience of not fitting in to the other obvious choice(s), perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that they're a little resentful -- or maybe just searching for what box they do fit into.

    Overall, I think the response to the current wave of quilting is positive. The market is sure glomming on to it! I was just with a friend who needed some turkey red calico to finish a rather traditional snowball quilt she was making and had to go to five stores in three states before she found any appropriately subdued fabric!

    Anyway, we all make what we are compelled to make, box or no box.

  8. I love the conversations going on across the country (and around the world). We don't always have to agree, but personally, I love hearing the discussion. I would label myself as a modern quilter, but it's not so much that I need the label, but that I've found my home with these ladies. I'd love to have any one of you as a mentor or as a peer - we are all vastly different, but you know what? I bet we have a lot more in common than these few difference that keep coming up.

  9. As an old person, yeah, even a grandma now, I have been tossed from one group to another since the 70's fitting in here and here and sometimes sliding around in several at a time. The labels are BS, we are all quilters and we can fit ourselves in with whatever groups mindset we identify with. I took a class on how to quilt and hated every minute learning the 1850's methods- didn't make another quilt for several years because I kinda thought it was OK to use a sewing machine and eventually sifted into a group that was like minded. And the rest is history. We fought like crazy to get our work accepted and finally decided to make our own shows so we wouldn't have to fight the fight again and again. You guys are doing it now but with social media you are accomplishing things so much faster than we did. I have nothing but admiration for your work- keep it up, add paint here and there and slide on over art quilts someday! You'll be welcomed. If I could disguise myself as being a bit hipper without going the piercings and tattoo route, I might sneak in to a Modern Quilt meeting too. YEA hair color!

  10. Wow Steph your posts lately have been thought provoking.
    I'd like to say think of this as a right of passage in any area.
    It's growing pains.
    some will say things that intentionally or unintentionally cause hurt feelings
    some will be hurt by what is said
    there is no way around this growing process
    there is no way around this journey of discovery in the quilting/fiber/art community

    And in a spirit of trying to understand I went back and read both conversations and I found it overall to be positive. There were a couple of comments that were a bit, mmm, questionable I say with hesitation.

    Crank up the tunes and go create good art!

  11. A very thought provoking article! Over the years I described my work first as wall hangings, then art quilts, then simply fibre art because sometimes they are not strictly quilts. Other people have called my specific pieces representational with a twist, narrative, abstract, fantasy, autobiographical, just plain fibre art, and even folk art(because it usually tells a story). For sixteen years I hand stitched all my work adding paint, embroidery, and embellishments and comments ranged from "wow" to "I don't know why you bother. Get yourself a sewing machine". Recently, I have added some machine work (to accomplish things I couldn't do by hand and to give my weary fingers a rest). Throughout it all, I have let the spirit move me and worked in a way that brings ME satisfaction. I loved the comments of these three women. I welcome modern quilting although I admit I'm not quite sure what that means (I plan to educate myself further). And I don't like the way we label each other in life and try to fit everyone into a restrictive box. Maybe that's why I belong to a diverse fibre arts group called Out of the Box. We learn so much from each others diversity. I think judgment and exclusion is so counterproductive - whether it's on the basis of how we look, where we come from or what kind of art we create. On the outside I may look like just another older woman but on the inside there is a radical soul. It also occurs to me that news articles often try to create tension by pitting one against the other. Let's not fall for that and continue to work together to elevate all kinds of fibre art. Thanks for this refreshing discussion.

  12. Like Teri said, you all are grand!! Ignore the naysayers, full speed ahead!