So what is Modern Quilting?

Phew! I opened a can of worms with that last post .  I’ll admit that I really didn’t expect the response that I received.  I kind of thought that a few well meaning souls would pat me on the head and say “don’t worry about that”.  But clearly this is a topic that strikes home with a lot of us.  I’m overwhelmed with the support that so many of you have poured out.  I’m slowly working my way through responding to you all, but it may take me a bit! lol  Let me publicly say to all of you that I’m extremely appreciative of your support of my work and my quilts.  It has moved me to tears to know how much some of my pieces have affected you.

I didn’t intend that to be a woe is me post but instead a place to voice my confusion over the critique I received from my first juried quilt show.  I have learned so much from all of you about the world of juried quilts and what goes into a show like that, traditional or modern.  Eye opening all of it.  I’m not one to shy away from a situation just because it might be hard, (no regrets right?!) and this is no exception.  It’s turned out a bit harder than I planned but the bonus outcome has been the love that you all have shown me and fellow quilters like me who received baffling and confusing feedback on our work.  Feedback that makes us question our strengths and abilities.

I want to reiterate that I harbor no ill will towards the judges.  The identity of the judges really makes little difference to me.  Again, it wasn’t something that particular people said to me, a particular person, to be mean.  I frankly think that the task of judging the competition was unenviable and overwhelming.  And I can’t help but think that they were hindered by their own lack of experience in judging a show like this.  I think it would have been tough for the most seasoned of judges.  Not to back pedal my experience with the whole judging experience…but merely to remind us that they too are people with feelings and in the end this is a small quilting world.  I was hurt and confused by my critiques which I’ve come to learn was the experience of many at this show and others.

After some investigation into the Modern Quilt Guild’s definition of  Modern Quilting, I found some enlightening information for myself.  I’m not entirely certain when this became the guild’s official position on what modern quilting is, but it is highly reflective of the judges selections and comments.

“We define modern quilts as quilts that are functional, include bold colors, and are inspired by modern design. Minimalism, asymmetry expansive negative space, and alternate grid work are often a part of modern quilt compositions, as are improvisational piecing and solid fabrics.”

This is extremely interesting to me because that seems like just ONE portion of what modern quilting is.  In fact the previous definition by the Modern Quilt Guild seems much more what I would have said it is now.  Found on the less updated New Orleans Modern Quilt Guild site ( I was part of that guild when I
lived there), their previous definition of the Modern Quilt  movement was:

“Modern quilting is a new twist on the traditional art of quilting. This may mean something as simple as using a traditional quilt block and updating it in a fresh, fun new way. That includes using modern fabrics, modifying the block arrangement or even the scale of the block. The piecing could be improvisational and wonky, or it could be very exact and measured, following a pattern or creating your won. The quilting could be traditional stippling, clean straight lines, or a very “free” have fun and quilt-as-you-go style. Fabrics could be upcycled vintage sheets, custom digital printed fabric, a yummy selection from one of the new modern fabric designers, or an old fabric from an ever growing stash.

Modern quilting is sometimes difficult to define because in many ways the definition is as individual as the quilter – changing from quilter to quilter. In addition to reflecting the individual personality and personal style of the quilter, it also reflects the current aesthetic of the day. 

Modern quilting is also about the attitude and the approach that modern quilters take. It respects the amazing artistry and talent of the tradition of quilting, while allowing the quilter to challenge the “rules”. In fact, if there were one rule in modern quilting, it would be that there are no rules.

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”

THAT is the Modern Quilt movement that I want to be a part of.  That is what I thought this group was still about.  It’s helpful for me to know that they have defined themselves more strictly.  I am more sure that I need not put myself in the box of “modern quilter”.  I don’t put myself out there as a “traditional quilter” either.

I am, without any other label, simply a quilter.

*shutting down the comments so we can all move on.  Please feel free to email me if you have further concerns.  I’m doing well and I will be happily sewing and designing in the future.*

47 thoughts on “So what is Modern Quilting?”

  1. Well said! I quilt for myself (and family). My quilts will not win awards…but I love seeing my boys with their quilts as they watch tv or on their beds each night I tuck them in.

    PS: I think your quilts are amazing!

  2. In my thinking, a box has an open side so that we can overflow and burst out of it. Its not a closed cube to be locked in. I think you can stand with a leg in two boxes while rummaging in another.

    I feel very philosophical!

  3. To say that the first definition is problematic is a huge understatement. Just off the top of my head I can think of several quilts that I admire that are indisputably contemporary, but also fall outside of this definition (what about low volume for instance?). I think it should be the first priority of the leaders and members of the MQG moving forward from this event to take a little more time to consider fully and expansively what it means to make a modern quilt AND then write a more thoughtful working definition. The current version seems anemic in the face of what I believe the modern quilting movement encapsulates.

  4. I agree with Jenelle! I just can't see why there is a need to so narrowly define "modern" quilting. I like the word "contemporary – think I'll stick with that to define my work 🙂

  5. I agree that for such an "open and tolerant" organisation/movement/whatever, this is such a narrow definition! I was surprised to see that only 2 judges were involved – seems very… well, narrow! a perspective to be using for judging. I was gutted when I read your last post – such beautiful quilts, one so full of meaning and technique, the other full of colour and movement and yet nope, not passed. I was considering entering next year, but I am nowhere near at this skill level, let alone what they must be looking for! Very disappointed.

  6. I always thought the term "Modern Quilting" was destined to end in tears. Any group that sets themselves apart from a "parent group" risks offending the original group. I believe that every generation throughout the history of quilting has considered themselves "Modern" having tweaked their mothers patterns and adapted to new fabric designs and colours, take sunbonnet Sue and the 30's fabrics for example. I could add more of my own thoughts but they would only add fuel to the fire and so i will restrain myself. I could live with the second definition if there must be one, but what will the Modern quilt movement be called in 10 or 20 years time ? Both of your quilts are delightful and well worthy of sharing both here and in a quilt show. I entered my first show last November ( and unbelievably was awarded a prize). I was encouraged to enter by members of the guild saying that people visiting the show need to see quilts of all types and from people with a range of abilities . Dry your tears sweet girl and keep doing what you love, take no notice of the "judges who have forgotten their role of being constructive in their critique

  7. I find it funny we have to be labeled and defined as a quilter. I love all quilts and can appreciate the work that goes into one. Some I would make others not so much. But we all have one thing in common, the love of making, fabric and creating.

    I do the love the second example of mordern quilting, but really that could be quilting in general. Fabrics and colours change over the years, when our children look back on our "modern" quilts I am sure they will say how old fashioned they are.

    Love you quilt by the way

  8. Angela just do what you do best and forget all the rest. We all have our own styles and most of us don't fit into any one cozy little titled category. Their will llways be folks who lov eus and hate us and the same extends to that which we create. Just never let anyone stiffle your creativity or question it

  9. Well said. I certainly would not fit into their stricter definition, but I'm not a "traditional" quilter either. I'm just a quilter like you.

    I might have sounded equally frustrated in my last comment. It is a small quilting world, and when we try to define ourselves and thereby exclude others, it becomes a divided world. For adjudication purposes, a clear definition is necessary, or at least criteria, but it has been my experience that exclusion creeps in. I had some negative experiences involving my previous modern quilt guild because I brought some precuts to a sew-in. My quilts didn't always fit their definition of modern, and while I wasn't asked to return, I didn't feel like I was part of the group.

    I would love to be a part of your New Orleans group, with a definition like that.

  10. I, too am "just a quilter". I love all the new, bright colors and some of the more minimalist designs, but if you look around, Gees Bend comes to mind, it's really not so new or modern. MQG is just another group of quilters and where there is a group, there will always be outsiders. I have always been an outsider, except here in Blogland where there is room for everyone and those who don't care for my work can move along, no hard feelings.

  11. It's been said many times before and is worth saying again…We are Quilters first and foremost, modern/traditional/contemporary/art quilters second. We ALL know and have heard the questions being asked over and over for years now. What is modern quilting? Why won't anyone clearly define it? I think it's because when you do define it, you are sure to offend people in some way. Yet, no matter the definition, there is always a big grey fuzzy bubble that surrounds it and most of us likely fall into that fuzzy area…I know that I definately do and am still EXTREMELY PROUD to call myself a modern quilter. The reality is that modern quilting is still about the way in which you work as well as the aesthetic.

    I had 2 quilts juried into the show and yes I received the same checklist that everyone else did. I was actually quite surprised by what boxes the judges checked off (Positive Attributes & Areas for Improvement) and it made me step back and think for a minute; but in the end it's just a checklist, there wasn't much room (or honestly time) for true commenting. I have sat through endless hours of Fine Art critiques as an undergrad and heard dream-crushing comments over and over again. I cried my fair share of tears, yet in the end mustered through it and honestly believe that I grew a thicker skin because of it. I make art, quilt, crochet, or do whatever else I want because I do it for me. If someone doesn't like what I do that's okay, it wasn't meant for them in the first place. And yes, even after this experience I will continue to enter my quilts into juried shows, because I do it for me and the thrill, not because I am expecting positive feedback from a judge or jury.

    Stay true to what you do, your quilts are amazingly wonderful and as you can tell by the feedback you have received the quilting community is still quite a positive place.

  12. Amen- I think the NOLA definition has it right on the button! To me, quilting is about finding our own "voice", expanding our creativity, and sharing a part of ourselves with others. We are all different, quilting should make the most of that and let each person shine! Who ever thought we should all be lumped into some silly category and confine our potential into what others think "best"??!! Not I. Seeing the many ways different personalities quilt and design is part of the inspiration of quilting, to me! And I KNOW I have been inspired by you more times than I can count! I still think of your quilts that have given me motivation to do something that I thought I couldn't! It's a wonderful group to be a part of, the NOLA definition. Thank you for sharing and for putting yourself out there to give others like me the encouragement and strength to test our own creativity 🙂

  13. I thought the whole point of 'modern' quilting was that it defied definition, and provided a home for anything that wasn't welcomed by Traditional quilting. I hope the Modern Quilt Guild circles the wagons on this topic, and reworks it's definition so that it is open to all, unlike Traditional. The child is becoming everything it disliked in the parent.

  14. I think that there are only 2 judges who COUNT…. 1. YOU… the artist who puts her heart , soul, mind,and hands into the quilt
    2. The Quilt RECEIVER…. who will be wrapped up in the warmth and love of this labor of love, this living art.

    Your same 2 quilts would have different critiques if they were entered in a different region's quilt show…. depending on the philosophy of that region and who hires the judges.

    We love your work and you inspire us! We don't label your quilts… we admire them. Please don't stop creating and loving quilts!!


  15. Thanks for taking the time to track down and post these two definitions – it's interesting to see how the movement is trying to re-brand itself already. I'll be curious to see how the "modern" movement develops and where its followers go from here. Anyways, keep on truckin' on and making the quilts you love to make! Life is too short to worry about labels.


    Angela, every group has their snobs. And unless you're part of the "in" clique in any group, you're out. While I don't condone mean criticism, I certainly don't mind criticism when it's constructive, and the comments on your zigzag were anything but. I've judged competitions before (BBQ not quilts) and when asked by the entrant, I ALWAYS make the comment toward the positive: "Have you considered adjusting your heat? Is there anything that could be done to infuse mositure a bit better?" See the difference? It leads the entrant toward bettering their product with a constructive suggestion vs. just a negative comment to leave them wondering. And what wins in one location, doesn't even make final table in the next. So you keep entering your quilts because you're a professional and that's what professionals do – they throw their work out there for others to love and hate. Don't you think every artist in the world, even those with work in the museums, hasn't heard the same type of comments?

    Let's just chalk your experience up to "Austin is weird"… and then I'd secretly whisper to you, "And full of snobs". But that's just because I live about 70 miles south of Austin and know those yo-yo's first-hand.


  17. I am reading with interest comments from so many quilters who went to the show or submitted quilts. I am also interested to view the quilts that were in the show (I didn't go). I did submit two quilts for consideration, but neither were accepted. At first I was sad since I thought they fit the categories and were "modern"—now I am so glad they didn't make the grade (divine intervention). I will chalk everything up to "beginners" —hopefully the people planning the next show will take the time to read all the comments (and blogs) and use that information to guide them. It is interesting since "modern" quilting began (I thought) as an outgrowth of quilters not wanting to feel restrained to a certain "kind" of quilting. It is looking like the modern movement may be doing the same thing in regards to what they consider "modern". BTW—I loved your quilts as well.

  18. Ditto to all above comments. The MQG would do well to take notice. Or maybe we start our own guild? The Contemporary Quilt Guild: snobs need not apply, all others welcome. 😉

  19. Very well said! I hope U don't mind but I'm going to be using a few of ur words at the first MQG meeting in my area that I am starting! I will quote u and refer everyone to ur post if that ok!!!

  20. Angela – I started reading your blog after I met you at quilt camp. I am sorry that this has made you question your place in quilting. I, like many others who have commented on your last post, went through art school to get a degree in Graphic design. Through that experience I learned that ALL art is subjective and had to sit through some very painful critiques! I have worked in graphic design for more than 20 years – producing work to keep my clients happy. Therefore, I make quilts to please myself, and only myself. It is my creative outlet that I protect and try to keep close to my heart. I would encourage you to look at the question you asked "What would THEY want" and decide how important that really is to you. I think you'll probably find that once the sting of the comments wears off, you'll be better for it! Keep on creating!

  21. Almost all the quilts who won were abstract as well as contemporary/modern. I personally don't think a quilt must be abstract to be modern.

  22. Well put! The new definition seems incredibly restrictive. When I think of modern art in general, there is a wide range of works that would be considered "modern." That definition would reduce it to a VERY small subset of pieces. I wasn't aware the definition had changed. The original definition is what made me interested in quilting in the first place.

    I've never considered myself a modern or traditional quilter, but the modern community made me see that there was room for all types of people and design styles in quilting. Before I started sewing, I thought of quilting as something that required incredible skill, but it seemed closed-off and restrictive. Probably not a fair assessment, but you know, first impressions have a way of sticking with you! When I discovered the modern community online, I discovered a warm and inviting community with quilts full of personality. It completely changed how I viewed quilting! The latest definition seems to be circling back to the restrictiveness that left me feeling cold in the beginning.

  23. Our four-month new chapter of the MQG is struggling to deal with "modern" because we have older, experienced, traditional quilters who have joined us. It seems they may be trying to define modern quilting for themselves, and while that's good for their own discovery, their fabrics and styles don't necessarily fit the definition MQG provides. I have copies of the old and new MQG definitions, and from them we're attempting to share them with our chapter. We're starting a regular meeting segment called "Make it Modern" to focus on modern characteristics. Though we may not completely understand modern, there's reassurance in knowing that others are trying to get a handle on it too.

  24. I sometimes get discouraged about the quality of what I do, Right now I am doing machine applique which is new to me, and I'm messing up. But then I think of who I am quilting for, my family! I have quilts of my mother's that I love. But now, as a quilter, I see she wasn't the greatest at a lot of things. I still treasure every quilt of hers that I have. I will never send anything in to be judged, because I am quilting for those I love. I think your quilts are beautiful!

  25. Wonderful post and great attitude. I think many are struggling with the same concept. Thomas Asbury had a recent post I enjoyed. One comment was whether we choose to quilt based on our definition of ourselves or create what we love and let our work define us. I liked that.

  26. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I share many o f your sentiments. I have actually avoided attending local MQG meetings for this reason. My local guild definitely leans toward the first definition and I don't feel particularly welcome at the meetings. I quilt because I enjoy it and because I want to be able to give my loved ones a gift that they can enjoy. While I can appreciate the aesthetic qualities of the quilts that won and think that many of them are beautiful and creative, I don't think that they are quilts that the people I know and love would like to receive.

    I think your quilts are absolutely beautiful and you are tremendously talented as both a quilter and a writer. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.

  27. I looked up to see if there was a local guild branch near me, and came across that first definition. I stopped looking, because it isn't the type of quilter I feel I am – I started thinking about the quilter I am and the second definition is so much more inclusive. I think in general, labels are no necessarily healthy – we are all quilters, making things we love in a style we love for people we love – that's what's important – all of the quilts I see online are so varied – I love some, I appreciate all of them. Please keep doing exactly what you have been – you obviously have a lot of support and love from your readers.