After a day filled with code that didn't work and deadlines that aren't budging and phones that just didn't stay quiet when I needed them to, I present this response to a question that was innocently asked but just irritated me:  "What does modern quilting mean to you?"


If you go by date, I am a modern quilter, because I am doing a craft that my great-grandmother did, but I do it after a day of working on databases and writing code.

I noticed that a group of people all seemed to classify themselves as "modern quilters" but a lot of their work looked similar to me. It took a little more digging before I found out who Denyse Schmidt was, and once I saw photos of her work, things made more sense to me. If the litmus test for "modern quilter" is "Are you a Denyse Schmidt fan?" then nope, I suppose I'm not.

I'm fairly new to this particular craft, so I suspect I'm smacking a sacred cow, but seriously? I've seen my fill of whitespace quilts, and I'm hungering for something else. It took me until last night to figure out what was bothering me about how many self-tagged "modern" quilts looked the same: it felt like the same eye-rolling frustration I got at dragon*con when I saw teenagers Trying To Be Different ... by dressing like every other goth at the convention.

I felt better after that. I'd rather be me, with my conflicting and contradictory interests, and if I'm lucky, maybe what comes out of my sewing machine will reflect a bit of that. Regardless of what name gets tacked on it.



  • I will make my corners square, except when I don't.
  • My seams will be straight, except when they aren't.  If it's intentional I'll tell you so, and if not, I'll never bring it up.
  • I will bounce up and down a little every time I see a photo of you or your house that shows my quilt isn't hiding in a drawer somewhere.
  • I promise that no quilt top will ever leave this house without a cat having slept on it at least once. If it's not good enough for the catbeasts, it's not good enough for the people I love.
  • I will sometimes make perfectly square blocks and talk about how precision is important, and sometimes I will fudge tremendously and remind you this is fun, not rocket surgery.
  • I will buy fabric on trips and bring it home and wash it and fold it before putting it away, unless it's been a really crappy week and it ends up in a heap on top of the dryer for a while until I get around to folding it after it's good and wrinkled. Or maybe it'll go straight from the heap to the ironing board. If you're lucky, the cat won't sleep on it.
  • I will ask for photos if your kids ever use one of my quilts as a Superman cape.
  • I will do my best to remember where I bought all of your fabrics, and to tell you all the stories I know about the other quilts that share your fabric. Your quilt wasn't made in a vacuum, so I'll try to give it context for you.
  • Every time I recycle a piece of clean but worn-out clothing into quilt scraps, I will smile and think of the generations of women before me for whom this was not a choice, but a necessity.
  • I will not pretend to be doing something new under the sun.
  • I will giggle every time I sneak openly or surreptitiously risqué fabric into a quilt.
  • I will delight in giving out the kind of quilts that everyone should have gotten from their grandmother, but not everyone did.
  • On bad days, I will sit down to the machine and work because my bad day won't sink into the fabric.
  • On good days, I will sit down to the machine and work because I hope the good day WILL sink into the fabric.
  • I will accept that perfection is improbable, but I will remind myself when I botch a seam that I'm making an object that might outlive me, so I should either fix it or get ready to bluff that it was intentional.
  • I will use fabrics I love and colors that I love in ways that intrigue me and challenge me while bringing out the best in their color, pattern, texture, or some other completely arcane common theme that hasn't occurred to me yet. Do NOT taunt me into making a quilt that was only fabric bought on Tuesdays.
  • I will remember that quilts aren't just for the flamingly heterosexual and the newly born. They are for goths and nerds, librarians and engineers, single and married and gay and poly and everything in between. Snuggling and chilly toes know no season, and everyone's gotta sleep somewhere. It might as well be under a quilt made by someone who cares about them.

Any questions? No? Soapbox off. G'night.

(Addendum a day or so later: see my comments below. Had an insight on the way to work.)

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John's grandma would be proud - and I agree: if Harry won't sleep on it, no one else should either :) Nicely said.

I probably should've added a note about how I take pleasure in recycling old fabrics or bringing old quilt pieces to completion, like I did with Hallie's quilt, Continuity.

The crux of my frustration hit me this morning:

  • "modern quilting" as theory and approach: freedom in design, improvisational piecing, sharing of designs, building of online communities of fellow quilters. As an approach? Love it. I'm in.
  • "modern quilting" as a shortcut phrase for a certain design style: not interested. If I see someone describe every quilt they make as 'fresh' and 'modern' my first question is: where are your other adjectives? What about bold? Earthy? Monochromatic? Ethnic? Are you describing your substance or your style? I'd contend there's a significant degree of the latter, and I don't think that's necessarily good. Hooray for breaking free of the past; boo for hopping out of one box and settling into another.


Oh, and another note: designing quilts that fit the desires of the intended recipient.

  • Lost in Translation (blue, Japanese prints) goes to an ex-Navy man with a strong love of aikido, so blues and Japanese prints are appropriate.
  • Serendipity (traditional pattern, humorous fabrics) to a couple whose life looks traditional on the outside but whose inner lives are playful, non-traditional, and filled with in-jokes.
  • Red Shift (black and red, very much a goth quilt) is a traditional pattern with untraditional coloring -- if two SCA / goth / non-vanilla geeks are gonna get married, why not give them a wedding quilt that's representative of who they really are?
  • Lights over Lothlórien - admittedly, this one's subtler, but if your recipient comes from a culture that believes in the luck and good nature of a certain number, why not use that knowledge as the foundation of your design?

I look over what I've done so far -- like I said, I'm new to this craft -- and I don't really see myself in these quilts. I see the people I made them for. I'm hoping as time goes on, and the photo gallery builds up, I'll be able to look back and see the common thread of me running through these quilts, but I just haven't yet.

I've seen the quilts you mean. Very sparse; in fact, "minimalist" might be a better label than "modern." Modern is more of a sliding point, and not very descriptive; what would have been modern in 1910? in 1810?

Amy's quilts tend to have many more layers of design and meaning -- shapes AND fabric choices play a part. As we were saying in an IM conversation, if she decided to make a quilt for a friend who liked coffee, she'd do more than just put together patches on bare muslin that convey the shape of the caffeine molecule -- she would probably choose fabrics for the molecule and surrounding areas that show coffee beans, the plants they come from, where they grow, how they are transported, the roasting process, and drinks made from the beans. She'd probably sneak in some chemistry fabric just to make the point that there's a molecule hiding in the pattern. And the quilting itself would probably be coffee cup shapes.

It is worth noting that Amy doesn't like Mondrian paintings, either. *grins*

  • I will remember that quilts aren't just for the flamingly heterosexual and the newly born. They are for goths and nerds, librarians and engineers, single and married and gay and poly and everything in between. Snuggling and chilly toes know no season, and everyone's gotta sleep somewhere. It might as well be under a quilt made by someone who cares about them


This is my new favorite quilting quote. Since I didn't have an <i>old</i> favorite quilting quote, I guess that makes this my favorite quilting quote EVER. I doff my hat to you.

ack! bad me! I thought I approved this right when it came in. :(

The part you quoted works better with madly gesturing hands. Which I think is how I first said it.