By Bonnie K. Hunter
Why, yes, I am!
It’s true, I do love the connection to designs from the past – the blocks, the names, the history.
But I also believe in making a quilt my way – with fabrics and colors that excite me. I love to change up layouts, throw in little surprises and give things an updo.
But you know what? It wasn’t that long ago that I did not consider myself a modern quilter. Until one fateful moment in time back around December 2012, when I found out the modern quilt movement had jumped on what I thought was my “not-so-modern” Scrappy Trip Around the World pattern that I have had free on my Web site since around 1999. It took off like wildfire – it went viral, as the saying goes – and if you check Instagram (#scrappytripalong), Twitter or Pinterest, you will find Scrappy Trips quilts by the hundreds in every colorway and style you can imagine.
I was floored. I always thought of it as a “charity” type of quilt block that would use up everything and anything, the dregs of the stash – and I found myself drug full force into the modern quilt world.
What made it cross over into the modern realm?
Just what is it that makes a quilt modern? To me, it has a lot to do with the graphic quality, the visual impact of a quilt, no matter the techniques or fabrics used to construct it.
My first bed-size quilt (top) was a crazy patch I made from worn denim jeans in 1980 after high school graduation. Hey, I had one segment of quilting instruction in home ec my senior year of high school – I thought I was ready for it! I cut random chunks, sewed them together, until my “block” was big enough – and I used a Sharpie marker to trace around a record album cover (Supertramp, “Breakfast in America”!) so I could cut my blocks to size with scissors. I don’t remember whatever happened to that quilt top, but I suppose by today’s modern quilt movement, it would be considered pretty dang modern. But I thought I was being traditional.
I used to pooh-pooh explanations I heard from others attempting to explain what a “modern” quilt is and what it isn’t. I shook my head over confusing statements like “You can make a traditional quilt with modern fabrics, and it’s a modern quilt – but you cannot make a modern quilt with traditional fabrics.” What?
I’ve thought and thought about this conundrum, and these are the things that keep running through my mind:
Just who is the designer of your quilt? You or the home dec industry that decides what is current this season and out the next? Is your quilt more a reflection of you as a quilter – or an advertisement for a certain pre-cut and pre-matched fabric line?
If we lay hold to the belief that it is solely the fabric that makes the quilt modern, then a few years down the road, will what we made as modern today lose its modern status as styles and fabric lines change and become outdated?
I love movies. One of my favorites is “Far and Away” with Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise. In the movie, Nicole’s character is aching to be set free from her conservative upbringing and be considered modern. In the 1800s. And yet today, we would look at her idea of modernism as old-fashioned.
I can only surmise then that modern is really a fleeting thing – and the most important thing is that we enjoy the creative process with an open mind and a free spirit and find just what it is that brings us joy. I am not worried if my quilt becomes dated a few years down the road. Every quilt I make captures the memories of what was going on in my life during the time period it took to make that quilt. For that brief moment in time, that quilt was modern.
So what brings this modern quilter joy? Freedom to combine styles and colors and fabrics without rules. Yes, I can sew a batik to a Civil War print to a modern geometric to a solid and throw in those 1990s calicoes in such a way that they all blend together and become a study in color, or in value, or in contrast and texture. To me, it’s not the print on the fabric that matters. It’s how it plays with the others around it. Of course, my favorite rule comes to play: “If it’s still ugly, you just haven’t cut it small enough!”
I can work with recycled shirts and clothing from the thrift shop and combine them with modern fabrics such as Kaffe Fasset and solids – it’s my quilt.
I can study the free spirit of quilters past, loving the make-do frugality that brought about artistic ingenuity in history’s Amish quilts. They weren’t trying to be modern, but so many of them are heralded as being modern in their own way. Of course, for me, the scrappier the better, and the more I like them.
I can marvel that the quilts of Gee’s Bend are thought now to be so aesthetically modern when they were made of the simplest of ingredients found at hand and made quickly to be warm through the winter, to cover loved ones. It was “Art not made as Art.”
String and crumb piecing has always been a deeply rooted passion of mine, and combining string piecing techniques with traditional patchwork units gives me an updated look with a leg in each camp – traditional, and yet modern.
I can choose which rules I want to play by – and which way to go off on my own journey. I can sew very modern looking scrappy blocks (which are rooted in tradition) while stitching on my 1911 treadle machine. In 1911, that machine was the latest thing going – modern all the way.
At 51 years old, I’m sure my kids do not think of their mother as modern in anything – but I’ve come a long way, baby!
Bonnie K. Hunter is the author of Scraps & Shirttails: Reuse, Re-purpose and Recycle! The Art of Quilting Green, Adventures with Leaders & Enders: Make More Quilts in Less Time!, Scraps & Shirttails II: Continuing the Art of Quilting Green and String Fling: Scrappy, Happy and Loving It! Look for her new book in the spring. Follow her on her blog, Quiltiville.
To reply to this post, click here.