The Free Motion Quilting Project: Trying My Hand at Modern Quilting

Friday, November 18, 2011

Trying My Hand at Modern Quilting

Are you a Modern Quilter?

I admit, I've had a bit of trouble understanding this movement until recently. I've certainly seen a lot of modern quilts, but then I've also seen a lot of quilts that look quite traditional, but are labeled "modern." It's all a bit confusing, which is why I haven't really pursued understanding this movement better until now.

With a quick search of "modern quilts" you will find the Modern Quilt Guild. On this website you can find the following list that describes modern quilters or modern quilts:
  • Make primarily functional rather than decorative quilts
  • Use asymmetry in quilt design
  • Rely less on repetition and on the interaction of quilt block motifs
  • Contain reinterpreted traditional blocks
  • Embrace simplicity and minimalism
  • Utilize alternative block structures or lack of visible block structure
  • Incorporate increased use of negative space
  • Are inspired by modern art and architecture
  • Frequently use improvisational piecing
  • Contain bold colors, on trend color combinations and graphic prints
  • Often use gray and white as neutrals
  • Reflect an increased use of solid fabrics
  • Focus on finishing quilts on home sewing machines
From this list, I've kind of gotten a sense of the movement and a better understanding of how modern quilts should look as opposed to regular quilts. To say it plainly, this little wholecloth currently on my table is NOT a modern quilt:

free motion quilting | Leah DayThis is obviously a decorative quilt with dense stitching that prevents it from being a functional quilt (i.e. you can't snuggle with it). It's not simple. It's very symmetrical and it's not minimalist.

But what about this?
free motion quilting | Leah Day This is just a solid piece of black fabric with my big bold, simply stippling design stitched over the surface. It's functional. It's simple. It's quite asymmetrical. There's a TON of negative space. It's one big bold solid colored fabric. Is this a modern quilt?

I guess that's one of the underlying things that slightly bothers me about the modern quilting movement - it creates an opening for criticism. Is my quilt modern enough? What counts as modern and what exactly is traditional now?

And what is up with the quilting on these quilts??? The most intricate design I've seen so far was lines. Lines, lines, and more lines. Hey, lines can be really cool, but is it possible to use some neat free motion designs and the quilt still be a modern quilt?

These have been the questions that have swirled around my head whenever I saw or thought about modern quilting for around the last year or so. I've asked a lot of questions, but I wasn't willing to just TRY to make a modern quilt to see what it was like.

So yesterday I came into my studio needing to piece a simple, very speedy quilt for a Christmas gift. Actually I really need to make 2 quilts, not just one.

I need the tops done right NOW so they can be quilted right NOW so what better time to try my hand at an asymmetrical quilt where the seams don't have to match?

And thus, my affair with modern quilting has begun!

free motion quilting | Leah DayI call this an "affair" because piecing this quilt top was so enjoyable, it has to be a sin! For 3 hours I didn't obsess about cutting strips 2.5 inches wide, perfectly square, perfectly matched up with the ruler. I just wacked them out of my scraps and guess what???? I DIDN'T EVEN IRON THEM BEFORE PIECING!!! LOL!

It was just fun. I can't think of a better word for this style of quilting. FUN! I haven't had much FUN in my quilts lately. I've been bogged down this year with too much...I don't know...too much everything. Too much perfection, too much detail, too much attention.

The simplicity of just piecing two simple strips onto a single, roughly cut 6 inch block was extremely freeing. I decided to frame each colored block with two strips of black fabric to make "L" shapes. I didn't let myself obsess about it. I didn't even plan out the pattern. I just made the blocks, cut them down to a square size, then lined them up in this arrangement and sewed them together. Ta Da!

free motion quilting | Leah DaySo am I officially a Modern Quilter? I'm still not sure about the label or defining myself as any one thing. Keep in mind, I don't even call myself an "Art Quilter" so I personally I'm most comfortable just calling myself a QUILTER and leaving it at that.

Let's go quilt!

Leah Day


  1. This quilt feels like a gorgeous sunset. I am such a traditional quilter that I don't know if I could let go of all my "rules" of quilting, but I enjoy seeing the results of those who can free themselves from those ingrained boundaries.

  2. I won't label you!! I think that you having fun is the most important thing of all and I am glad you did!! Not ironing though - hmmm, that made me wounder!! But I love that you just let yourself go and play and have fun!! We all need to let ourselves go and relax a little, and your 'affair' is a wounderful example of giving in to the joy of just playing!!! Great Post!! Thank-You!!

  3. Like you, I haven't really been too sure of what makes something a modern quilt. I kind of consider myself a modern quilter, because I don't really know what traditional quilting is. A few times I've posted a simple quilt to a board and someone has said "I've always wanted to make [insert name here]" - well, I just made it up myself!

    I'm not a real picky piecer, and that does seem to be a big part of traditional quilting, but I also hate the notion that modern quilting is sloppy. I don't think it is- it's just that I'm sloppy. However, the "movement" certainly lets us get away with that. To me, part of modern quilting is that there isn't a quilt police- very opposite your concern you aren't modern enough.

    I really love your filler designs though- so I've tried to incorporate a lot more than lines (and plain stippling, that seems very popular) into my quilts.

    Also- the whole cloth is gorgeous! And I love the modern quilt top- the placement of the colors works really well.

  4. Leah -- don't get stuck on labels too much -- To me, modern means being able to quilt without worrying about the quilt police! I want to enjoy quilting, which means that I don't always follow the traditional "rules". A quilter should quilt and create what/he or she likes!

  5. Hi Leah,

    I am actually going to my modern quilt guild meeting tonight. We have only been meeting for about 9 months and are still new.

    I think of modern quilt as many of the things you listed with a couple of additions. First, there are no rules. Mixed media, objects that are not quilts, beading, basically anything that is fiber related is included and accepted. Second I think of modern as encouraging new/alternative ways to contruct and create without the quilt police telling you it has to be done in certain ways to be a quilt or to be accepted. I think of it as quilt art.

    Anyway, glad you posted about it and look forward to future posts.

  6. I posted the Grey HST quilt, but even after reading the quidelines for a "modern" quilt, I don't know if it fits. The only reason I think it might is the grey and spiral quilting. I entered it at the state fair and was told numerous times how it was the first year a grey quilt had been entered. Anyway, if you don't think it fits the "modern" quilting guidelines, I won't be offended if you take it down!

  7. Like you I think that there is no real need to label yourself into a particular category. I guess my personal taste is for 'modern' quilts but if I like a quilt then I like it!

  8. I just noticed today my local quilt shop has a meeting of the Modern Quilt Guild next month. Still not sure what is up since some of the quilts I saw on their flickr site looked awfully traditional to me but if Modern Quilting means more fun and less frustration, I'm all for it!

  9. I love the quilt...LOL...but; modern quilter...I have no idea!!!

  10. I am totally drooling over that purple quilt. So amazing!!!! Guess I'm more of a traditionalist. Although, the fabric you used for the modern quilt looks like fire. I can never seem to match up fabrics like that!

  11. I started out oh, so traditional and I'm glad that I did, because I learned all of the basics. The BIGGEST thing that happened to me was seeing GWEN MARSTON on Simply Quilts. I was mesmerized and immediately bought her book Liberated Quiltmaking and read it COVER TO COVER. A lot of people are making whacky, fun, crooked quilts now but I would still recommend THAT book, best if you can get a first edition.

  12. As an artist, it is good to know where you and your work lie within the spectrum of what's out there. However, once you start worrying about being this enough or that enough, you really aren't making YOUR work.

    It is also good to have a cohesive body of work, but is is equally important to enjoy yourself, try new things, and not pigeonhole yourself. Those are the things that lead to progress. Making art isn't about producing pieces, it's about what you learn making them (aka, the journey). So, just do what you do and do it well!

  13. I think you quilt should be called "Affair" I am having an affair of my own at the moment. Mine is with applique. When it comes to quilting the more affairs we have the better we become.

  14. The style reminds me of the Gee's Bend Quilters and even of Amish Quilts! Lovely - I am looking forward to seeing the quilting.

  15. I am making a modern quilt now, and I actually went to your page for quilting ideas, I went with your beaded curtain design. Each block is either vertical or horizontal and it is starting to look cool! I was starting to get uninspired about the quilting part until I came across your site, so thank you!

  16. Modern vs. Traditional... I vote for "Quilter" I don't claim to be Modern or Traditional. I QUILT.

    I enjoy quilting. I don't worry about my seams to the point that I don't enjoy it. I worry about them to the point that I am away of what will enhance my quilt, but I don't obsess. My quilts will not be judged. I don't care to compete, I do that at work all day long.

    I am a member of the Columbus Modern Quilt Guild, not because I am a "Modern Quilter", but because I am a man in my 40s and found I had nothing in common with the primarily 70 and 80 year old women that make up the other LQG. At least I am closer in age to the ladies in the CMQG.

    I don't like labels, I avoid them at all costs. It's hard enough being in an extreme gender minority!

    I enjoy your tutorials and your inspiration. I just bought a new machine on which I can FMQ, so I can't wait to start doing it.


  17. I have had trouble wrapping my mind around the definition of a "modern quilt" as well. I am so glad that you decided to play a little though. I mainly use stippling on all my quilts, although I plan to start testing myself in the new year on your designs! I wonder why modern quilts can't have more stitch designs?!

  18. Leah, Love this post! I have been thinking about these "modern quilt" guidelines too and you put together a good list...but like it when people I know from the Modern quilt guild say things like "there are no rules" about what is a modern quilt...yeah! I think you can just feel it, just tell, and if you want it to be modern, it is. By the way you did a very nice modern piece, good job!

  19. I completely agree that it probably isn't necessary to label yourself as one particular type of quilter. I think the definition of "modern" varies for so many people that it is really pointless to try to nail it down. I've linked two quilts that would probably be considered "modern" because of the color/fabric combinations even though they are made of "traditional" blocks.

  20. I agree with a lot of the other commenters here - that modern quilting is really whatever you want it to be. A while ago there was a big argument among various quilting blogs about the exact definition of modern quilting, and it seems like it just made everyone angry.

    I say make what makes you happy. The reason I started following your blog is because, while I consider myself a modern quilter, I didn't want to be limited to straight line quilting (which I'm a big fan of; I love the simplicity of it and how it can really offset fabric and quilt design) but I also hate the standard meandering stipple quilting that you seen on a lot of quilts. I found your site because I was new to free motion quilting and wanted to find designs that I could use to quilt my modern quilts. I would love to learn more fmq designs that work in larger areas and aren't too dense, complementing fabric and piecing rather than standing out as the main artistic element of the quilt.

    So I guess my point is that your work is awesome; both traditional and modern (and I love that modern quilt that you're working on!) Who cares what we call it, especially since your website seems to be a resource to quilters of all types!

  21. I started quilting in my 50's, when I found I could not buy an airplane quilt for my little grandson who is obsessed with planes. After a basic 'how-to" from a quilting friend, I bought fabric and set about making my first quilt. I knew how to sew a straight line, but that was the extent of my knowledge. That quilt started my journey of discovery into the quilting world...I'm still on that journey, gradually improving my skills with each quilt I make. I choose designs that appeal to me, and have fun with the process, be it easy or difficult, modern or traditional. What's important to me is to enjoy the experience and to be on that learning curve. This is one of the reasons I absolutely love your site. You are constantly experimenting and coming up with these amazing designs and ideas that you freely share with us all, such a refreshing change from all those sites that make you pay a lot of money for ideas and processes not even half as innovative or exciting as yours.
    Keep up the good work Leah, and enjoy your journey of discovery as much as you have helped me enjoy mine.

  22. to put it all in its proper perspective, please read this post

    hope you enjoy it

  23. Great article :) I thought being a modern quilter was just about using all those funky new daring prints in simple designs so thank you for sort of enlightening me with your very thought provoking post.
    It does sound like a lot of fun providing there aren't too many rules.
    Your 'modern quilt' project looks wonderful.... I'm more and more moving to the 'easy' and 'simplified' way of quilting. I have become bogged down and found myself in the doldrums because of too many complicated projects I've embarked on. I hope to finish them one day but from now on I will only start simple and fun stuff to do.

  24. Hi! Greetings from Finland! Your quilts are so fantastic! It's so nice to find other quilters all around the world! :)

  25. It was interesting to read what a "Modern Quilt" was. I had also read somewhere once that a modern quilt is one that uses traditional blocks using non traditional fabrics. I like to think of myself as just a quilter, and modern quilts are the ones that are the most interesting to me. I have never made a traditional quilt, although I have trouble not measuring and not being precise. As far as the quilting designs? I'm just catching on that most of them that I see have just simple lines and stippling. I can't do stippling, have tried and can't seem to master it. I can see where lines would work and might try that on one that I'm working now. I usually do simple designs in the blocks but really want to find a design that is open enough that it can cover an entire quilt but is more interesting than lines. I am going through all your designs looking for a couple. I love how Echo Shortcut works, but I like starting my quilting in the center and I'm not sure how to do that.
    Anyway, I'm rambling, welcome to modern quilting. - the creekside quilter (sherri)

  26. I'm sooo glad you had fun! That's what is important...not what to call yourself or what others do.
    Others call me crazy or mean or I follow those "rules"? No. I'm just me and do what I enjoy. That's what quilting is about.

  27. Leah, love your blog and just about anything you create. You are an inspiration. Here is my link to one of my "modern" quilts

  28. I came over from Ethne's Flaming Stitches blog. I love your quilt!

    I consider myself a modern quilter, but not all the quilts I make are modern. I think we can all be more than one thing if we want to :)

  29. Leah, you xmas quilt does not have white or gray as a neutral... so it is probably not a "modern quilt" - kidding - Me thinks the modern quilt folks are taking themselves a bit too seriously.... with lists of elements to look for in a modern quilt, etc. So glad you had FUN with your xmas makings.... as that is what xmas is about fun.


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