I Am a Quilter

I love having the time to sip coffee and read a multitude of quilt magazines while relaxing on my patio settee. There something spiritually uplifting about having this time to recharge my over extended batteries and have a day dream about all the quilts I'd like to make. I always feel inspired after browsing my favourite magazines. Today's selections are Quiltmania, American Patchwork and Quilting and Quilters Newsletter. These three magazines will get my creative juices going.

I've been pondering a series of questions asked of me recently by members of one of my quilt groups. Most of the women in this group are traditionalist in their quilting style. They produce gorgeous quilts in every conceivable colour and technique with much of their work structured and symmetrical. I love their quilts and enjoy the group immensely. During one of our conversations I explained that I recently joined another quilt group that focuses on the modern quilting movement. Modern in the sense that quilts in this category tend to be produced in a less structured and free form way. Much of the focus of the finished quilt relates more to the fabric choices and overall look of the piece and less on the exactness of the individual blocks. To my surprise I received a mixed reaction. They all comments that they thought I was a traditional quilter - especially as I tend to hand piece much of my work. How could I join a modern quilt group? Was I switching my quilting allegiance from traditional to modern? Did it mean all my quilts were now going to be abstract and odd? Was I going to abandon my needles and thread for machine piecing exclusively?

I didn't expect that reaction. I suppose because in my mind I see the modern movements theories of quilt making as just another category to add to my repertoire of quilting knowledge. I don't feel a need to label myself in any particular category. I don't have to be a 'modern' quilter at the sacrifice of leaving behind my traditionalist roots. I am a quilters and with that title all that encompasses.

In quilting, as in life, people feel more comfortable and secure placing themselves into neat categories. It helps define and put structure into what we do. I'm no different really. I just suppose my categories encompass more grey then black and white.

After pondering the questions and giving them real thought I can happily answer that; no, I'll never abandon my traditionalist roots. I still love Civil War reproduction fabric, I dream of making a Baltimore Album quilt one day, and I adore the beauty of an intricately executed quilt encompassing an array of time honoured techniques. Are all my quilts now going to be abstract? No, certainly not.  But there will be quilts different from the styles I've produced in the past. My quilts have to change in order for me to feel I've grown as a quilter. I love a challenge. I love being presented with a new technique, or being shown a different way of looking at something. Experiencing that is what keeps me interested in quilting. Adding the perspective of the modern quilt movement into my knowledge base is like opening a window to my quilting life and letting a fresh breeze come in.

So how do I now title myself? As I always have - A Quilter. And I'll never abandon my plain old' needle and thread....

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  1. i`m with you. it puzzles me, the divide. I `swing both ways` in a quilting sense, but heres one difference i`ve picked and one thing that attracts me to the modern movement... I`ve never heard modern quilters run down traditionalists or their stye (ok, apart from my comments about groups stuck in the 1970s crazy patch phase - damn, I`ll go and slap myself) but I see a lot of disapproval and looking down the nose at the `new modern` style, whatever that is... for me, modern quilting is as much about acceptance and community and cross fertilisation of ideas as anything else. Someone on youtube put it nicely - "it`s ok not to like something but don`t be a dick about it". i`ll have to work on that myself. :)

    1. LOL! I love the YouTube quote! I'll have to remember that.

  2. Perhaps the question is "What's in a name?" Whether a "traditional" or a "modern" quilter I am still producing quilts. For me the divide is all about new ways of looking at old concepts. I like the minimalist look of modern quilts - although I know that the look is still achieved using the time honoured traditions of quilting. Being modern is being open to new ideas and embracing a sense of freshness. I love the new brigade of young, talented quilters who are blogging and sharing all that they know with everyone. A Modern Quilt Guild embraces that sense enthusiasm and newness - taking with it the methods and knowledge of the old guard; the very foundations upon which quilting is built. Janine :)

    1. Very well said Janine. I couldn't agree more.

  3. I love this post. If we can't continually learn and grow in our quilting (stretch ourselves) we will begin to get stagnant and possibly even lose our interest in the entire process. We all need to be able to freely follow our 'muse'!

  4. McKenna - great post - and all of the comments above are right-on. I started 35 years ago as a traditional quilter and over the years, found my own path all by myself. I quit my trad guild after they stared at me in silence at Show and Tell when I showed an original design instead of a totally traditional quilt, which they normally applauded for - LOL.

    I teach internationally and have just published my second book, Create Your Own Free-Form Quilts, which amazed me by flying off the shelves. Two years ago I joined the nascent NY Metro MQG and thought it was fabulous to see so many young quilters get excited about expressing their creativity without worrying about perfect seams. Lots of the quilts were riffs on trad quilts - but in wonderful colors, done asymmetrically, no worries about whether points matched. Others, more clean and contemporary. Such joy and enthusiasm and support for each other!

    Two months ago, a friend and I started the North Jersey MQG and 50 people turned up! We are the "un-guild" and we welcome all styles of quilts as long as people are open minded. We have a mixture of people who do "modern," people who are traditional but think they might want to break out a bit, experienced art quilters, beginners, and a women in her 80's who was working on a Sunbonnet Sue block at the meeting the other night.

    It's the attitude that counts! Go for it.

  5. Personally, I too work on modern quilts as another flavor in my quilting toolbox. My problem is I want to do them all! *sigh* So many quilt styles....so little time....

    As president of a modern quilt guild, I see this topic trend repeatedly. Unfortunately, Quilt Police come in all styles as well and those who label themselves "modern" need to maintain their fresh approach with open minds. An incident was told to me of another city's modern guild 'leader' who took someone aside following a show & tell session, admonishing them to not to "bring back something like that because it's not our aesthetic." My 80-yr old mother will tell you that it can't be a quilt if it's not on a bed. Something tells me that my rigid mother and that mqg leader would get along just fine.

    Regardless of their chronological age (MQG's survey shows a large membership percentage to be older than you think), modern quilters share a new enthusiasm that is wonderful for the continued survival of our craft. Quilters everywhere should be pleased, not bent on labeling and dividing.


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