Making it Modern

In January of 2015, I decided that I needed some sort of social outlet to get me out of the house. Winter in Montreal is harsh, and most people have a tendency to hibernate.  It can be a very depressing season, and it is very easy for me to not leave the house for days on end. While I do still sew, I like to make myself mostly dresses and tops, which I won’t be able to wear for another four months, so I wanted to branch out into another form of sewing that could carry me through the winter. So I joined the Modern Quilt Guild! I do have to say that my mother has been quilting for a long time now, and she had been pestering encouraging me to join the Modern Quilt Guild for a few years. There were a few reasons why I always declined; the cost, the meeting location and time, not having much experience quilting; the list goes on. But last year I needed to do something to avoid a Shining situation in my own home.

I did some research and found that there was a chapter of the Modern Quilt Guild in Burlington, VT, which is about 2 hours south of Montreal. It may seem strange that I would want to join a guild in Vermont rather than more locally in Montreal, but I had a number of personal reasons for choosing that group. I discussed it with my husband and he agreed that we could make it work if I wanted to drive down once a month for meetings.  And I am SO glad that I found this group! I have found my people! I have learned so much over the last year and a half, including what exactly ‘modern quilting’ is.

Now, there seems to be some, tension, shall we say, between modern quilters and traditional quilters. I think the main problem stems from the possibility that traditional quilters don’t seem to understand what modern quilting is exactly. I still get confused myself at times, so here’s a definition of modern quilting, straight from the guild site itself:

“Modern quilts are primarily functional and inspired by modern design. Modern quilters work in different styles and define modern quilting in different ways, but several characteristics often appear which may help identify a modern quilt. These include, but are not limited to: the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work. “Modern traditionalism” or the updating of classic quilt designs is also often seen in modern quilting.”

vtmqg charity quilt

Example of a modern quilt; use of solids, negative space (black), asymmetrically pieced blocks, and random block placement. “A Constellation of Wishes” charity quilt for the Make-A-Wish Foundation from the VTMQG.


To me, what this basically says, is that modern quilts tend to use brighter colors, often solids, geometric shapes, minimalist designs (either in the piecing or the quilting), and make use of negative space. Ok, I can work with that!  Part of the reason I was drawn to modern quilting in the first place was because of the fabrics out there that I wanted to use. Not everything is suitable for clothing, and a girl can only have so many bags (or can she??). So quilting it was.

In order to sort of bridge the gap between traditional quilting and modern quilting, our guild has issued a challenge to all of us to “make it modern.” What this means is that each member will take a traditional quilt block and then make the same square but in a more modern fashion. For me this was a challenge, because while my style is more modern, there are some aspects of modern quilting that I find to be difficult.  Like improv. Or not using a pattern. Or using mostly solids. If I keep going I’ll have to breathe into a paper bag.  So of course I signed up to do the first demo blocks next month. Here’s what I did…

I decided to use a nine-patch design as my ‘traditional’ block, and I needed enough fabric to make two 18″ square blocks.  So rather than use something that I really liked, I took whatever fabric was lying around that I had enough of. Luckily, it was green which is may favorite color, but each fabric selection reads as a solid, which means that the pattern is so small that it’s not easy to tell that there even is a pattern when you stand back. Here’s what I started with; I cut 9 separate 6.5″ squares:

photo 2

Then I sewed those squares into my nine patch block:

photo 3

Awesome! This completed the traditional part of the challenge.  Next I had to figure out a way to ‘modernize’ this block.  Since a lot of modern quilting is about random piecing and improvisation, I thought that maybe I could just randomly sew together blocks that were sort of square/rectangular, as long as I still had 9 total.  In order to determine how large to make these various pieces, I simply laid my fabric over my existing block and started cutting out square(ish) sections. Here you can see my traditional block underneath:

photo 4

Once I decided on a layout that I liked, I started piecing it together. This took a little bit of planning, because I had to sew each piece in a certain order.  Which made it like a puzzle, which I actually really enjoy, so maybe working without a pattern wasn’t too terrible…Here’s the finished product:

photo 5

And side by side, traditional vs. modern:

side by side

And here are the final, quilted blocks (traditional first, then modern). What do you think? Modern enough?  How do you define ‘modern quilting’?

trad quiltedmodern quilted

I also want to give a shout out to the Toronto Modern Quilt Guild, which is where our group got the idea in the first place.  Check out their website; those ladies do some really amazing work, including this masterpiece (all the way at the bottom). I mean, what??

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