06 May, 2010

Throwback - A Digression


I'm not a quilt history expert, I'm just pretending to be one right now. After a week of browsing the quilts and exhibits of Quilt Canada I am very tempted to stand up and declare that there is no such thing as modern quilting.

Hold on, so far I only said I was tempted to say it.

Let's take a few steps back. You've heard me say before that I don't like to believe that I have a style in the quilts I do. To me a style meant that you could look at one of my quilts and instinctively know it was mine, or a rip off. I'd like to think I am adventurous enough to try lots of different things and that I can't be pinned down. (Pardon the pun.)

My first observation in having a quilt hung in the Invitational Show at Quilt Canada and seeing it up there next to some 500 or 600 other quilts is that I do kind of have a style. Or at least what I did was markedly different from 99% of what was there. It isn't that this makes me unique, just unique among participants at the show. It forced me to step back and examine the bulk of my quilts and realize that while you can't pin me down on colours, layout, or techniques, you can accuse me of bold, simple designs. Repetition of shapes or construction methods (improv) is quite common in most of what I do. So, maybe after all, I do have a bit of a style.

It pains me to admit that and my rebellious nature means I am aching to do something precise and varied in design. That will have to wait until I finish this thing.

The next observation I made is that I am not likely to ever, or at least in the near to mid-term future, likely to show well in a big, conventional show. I'm not saying I won't enter, I just doubt I would show well. There was one Gees Bend inspired quilt in the National Juried show, but that's it. The rest of it demonstrated some phenomenal quality, but only about 1% of it was something I would love to try. Just like machine quilting was a big deal when it started entering in shows in the 80s, it might be a while before a quilter like me could show well.

And I am really only referring to design here because - not to toot my own horn - I think my technique is pretty close in comparison. Except for maybe hand applique and some details, but I'm okay with that. Most people are intimidated by a big show, but I found it confidence inspiring that, barring quilting the life out of my pieces, my skills are pretty good.

So I crutched around the show - admiring quality work, intrigued by the crazy use of layering techniques, blown away by teeny tiny stippling - but I didn't get overly excited by much. There was an incredible 3D piece that resembled a diorama that was absolutely incredible, but that was it. Here I was, in the face of the current show quilt world of Canada these days and I was kind of bored. It was as if I'd met my good-on-paper- guy and realized that we had nothing in common. Pretty to look at it, but nothing to talk about. And certainly no chemistry.

Lest you think I am being disparaging of the artists, let me say that I have nothing but great things to say about the artists, teachers, and quilters I met. They were the inspiring ones, as people.

My last stop on the quilt show tour was an exhibit that was displaying antique sewing machines, furniture, and quilts. And it felt like I was kind of entering a comfortable place, even in a convention center. It should be noted that I am a mid-century modern girl, so it wasn't the antiques. Rather, it was the quilts. Simple, bold, clear colours (despite their age), repetitive designs, and almost exactly what you see being made with newer fabric all around the blogosphere of modern quilters.

Seriously, this display could have almost been a display of quilts from many a popular blogger today. And here we are on the internet flogging modern quilting like it is something we just made up. Yes, the importance of history and tradition is acknowledged, but people often come to modern quilting as either an evolution or rebellion from traditonal quilting. Well, I would now argue that modern quilting is actually just really, really traditional quilting. Before people got caught up in intricate pieced patterns with a million different templates and detailed quilting.

Oh, and just because you throw the word wonky or improv in front of it doesn't necessarily make it modern.

Did you know machine quilting is not an invention of the last 20-30 years? People were doing it over 100 years ago. You just don't see many examples of it because most of it was grid quilting and those quilts served as functional quilts, likely loved and used to death. Thank-you Sue Nickels for this tidbit and example. Okay, none of us think straight lines are new, but it may be argued that the prevalent use of straightline quilting is on the rise among self-described modern quilters (and almost non-existent at the show).

What else is on the rise? Easy, fast quilts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but I got a great kick out of Mark Lipinski commenting that if the world came to an end but the quilts made it, the next inhabitants of the planet would think our arts were limited to Turning Twenty patterns! He pushed for quilters to return to a little complexity, to take the time on our pieces, to savour the process.

I would add that blogging might make the churn worse. We all want content, right? I don't know many who quilt for the sake of blogging, but ask yourself if you pick simpler projects just to have something to post? At least every now and then? Or, ask yourself how some of your favourite bloggers manage to finish so many quilts? Lifestyle aside, look at the quilts and the detail of the quilting they post.


So, this whole modern quilting thing. I can say for sure that I have a new perspective on it. And I don't think it is as revolutionary as some think it is. It really is a throwback to the traditional, traditional quilting, as this post also mentions. Just with prettier fabrics. (Although, really, so many of the popular designer fabrics are very vintagy, but with modern colours.)

I'm not coming down on the movement. It really is a movement, fueled by the internet. That's why the Modern Quilt Guild is so fascinating to me. From the internet grew a community that is now spreading like wildfire into the traditional guild model. This is awesome because no matter how much we share online (too much, at times) real connections with real people matter. Without it would be like doing nothing but designing quilts on the computer and never playing with fabric.

Beyond that, I think one of the best things about the movement is that it, and the proliferation of such bold fabrics, is bringing younger quilters to the sewing machines. And trust me, after a week with a whole bunch of 50-60 something women who complain their daughters and granddaughters don't want to quilt, this is a very good thing. And who knows, in time, we may be the ones winning ribbons? One day there may indeed be a Throwback category.


Artists, in order of appearance:
1. Forgot to record this one, apologies.
3. Me, in front of Grass
5. Cheryl A. Bock
6. Annette Johnston
7. Forgot to record this one, but it is a Heritage Park Quilter of Distinction
8. Sharon Stoneman
9. Various Antique quilts
10. More various Antique quilts
11. Forgot to record this antique one as well.
12. Flossie Douglas

58 comments:

tracy_a said...

great post. so many true observations - everything old is new again.

Bridget said...

I attended a class taught by Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran and was struck by something Gwen said. She studies quilt history books, where she gets many of her ideas. Old becomes new again.

A thoughtful post...thanks.

O'Quilts said...

U are right on....good job.

Amy - Park City Girl said...

Love this post - your thoughts are spot on!

Andrea said...

Great thoughts Cheryl!

Lisa said...

You have put my thoughts into words!! I totally agree with everything you said. Great observations!

sewkatiedid said...

I love your writing and have to say that ever quilt I make has it's own style...or my style is an ever changing process of design...or something...

Islay said...

What an interesting insight, and exactly how I feel. My parents have a huge collection of antique quilts which inspired my interest in quilting, and really most of them are what might be termed improv/wonky/modern design, and the fabrics are beautiful prints, plenty of which would be considered a little out there by modern standards.
Oooh, you're inspiring a similar post from me!

Kris said...

What a great post and good things to think about... thanks for getting me to think a little about why I do what I do and what "modern" really means.

r0ssie said...

Fascinating post. Love the thoughts on modern quilting.

I think you and I are kindred in that when we aim for modern, we use mid-century modernism as a touchstone. I would actually love to start a Mid-Century Modern Quilt bee at some point. Maybe you'd be interested? Maybe you know some other peeps who would?

r0ssie said...

p.s. I love the Donna Clement!

Lesly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
corinnea said...

Thank you for putting into words thoughts I could not express and doing it in such a respectful way.

Cory C said...

This is a great post.

Sometimes I feel discouraged by how long it takes me to finish my projects, but I don't always make the quickest and easiest things. I have started sharing more process stuff on my blog because of that.

I love what Mark Lipinski said, what a great observation.

elle said...

I absolutely hear you! I relate! And I've just been to our big show and then our small local show.

Alison Marie said...

Thank you for such a thoughtful and personal post. Sometimes I feel like I have to hold my tongue about how much I love old quilts.....before I started quilting myself, I was always drawn to the quilts of the first half of the 1900s, and I really do feel like those quilts inform most of what I really like making. I am glad to have found your blog through Rossie's.

Angie said...

Very interesting. I've often wondered why different people consider their quilts to be modern. I've only recently started studying much traditional quilting, which I think is important to know where things have been before.

That Girl said...

Great, great post! Your observations are keen and you have obviously put a lot of thought into this. I had to smile at the point raised about fast and easy quilts because that has been a source of growing frustration for me lately after seeing quilt after quilt like this in blog-land. I would love to see more of the pro's process and less of a new quilt every other day...

Jennifer :)

Kate said...

What a great post! Thanks for taking the time to share such insightful thoughts. I often put pressure on myself to finish a quilt partly because I'd like to blog about it. I really should share more of the process, and just enjoy the quilt making process more. I'll be taking a trip to the library to have a look at some of the older quilts for some inspiration!

yahaira said...

I've been thinking the same thing lately. I love traditional quilts and didn't understand why when I go to a quilt shop none of the quilt samples sing to me. it's the design! I don't want to hack a couple of fq's into a quilt. and I'm just not interested in patterns. or making the same quilt over and over again.

BaileyGirl5 said...

I'm new to quilting and have been excited about the new modern style because I'm not much of a fussy, calico, mauve person. Then I got a book about the quilts of Gees Bend and I was fascinated. I also started looking at Amish quilts. I love the simplicity and the solids and the Gees Bends quilts certainly had no rules. I'm so glad you posted this because I'm wondering if the fussy, pastel quilts are modern and we are striving to be traditional. Very thought provoking ....

Arita said...

A great post. Thank you for putting into words that I have often thought when clicking from one blog to another.

Emily {Creative Chicks} said...

Amen...

amandajean said...

i loved reading your thoughts on this subject!

Andrea said...

Still thinking.
I really do think there is a place for the modern quick fix quilts that are out there. Yes, I agree that there's a plethora of them out there. But I do think that it was my 'hook' into quilting too. I saw these easy simple designs, and I wasn't so overwhelmed with the skills of quilting. Now that I've made a few (and my boredom has set in after only a few so I'm really wondering what some of the blog factories are feeling) I feel like I've reached 'quilter' status, and now can branch into more of the advanced skills and artistry.
polific thoughts without caffeine on a Monday LOL

Jolene said...

Very interesting post. I guess everyone's personality is different. I'm not one to analyze a lot, and I want every quilt I make to be something I loved to make and not something that fits in the style that I supposedly have. In defense of simple designs, I've got a lot of friends who would love to learn to quilt, and simple patchwork is something they can do, but it doesn't look fussy and '90's style.

Was this Quilt Canada the show in Calgary? I considered coming, but decided not to exactly because the feelings you described are what I've felt at quilt shows and quilt shops.

Cheryl Arkison said...

Thank-you for all the great comments. It is wonderful to see everyone thinking more about process.

Wouldn't it be neat to do time lapse photography of the making of a quilt?

Here's to more dialogue and process on the blogosphere. Stay tuned here and on Rossie's blog.

Katherine said...

Great post, Cheryl. Interesting and thought provoking to hear your thoughts and observations. I think of quilting as an artform, and like any art there's such a broad spectrum in the way an artist expresses themself. I would think that there is room for us all - no matter what style we quilt. There should be a place in our lives and respect both for the extremely intricate, hand pieced quilts and the quick, cut and sew style quilts (and every other style). Just my opinion.... Thanks for stirring up some thoughts on the topic.

Marit said...

Thank you for sharing, Cheryl. I think more dialogue and process is a recipe for growing, for connecting, and for interesting feed-back from others.

nanann said...

Great post, even when coming to it a bit late!

I have been meaning to do a post on Modern Quilting for some time too for the simple fact that I don't think it is as revolutionary as some people believe. So much of what you have written is SO true.

nicolette said...

A wonderful and profound post, Cheryl!

It’s the process of making a quilt that we should all enjoy the most, no matter what taste in patterns, fabrics or quilting.

I often feel overwhelmed by blogposts from quilters and the number of quilts they produce... and so much of the same!

Dawn said...

I love traditonal quilts and the new twist on things... reminds me of the old saying 'theres nothing new under the sun'
thanks for the excellent observations and your thought provoking process of savoring the moment of our making.....
Hugs Dawn

sewjournal said...

What a very thought-provoking piece. I think you are right in your observations.

Helen said...

Very thought provoking and so true! I was nodding as I read along. Interesting...

Valentina said...

Thank you, Cheryl, for putting in words things I have been feeling for a while now.
I have no desire to have my quilts judged. They are my quilts. I don't like being told what the 'in' colours are, and I certainly do not enjoy cookie-cutter quilts.
I keep going back to amish quilts and being inspired. Then Antique quilts, and then somehow because I am neither Amish or from the 19th century, I do what I do 'in the spirit' of those great works, and well.
I quilt, because I have to: It's Therapy, it's creative expression and it IS process: who I am and how I am growing as this quilt is being made.
Thank you, and I hope you don't mind if I link back to this post so I can share it with my friends.
:)
Valentina (a fellow Canuck in faraway Cyprus)

Caroline ~ TrilliumDesign said...

So true in many ways. More and more younger people are taking on create arts and it's about time! I think that modern quilting is more about the process and the final creation and not at all about fitting into any kind of predefined quilt genre.

Victoria said...

(Beware, this is a long response!)

Well said and I so agree! I too recently attended a big quilt show, and found myself bored and uninspired... and also questioned where my "modern' work would fit in.

Ah... but surround me with vintage quilts, and I feel at home. No wonder, as I first fell in love with quilt making by reading "The Quilters : Women and Domestic Art" by Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Buferd, published in 1977. A great book that featured first hand interviews of very aged women who had quilted most of their long lives. How wonderful to read their personal accounts of making patchwork quilts, a necessity to stay warm during the long cold winters, and being the only way that they could truly express themselves creatively. (Many of them had hard lives and some said it was the only thing that saved their sanity.)

Then I became aware of Gwen Marston's fabulous book "Liberated Quiltmaking" and saw how her work was so influenced by old quilts. That was followed by the introduction of the Gees Bend Quilts, where I really fell in love with their utilitarian quilts, which led me to finding Japanese Boro, the antique patched clothwork made by the working poor of Japan. (And I first fell in love with design when I was a kid and my folks took me to see Frank Lloyd Wright's, mid-century masterpiece "Fallingwater'.)

So, everything that has most inspired my 'modern quilt making' has it's roots in the past!

The thing we must strive for is staying aware of why it inspires us. What is it that touches us so deeply about the work of the past, and how can we translate those emotions into our own work. That's what will make what we do modern, and hopefully meaningful and relevant to the next generation of quilters.

Katie said...

Love the way you express the concept. Like many of these women, i had been thinking the same thing about old is new. Ive been reading very old back issues of my mom's Australian quilting mags and LOVE the 30's inspired designs.

I have been feeling the rush to get more quilts done to get even in the realm of how quickly some of you inspiring ladies quilt...this post helps me put things in perspective and to take a breath.

suddenly sahm said...

Amen, sister. Say the unsayable.

Monet said...

Thank you, thank you, for setting this dialogue in motion! I have had a lot of similar thoughts lately, but felt afraid to express them. I agree with suddenly sahm: Amen! Thanks for saying the unsayable.

Tiffany said...

Great post....and thanks for sharing your observations about modern quilting! It is not to be pigeon holed and our quilt ancestors were quite modern also. Quilting in the 80's and 90's got a little fussy and now it is coming back around with a wide range of people joining!

Laurel H. said...

What a great, insightful post. I think you definitely have a good point in regards to the fact that "there is nothing new under the sun." Our so-called modern quilts bear strong resemblances to quilts that women have made for centuries.

I struggle, admittedly, with the idea of complexity in piecing. I think that, for those who make them, they should continue to do so. But I don't know if there is a place for that in my life right now. I want to actually finish a quilt, and because I am still a fairly young mother with young children that are still at home, the difference between actually finishing quilts and not finishing them has everything to do with the complexity of the piecing for me. Truthfully, I am not in love with that traditional pieced look anyway. Perhaps at another time in my life, I will time for it AND I will like it. I disagree w/Lipinski; there are plenty of quilters of ALL kinds, so that those who come behind us will know that we loved Turning Twenty quilts AND Grandmother's Flower garden quilts!

I think I found a new bloggy friend. :)

Mishka said...

Excellent post.

sonoma craft said...

This post was such a refreshing take on quilt shows and what is really considered modern. Too often I hear people think out loud that they couldn't possibly make a quilt of show quality. Talented people who have been sewing, quilting, and tailoring for nearly 40 years even. I will share this with that particular individual in fact. Thank you.

Grey Cat said...

I love this post, and am so very appreciative for the way you have managed to articulate the way I feel about quilting vs. 'modern' quilting.

I've been quilting for a while now - since I was sixteen, and the more I do this, the more I move toward re-capturing 'traditional' quilts, just in brighter colors.

Thank you so much for this thoughtful and inspiring post. I'll be pointing more readers your way!

Meghan said...

I stumbled on your blog today because of the City Quilts blog tour. I saw this link on your sidebar, and I am blown away. This may be one of the most well-written quilting blog posts I've read that wasn't describing a technique, but an idea.

I love so much of what you said. In fact, a lot of it has crossed my mind, but I haven't been able to put them in such eloquent terms. I do think that part of what defines many "modern" quilters isn't the pattern as much as the fabric.

I will definitely be adding your blog to my Google Reader, and looking over your archives. I look forward to reading more of your blog!

Rachaeldaisy said...

Good for you!! The things you've said in this post are so true.I've thought the same things. Thanks for taking the time to articulate them so well.

2ndAvenueStudio-Rachel said...

I just came and read this after watching Rossie's lecture on the subject...
So interesting, thanks for taking the time to think about and articulate your ideas on the subject.

the lecture and this post have been deposited in my brain and are now being processed....
thank you!

piecemealquilts said...

I came to your post in a roundabout way - Rossie commented on my post about my reactions to HER post/video. She included a link to this post, and I'm glad I followed it. Thanks for your insight!

Adele said...

I appreciated your blog comments on "Modern Quilting" and have linked them to my blog.


I thoroughly enjoyed your thoughts....I often feel like a outcast because some things most quilters like just don't WOW me.....thanks again.....for making me feel almost normal...I am new to quilting and need update my blog more often I have alot of work that I haven't listed yet....YIKES

Carol said...

Very well said.
I am a slooooooooow quilter just trying to do my own thing at my own speed :)

momto2wasd said...

Great post. I've said similar before--although I don't think anybody listens to me...which is fine. I'm nobody famous.
Modern quilting is really not new when you search around and see what has been done before. But, as you say, that isn't a negative thing about modern quilting. It just is what it is.

Jean said...

Thank you for saying what (apparently) so many of us have been thinking! I've been quilting for twenty years, but all along have felt that I was a 'modern' quilter, and my grandmother before me was in every sense of the word, a modern quilter. modern doesn't mean new, it means current. So at any particular point in time, whatever is the current style is modern.

Kit Lang said...

I know this is quite an old post, but I came across it because Rossie's process pledge was being featured on Generation Q Magazine today and back links led me to you.

I started a Modern Quilt Guild in 2010 before I really understood what it was about. I wanted to make contemporary quilts from my own patterns using solids and some prints, but wasn't interested in other people's patterns and fabric lines AT ALL. I was excited that nearly 300 people expressed interest in joining the guild, but imagine how much a fish out of water I felt when they actually arrived, with their so-and-so's pattern, and so-and-so's fabric line, and pre cuts and throwing around fabric designers and popular blogger's names all over the place - I was all WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU WOMEN TALKING ABOUT?!

And the quilts the brought in, were to mind, very traditional. There was nothing "modern" about them at all, except for the new fabrics.

So I am SOOOOOOO GLAD to see you post this! The happy ending to the story is that after six months, I turned the guild over to a lovely young woman who was exactly what the modern quilters were looking for, and three of the women and I crept away and started a "contemporary" quilt guild and we're all now very happy. :)

I also wanted to say that part of the problem with Quit Canada is that the governing board has a very specific interest in more traditional quilts - and one person on that board said expressly, in the presence of the enemy (a member of our contemporary quilt guild) that they didn't want any modern or contemporary quilts in the shows.

I also heard that there was a shake up this year, so maybe things will change.

Thank you so much posting this! It was wonderful to see my thoughts confirmed after all this time. :)

Gale said...

Loved this article and couldn't agree more. Although we only have pieces of a quilt top that was made by my great-grandmother, it looks more modern than traditional. It is a "crazy" quilt made up of many types of darker and heavier fabrics (ie. velvets, satins, etc) with each odd shaped piece quilted in different "fancy" hand stitches in a bright color. We had the pieces framed and have had comments on the "modern" art.

Floss said...

Great post, I couln't agree more.

Dana Lynne said...

I am a brand new quilter. I made my first upcycled quilt earlier this year and I have some vintage material that will be turned into a quilt Thanksgiving weekend (that's the plan at least *grin*)
I find all of your observations interesting! I will choose my fabrics and designs (at this point) by what I believe I can handle without getting frustrated and giving up. But I thank you for your insights. This actually gives me more courage!

Lynn said...

I had much the same reaction after attending a big show here last summer. It seems that most show quilters have been trying so hard to "out do" each other that their quilts hardly resemble what I call a quilt anymore. I left that show feeling very "underwhelmed". I think that the judging will eventually catch up to the current quilting trends. And what it takes to achieve a great "minimal" design will be more valued. We had quite the conversation about this on our car ride home from the show.

I've always been inspired most by old and antique quilts.