Trends in Modern Quilting {Discussion}

Modern Quilting Trends

OK, so I might have lied earlier this week when I said I was making my last post related to QuitlCon. However, I am trying to look at this post about Modern Quilting Trends as a larger discussion topic and using trends I have seen online (Instagram, blogs) as well as at the show.

After QuiltCon last year, I would have been able to list off a handful of things that were clearly trending in modern quilting (at least as indicated by the quilts on display at the show): drunkard’s path block piecing, low volume, and rainbow color still come to mind.

I had lunch with Leanne @she can quilt last Friday. During our conversation, she asked if I had noticed any trends or if anything really stood out to me over the past year and at the show. I pretty much didn’t answer her at all and diverted with some kind of crappy answer instead (at least, that is how I remember the conversation). Even in retrospect now, looking over photos of quilts that inspired me, I don’t know if I have a very clear idea.

All that being said, I am taking a stab at some current modern quilting trends. I welcome a discussion about this and would love to know what you think if you were at QuiltCon, if you watched from afar, and/or based on what you are noticing trending online or at your own local guild.

Tilting Toward Improv (citron) by Cindy Kaiser

Tilting Toward Improv (citron) by Cindy Kaiser

  • Improvisation
    • Not only was there a beautiful improvisation category on display, but many quilts in other categories (including other winning quilts) used improvisation as a technique. (Note: for a full list of all the winners from the show, visit the Modern Quilt Guild’s blog post: QuiltCon 2016 Winners.) One of the judges this year was Cheryl Arkison, who is well known for her amazing improv work and teaching. But there were many more quilts than just the winning quilts that employed improvisation, so I see it as a clear trend (but still probably tied to her recent book and hard work!)
    • Improvisation is not just a trend I have noticed at QuiltCon. It is a technique that is great for stash busting, and guilds are bringing in instructors like my friend Jess @Quilty Habit (for example) for lectures and workshops on the topic.
  • Transparency
    • Clearly this is a technique that both of my quilts that were in the show displayed, but there was quite a grouping of quilts that used transparency and color value in striking ways. Others with a clear command on this technique are Stephanie @Spontaneous Threads, Krisi @Initial K Studio, and Jenn @Ginger Peach Studio.
The One For Eric by Chawne Kimber (Cauchy Complete)

The One For Eric by Chawne Kimber (Cauchy Complete)

  • Statement Quilts
    • By far, I believe that the most powerful quilt to have been made that I have seen in the past year is The One For Eric, by Chawne Kimber @Cauchy Complete. There were several other very powerful statement quilts (that don’t necessarily have to include text, by the way) in the QuiltCon show, and good roundup about them can be found in an LA Times article about QuiltCon.
Renee @Quilts of a Feathers's Beautiful Quilting

Renee @Quilts of a Feather’s Beautiful Quilting

  • Modern Art Quilts
    • Now this, this is where I am throwing caution into the wind and making a statement that might be a bit more controversial. For me, when the MQG awarded Renee @Quilts of a Feather‘s beautiful quilting work the best machine quilting (frameless) ribbon, it opened the door to considering how to include art quilts in the modern arena. I am not saying that there really is a foothold here, but I believe that this is a discussion worth having and a topic worth exploring more in modern quilting.
    • The MQG likes to refer to the triad of quilting categories: Traditional, Art, and Modern. I believe that there is a blending between each category, and to date, quilters who lean more toward art quilting have felt left out of the modern discussion. We (the MQG) recognize how there can be a blending of modern with traditional through the modern traditional category and it is supported by many modern traditionalism books and patterns.
    • I believe that exquisite modern quilting could potentially be one bridge between the Modern / Art continuum that the MQG might start to embrace more.
    • Also, how many modern quilts draw inspiration directly from art? Quite a few. Many descriptions at the show referenced artwork as their inspiration, and clearly the re-interpretation of an art piece into fiber and textile form can make a stunning modern quilt. So should a quilt that draws inspiration from art be considered a modern art quilt or placed in a modern art quilt category? Definitely food for thought.

Concluding Thoughts

Observing quilts at QuiltCon and reflecting is a good way to understand trends. The trends from QuiltCon 2015 were not the same as for QuiltCon 2016, so while understanding how the movement is evolving and growing is a good discussion, I do not think it should not overly influence you and what you want to make. The trends for QuiltCon 2017 will be based on what we joyously and passionately create this year, so what do you want your story to say? My friend Jess @Quilty Habit summed it up beautifully yesterday in her post Originality and Individuality: An Editorial.

These are just my thoughts and observations. I can’t wait to learn more from my very talented and insightful readers, so be sure to check out the full discussion that will develop in the comments below. <3

40 thoughts on “Trends in Modern Quilting {Discussion}

  1. Very interesting! I will come back and read what the others thought. I need to think about it a bit.

  2. Liz says:

    I think you are spot on with the improv observation. Having viewed quiltcon through blog perspectives I don’t get to see the whole picture, but I’ve noticed that improve is becoming more and more commonplace as the community grows and quilters seem to become more comfortable with their skill set. It’s a way to create a unique piece without having to draft a pattern, which is part of the appeal, I think.

  3. Renee says:

    I’m so glad you are bringing up the discussion of art quilts being included somewhere on the modern spectrum! There are SO many art quilters that fall just outside both the art and the modern groups, and it has been a major issue for me to overcome the fact that many of my quilts are NOT considered modern because they don’t meet the “usability” requirement of being modern. Yet at QuiltCon this year there was an entire category for small quilts–and let’s be honest, NONE of those quilts were usable! They weren’t lap size, or baby size, they were little quilts (many only 1′ square). So I really do hope there is a trend toward embracing modern art quilts as part of the MQG.
    I was SO thrilled that two FMQ quilts won the Best Machine Quilting awards–I hope this is a continued theme for honoring those quilters that spend HOURS and HOURS on the quilting, and that quilting is definitely not traditional!
    In looking up Art Quilts I found this wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quilt_art) that specifically mentions improvisational piecing and Molly Upton–two things the MQG have adopted as their own! But they don’t mention that improv piecing is taken from the art quilting community, they act like it’s this new modern method!
    SAQA defines an art quilt as “a creative visual work that is layered and stitched or that references this form of stitched layered structure.” Doesn’t the MQG also look for “creative visual work that is layered and stitched”?? So I wholeheartedly agree with you that is needs to be a bridge within the MQG to the Art quilting community!!

    1. SonJa says:

      I soooooo agree with your statement on usability! I just dont get it that folks are awarded ribbons and recognition for a one foot sqaure “quilt”….i mean, not to devalue the quilters skill, but really, its tiny! There is no commitment and no comparison to a quilt that can be used for warmth! This has loooooong been a pet peeve of mine in quilting.

      1. I actually think that a tiny art quilt can require huge effort and be exquisite.

  4. Thanks Yvonne for this lovely post. I did not attend QuiltCon so it is wonderful to see quilts posted on Instagram and read about peoples’ experiences and interpretations on blogs and what not. Cheers!

  5. quiltyhabit says:

    Yes to everything you and Renee said!! I’ll be piggybacking this discussion soon about what has seemingly changed since last year.

    The MQG has defined itself, but I think the public is going to decide where it goes next. In my humble opinion, there seem to be a lot more MQG members who DON’T always make quilts that have graphic design as the focus. I see a lot of alternate gridwork out there paired with traditional blocks, rainbow color schemes, precision piecing. Maybe this is just the image I get from browsing lots of quilters on IG.

    I think eventually the definition will widen for those of us who don’t necessarily identify with what’s being showcased right now. There’s certainly enough room for all of us (and YES!!! to art/artistic quilts/more modern FMQ!!! There are so many ways to emphasize a quilts design that DOESN’T include straight lines across a quilt! :)

  6. Jayne Willis says:

    In the end it’s all about your vision, your design, your style. I like to call myself a modern quilter, but have yet to figure out what modern even means. Improv isn’t new, certainly not a MQG discovery! It seemed to be a big trend this year. I was thrilled to see Renee’s quilting receive the ribbon and attention it rightly deserved. It was stunning and the art should have a place in the MQG. Year after year there are more categories added. I can’t judge how these shows are run, I’ve never had a quilt entered. Knowing there are other styles and techniques shown is what excites me. What turns me off…the same old same old!

  7. I’m seeing transparency, improv, and statement quilts in modern quilting, but I would argue that these aren’t new facets. The topic of “modern art” quilts is an intriguing one. After all, if there are three pillars of quilting, and there’s a modern traditionalist category, then it stands to reason that there should be a modern art category. Then again, where does the modern aesthetic stem from, if not modern art? Shouldn’t all modern quilts be modern art quilts? If quilts are worthy of being juried into a show, are they not worthy of monetary value and being shown at an art museum? What separates craft from art anyway? Are all the Quilt Con quilts supposed to stay neatly in the craft category, or are members of the MQG supposed to be viewed as professional artists who make work that is considered art? If a modern work was a painting instead of a quilt, would we only call it modern if it served as a practical wall-covering, and wasn’t considered a piece of art? How many times do painters get asked if they are going to use up all their tubes of paint? If their modern oil painting’s sole purpose is to cover something? Who that painting will be given to since they don’t have much wall-space left in their home? Will they make one for you because you really like it, and are willing to cover the cost of paint and canvas? Furthermore, what is the difference between the traits that MQG accepts as modern and the abstract art category at an IQA show? If quilters expect their work to be valued for more than sentimental reasons, I think we need to see ourselves as artists, and to consider workmanship, as well as design.

    1. Is there anything that could really be “new” at this point, Afton? Even fashion re-invents itself, and while transparency, improv, and statement quilts are far from new, they were a bit more predominant this year in terms of an emerging trend.

      Your observation that modern quilting truly stems from modern art is spot on. And perhaps the MQG feels like it is such an obvious inclusion that that is why they seemingly purposefully exclude art topics? (Or as someone else comments below, it truly could just be opening a can of worms to try to define art.) Some of the ways that the MQG has defined itself definitely imply that they are trying to hold the art world at an arms distance (or further) away, but I believe that hard stand is starting to soften, and lots of these fantastic questions are being asked and explored.

      I think that the umbrella of the MQG is large enough to cover and unify many of us with diverse answers to your questions.

      My musings are that perhaps we will start to see some clarity of message or at least acknowledgement of these questions as the MQG continues to grow.

  8. Shauna says:

    Great write-up, I think it is fun to spot trends, whether you are drawn to them or not. I love all the improv I’ve been seeing lately. Thanks for all you’ve shown about QuiltCon!!!

  9. Such a great concise and thoughtful discussion that pretty much summed up my observations. Thank you for putting thought to word and for including one of my quilts in your selection of examples. It is fun to see it out in the world.

  10. aquilterstable says:

    Very interesting and I agree with your thoughts on the trends. Maybe this one doesn’t need mentioned, as it’s somewhat assumed, but the use of solids and a variety of substrates is definitely more prevelant than a few years ago. Interesting points you made about art quilts and the blurry lines…

  11. Good Morning Yvonne! Oh WOW….I read through your post, read the post from Jess, have read the comments and my mind is just going into overdrive. You know that I am not a modern quilter, per say, I tend to be a more traditional quilter; yet, I also love to try new techniques, applique is one of my favorites, free motion machine embroidery is so much fun to do also, plus so much more. I also really enjoy just browsing and seeing what other quilters/artists are creating.
    Quite a long time ago in my journey with quilting, I came to realize that there are a lot of individuals creating quilts that in my opinion are absolute gorgeous works of art! They range from tiny pieces of scraps to a whole cloth quilt. Some of these pieces range in size from one inch to king sized bed quilts, some take a short time to create while others have taken years. The key issue or point though is not whether I think of them as works of arts but what the people who create them consider them! Then brings in the whole issue of what you, Yvonne and so many others Quilters/Art Quilters, are facing in issues at Quilt Shows.
    Most likely when I began my journey with quilting, I thought about and imagined entering a quilt in a show; but it lost its luster and I am quite content to just create my quilts for myself, friends and as gifts and for the local Project Linus Guild. Even though, I am not facing any of the frustrations that you and so many others are in how your quilts are judged, which categories that they are placed in and why they are placed there; I would like you to know that I support you (especially) and do feel that your spectacular quilts deserve to be honored just like a traditionally pieced quilt. I am most likely starting to repeat myself…so I will close. Thank you for sharing all of this information and helping me to learn even more! Have a fantastic creative day!

    1. I think that it is wonderful and worth celebrating that everyone’s journey is unique. I personally don’t want to focus on issues with quilt shows, but continue to create with passion and reflect on my journey.

      Occasionally I get an opportunity to glimpse the intersection of paths at events like a quilt show, and for me, I was wondering about the similarities of this particular cross-roads. As I mention in a reply below, perhaps trend is not quite the word I am going for, so I will continue to ponder on that thought and see if anything else fits better.

      In terms of frustration, I personally am not experiencing any frustration. If my goal were to make quilts to be on display at quilt shows, then I would take this kind of “analysis” a bit more seriously and get caught up trying to make something specific. Instead, I rather hope that this discussion is more about the commonalities of this point in time and a celebration of our own unique journeys as we continue ahead and explore our creative passions until we can see what we have created over the next year.

  12. shecanquilt says:

    I don’t remember any crappy answers, lunch was great and I hope we can do it again. I have to think on the trends, I certainly saw all the ones you identify, but there maybe some others too, I’m still processing.

  13. Little Black Cat Quilting says:

    I’m going to be popping back in to see what everybody says, but this is a lot of cool stuff to think about. I didn’t go to QuiltCon, but I’ve seen a lot of improv since I started blogging about a year ago and it felt like I was on the coattails of the big bang of low volume that has ebbed back some since. I think rainbow will always be a modern quilting staple. I’m not sure why, it just seems timeless to me. As silly as it sounds, my brain wasn’t really wrapping around the whole transparency idea until seeing the photo on the right that you posted. It’s like my brain completely opened up and figured it out. LOL. Also, thanks for posting the picture of the best quilting winner, I hadn’t seen a really good picture of it yet and I can finally see some details with your pic! :)

  14. knitnkwilt says:

    For a long time I have considered the line between art quilts and modern quilts arbitrary. I’m glad not to be alone. Many quilts from the first Quilt National (may have been the first art quilt show, started in the 70s) would be seen as modern quilts today. There was even one in an early show if not the first, “The Goose is Loose,” by Beth Gutcheon (sp?) that is very like many modern traditional quilts today, taking a traditional pattern and scatteringsome of its parts. (I have googled for images of it, but found only a reference to a book illustration.) And last year two of Heather Praeger’s Tuning Fork quilts were included at QuiltCon, quilts that were classified as art quilts in other contests. Blurry line indeed.

  15. Cindy says:

    An interesting discussion. I like the look of transparency quilts trendy or not. Art quilts are one of my favourites.

  16. And that opens up the whole discussion of what is art. Are not many of the quilts art? But then, we tend to think of art quilts as pictorial, right? Many modern quilts are abstract art, more like the work of Miro, Mondrian and Rothko than Cezanne or van Gogh. :)

    1. It does open that can of worms (what is art), excellent point and great food for thought.

  17. Judy says:

    This is a great discussion post, Yvonne and I’ve read every thoughtful comment and found myself nodding in agreement with most everything. I jumped on the MQG bandwagon with excitement. To say I’ve been disappointed with the stances MQG has taken is putting it mildly. One of the biggest disappointments was seeing the exclusion of FMQing at QuiltCon 2014. When I saw the announcement of the winners for this year and saw Renee’s quilt my mouth literally dropped open and I did a happy dance! I’ve seen that quilt in person and it is a wonder to behold! SO deserving of a win!

    Renee mentioned the ‘usability’ or functional requirement. I had a discussion with a friend about this requirement and her response was “beautiful quilting is functional! It serves to provide pleasure to anyone who uses or views the quilt. So there!” Well said and so true, IMHO. Seeing Renee’s quilt win gives me cautious hope that maybe that trend is turning.

    I could probably comment on all of the points you made but this one is near and dear to my heart as a FMQing freak ;) I do find it interesting that the modern quilt movement has taken many old techniques and claimed them as their own ‘invention’. . . I could write a book on that one! haha Reading your take on the trends was really fascinating. Thank you for taking the time to share and for giving us all an opportunity to discuss!

  18. cauchy09 says:

    Interesting fodder for discussion, Y!

    So, I’m not one to follow trends or even want to think of them that way. Having “statement quilts” (which are art quilts, btw) become a thing to make because some external force tells us to make them is not a good thing. Rather, they should emerge from within and come with knowledge and purpose. Your own series of works reflect the kind of thoughtful approach I appreciate.

    Anyway, I would hope that art quilts made in the modern aesthetic are not a “trend” but just a thing that we have done and will continue to do.

    1. My head was nodding as I read your response. I felt like art quilts were in every category this year. Aren’t the very pictorial and precisely pieced animals done by Violet Craft also art quilts? What about the whole cloth quilts where the design is entirely created from the quilting? And as others mentioned, the small quilts category – is every quilt in that category an art quilt?

      In terms of wanting to follow trend – noting what the current trends are is a way to step away from that. But as you mention, the best of what is done comes from within and demands to be made, so in that sense, I can’t imagine that the work that you create could be a “trend”. I will think more on my wording, there must be a better word for what I was trying to recognize.

      It’s not that I think there needs to be gross simplification or groupings, and perhaps I was stretching and trying too hard. There were some very clear groupings in 2015 and I thought the diversity of the body of work this year was fantastic. Maybe that is all that needed to be said.

      I certainly am not done exploring monochromatic or transparency. I have an affinity for that style of color palettes, and I am wondering if I need to write a book to get it out of my system. But then again, why work it out of my system when playing with color in that way brings me so much joy? It was fun to note others beautiful work that dabbled with the same techniques with different stylistic outcomes.

      And yet. The MQG opens its defining characteristics with a sentence that just seem to not quite ring 100% true: “Modern quilts are primarily functional and inspired by modern design.” With such a fast growing organization, I am just curious if those will be principals that they continue to try to hold to, or if that statement might be softening. Or if those who want to create less “functional” pieces that are not inspired by modern design have been feeling unnecessarily left out of the umbrella of “modern” when in fact that is not the case.

  19. SonJa says:

    Yes, transparency and solids are def trends i have been seeing. Though i belong to a MQG, im not sure i really fall into that category entirely. There are many “modern” quilts (and award winning too) that i do not find…lets just say appealing…or award worthy. I realize we all have our own tastes, but in my opinion, a solid piece f fabric with one or two orts,of other fabric and a bucnh of straight line quilting arent any comparison to a quilt that was thoughtfully pieced and quilted with with imagination. I might be throwing myself under a bus here, but the straightline quilting on all these quilts just doesnt seem creative to me…though they may suit the quilt design well, im not sure they should be award winning. Lets be real, they are straight lines! Folks have been doing that forever! It what they learn first in quilting their own quilts. I guess the saying “what is old becomes new” applies here?
    And the tiny “quilt” thing. Serious trend of folks making littles! While i Understand some folks consider this art and hang on the walls, the level of commitment in a 12inch square piece doesnt seem worthy of awards…to me. Not to say i would suggest a size requirement, but i think a quilt should be more than three or four layers of fabric. I think usable should denote that it can be used for warmth, be it for a crib or a king sized bed…

    1. The predominance of straight line quilting was less in evidence this year at QuiltCon. I, personally, have a love for straight line quilting. Sometimes it is just the ticket – a bit of matchstick quilting can set my heart affluter. But some intricate FMQing can also be fabulous, and recognizing that flowy, FMQing can be modern is exciting to me.

      As far as requiring a show quilt to be a usable size, I actually differ on that opinion. And that is what I am saying: the MQG actually calls out that “Modern quilts are primarily functional and inspired by modern design.” I think that the MQG softening that and allowing modern art quilts to be displayed is a good thing.

      While not functional, these quilts that I made were made with passion and skill, and I am glad to have made them.

  20. Shasta says:

    I didn’t get to see the show, because it is too far away for me. I don’t know really how much value I can add to this discussion, since I tend to not fit in any category. Not modern enough to be a modern quilter, not liberated enough to be a liberated quilter, not artsy enough to be an art quilter, not traditional enough to be a traditional quilter, etc. I do think you should keep in mind that since the show was curated, you may not get a full picture of all of the trends and especially of the preponderance of the trends. Maybe lots of quilts used a certain type of technique or pattern, but they weren’t shown because that type had already been sufficiently represented.

  21. Lisa says:

    There have been a couple of improv books out there at the moment and I think they are influencing things …and also the fluid lines of the binding quilts (but not so much) I wasn’t at quilt con so my comments are just from what I see around on the internet and in bookstores etc.

    1. Lisa says:

      Hi again Yvonne: I mean’t bias tape not binding.

  22. Christa says:

    Great discussion! From what I can tell “functionality” basically means lack of embellishment rather than size; in other words, quilts that are embellished with buttons, crystals etc. would more likely fall into the art category, and abstract artistic designs that are flat and smooth would more likely fall into the modern category. Again, this is just what I have observed.

    1. Great observation and thanks for adding to the discussion. I am definitely curious about the “functionality” aspect of the definition, and if your observation is what is meant, that clarifies a lot for me.

      1. Renee says:

        Then the MQG should define the word more clearly–especially since there are so many of us that assume that a functional quilt means one that is made to be used for warmth.

  23. RuthB says:

    Interesting point about the embellishment – sadly the quilting is not always easy to see from photos and far better to be there in person but I am interested in a discussion on quilting modern quilts. Colour trends like the colour of the year have been big online – did that aspect make it through to the exhibited quilts?

  24. Jasmine says:

    So interesting. I like to see quilts used, whether cuddled or displayed. Don’t both count as functions?

  25. Sally says:

    Lots of interesting discussion. I hadn’t really considered quilting as having ‘trends’, but clearly from the points you make there are to some extent. As someone who is completely disinterested in trying to follow trends in any area of life, I’m wondering how trends appear and change in something like quilting. Is it down to a few very influential people working on particular aspects in a prominent way, either in books/magazines or online, and so kind of spontaneously inspiring a wider audience to try out their ideas/techniques/styles? Or is it more conscious, almost contrived, in some way – maybe by magazines etc responding to other areas of fashion/art or perhaps by actual quilters trying to work out what will do well in shows?

  26. Maga says:

    I find it surprising that nobody seems to think that a 1 foot quilt can be utilitarian or functional. I have made lots of those and they adorn many a cat/small dog baskets and changing ones cover the stain that resulted from water finding its way through the bottom of a vase onto my dining table that I didn’t see until the flowers had faded. They can also be used to keep the dust off the printer or as individual picnic blankets. As the whole definition of modern quilts I have thrown in the towel. I make quilts for fun and whatever category they fall into I don’t care any more.

  27. MoniqueB says:

    I wasn’t at Quiltcon but just in general what I’m seeing more and more of is extremely angular designs. Lots of pointy, sharp, triangles and straight line quilting. I don’t know if I didn’t notice how prevalent they were or if they are becoming more so but I am noticing them so much more lately.

  28. springleafstudios says:

    I find all posts about modern quilting interesting. The longer I’m in the modern movement the harder I think it is to define. I find myself straddling the fence with my work. Not always modern but not really traditional either. I really like your thoughts about the modern art category. Many QuiltCon quilts are definitely art quilts so why not have that category? The functional definition has always bothered me in that many quilts I make are for the wall . . . that is their function. But somehow I’ve always felt that didn’t fit the MQG’s meaning of function . . . something to wash and handle. I just keep reminding myself to not get hung up on the labels. I heard that solids were especially dominant at QuiltCon this year. Was that the case? It would seem so when looking over the winners. Of course solids always play a big part in the modern quilting but I as a lover of prints I’d like to see them better represented and accepted. Thanks for the engaging conversation. One of these days I’ll articulate my own feelings better in a blog post.

I really appreciate the time and thought you take to comment, and I look forward to conversing with you. :)