Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Modernizing the Crap out of Quilting

Modern. It's the buzz word of the decade. I challenge you to enter any LQS around the country and not be boinked on the head with the word at least 15 times in the course of your visit, be it from the cover of patterns, the description of fabric lines, or even the cool haircut on the owner, which can be counted if you are struggling to find 15, but I doubt you will.

It's outside of the quilting world, too, with Target showing us "Fresh, Modern" palettes in everything from their towels to drink cups. As if the year 2013 invented the color orange, thereby making it "modern."

It's even at antique shops, where "upcycling" has become the way to "modernize" everything from barn doors to yellowed books to glass jars. I've even done a little upcycling myself, as evidenced by my-library-card-catalog-turned-quilting-tools-holder.

File that under "C" for "Things that can Cut you badly."

A lot of it I really love, but I shudder when I see people painting a gorgeous piece of furniture from 1862 and then "distressing" it for that "modern" feel (Begging the question - is distressed the way we are all supposed to feel in 2013?); having once stained an early 1800s desk the wrong color only to be told by an appraiser I had just "ruined all of its value," I can't even go there in my mind.


With that said, if you are just arriving to check out my blog today during a break from painting your grandmother's china hutch teal.....um.....welcome! It's no secret that I don't keep my feelings to myself, but I always respect the rights of everyone to do as they see fit in life even if I couldn't do it myself, and a teal china cabinet is no exception. You know without a doubt I applaud the color choice in any case. But overall, let's be honest, I'm over this modern thing.


A couple of weeks ago designer Ebony Love went on a tear in the quilting world, calling out designers for putting out stuff that is less than stellar in the names of money, fame, fortune, and deadlines in a blog post called "The Dumbing Down of the Quilting and Sewing Industry". She'd had it up to here with poorly constructed quilts and patterns that in her mind were not worthy of industry standards, and she had no problem telling it like she saw it. My only issue with what she said was briefly worrying that she was about to kill off my "Perfection is Overrated" lecture, but since I've had a few inquiries over the past week I guess we're good, and I am confident we are both on the same page when it comes to imperfect vs a big old mess. What has made me crazy about our industry and the "Modern" movement over the last few years is along the same lines, so with Ebony having blazed the trail, I'm feeling free to share my opinions. Not that it usually takes someone else to blaze that trail, mind you. (I've linked her blog post to her name, and I encourage you to read it at your leisure.)


Modern quilting: "Many people describe it as breaking-the-rules quilting, reflecting the personality and individual style of the quiltmaker. .......... quilts which may differ from traditional quilting through new approaches to fabric combinations, piecing, construction methods, and motif quilting."

Okay. Um, hello. I've been breaking the rules and making up new piecing techniques since 2005. And not ONE person cared enough to realize I was a modern quilter when modern quilting wasn't cool. Heck, I didn't even know it! Woo hoo! I'm ahead of my time! I bet by that definition just about every one of us is a "modern" quilter. But I bet if you are to ask Susie Q. Hottie, average American quilting hottie, what she thinks of as modern, she might also add negative space, squares, circles, and and heavy machine quilting. All of which, don't get me wrong, are great elements in a design and I love them individually and together. A quick search on Pinterest for modern quilts is going to give you every one of those things in spades. (Well, actually, spades is one shape I DIDN'T see in that search, but if you find one let me know.)

But here's the thing: How many times can we as the quilting community get excited about one more quilt featuring - wait for it - squares and rectangles surrounded by white or gray? How many more times are we going to accept a design in a magazine that is basically a log cabin done in "modern" fabrics? Or ooh and ahhh over a quilt that is mostly negative space with one crazy star or hexi strategically placed? Or clamour to buy a pattern by a well known designer that we could have figured out on our own because it really is just a nine patch or churn dash or any other public domain block featuring their new fabric line?

Before anyone thinks this is sour grapes on my part because I've apparently been modern for forever and am not raking in the fame over it, consider this:


It's baaaaa-aaaack.
I have repeatedly referred to this thing as "The stupidest quilt I have ever created" and I mean that wholeheartedly. It is fourteen strips of fabric sewn together, with a "modern" border made of squares. I put the top together in 4 hours while blind in one eye from a contact lens solution incident, proving that it takes literally NO talent or special skill to make, vision even being optional. It ended up on the cover of a major magazine, has been kitted by shops, has been a mystery class at least once, is the pattern more Susie Q. Hotties contact me to tell me they have made than any other, and has forced a spin off pattern which is my #2 best seller, all because it is "modern."

I love that this pattern has made people so happy. It makes me happy, too, because it is pretty and sweet and is accessible to every quilter no matter how newbie or advanced they may be. I love that it put me on the map a bit in this industry. And as much as I want to be able to just bask in that, I can't get beyond the fact that it is a ridiculous pattern, and one that I believe is popular only because of that "modern" element. And that feels a little bit like selling out, and that makes me die a little inside.

I've never been one to design for the masses; I design what I love and if the pattern catches on, I'm thrilled. I truly believe that there is a place in our industry for all kinds of designs, and as fun as it is to catch a wave of a fad like this quilt did for me, from here on out, I renew my vow to design from the heart, not from the whims of the industry, as I truly believe my designs are better when they are more me and less trend, and I hope a few of you might agree. I can't expect the rest of the industry to follow, but I know I will feel better about what I am putting out there.

I'm going to call it my "Post Modern" era.








11 comments:

Kaelyn Angelfoot said...

Here here! I just recently got back into quilting after having flirted with it in high school... and I agree with everything you said! Simplistic and classy designs have their place, but I think there is too much emphasis on dumbing down this art form.

Kelli said...

You're being so vague, can you tell me how you really feel? hehe :o) I agree with you.. Quilting has always been cool and in some ways always been modern. I giggle to myself when I think about my g-ma and gg-ma using large chunks of fabric to piece a backing out of necessity, and today it is considered very modern. If they only knew how ahead of their time they were.. ;)

Mair said...

I agree. I had a conversation about this with a shop owner a month or so ago. A lot of those "modern" quilts look to me to be very similar to the quilts that were done at Gee's Bend in the 40's and 50's. Should they just be called something like "homage to mid-century"? I tend to think it's a generational thing, but I hate to say that aloud because it makes me sound really old.

Anonymous said...

Actually, your library card catalogue drawer is from a treadle sewing machine... I think that this modern movement is a fad like any other - pity no one thought to choose a decent name for it - but since it is getting new people into quilting it is a good thing. Eventually people will get less satisfaction from such quick and simple quilts and want to start making quilts that take more time and talent. What can you do with all those quilts if you are making one a week?
Dorothy in Oz

Quilting Babcia said...

You didn't ask (and you'll soon know why) but if I hear that oxymoron 'negative space' one more time I think I'll scream!!
If it's negative space, there's nothing there, but if there's fabric in that spot, no matter if it's striped, plaid, print or solid, "something" is there and - well, you know the rest of the rant. And the stupid robot patrol is now telling me to type nticpul Queen to get out of this box, which proves nothing at all. Great post BTW!

Nita said...

First, let me say that I am in full agreement with you in everything you said. And second, when I got back into quilting several years ago, I was thrilled to see how the next generation has embraced it. All the mommy bloggers are now also quilting and blogging about it, and writing books and patterns. Perhaps there is a collective meed to claim it by naming it " modern". Sort of like when my son "discovered" Queen several years ago and did not want to hear anything about how I had listened to them as a teenager myself.

Kaelyn Angelfoot said...

Another thought, based on Anon's post... there is a lot of pressure to put out a high number of quilts in a small time frame. Sometimes I feel like it takes me way too long to make a quilt and I don't think the Modern Quilt movement is encouraging quilters to take their time and learn new techniques. Like everything else these days, its about how fast you can produce.

heartsease54 said...

Great post.

tich said...

Well said! Give us more!!

momajo said...

I keep looking at magazines to find something that triggers a reaction( the urge to quilt) Its ho hum dum de dum. I did notice that I passed over a good idea to use in a quilt because it was- ho hum. Their idea was really a whizzing one, but after it was toned down for the "do not disturb" decorating set, you all most missed the inspirational!

cyndiofthevortex said...

Whew! I'm not the only one feeling put off a bit by all the "modern" stuff! What will it all be called in 20 years, I wonder?

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