Column #75

The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up

The Big Log Quilt by Latifah Saafir
The Big Log Quilt by Latifah Saafir

Picture Day by Elizabeth Hartman
Picture Day by Elizabeth Hartman

Modern Stripes by Alissa Haight Carlton
Modern Stripes by Alissa Haight Carlton

Orange Crush by Jacquie Gering
Orange Crush by Jacquie Gering

To “ramp up” means to cause the level or intensity of something to increase rapidly, and it is a term that is commonly used when discussing computer technology.

As such, it seems an appropriate choice to describe a relatively recent phenomenon in the quilting world that had its origins on the Internet and likely would not exist without blogging and social media: the Modern Quilt Guild.

The first “branch” of the Modern Quilt Guild was formed in Los Angeles, California in October of 2009 by Alissa Haight Carlton and Latifah Saafir. Fueled by the immediacy of Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and other social media sites and the virtual sharing of information and interests through blogging, that first branch quickly sprouted into a whole tree’s worth of like-minded groups.

There are now over 160 Modern Quilt Guilds all over the world, everywhere from Hurricane, West Virginia to Auckland, New Zealand, just to name a couple, and more are being started all the time. It has, to again borrow a digital-age term, gone viral.

The Modern Quilt Guild was inspired by quilt artists such as Denyse Schmidt, who in the mid-1990s began interpreting traditional quilt designs with a sensibility based on Modernism, a 19th-century movement that strongly influenced architecture, painting, sculpture, furniture, and photography with emphasis on clean lines, flat planes, and bold colors.

Husband-and-wife team Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle were also early proponents of what has come to be known as the modern quilt movement. They now publish a magazine dedicated to the style, Modern Quilts Illustrated.
And just what distinguishes modern quilts and quilters from their traditional or art quilt cousins? The Modern Quilt Guild website provides a list of defining characteristics, saying that modern quilts and quilters:

  • Make primarily functional rather than decorative quilts
  • Use asymmetry in quilt design
  • Rely less on repetition and on the interaction of quilt block motifs
  • Contain reinterpreted traditional blocks
  • Embrace simplicity and minimalism
  • Utilize alternative block structures or lack of visible block structure
  • Incorporate increased use of negative space
  • Are inspired by modern art and architecture
  • Frequently use improvisational piecing
  • Contain bold colors, on trend color combinations and graphic prints
  • Often use gray and white as neutrals
  • Reflect an increased use of solid fabrics
  • Focus on finishing quilts on home sewing machines

Alissa Haight Carlton, who, when she’s not quilting, works as a casting director for television shows such as “Project Runway,” is slightly ambivalent about the “modern” tagline.

“Modern is a tough word, because some of the characteristics that make up a modern quilt have been around for a really long time,” she says. “But it’s just a term that has been used to describe this particular design aesthetic, because modern quilts do contain so many elements from Modernism.”

Haight Carlton, who is completely self-taught from books and, appropriately enough, the Internet, remembers the first time she saw an image of one of Denyse Schmidt’s quilts: “I was doing a lot of knitting and posting photos of my pieces on Flickr when I came across one of her quilts. It changed my perception of what a quilt could be, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, a quilt can be like that!’ It was definitely an ‘a-ha’ moment for me.

“Soon after that I started my blog, and I realized that there was a whole community out there that was as excited by this aesthetic as I was,” she continues. “We were all connected online, and it finally got to the point where we were having so much fun talking about our projects that we decided it would be fun to meet up face-to-face. We had 20 people show up at the first meeting of the Los Angeles Modern Quilt Guild, and it just snowballed from there.”

The French have a saying that translates as, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Modern quilters differentiate themselves, but it seems clear that they embrace the artform with as much delight as do traditional quilters and art quilters. They may come at it from a different perspective and with a decidedly more technological approach to information sharing, but the pleasure of shared community and a love of creating quilts places them squarely along a continuum that has existed for centuries—one so old, it’s new again.

The Modern Quilt Guild is a registered non-profit corporation with the intention of serving as a sort of mother ship for all the branches. Haight Carlton is president of the group and she, along with the Board of Directors, is working on a structure to provide basic direction to the member guilds. The organization’s first international conference and show, dubbed QuiltCon, will be held February 21-24, 2013 in Austin, Texas. It will feature cash prizes from corporate sponsors, vendors, and workshops from Weeks and Kerr and other notable modern quilters. Denyse Schmidt will be the keynote speaker. For more information, contact


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Archived blogs:

Column 149: Rosie’s Redwork
Column 148: The Quilt of Belonging
Column 147: Kanthas—The Quilts of Bangladesh
Column 146: Patterns
Column 145: Suzy on Carolyn Mazloomi's Groundbreaking Quilt Exhibit
Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

See other archived columns here

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