The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
The Rise of The Moderns
Last month, I had the pleasure of teaching two full days of workshops (go, go partial seams!) and delivering to a sold-out crowd my latest lecture “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: A Brief History of the American Quilt.”
Don’t tell the folks at the Modern Quilt Guild (MQG), but I do not make what anyone would consider modern quilts. My quilts fall squarely into the “contemporary” category, but the MQG people let me hang around with them anyway, I think, because I’m a huge fan of modern quilts and the people who make them.
Made In GDR 26, by Emily Doane. Photo: Mary FonsIn fact, it’s true that I have been a champion of the whole modern quilt “thing” since it began in roughly 2008, even as I made more traditional-looking quilts. I instantly loved the colors in the modern quilt palette: sagebrush, mango, citron, every shade of grey that ever was, etc. I loved the shapes: big, round circles, the mighty (mini) hexagon, the “wonky” strip set, etc.
And I loved the modern quilters’ fresh attitude, and I mean that in both senses. These quilters had a lively, unorthodox, “fresh” approach to quiltmaking, and that was exciting; they were on fire with ideas. But I mean that I appreciated their “fresh attitude” in the other sense, as well. The “Moderns” were also…well, kind of
bratty, sometimes. They got fresh with the veteran quilters from time to time,
mostly when they felt misunderstood or had to defend their aesthetic.
And while it’s not good to be prickly, it is good to be provocative. What’s more, if an art
form doesn’t have a little controversy from time to time, the form is dead. If quilters are fighting over what a quilt is and what it ought to look like, the quilt (as an icon of American creativity, as an art form) is alive and well. It’s when we stop talking about it at all that
we’ve got problems.
But the reason I bring all this up now is that I come bearing news from QuiltCon.
Geared Up (detail), designed and quilted by Jacquie Gering.
Pieced with Jacquie Gering, Esther Sobering, and Courtney Smith.
The modern quilt is not just alive and well. The modern quilt is a juggernaut in the continuing history of the American quilt. The quilts are getting more intricate. They are showing (and celebrating) their roots. The makers are taking more risks, taking on more difficult tasks, and in general, the quilts I saw at QuiltCon showed the existence of a new kind of modern quilt super breed: modern, well-crafted, and plainly timeless.
Let’s say you work at a job for 20 years. Think of your first day on that job. Think of your first, even your second year. Compare the level of expertise you had in those early days — and all the mistakes you made — to the level of competency you had in year twenty. Or, consider parents who have their first child; how differently they approach raising their third, armed with so much experience! As we go along in our lives and in our pursuits, if we are committed and keep striving, we get better at doing it. We might even get really, really good.
Kintsugi IV: Crown Of Thorns by Alexis Deise.When it comes to modern quilts, the days of the simple chevron quilt are over. Sure, those basic modern quilts will continue to be made—the rainbow chevron quilt with the solid white background is today’s basic nine-patch—but the serious modern quiltmaking girls (and guys) aren’t in grammar school anymore. QuiltCon East 2017 showed us that the quilts of the modern movement, now, almost ten years in, are growing up. Fast.
To see more of what I’m talking about, including the astonishingly beautiful Best In Show quilt, Bling, by Katherine Jones, check out all the winners here.