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