Monday, February 22, 2016

18 Surprises from Modern Quilts: Gaping and Shopping at QuiltCon 2016

Are you into Modern quilting? It's a new movement with roots in 20th century modern abstract art; in African-American quilting (especially Gee's Bend), and in art quilting.

Just because a quilt was made recently doesn't mean it's Modern-with-a-capital-M. Modern quilts often have one or more of the following traits:
  •  A sparse appliqué or pieced design
  •  Dense quilting, often in straight lines, usually by machine
  •  Abstraction
  •  Solid fabrics, and/or trendy prints, often large-scale prints
  •  Low contrast
  •  Lots of neutrals: greys, whites, beiges, etc.
  •  Improvisational
  •  Assymetrical
  • Conceptual. A Modern quilt can be much more than the sum of its (relatively few) parts. 
  • None of the above! 
Yes, some Modern quilts break most or all of the preceeding "rules". It was fascinating to see the  assortment last weekend at The Modern Quilt Guild's annual show, QuiltCon West, 2016, in Pasadena, California.

My friend Saraj joined me for the show, flying down from Northern California. We gawked and shopped for two days, knocking ourselves out. Here are some of the delightful surpises we encountered, from the juried show and the vendor booths.

1. The movement is hugeSince the founding of the Modern Quilt Guild (MQG) in 2009, the Guild has grown to 10,000 members!


2. The enthusiasts are diverse 
- The show was thronged with people of all ages, from tattooed young women with piercings and assymetric haircuts, to new mothers (and fathers) pushing newborns in strollers, to not-visibly-tattooed mature women with symmetrical coiffures (such as moi). The mix of ages (and hair) created a fantastic vibe.

3. There are Modern groups around the world -
 The show featured dozens of twin-size group challenge quilts, made by MQG chapters not just from the US, but also Australia, Brazil, Canada, even South Africa. There are more than 150 MQG member guilds!  Here's a locator. Learn more movement history here.  Below is the Pittsburgh guild's submission:
(Read about it here.)
Next,  Calgary's  teepee-themed quilt, with its makers before quilting...
Below, how it appeared at the show.
Read about the Calgary quilt here.
The Seattle Modern Quilt Guild's entry was a jawdropper:

4. The winners were unexpected. The show's prizewinners are on this page. The grand prize winner was a quiet, mostly white, quilt with a few small cross-shaped patches made from torn  denim jeans. It was a memorial by quilter Melissa Avirinos to her tragically deceased brother.
Below is the machine quilting-category winner: Molli Sparkles and Jane Davidson's "No Value Does Not Equal Free."
Yup. That's it. It's pieced from 36 different white squares. It's a pun and a comment on how much it costs to make a quilt, even a quilt with no value differentiation.  The "no value" title is heavily quilted into the background. Molli explains the quilt's meaning, shows a cost worksheet, and offers construction details on this page.

5. One big concept is empowerment.  When I walk around art or traditional quilt shows, I often find myself thinking, "I should retire from quilting right now, because I could never make something that incredible!" Have you ever felt that way? I thought so. By comparison, many Modern quilts seem...well.. doable! No wonder young women are drawn to them! If you're 6 months pregnant and start on a Modern baby quilt today, you will probably finish before your baby hits kindergarten. Here's an elegant, almost-hexagonal "Bullseye" quilt by quilter Vicki Reubel:
The bullseye actually has 7 sides! When you look closer at the quilting, you see it's not so simple. Check out the closeup here. If you're making a baby quilt, you could use the same basic idea - one giant shape - and vastly simplify the quilting. 

On the other hand, another hexagon-themed quilt at the show defied most of the rules at the top of this post. It's in a category of it's own! The quilt was made by Wanda Dotson, a wonderful quilter who blogs here
6. Gwen Marston is a rock star. Read about Gwen's impact here, She coined the term "Liberated Quiltmaking," which is in the title of her two collectible books. It was a huge thrill to come across Gwen in her exhibit area. Following her around the room were mobs of starstruck quilter/paparazzi, snapping pictures and calling"Gwen! Gwen! Smile! Gwen! Stand here! Stand there!" I didn't know what to stare at first - Gwen-in-the-flesh, or her iconic quilts, which I have spent so many hours over so many years staring at in books and online. Here's a bit of both:
I couldn't resist thanking her for sharing her work and ideas with the world.

7. Speaking of strong women - We found Hillary. Not campaigning at the show; Ms. Clinton was depicted in the "Hillary Quilton" by Diana Vandeyar (mentioned in Saturday's LA Times, here.). Here's the quilt with Saraj, who is a marathon runner (so, like Hillary, she also has mega-tenacity).
(I didn't see any other quilts about any of the other Presidential candidates.)
8. Music Inspires Modern - Moda Fabrics had this stunning David Bowie quilt in their booth. It was made by Holly of This is what I Do.  (The link has a much better picture of it.) 
Stacie Dolan from Massachusetts made the next whole-cloth machine-stitched quilt, a tribute to Prince. It's densely machine-quilted with text.
9. There were powerful social and political statements. The LA Times coverage also discusses the next two quilts, and other statement Modern quilts. Read the article here. The first one was made by Chawne Kimber.
The second one is made by Karen Maple.
(Yes, the word "black" is backwards in this thought-provoking quilt.)
10. Speaking of text, there was a fair amount. Here's another of my show favorites, also made by Chawne Kimber. This quilt defies many of the norms of Modern quilting. It's high-contrast, high-value, colorful, crowded, and mostly symmetrical:

The caption along the bottom reads,"In essence, I am a sophisticated cotton picker." What a great use of text, a terrific sense of humor, and a bitterly ironic allusion to African-American history, and the history of the cotton industry. In short, it's brilliant.

11. No BeDazzlers! - Modern quilters don't do a lot of embellishment. I didn't see ANY beads, buttons, hot rhinestones, nuthin', not on the quilts, and not in the vendor's booths.

12. Sew many zippers! - Modern quilters must be making a lot of handbags. We saw purse zippers galore in the vendors' booths, but not on quilts. The zippers came in all shades of the rainbow, especially neons. I was particularly struck by the designer zippers at Micasroom.com including lace zippers, print zippers, and fascinating zippers in which the interlocking "teeth" are giant colorful spheres.

13. Similarly, batiks - Many vendors sold batiks, but I don't recall seeing many/any in the show quilts.

14. Abundant kooky animal prints - Saraj found this groovy badger fabric, in several colorways. There were also vintagey polar bears that I should have purchased.
Not to mention Octopii. The universe twisted my arm until I bought a yard of this Charley Harper organic fabric (It had better be organic, because it cost $16.50 a yard. Ouch! That price was not unusual at this show.)
[Update, 3/3/16: I made a handbag out of it:
]
15.  Similarly, Japanese fabrics - Scads of vendors sold Japanese fabric, from traditional to artsy. There were also Japanese purse patterns; notions, sashiko threads, mysterious marking pens whose packaging I could not read, etc. But I didn't notice any show quilts with Japanese motifs. Saraj bought  more than enough Japanese fabric to cover my sewing room floor. Here are a few of her selections:
I loved these traditional-motifs-plus-animé-cats fabric: 
16. Moda makes a fabric with fake selvages -OK, you have to be a stitcher to find the following hilarious. In one of the vendor booths, I spotted this bolt. It's got all the same stuff you see on selvages, but blown up and all over. Modern quilters enjoy making things out of selvages. (See my selvage-and-denim pillows here). With this fabric, we can make bigger things. 
17. Robert Kaufman's color of the year is, you're kidding - This yellow is their Kona color of 2016. Their booth was entirely decorated in this shade of yellow, which was challenging to gaze at for more than a few seconds.
I resisted buying a pack. However, it often happens to me in my quilting journey that I start out loathing a new trend, and then become obsessed with it. So I won't be entirely surprised if I find myself making a Modern quilt in this color. any minute now!

18. The quilts of Molly Upton - Molly was a fiber artist who lived from 1953 to 1977. She worked with garment and home decor fabrics - velvet, corduroys, polyesters, stuff that quilters today would sniff at. Upton turned dross into gold, creating innovative pieces that foreshadowed the art and modern quilt movements by four decades. Learn more here, (underneath the info about Gwen), Below is one of her category-busting pieces from the show. It's sort of  a cross between Chagall and Ann Brauer. Here's a wonderful appreciation of her work.

So that's my report from the front lines of the Modern movement. Did you go to QuiltCon? What surprised you? Have you made a Modern quilt? Are they growing on you?

UPDATE: Part II of this post is at http://gefiltequilt.blogspot.com/2016/02/quiltcon-2016-20-more-pieces-of-modern.html.

UPDATE, 2/25/16: A deep look, with behind-the-scenes stories, from Quiltcon is at Sewingreport.com:  http://www.sewingreport.com/2016/02/quiltcon-beyond-the-obvious/.
UPDATE: 2/27/16: Fabulous shopping at the show: http://catherineredford.com/what-i-brought-home-from-quiltcon/?utm_source=wir&utm_campaign=qd-brc-wir-160227&utm_content=823633_QR160227&utm_medium=email. 

38 comments:

  1. Kathy this is a wonderful article...although I am not into the movement I can admire the work and your delicious prose.

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  2. Thanks for the write up! It was great.

    I met Ann Brauer at the American Craft Council show last weekend!

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    1. You are so lucky, Joni! I would love to meet her and see her pieces in person.

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  3. Cathy,
    As I was reading your maybe description of MQs I was impressed with how well you summed it up and then I read your last descriptor and laughed my you know what off. Last years Quiltcon,so changed my mind about modern quilts. They showed me they were an art form unto themselves. Thx for posting.

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    1. Cheryl, that's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me! Thanks for enjoying it!

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  4. Thank you for the great report Cathy! And for posting the picture of the David Bowie quilt! (too many great artists have passed away in these first two months of 2016!!!) May I post the link to your blog post to my local Modern Quilt Guild? I know they would enjoy it as well!
    And while I still consider myself more of an art quilter, I was already influenced by a more modern aesthetic. Even though I don't tend to make utilitarian quilts, they've welcomed me to the fold. :) And they let me keep my batiks and hand-dyes! *grins*
    I enjoy reading your posts on Quiltart and your blogs. You have a wonderful and joyous outlook on life. :)

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    1. Ruth, thank you for the lovely comment. I wish I'd gotten close enough to the David Bowie quilt to get the name of the maker and the story behind it. Yes, of course you can share the post with your local guild! And it's very compassionate of them to let you keep your batiks and hand-dyes! If they ever prohibit them, just send them on to me! ;)!

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  5. The Quiltmaker's in number 10 is Chawne Timbe. https://cauchycomplete.wordpress.com/

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    2. Thanks, Sue. I just found that Chawne's last name is Kimber. You're close! I made the corrections.

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  6. Cathy,
    Thanks for sharing your experience. I especially enjoyed the fake selvage bolt. And yes, it does grow on you.
    Hug,
    Shulamit

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    1. I wasn't really tempted to buy yardage of the fake selvage fabric, since I have so many authentic selvages....but anything could happen on my computer at midnight. I could suddenly need to buy the fake selvages, along with the awful yellow-of-the-year! Thanks Shulamit!

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  7. Thank you for taking me this show!!

    Kay

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    1. You are welcome, Kay! Thanks for stopping in! I'm working on a new masterpiece with the green nuclear fabric you gave me. It's perfect!

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  8. Cathy - Enjoyed reading your report. Wish I could have been there. Looked like everyone had a good time! FYI Molli Sparkles is a guy. I don't know his real name but Molli is his IG name. The I am a sophisticated cotton picker quilt was made by the same gal that made I can't breathe. Her IG name is @cauchycomplete I believe.

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    2. Thanks so much, Jill. I corrected the pronoun. And you're right about the cotton picker quilt. It's by Chawne Kimber, at https://cauchycomplete.wordpress.com. Thanks so much for your help!

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  9. Chawne Kimber is the artist who made the "I can't breathe" quilt that was in the LA Times article. She also made the "'..sophisticated cotton picker" quilt. The phrase is attributed ti Eartha Kitt. I'm sure there's more information on her blog, completelycauchy.

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    1. Thank you so much, Tracy, that's very helpful! I'll correct accordingly.

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  10. Thanks. I'm too tired to enjoy it all tonight. I'll have to come back tomorrow.

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  11. Thanks! Savannah? Next? Here we come!

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  12. Thanks for a great post on QuiltCon. Chawne Kimber does incredible work. Definitely visit her site and see the rest (somebody already posted the link).

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  13. Cathy, You never disappoint. Concise and interesting summary of your experience. I enjoyed your time. ;) Thank you!

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  14. Great review of the show, wish I could have seen it. Thanks for sharing.

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  15. The more time passes since Molly Upton was lost to us, the more intense her work becomes.

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    1. I had never heard of her, Sue. Intense is the right word.

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  16. Great recap for those of us who couldn't make it. You are the first who even mentioned the vendors.

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    1. I hate to admit that we spent a lot more time in the vendor booths than looking at the show!

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  17. Finally got around to reading your terrific analysis of the Modern trends and what you saw at QuiltCon this year. Next year, I'll be in Savannah, so I would love to see you there, Cathy. Thanks for this post, I really enjoyed it.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Rayna. You are one of the pioneers of this movement, too! I would be thrilled to meet you at any quilt show!

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  18. I love looking at Modern quilts even thought I am not a modern quilter. I like symmetry and applique too much. :)
    The Pittsburgh guild entry is amazing, and I like Molli's too - both for its message and because it is something I can imagine living with in my house, unlike Kona's colour of the year!

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  19. Since I haven't been to any of these recent shows, I was looking for information about it, and I have to say this is the best write-up I have seen. It includes images I haven't seen and lots of insights about the trends.

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    1. Glad you liked it, Shasta. Part II is at http://gefiltequilt.blogspot.com/2016/02/quiltcon-2016-20-more-pieces-of-modern.html.

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  20. Hi! I'm with the Pittsburgh MQG. Thanks so much for the kind words about our bridge quilt! I have so enjoyed stumbling across it all over the internet. :) Also, the maker of the hexies quilt is Wanda Dotson. She can be found on Instagram as wandaslifesampler.

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    1. Amanda, that bridge quilt is mind-bogglingly great! Just stunning. And thanks for the credit on the hexie quilt - I will update the post! Keep up the amazing work! Can't wait to see what your group creates next!

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