Monday, August 8, 2011

Modern quilting -- the big internet hoohah

After I wrote a few posts recently about Modern Quilting, one of my friends tipped me off to an article in the current Quilter's Newsletter Magazine, which I had not seen, on the same subject.  And she said, "If you do read it, I hope to read a discussion about it on your blog."

Not wanting to disappoint, I will do as she asked.

The QNM article, by Mary Kate Karr-Petras, grapples with some of the same issues I've been writing about -- how to define Modern Quilting, and why it is so popular among younger people.  She points to fabric choice as the key difference between Modern Quilters and Non-Modern Quilters -- "In contrast to reproductions and country-inspired calicoes popular through the 1990s, modern quilters gravitate to large-scale, home decor-inspired prints..."

And she identifies the internet as the "most important venue" of Modern Quilting, with bloggers and photo-sharing sites allowing people to make friends and be influenced by trends.  Only after some years of such online activity did Modern Quilters start to organize physical meetings and guilds, but there are now more than 100 chapters of the Modern Quilt Guild.

Karr-Petras alerts us to a big hoohah that occurred this spring when a blogger, Sandi Walton, posted a rant about Modern Quilting.  Walton was peeved because another blog said pinwheel blocks were challenging for intermediate to advanced quilters.  Walton begged to differ, they were actually quite simple.  But she intemperately titled her post "The dumbing-down of quilting," which predictably offended many people who did not bother to read the post, and some who did read it.

I am fascinated by the whole Modern Quilting movement, which I confess I didn't even know existed until a few weeks ago, and by the hoohah that got so many people hot under the collar.  I'm happy that apparently there are thousands of new, younger quilters out there becoming as enthralled by the magic of quilts as many of us old ladies have been for years.  I'm happy that so many entrepreneurs have found niches in this market, selling books, patterns, fabric and stuff to the new folks -- because money oils the wheels that also bring things to Unmodern Quilters like me.  But I too hope that the movement isn't dumbing down the pastime I love so much.

I was struck by some of the comments that were left on Walton's blog, because they seem to reinforce what I suspected already: that a lot of Modern Quilting boils down to We Don't Want to Hang Out With Old Ladies.  And from the evidence, I can't say I blame them.

Let me quote some of them:

Melinda:  "As someone who is new to the sewing community I find the quilting community very unfriendly to newbies. I sew for fun, not for the competition of it. I don’t care to be chided into developing new skills."

Kaye:  "We get snubbed all the time both on the internet and (most especially) in the "real world" ... Many of us are forming guilds so that we can have those relationships locally too, but unfortunately it isn't easy, especially when people are looking down their noses at you."

Amy:  "Someday I'll go to a class, or a quilt retreat, and maybe someday I'll have the time to shop for fabric without a grouchy sales lady rolling her eyes at my toddler.  But now I'm busy with more important things, and I love the simple quilts and the pretty pictures."

Wendy:  "What gets aggravating is going into my local quilt shop for some advice or help and getting sneered at because I'm doing the 'simple' blocks.  Yes, I'm doing 'simple' blocks because I like them. I like the more modern look.  I don't care to take the classes at my LQS to learn 'harder techniques' because the blocks and quilts they are making are ugly to me.  I don't criticize their quilts because I respect their taste, just wish they respected mine."

By happenstance, I wrote recently about local quilt and art stores going out of business, and how that strikes many of us as unfortunate.  But if local stores really treat the young quilters this badly, they are asking for their own demise.


  1. I am 54 years old and got comments at my LQS recently when looking for solid fabrics -- one of the salesladies said "Quilters don't use solids, that's why we don't carry them", or hearing at another one that "we only carry 100% cotton thread because that's the ONLY kind to use on a quilt". Most of my shopping is now done on-line, where I can find what I want, and I dye my own fabrics, too. So not everyone who is treated badly is young!

  2. Even though I am old, I have gotten the same unfriendly treatment in the local quilt shop that specializes in reproduction fabrics, since I use bright colors and improv techniques. And the local guild has excluded me by insisting for their upcoming show that only quilts with the binding showing on the quilt front will be acceptable. I think that some folks aren't happy unless they are excluding others.
    However, some of the comments above from the MQ article hit a nerve. My friend had the other quilt shop in town, specializing in bright fabrics, big prints with designer fabric vibes, and a variety of classes that included unfussy simple piecing. This shop had a group of regular "customers" who would not take classes, and bought their fabric at discount stores. Then they would bring in their project that copied the class sample quilt they liked, and expected the shop to spend an hour or more teaching them. And their toddlers would be in the other room pulling all the thread spools off the racks and throwing them on the floor. My friend closed her shop about 4 years ago.
    -Connie in AL

  3. "Fast, fun and easy" is the motto these days. Eventually some of these young uns will want to take on some more challenging projects I'm thinking. And if they don' what. They are expressing themselves in the best and most satisfying way they know how. There will always be those artists who will find their way. No need to worry about the "dumbing down" of our quilt world. On the contrary, I am seeing it as alive and very vital.

  4. I am heartily tired of the "Fast Fun and Easy" with *barely any sewing!*. It is good that people are doing things. It really is, but I'm not sure what the chicken vs egg thing is with the projects all having to be either fast or easy.

    Did the media folks tell everyone so often that a project has to be fast or you're not having fun, so now we think that only fast projects are fun?

    Or does everyone have the attention span of a gnat, so to get anyone to do anything the project has to be fast and easy?

    I think it's funny that mostly the quilt patterns are all the same as before, but the colors are different, and different prints are popular (Amy Butler). And voila'. 'Modern'. Avocado and gold back in the 70s was modern too. Different colors/patterns and it's all 'new' again. LOL. Their kids will be scandalized by all those "bright obnoxious colors" and will probably go for pastels for a 'modern' look.

  5. The Modern Quilting Movement reminds me of years ago when the rotary cutter was first introduced and "Quilt In A Day" became popular. There was no internet back then but the same type of thing was going on, narrow minded people thinking their way was the only way. Most of these quick quilts were tied and were not considered worthy of being in quilt shows pretty much anywhere. Machine quilted quilts took awhile to be accepted also. I've never understood why some shops and shows are slow to embrace new trends. I consider the quick quilts - Quilt in a Day, strip pieced, or Modern - the bread and butter of the quilting industry. The traditional hand or machine pieced and hand quilted or hand appliqued quilts are great, but they take a long time to do. The quick methods sell more fabric and enables the shops to stay open and thus take care of everyone's quilting needs. Our shop is always happy to answer all questions about anyone's projects, regardless of whether the fabric came from our shop or not. We understand that not everyone can take classes, especially if they have small children. We have toys for the toddlers to play with and a kiddie swimming pool full of 9x11 inch rolled fabrics that seem to keep older kids occupied for quite awhile. They search through for particular colors, or animals, whatever! I also do not agree with the assumption that everyone has to be challenged and "grow". What is wrong with quilting for fun and relaxation? A lot of people are challenged enough in their life by their jobs or young children that they need to just have fun and enjoy their quilting. There's nothing wrong with that. Everyone tries what appeals to them at that particular time and when the novelty of that wears off they might want to try something different. Maybe not, but everyone should stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. In our shop we try to carry fabric to please everyone. We have had Amy Butler and Kaffe fabric since their first lines. We have Jo Morton fabric, thirties fabric, lots of solids, and whatever else you would be looking for. We want our shop to be a happy place that everyone feels welcome in!

  6. Some lively discussion going on here. I'd like to join in first with my thoughts on the Modern Quilt Movement. Blink. And it will be old and something else will fill it's place. The twenty and thirty somethings will be middle aged and women like me will be squinting to find the eye of a needle and remember where we left our scissors. Things change, evolve and it is as it is. The first quilters were cutting up scraps of fabric to make blankets for warmth. It evolved. Here we are many years later and it is evolving again. There is no right or wrong, it's all good and it will be what it will be until it ends. The trouble seems to come in when people try to impose their ideas of what is acceptable onto others especially when a feeling of superiority is introduced into the mix. This kind of drama is never needed in any area of life and seems very counter productive.

    I worked in the Northeast for a small chain of fabric stores for 5 years until all 6 stores in the chain went out of business. I sold everything from bridal silks to cotton batiks, to every kind of customer possible. The funny thing with people is that each one is unique. Some were pains - clueless, selfish, destructive. One comes to mind who as I turned my back to take a fancy bridal trim out of the case, plopped her toddler on the bridal cutting table with the intentions of changing the babies poopy diaper in the same place as I had just cut her $100/yd silk for her own gown. I've seen it all. Chocolate finger stains on expensive fabric, stolen yardage, displays toppled by kids. At the same time some people are just the opposite - respectful, inquisitive, thoughtful. I loved seeing young girls coming in to ask about what fabrics to use for a prom gown, or the young mothers deciding on the right cottons for their kids bed quilts and curtains. Quilting, while having changed somewhat is thriving in the younger generations. An LQS can only be as good as the people who work in it and the people who frequent it. And as we are all unique, the experiences will be as unique and vary greatly. It is as it is.

    What I am most worried about as a quilter is that the LQSs which have been servicing all generations for quite a while now are folding due to lack of enough revenue. Evolution. The next time you walk down any street, look at how the younger generations are walking, shopping, driving. So many young faces glued into smartphones. So many fingers flying on the keypads. If there were any of them interested in sewing, when would they find the time to scope out the local fabric shop. There are hundreds of shops on line now. I miss seeing the drape of the fabrics, and feeling the hand. You just can't get this on line, nor can you get accurate color selection. It's change, but I'm not sure it's moving us in a good direction. Change when positive brings you greater opportunities not diminished ones.

    Someone above mentioned that younger people are forming their own guilds. My mom had her sewing club, I have my local guild of women and men like myself and a new generation has their experience of quilt community. This is good. As long as people still love to create quilts, it will continue to thrive, like water trickling down a slope - it will find it's way.

    PS In my own experience, my daughter loves to sew and her first job was working right alongside me in the fabric store. We were not the only mother/daughter employees of this LQS, there were two others. At 23, she has made her own clothes, quilts, and bags and I marvel at the uniqueness of her style and the quality of her work.

  7. Nancy -- thanks for your thoughts -- all true!! ironic that the Internet is putting local businesses out of business, but then provides a means for people who no longer have a local spot to connect to other people.

  8. I inquired some months ago at the website about a Modern Quilt Guild here in doesn't exist and I was the at that point the only one who inquired from Louisville. I find the quilts from these guild members to be characterized by very clean lines which is my appeal to it.

  9. I think Louisville is a poster child for old-fashioned quilting -- older ladies with traditional tastes, not particularly open to people with more contemporary ideas. But a very big and active guild for those old-fashioned people.