If you’ve spent much time surfing the ‘net for quilt patterns (and found your way here) you’ve noticed the current “modern quilt” phenomenon. Or you’ve at least encountered the phrase, perhaps wondered what it means. Ask a dozen quilters, expect to get a dozen different answers. There are all sorts of groups now devoted to modern quilting, some of which are chapters of The Modern Quilt Guild, which is a good place to start. There is even a (now annual) convention – QuiltCon. There are tips for attending available on Craftsy, as well as free video of some of the lectures from the 2013 conference. Type “modern quilt” into the search bar of Pinterest and feast your eyes on everything from avante garde art quilts to quirky remakes of classic patterns. It’s hard to know what constitutes as “modern” when you’re just getting your feet wet.
My take on “modern”? Modern is anything that moves outside the traditional feed sack calico, kittens-and-cabbage-roses, 12″ blocks in neat little ranks. If you’re looking to make your quilt modern, but don’t quite know where to start, here are some ways to approach it.
Change the Colors
And I don’t just mean pick out different colors from those on the pattern. I mean think about color in a different way. Sel, of Mad Quilter’s Diary, took the very simple Rail Fence Block and made it into something deliciously modern, simply by breaking free of the need to make each block just alike.
She also used a very round, flowing quilting design that contrasts beautifully with the angular piecing.
Color can be tricky. It’s tempting to look at some of the rainbow-like creations you see and go a little overboard. But lots of color requires a keen eye to do well. So start with fewer colors and edit your layout until you’re happy with it.
I’ve also heard some folks insist that use of certain color palettes qualifies as “modern.” Remember – while lots of orange, or grey and yellow, or other popular color schemes look modern, now, they’ll all look dated eventually. All of the lovely aqua ombre quilts you see today will be as easily identifiable as a “teens” quilt someday as avocado and mustard yellow appliances are to the 1970’s.
Change the Size
Again, there are a couple ways to approach this. Modern quilts often are made from one single block pattern – but in multiple sizes. Or may consist of one solitary, giant block. Or, like this beauty from Sarah at Confessions of a Fabric Addict, make the block large and change how it interacts with it’s neighbors a bit:
Go check out her post and look at even more lovely pictures of this beauty. Want to make your own? See Judy Martin’s Star Cluster, which was Sarah’s inspiration. Is the use of color in this quilt “modern”? Sure. And a 16 patch? Classic. Stars? A quilting veteran’s best friend. The combination adds up into something that’s both up to date and timeless.
Change the Sett
Here, I’m using a weaving term – sett – as a description of laying out the blocks a specific way, as one would lay the warp and weft of yarns in a fabric. Traditionally, blocks are laid out either in rows and columns, or on point. Fun things can happen when you take a traditional block and let it tumble, fall, and generally have it’s own way in the layout. Lynn, at K & S Design Girls made this Scrappy Modern Maple Quilt out of a traditional block.
You might be noticing the use of multiple “modern” elements in some of these quilts. Lynn’s quilt uses blocks in multiple sizes, sets them at different orientations, and has areas with no “blocks” at all. The leaves themselves and the scrappy background are also pieced in an improvisational manner. To top it all off, the background is pieced out of “low volume” prints – another modern trend to add interest to large areas of negative space. Note that Lynn’s carefully chosen color palette for the leaves does not fight with the very slight variations in tones in the background.
Some modern quilts use a modern block – something that isn’t a tried-and-true patchwork pattern from the past. Most of these are abstract lines and shapes, seen to their best effect when pieced from carefully chosen colors. One of the best examples of a fresh modern look from a simple block and layout can be found in Rachel’s Escapade pattern from her blog at P.S. I Quilt. It’s stunning in a number of combinations, but her execution of it in the Poseidon colors from Kona cotton just soothes the eye.
Everything about this quilt says fresh and modern, from the color choices to the blocks themselves, and the layout with narrow white columnar sashing to the wavelike quilting design. I want one just like it for beach reading.
Another feature often pointed out as an aspect of modern quilt design is use of lots of negative space. Sometimes you’ll see this as a nearly solid quilt with a single block or a few appliques. Other times, a skilled designer blends just the right amount of “empty” quilt with sparkling blocks to really highlight fabric and color. One of my favorites is Martha’s Dottie Constellation Quilt from her blog at Weekend Doings.
Admittedly, polka dots can make me go weak in the knees. But they’re also easy to overdo. Martha kept things just right. Her wonky stars appear to twinkle, and the simple straight line quilting helps to highlight, rather than obscure them. In other quilts, you’ll find that the negative space will sometimes be a playground for the free motion quilter. Different quilts require different approaches. Either way, negative space can be a powerful visual tool.
Slice and Dice
“Tossed” or “Disappearing” blocks aren’t really new, but they’ve recently caught fire – especially with the modern quilter. Used alone, or inside some negative space, they can create a modern art, Mondrian feel to a quilt. One of my favorite versions uses a charm pack and lots of white/cream. It’s bright, interesting, and cheerful. Teresa of Sewn Up even has a brief and clear tutorial on her Disappearing Nine Patch.
There are any number of fun “disappearing” block patterns out there. Cruise Rachel’s site for another fun pattern, and look around for Disappearing 4 patch, Disappearing Hourglass, and other designs. Try looking at Missouri Star Quilt Company’s video tutorials for a place to start.
I hope this list of easy ways to give your quilt a modern vibe inspires you to try something new. Have a favorite modern quilt? Share a link in the comments!