Friday, April 22, 2011

A {Modern} Discussion

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one of my Dear Jane blocks...
So, I've kept my fingers off my keyboard long enough to form some level-headed opinions... {hopefully}

Have you seen the discussions flying around blogs as of late referring to the dumbing down of quilting?  I'm not going to bother linking to the original posts because linking to me is a sort of virtual high-five and I am not on board with the thought process. 

But Google "dumbing down of quilting" and you will certainly find at least a cup of coffee's worth of reading.

The gist is this whole traditional vs. modern quilting thing that has been batted around for at least the past year.  My initial response to somehow associating modern quilting with dumbed down left me thinking "really??..." and something along the lines of trouble making and at worst plain old jealousy.

I have seen beautiful traditional quilts with techniques that take years of practice to master.  I have also seen some really poor traditional quilts that need some more... umm... years of practice. 

I can say the exact same two things for modern quilts.  So who's right?


This is my very first quilt.  I made it completely by hand.  I even hand-stitched the double fold binding to the front and back.  My fingers still hurt a little from stitching through all those layers!

The design is very, very simple.  It's actually a kit that I bought from Joann's *gasp*.  The traditional quilter would probably turn her nose up at this quilt but you know what?  It sparked a dormant creative gene and I have never looked back.  Anytime that a new quilter joins our beloved craft, that has to be good for the art of quilting.



This is my second quilt ever.  Again, it is made completely by hand.  My seams were frighteningly perfect and if they weren't I nearly had a panic attack until the stitches were picked out and re-done.  I obsessed over the hand quilting and I remember taking out a ruler to make sure that I had 12-14 stitches per inch. 

Are you annoyed with me yet?  It's OK if you are because I'm annoyed with me just typing this! 

A traditional quilter would probably love this quilt but you know what?  This quilt deepened my perfectionist streak and I almost quilt quilting.  And not that I'm not anything special to the art of quilting but a quilter quitting is never a good thing.

Traditional or modern?  Who's right?  I tend to think that there is room for both...

There is nothing wrong with tradition and yes, there are "modern" quilts that actually have quite traditional roots and aren't all that modern.  And then there are modern quilts that while they may not employ traditional techniques, the amount skill and creativity that go into the quilt can stand all on their own... even against the harshest of critics.

Am I crazy about seeing a quilter make the same quilt over and over?  Not really.  But if it makes her {or him}  happy and the pictures on their blog draw a few new people into quilting then I'm good with that.  I sure hope that they will eventually step out of their comfort zone and take on a challenge because growth is a good thing but it's really not up to me to police their hobby.

So what's the deal then? 

Exclusivity.  More and more new quilters are making their first quilts.  Blogging has exploded and these blogs are a huge resource for the beginning quilters.  Modern Quilt Guilds are popping up every where and I can see where traditional quilters might feel like their hobby is being taken over. 

Traditional quilters have skills while modern quilters do not... modern quilters are more creative while traditional quilters are content to make the same traditional blocks that have been made for years... and so on and so on

But the truth is, no one group has the corner on the quilt market and both have their strengths and weaknesses.

Is there a middle ground?  I sure hope so!

Those who have been quilting for years have so much that they could share.  And there are crazy talented younger quilters who have much to share as well.  So even if we might have different styles there is still plenty to accomplish for the art of quilting without pointing fingers and making "dumb" accusations.

And BTW, I'm raising Chaney with the notion that the words dumb, hate, stupid, etc... are ugly words and there are much more intelligent alternatives to express an opinion. It's OK to have an opinion but nice almost always wins. Just a little extra food for thought... ;)

My version of Cherri's I Do Too pattern
There are fabulous modern pattern designers. Cherri House is one of them. Her quilt patterns have clean lines and typically don't stay within the quilt block box but the technical skills are still there. See all the circles in this quilt? They are made using reverse applique; a perfect example of a modern quilt that uses traditional skills with a twist.  Definitely not dumb.

Dresden Plate + Linen
These days I would consider myself closer to a modern quilter than a traditional quilter.  However, I began more traditionally when I learned to quilt.  I happen to like making more modern quilts but that does not mean that I have less skill or that I have "dumbed down" a wonderful hobby.  Traditional techniques are still very interesting to me, especially when I challenge myself to tweak a traditional block and put my own spin on it with modern fabrics, etc.  Now that doesn't sound very dumb does it?? 

Different, yes... dumb, no.

Have a wonderful weekend!


48 comments:

Jennifer Rodriguez said...

Oh my goodness. I guess it's a great thing I was born with the gene that doesn't give a hoot what others say..

I hate piecing. I don't enjoy it. I quilt for me. I quilt for art's sake. I do lots of free motion applique, rough applique. It's messy. I think it's brilliant because it makes me happy. I use fabric like others use paint.

So let haters continue and rejoice, I will give them ample to complain about because I don't do it for them.

Jennifer - a very non traditional quilter
allthingsbelle.blogspot.com

Elsa said...

Great writing about this subject. I have to say that it really upset me to see all the words being thrown around about who was 'right'. Seemed that any modern quilter got validation and the same for any traditional, on their point of view about the whole thing.
I say that it's wonderful that anyone wants to make quilts! Just a few years ago it wasn't a popular thing to do. It's exploded into this wonderful way for women and men to express themselves and to share their skills and finished product!
I belong to a modern quilt guild and it's full of people with different levels of skills, tons of projects, being willing to share knowledge, is completely enjoyable and all different ages.
I know that I'm grateful to be back to making quilts and being creative again. I love the things I see out in blogland and even have my own blog. I'm grateful for those who came before me and those who will carry on this wonderful craft, modern or traditional!

Andria said...

I call those people elitists and they can make it so hard for new quilters. Their way is better and they usually don't want to share their information or skill with beginners.
And what is it that makes a quilt modern? The block or piecing style? The fabric? The quilting itself? Take a flying geese block or a dresden plate- traditional but you use bright, new fabrics and suddenly it's modern. They all employ the same techniques that every quilter has used for those blocks for ages. We are all quilters.

StitchinByTheLake said...

Good post! I read all the hoopla and even commented a time or two but the whole thing made me angry so I stopped reading those blogs and let it go. I object to the word dumb and using it associated with a technique people are using is just plain rude. I'm an older quilter but I love the new "modern" works and I don't care if points match, or if the seam is crooked...I look for the joy that went into the making and call it beautiful. Why some feel compelled to judge and say "mine is better than yours" is beyond me. Love the process, love all it's quirks and differences, enjoy and let others enjoy - that's my motto. :)

The Tulip Patch said...

I read what you are talking about. I was a little horrified by some on BOTH sides...from the traditional gal who said anything that used a machine could not be art to the young gal who called the lady who wrote the post an "Old biddy." WHOA. Way too far...it's just cutting up fabric and sewing it back together!

I've given it a lot of thought and I have decided I don't even like the labels. I have no idea what type of quilter I am...I am terrified to go to a modern guild because they can be so fabric snobby and the traditional guilds are so technique snobby sometimes. Oddly enough, my biggest supporters are the ladies at my church who quilt using the very traditional needle turn applique. They love quilting and they're happy someone else does too. If seeing a strip quilt gives you the confidence to start quilting, WOO_HOO. If seeing a perfect Dear Jane inspires you to start quilting, WOO_HOO. Love your take...not sure if I will add mine ever or not.

Sharon@Sharon at Home said...

Quilting is a personal creative expression. The way two people make the same block with different fabrics for two completely different looks is the same since the beginning of quilting. Quilting traditionally or modern is still the same .... cutting up fabric, putting it back together, adding batting and a back and quilting it together. It's the same discussion as Old Masters to Modern Art! People expressing themselves through artistry.

Janet said...

Interesting post. And evidently I skipped all those posts about the dumbing down ...

I guess I am a traditional quilter. I also do needleturn applique. Neither better nor worse than other types of piecing or applique. I'm not fond of labels either. I'm just a quilter. It's what I do when I have a spare minute. I also follow what seems like thousands of blogs (it's actually dozens) of young and not so young quilters and crafters and am inspired daily by them.

I am beyond thrilled that your generation (makes me sound old, doesn't it?) has so embraced quilting. Not one of the 20-somethings in my office can even sew a button on, and very few of the 30 somethings can either, so that quilting is being carried forward with such a passion by so many is exciting! What you all bring to the table is welcomed and really wonderful.

Please keep it up!

Linda said...

I agree with everything said, right down to all the comments! Quilting is an art form. It can be traditional or modern or even in between. I think its a shame we are made to feel that certain types of quilting or piecing or even fabric choices are "OUT" and others are "IN". If people are still enjoying it, how can it be out of favor? I certainly hate seeing quilting treated like fashion! We need to just enjoy our art and do what makes us happy, regardless of what other people say.

Regina said...

Frankly, I love all quilts. Anyone who takes the time to make one deserves praise. End of story. :)

liz said...

Jennifer, I agree with everything you said in your post and also with the commenters here before me.

I am fairly new to quilting and at 50 yo. I am not at all a perfectionist, but I was an Olympic calibre perfectionist at one time. I don't care if my points match, in fact, I prefer no patterns at all. Nothing fussy about my work, i do it for FUN!

I belong to a wonderful modern guild and a wonderful traditional guild and learn a lot from the quilters in both. I am personally much more drawn to a modern vibe, and the traditional guild meetings have plenty to offer in that respect as well.

For the most part I find quilters to be very generous people and I think the few who have posted insensitively on the us vs. them mentality are in the minority.

the other place I learn a lot from is blogland, and from bloggers like yourself!~ Thank you!!

Beth J said...

I too, have heard the cry that modern is "easy" and "lazy quilting at best". But the combining of colors and value to make a quilt really pop doesn't change whether you are making a "modern" or "traditional" quilt. Poor execution will make either look awful, and I am not saying it has to be perfect (trust me on this, you should see some of my quilts - perfect is NOT my middle name).
Quilters should be able to make what they want and not be told it's "wrong". I too, would have probably given up quilting had I done your second project. It would have put me over the edge! I love the looking of hand work, I admire people who will hand piece and hand quilt a quilt. But I am just not one that will ever do that, I just don't have the patience. But I think the quilting world should be big enough to embrace all types of quilters, don't you??

Sarah @ FairyFace Designs said...

I read a lot of those posts and, to be honest, I let a lot of it wash over me. Here in Ireland quilting is not a very popular hobby so I find most of my info and reading online. Modern quilting with simple lines really appeals to my own personal taste, but I got a book from the library last week about star quilts with pics of quilts almost 150 years old and they were stunning in their design and simple aesthetic, even if technically very difficult. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that styles come and go and there is nothing really "new" as with any art form. But I agree with your key point that what is important is people doing it and enjoying it. I think when quilters feel they have to do something (style, technique etc) rather than wanting to do it then that's a problem.

Rachel said...

A quilter is a quilter. Period. It is proven that if something does not evolve, it dies out. Thank goodness quilting is evolving. You would think the older generation of quilters would be happy that the art of quilting is not lost on a younger generation. So what if some do it differently! Art is a form of self expression. Some do it with canvas and paint. Others with wood, or metal. We do it with fabric and batting.
My aunt has given us almost twenty quilts. We love them all. Most are very traditional and I was never very interested in making one of my own. Then I started finding modern fabrics that I loved. I did some research on the internet and discovered that I could make a quilt any way I wanted to. I'm trying harder to
'think outside the box' as my kids' GT teacher likes to say. And no, I would not label myself as modern or traditional. Just someone who has grown to love quilting. That's all that matters.

Mother on a Broomstick said...

I love that quilting has grown in so many directions. Each of us has our favorites in terms of what we love to do. The joy is in indulging our passions and learning every day. Go forth and quilt what's in your heart and it'll always be fun.

suemac said...

My very first quilt was "Farmer's Wife." My technique was very beginner but it looks good to me. I am now a little more interested in interesting modern fabrics and modern patterns. Just because something is easier does not mean you didn't spend a lot of time on it and that the person you are giving it to won't enjoy it less.

BijouxBaby said...

I find this whole discussion of the dumbing down of quilting very amusing. I studied art history for many years and this same topic has been endlessly debated in that field too. Does it take the same level of technical skill to paint like Jackson Pollack (splatter painting) as it does to paint like Rembrandt? No, I don't think so. However, it takes an eye for design and an ability to innovate to be the first Pollock or Mondrian, etc.

I think both are valuable and it's wonderful that we are free to choose and combine styles anyway we like. When I see fresh modern designs drawing on traditional quilting and using fabulous technique to create something new, I'm reinvigorated to try something new myself. In the end, we create because it fulfills something inside us and we each need to choose what fulfills us.

Live a Colorful Life said...

I know I can always count on you to clearly articulate what I'm thinking. Your post is well written and I have enjoyed all the comments too.

So... (or should I say "sew"?)...I started out as a very traditional quilter over fifteen years ago. I learned good construction skills and for that I'm grateful. I have morphed into a more modern quilter because I like the fabrics, the clean lines, etc., but it always makes me happy to see a traditional block (hello, dresden plate!) done in the bright vibrant fabrics that I"m drawn to now. I'm glad I have the skills to make "perfect points" but I can't tell you how many times I would trade that skill for some of the amazing creativity I see from the younger quilters. They are incredibly inspiring and I think there is room for everyone to do whatever it is that makes them happy. And if you can't say something nice, then just don't say anything at all. I think that advice never gets old.

Melanie@Crafty Cupboard said...

I am a self-proclaimed quilter of easy, fast quilts because I expect those quilts to get grass stains, baby blowouts, food spills, etc. I think I'd have a heart attack if I spent lots of time perfecting a beautiful heirloom quilt, and someone got a bit of chocolate on it or something. I really respect those quilters, but I'm not one of them! I just do it for fun, and because being warm deserves being cute!

Hannah said...

I really like this post. I am very new to quilting and getting ready to make my first one. I don't understand the idea that some people feel their hobby is being taken over. Why does one person's success or failure have anything to do another's personal hobby? We should all be happy and supportive of each other's talents and techniques and not be worried about exlusivity.

SewHappyGeek said...

Good points all around, including the above comments. One of the other things I still don't understand is how using a jelly roll or other pre cuts makes one a lazy Quilter. There its never anything lazy about sewing, even if it's just a potholder or cosmetic bag?! But whenever you have a tradition of any kind, quilting, sewing, university, politics, etc. you have people who are experienced railing against change, newbies, and the 'loss' of the good old ways, whatever they might be... but change and a dynamic nature is good, stagnation is usually bad. And there is plenty of room for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Why does it have to be "either - or" ... art verses functional, modern verses vintage? Quilting is simply one niche of sewing women (and men) have explored for hundreds of year and continued to explore ... for fun, an excuse play with fabric and color, to simply have a hobby, to explore their creative side, to make something warm to sleep under, to play with their baby on, or to simply enjoy a picnic lunch upon.
Whatever your personal reason for sewing or quilting is ... why not just embrace it and let others embrace their own reason ... and just have fun. It's simply an activity of self-expression ... and there is no right or wrong.

carolyn said...

I see this debate as more of a generational issue--young women want to do it their way with their peers...just like we wanted to in the 70's. There is room for both modern and traditional quilting (they really are one and the same) I wish the young would seek out the wisdom & friendship and of older gen and that the older gen would embrace and not feel threatened by the young.

Amanda said...

Well said!

Anonymous said...

It is certainly a very old argument in a newer context. It's been argued about art and music, and probably quilting, before.

It is the exploration of new techniques and designs which will develop one day into the "classic quilts of the early 21st century". Some will not stand the test of time - but some will. One day we will cringe at some and say how dated some of them are, and how classically beautiful others are. At this stage, though, it's hard to work out which are which!

Apart from all this, the historical use of a quilt is as a bed covering. Many of the basic, simple quilts of hundreds of years ago were well used and so have not survived. Who knows what else was made apart from the surviving ones we call traditional quilts?

And a final point: I can admire the designs and skills which go into many traditional quilts, but I don't want many of them in my house, because they don't go with my decor! So what would be the point of my making them?

Dorothy in Oz

Jodi-JoJoMia's Place said...

What I love about quilting is how everyone has something different they like. My quilting friends and I all have different tastes and styles, but we respect and love quilts that each other makes. We will see a fabric or a quilt that just screams 'Kathy' or they will take a picture and text me saying " This looks like a Jodi quilt!" I love it and am glad for variety. It is the spice and fabric of our lives!

Victoria Paige @ Boutique Uniquely said...

I kept seeing these modern quilting debates here and there, but I didn't really feel compelled to read any of it because I wanted to read the original post. So first, thank you for giving me the google search terms to lead me to it.

After reading all parts of The Dumbing Down of Quilting, I have to agree with most of what you wrote. I am a beginning quilter myself and I don't look at my work as dumb or poor quality. I'm certainly not making the mariner's compass, but I think I'm doing pretty well. I will try more difficult things when I feel comfortable.

Cristina said...

I agree whole-heartedly. As far as the whole modern vs. traditional thing goes, it's a bunch of bull. Who cares anyway? If people are doing something that makes them happy, and its not harming anyone, than who has the right to say its wrong? Some people apparently don't have anything better to do than whine.

Shannon said...

I am going to go read that but I wanted to read your ideas first. I agree with you. There is no right and wrong, dumb or smart. There is only love of what we are doing. If you love it then do it. And don't hurt people while you are trying. THANK YOU!! Well said.

Kris said...

I too live in Dallas as you do and sew right along with traditional and modern quilters. The argument to me is moot as it is just a label. I choose to sew what I want in the fabric of my choice. Does it make me a modern quilter? I guess by what has been narrowly defined as "modern fabric" then yes.
My wish is that all treat the new sewer kindly and pass on your love for the craft and lets keep these discussions far away from my sewing machine.

LindaSchiffer said...

AMEN!

I stayed out of reading the whole issue recently 'cause I generally feel pretty strongly that there is no one right way to do _ANYTHING_ and that folks can get awfully close-minded. I don't need the negativity.

I love quilts and textiles - but more important to me is seeing people enjoy creating, in whatever way works for them! Whatever makes you happy is a fine rule for me (long as you don't hurt other people doing it:)

Linda

Katrina said...

I loved reading your thoughts on this! Thanks for sharing!

QuiltyGirl said...

I love to hear your thoughts on these things. And I totally agree. :)

Effie said...

What a great post.... I usually only look at the pictures. does that make me dumb? I'm in the middle and if that's a bad place to be .. then so be it! .. off to finish my dumb ugly quilt!

Janet said...

I love a good healthy debate, I don't particularly like being put in a box or labled though. I hadn't read anything on the subject so I'll go googling. I love that there's something for everyone and we're all helping keep the industry alive.

The Scrappy Bee said...

I have been quilting for a long time, since the mid 70's. At that time it was pretty much traditional quilting, but there were those who started to push the envelope. I actually see modern quilting as just another style in the ongoing evolution of quilting. By the 90's technical skill and complexity were the in thing. Now there is a movement sort of back to basics. Quilting will move to another style at some point. Modern quilting (simpler patterns) complements machine quilting which most quilter now do.
Every(almost) quilt finds a balance between harmony and tension. For new quilters these ideas are often achieved by using kits or patterns by designers Some will continue to use these tools and some will want to move on to using there own ideas and variations.

From the 80's thru 2000 there was a huge argument about "art quilts" vs. traditional quilts. It was pretty much the same thing. One side complaining and dissing the other. Back and forth. This too will pass.

Bonnie

Liz, Quilt Adventurer said...

Ditto! all of the above, the comments and the post. Aren't the most important things that people are digging deep into their creativity, learning from others (which is crazy fun these days with bloggers!), and finding a spot where they feel they are doing their best? and then all the sharing...I love traditional, modern, art, simple, complicated, colourful where the colours blend or complement or contradict, quiet where the colours are secondary to the pattern...etc. To me, everytime I see a quilt of any shape, pattern, colour or form, I know that someone had a thought process and work process that they devoted time and energy to. What more could we hope for?

Liz, Quilt Adventurer said...

I'd like to add one more comment. I've linked to this post on my blog, because the more I think about it, the more important this discussion is - it's all about diversity, and where diversity leads us. A quote: "peace is...a world in which women of all ages learn from each other's experiences...." (Jennifer deGroot, from "Peace Is...women imagine a peaceful world").

Jenn said...

You write many good truths here that folks need to be aware of....if we are prejudiced in how we view quilting - techniques, styles, etc... then we are basically judging people and that's not our job, is it?! :) Thanks for sharing!!

annieb said...

There is an elitist attitude in the quilting world just as there is for many other things in our world. I read books that some consider trash and watch movies that are not classics...so what? Do what you love and who cares what others think. I am a traditional quilter because that is what I love. But it doesn't stop me from admiring what more "modern" quilters do. There is room for all of us in this world. Creativity is good and it is a shame that some see it as dumbing down...

Briawna said...

i have to agree with the generational differences in taste and style being a bigger factor that traditional vs. modern. Personally, I think quilting is a skill for all and I'm always amazed at the artistry that accompanies personal preferences. That said, I really wish my LQS would embrace both traditional and modern. It makes me sad to see friends who are trying to learn to quilt not find fabric they feel fits their style. Thanks for your thoughts. Well said.

Mandy said...

Great post!! I'm a new quilter (2+ years), and to be honest, I wouldn't have bothered to start at all if it weren't for modern quilting. My new love of modern quilting has made me respect and admire traditional quilting.

Heather said...

I am a mostly traditional quilter who loves all kinds of quilts from repro to modern and I have a son who is a quilt designer of modern quilts. There certainly is room for us all. I began with simple quilts and as my interest grew so did my desire learn new skills. With each new skill my quilts became even more interesting. I look forward to the growth of these new quilters as they take "modern" to the next level.

Bev said...

One of the beauties of quilting is the ability to express yourself in whatever you feel best suits you. I'm the newest quilter in my family. The quilts made by my mother and my greatgrandmother are very different from the ones I do. Besides the obvious, I cherish them because we do all have a different style.

~The Bargain Babe said...

Love your post! I took sewing lessons in 7th grade and am just now getting back into it (late twenties, mother of 3).

I like a lot of the modern quilts and I like some traditional quilts too.

More important to me is skill level...can I do this? If a project has the right skill level for me (*cough* beginner with a streak of blonde) then I am more apt to try it.

And, fwiw, Traditional quilts can always be "updated" just by using more modern fabrics in the blocks. I've seen that done. :)

Michelle said...

This whole discussion reminds me a one of our guild's quilt shows several years ago. One patron wanted her admission fee back because there were "way too many" machine-quilted quilts on display and that wasn't TRUE quilting. To me, true quilting is enjoying the process no matter how you get there. After years of making miniatures and complex pieced quilts, I'm intrigued by the ease and simplicity of some "modern" quilt designs. You should do what makes you happy. To the naysayers, all I can say is "Get over it!!"

Sarah Craig said...

You know, in reading the comments here, I see something put into words that I didn't realize I felt before - quilts are made to be used and loved (at least, mine are!) and if I spend years making an heirloom quilt, no one, including me, is going to feel comfortable using it for fear of ruining it! I work with a quilt ministry that makes quilts for people undergoing serious medical problems and we want them to be well-used. We make them fast, but they are each individual and beautiful.

And if you haven't seen The Quilts Of Gees Bend, you need to check out this book. These quilts were made by poor women in a small rural town in Alabama from old clothes, found fabric, anything they could put their hands on. They are unbelievably artistic and they are anything but traditional. I believe there's even one hanging in the Smithsonian now, although I can't swear to it.

Preach on!!!

Perry said...

You have written a very informative article and I applaud your take on "the discussion". I see references to this ever so often when I am wandering around blogland and I think the whole discussion is ridiculous. Where would the art world be if there were no "dumb" artists in past years. Kudos!

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