‘Modern’ quilts and coloured backgrounds

This blog post is an outpouring of thoughts with a lot of questions about ‘modern’ quiltmaking. You have been warned.

On Instagram over the last few days, Robert Kaufman have been putting up their new Kona solid colours. I think there are some real beauties in there, and it makes me really want to make a quilt where the background isn’t white, or ash grey, or low volume, or doesn’t have a background tone at all because it’s so busy and/or scrappy. That’s right, I don’t just want to use these in a rainbow solids quilt, I really want to make a feature out of a predominant colour.

Here are some of my favourites I think would be great for a different colour background…


I think these would be nice paired simply with one other colour group of patterned fabrics.

Now I don’t like the word ‘modern’ because to me, that was the time of Picasso through to the mods and pop art and Andy Warhol, I’m thinking turn of the 20th century through to the early 70s. I’m not an expect on art history by any means, in fact the last time I learned anything about it I was 14 so please correct me if I am wrong. In fact Wikipedia says it is 1860 to 1970. I personally feel more comfortable using the word ‘contemporary’ to refer to quilts of the time, that reflect today’s tastes, values, time restrictions, culture, etc. I’m not sure if we’re technically in the late modern period or we are postmodern now and that is an issue up for debate by those more educated than me. Maybe the art movement shouldn’t have been called modern in the first place, since a la mode could refer to the present day fashion at any point in history.

Anyway, my point is, can a quilt be put in the category of “modern quilts” if it has a coloured background? If I use bottle green, purple, a deep red, or even black, does that then instantly give them a more old-fashioned look?

I have in the past been told my Wallander quilt (above) isn’t “modern enough” (I’m not telling you for what), purely for the colour choices I made. These colours I might add, were from the modern quilter’s favourite solid collections – the Kona range and some designer couture ones too. I don’t regret these colours, they were an accurate representation of what I was trying to represent and I actually really like this quilt, I’d never give it away.

Are colours truly the deciding factor? Do I have to use more than two colours? If I have brown in my stash does that automatically make me a traditional quilter? Or are shapes important too, and block designs, the quilting and the speed of the construction of the quilt, and how it is put together? What about the invisible binding I prefer so much? Do I need to check off all of these factors, because if I do all but one it doesn’t qualify? To me, this isn’t an old fashioned quilt, it doesn’t smack of civil war quilts, nor is it a hand pieced masterpiece over several years made from old clothes and feedsack.

My parquetry quilt, a deliberate attempt to make brown fabrics into a modern quilt.

I don’t know, but if “modern quilt making” feels so restrictive to me, I think I might not want to be part of it anyway. Maybe I don’t want my quilts to be “a la mode” or definitively modern, I want to make them in the colours and fabrics I like, and to try something a bit different sometimes, and it won’t always work, but at least my quilts will look like my quilts. I’m not here to fit in (maybe that’s why I don’t like the word ‘modern’?!), I’m here to play with fabrics that make me happy, tinker with designs and most of all, enjoy myself. So I’m happy with my style, and if someone wants to coin it postmodern, or whatever, that’s fine by me.

Now the important question: which of those new Kona colours should I choose?

P.S. Be prepared- I’m coming out with a blatant ‘modern quilt’ finish soon. It’s rainbow solids on white and everything and I may even back it with Ikea Nummers! Don’t worry, in reserve I have sketched a design for a mini quilt with a big applique fish on it to balance it out in case that finish makes me feel untrue to myself (or I get through to round 1 of Sewvivor)…

P.P.S. It’s not that I don’t like rainbow solids quilts on white, it’s just that making them isn’t for me, and I love a bit of scrappy too. I’m going to be making the Georgetown on my Mind quilt later in they year and if I can gravitate away from the white backing that would be awesome if anyone has any ideas?

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