The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Opening image is a quilt by Catherine Croucher. Originally published in Popular Patchwork in 2015, I thought this was still relevant today, the day when many people find out if they’ve been accepted into Quiltcon or not.
There’s been a lot of noise lately about ‘modern quilting’ as a style, with a guild – The Modern Quilt Guild – being created to unite like-minded quilters. Their definition of modern quilting includes graphic areas of solid colour, negative space as a feature, improvisational piecing and alternate gridwork, whilst still being a functional quilt. They state modern design as an influence, but it makes you wonder, if the modern art (and literature) movement went on from the turn of the 20th century until around 1970, then does what happens next in quilting follow art’s next move?
Just before the Quiltcon show in Texas at the end of February – which is organised by the Modern Quilt Guild (MQG) – it was interesting to browse through the quilts shown on Instagram tagged as #quiltconreject and see if there were any particular themes running through those rejected and any theories from the quilters themselves. There were 300 hanging spaces allocated for quilts at the show, and over 1200 entries, so there had to be more rejects than accepted quilts. Interestingly, a lot of the quilts are still contemporary but not modern as per the MQG description, instead they seem to fit the definition of postmodern art, and perhaps this is a sign that there are changes afoot.
In art, the concept of modern art is a lot easier to understand and much less complex than postmodern art, which seems to have fewer rigid rules and is more of a representational idea than a set of definitions. The simplest summary would appear to be that postmodern art challenges the rigidity of modern art before it, embracing the culture of the time both important and trivial, with a nod to traditional art, acknowledging its role in progressing how we see the world to this point, but then possibly having a bit of fun with it too. When you think about that in quilting terms, this is definitely happening!
Some great examples of what I would call postmodern quilters can be found both on the Quiltcon rejects list and in the general quilt blogging world. Alison Robins, who lives and quilts in Guernsey, and is recognisable for her very scrappy, very colourful, ‘everything goes’ style. She describes herself as “modern with a twist”, but it could be that her style starts to cross the line into postmodern quilting. Her quilts, being very definitely contemporary to look at are often based on traditional patterns, but with bright and to-the-minute fabrics, text prints and imported fabrics from around the world. “I loosely thought I was ‘modern'” says Alison, “Then the MQG came out with its definition of ‘modern’ and I realised I didn’t really fit in to their tight description of the word.”
“I’m not really an arty person. I just think I cut bits of fabric up and sew them back together. Each time I start a new quilt, I’m kind of making it up as I go along really and I don’t think I’ve been particularly influenced by non-quilting things. I’m not trying to make a statement, I’m just having fun.”
Many quilters that are starting to cross over the distinction between modern and postmodern quilting are influenced by the fabrics, or enthusiastic about quilting, using what they like and doing what they like because they enjoy it and aren’t intentionally trying to be either modern or not. A case in point is Elizabeth Eastmond from Southern California, who finds that, “If [I] slot myself into one definition it hinders [me] as an artist.” Her rejected Quiltcon quilt- Colorwheel Blossom- at first glance seems to be very modern. However, when you look at the complexity of the quilting which she so obviously enjoys, it is reminiscent of traditional quilting and it’s more elaborate style.
When asked about inspiration for quilt designs, architecture and scenery and the usual creativity sparks came up, but also Elizabeth made a strong, postmodern statement; “! We’re all similar to someone else. If we think we are original, we are perhaps somewhat delusional.”
This struck me as being reminiscent of a line from postmodern film, Fight Club, “We are all just a copy of a copy of a copy”.
Whilst an homage to traditional methods is often an indicator of a postmodern quilt, a quilt made this way isn’t necessarily always postmodern. Likewise there are many other types of quilts that can be identified as being postmodern, without any reference to traditional quilting at all. A great example of this is Quiltcon reject Zeitgeist by Kristin La Flamme from Virginia in the US. This quilt portrays the meme, Grumpy Cat.
This quilt clearly doesn’t fit in with the MQG’s definition of modern quilting- it’s not improvisational – pictorial quilts rarely fit in with their criteria – and it certainly doesn’t have any negative space, in fact it is very much the opposite. “I consider myself an artist who sews. While many of the bed quilts I make incorporate some of the Modern aesthetic markers, I am inspired by, and am happy to incorporate, all genres. In my work that is intended to be art I let the message dictate the form — so it might not even be quilt-like, let alone indicative of any particular movement.” says Kristin.
Kristin has not been put off entering Quiltcon, despite only joining the MQG so that she could enter Zeitgeist into the competition. She’s quite pragmatic about the whole experience since she has no strong feelings towards ‘fitting in’ with a movement, “I might try QuiltCon again, if I think I have something appropriate. I’ll also try Quilt National if I think I have something appropriate. They’re kind of opposite ends of the spectrum so maybe that shows how broad my interests are, or how hard it can be to categorize oneself. I won’t make anything specifically for either show. I just make what moves me and then try to find a venue later.”
Another fantastic example within the realms of those rejected by Quiltcon are two quilts by Shruti Dandekar who lives in Sangli in India. Her fantastic Steve Jobs portrait, iQuilt references contemporary popular culture, just like Zeitgeist does. Taking the iconic founder of Apple, the biggest, most profitable company in the World and making a quilt in his memory.
Sassy Batiks, calls itself a modern quilt, and yet there’s something distinctively postmodern about it. It is self-referential, this is a quilt that is happy to acknowledge that is exactly what it is, and, as it clearly tells us itself, it is made with batiks. Solid fabrics are the favourite choice of modern quilters, with a hint of prints. Batiks have very much taken a back seat and are usually thought of as fabrics from more traditional quilting times. Sassy Batiks embraces them, and Shruti has found a way of using them in a contemporary and tongue-in-cheek way.
Lastly, it wouldn’t be right to have an article on postmodern quilting without also showing another self-referential quilt, Catherine Croucher’s Postmodern Quilting is All About the Fabric. Whilst not entered for Quiltcon, it was on display at Quilt Symposium in New Zealand and sums things up nicely. Catherine definitely considers her style as postmodern, her thought is that the modern style is limiting and tries to reduce choice.
“My impulse at the moment is pretty much modern’s antithesis. This quilt is one of a series, the result of an impulse to put as much stuff in one quilt as I possibly could.
My fabric is by no means pristine: besides juxtaposing batiks with teddy bears, I also use recycled clothing, leaving in stains, worn patches and stitching lines.”
Whilst postmodern quilting isn’t entirely about fabric choice, it’s also about traditional crossover, cultural awareness, pastiche, a wider view and not expecting to be unique, as the quilt states it is a major part and it’s likely we will see more and more postmodern quilts over the coming years.
Find out more about the quilters in this article.
Alison Robins – http://littleislandquilting.blogspot.co.uk/
Elizabeth Eastmond – https://occasionalpiece.wordpress.com/
Kristin La Flamme – www.kristinlaflamme.com
Shruti Dandekar – http://www.13woodhouseroad.com/