AM I A MODERN QUILTER?

A bit of navel gazing on the use of labels and why I don't think of myself as a Modern Quilter.

Yesterday Gemma (of Pretty Bobbins) wrote a really raw post about her creative process and the impact that trying to define herself as “modern” has had on her creative process.

Now I’m about to go way out of my comfort zone and come out of the stash closet and tell you all a little about how I think about using labels to define my quilting journey.

I’m putting this upfront and saying that this post is all about me. It’s about how the use of labels relates to me. It’s not a judgement on how others use them or apply them (there’s some exemptions to that statement). It’s about what the use of labels does for my creativity and why I loathe them. (Whoops, might have let the cat out of the bag there…)

When I started quilting I had no idea that there was this whole debate raging online and in quilt groups all over the world about “what is modern?”, “who is modern?” and “am I modern?”. I thought the biggest point of discussion was what fabrics to pick.

Then as my journey progressed and I became a little more addicted and wanted to know more I branched out and found quilters online, in print and in person. We shared our work and we talked about people we admired and it was all puppy dogs, unicorns and rainbows. Then I heard my first ever discussion about “modern quilting”.

Holy shizballs, where did all the puppy dogs, rainbows and unicorns go? There was real emotion tied up in this term. People were choosing sides and big blog posts (not unlike this one) were being written. There was a movement (and I’m not just talking about the one I did in my pants when I realised I was standing in the middle of all these terminological land mines that could cost me all these new creatively awesome people I’d found).

People were really invested in being a “modern quilter”. It surprised me (and it still does) and put me on the back foot (and it still does). I was not prepared for my wonderful little creative outlet to become an ideological war zone.

So, I did what I always do when confronted with the possibility of someone not liking me – I just avoided any situation in where I thought I might have to do some navel gazing and people might ask my opinion. (Although, really, who gives a toss what my opinion is on the subject as I’m about to go to lengths to prove, I’m just a quilter!)

Through quilting I have found a passion and a community that I have never had before and never realised I was missing from my life. I’ve met some amazing people, had some amazing experiences and have finally found an outlet for my creativity. I love my life and quilting, and it’s associated community, has a lot to do with that so if there was a chance that coming out of the closet and admitting my true feelings about “modern quilting” could see me shunned by that community than I wasn’t going to risk it.

Funny thing, if I really listened to my inner voice I’d know that any community that shunned me because I don’t want to refer to myself as a “modern quilter” isn’t a community I would want to be a part of any way, but sometimes a gnome just wants to be loved.

So here I am, just a girl, standing in front of her community, saying loudly and proudly that “I am a quilter”.

That’s it.

No more, no less.

I’m a quilter.

I’m not modern, I’m not traditional, I’m not mod-itional – I’m just me just having fun with fabric.

"Know who you are and know you're enough." - Motivation Quote. Quote appeared on GnomeAngel.com

There’s no other title I’m looking for…. well maybe Supreme Commander… or Batman… I have found myself declaring “I’m Batman!” a lot lately…

For me, personally, I’m not comfortable putting any other descriptive word in front of it. (Ok, I lie, I often put “awesome” in front of it when I’m doing my pretend interviews like Jimmy from The Commitments.)

Maybe that’s because I don’t really understand the definitions. Or maybe it’s because I’m scared of inciting the anger of the “quilt police” by incorrectly labelling my work. Or maybe I’m scared of losing my place in a community I really love because I don’t want to label myself. Maybe it’s just because I try not to think too hard about something that brings me such joy and risk overanalysing my creativity away. Maybe it’s all of this and none of it – who knows.

Now, I don’t care if you want to put a descriptive or clarifying word in front of “quilter” or “quilting”. That’s awesome and I’d love to hear what the word means to you, what creative empowerment it brings you and how it feeds your creative process. I’m all about sharing in the joy and passion of quilting in a respectful and considerate way.

But, so help me, if you use that descriptive term to try and belittle someone else’s creativity, form a clique, mock someone, put yourself above someone else, look down your nose at someone who doesn’t fit your definition of a term or anything else that just smacks of insecurity, small mindedness and pettiness then we’re done.

This is where I draw the line and why I loathe labels and why I’ve come to resent and rally against the term “modern quilter” as it applies to my passion.

I admire and respect those that think about their creative process, their place in the community, their impact on the story of quilting and discuss it with respect, bravery and an open heart. These are the people that will help the history books define “what is modern quilting” and “who was a modern quilter”.

I’d love to say I wish I was one of those people that took the time and energy to think about what I clumsily refer to as “the intellectual side of quilting”, but it’s all a little over my head and these days I’d rather avoid the drama that having these discussions often brings. My days of staying up till the wee hours of the morning vigorously debating the intellectual merits of art are beyond me, I no longer have the brain space or the need to know the answers.

I guess if quilting was a classroom I’d be up the back doodling over my books trying to make them “look pretty” while attempting to make those around me laugh all-the-while trying like hell to avoid the intellectual debate happening down the front. In the immortal words of philosopher Murtaugh, “I’m too old for this shit.”

So, why am I posting this? Good question. I guess I’m just tired of bottling this particular opinion up and Gemma‘s post has given me the impetus to finally post what I’ve been trying to post for the past 18 months.

I also have a questionnaire sitting in my inbox that I need to fill out and it’s asking me if I’m a “modern quilter” and I’m tired of dodging the question out of fear that when I say no the people who identify themselves as a modern quilter are going to think that I’m casting judgement on their choices (because for 99.9% I’m not).

So instead of doing a massive brain dump on an unsuspecting Editor here I am doing a unsuspecting dump on my blog. (oh heck, that didn’t come out quite the way I thought it would… but I’m leaving it in because it made me laugh so hard when I read back over this for typing mistake.)

"Come, let us have some chocolate and continue to talk about happy things" - motivational quote. Appeared on GnomeAngel.com

Gemma and I have spent a lot of hours (it’s a long way to Sydney and back) talking about “what is modern quilting” and “am I a modern quilter” and the conclusion I’ve come to is thus: I don’t care what it is or if I am.

The only time I care about labels is when they’re being used as a weapon of hate, segregation and bullying.

I used to think I was the lone reed (anyone else thinking of “You’ve Got Mail” now?) on this topic, that it wasn’t “cool” to not want to label yourself as a “modern quilter”. That I must be not seeing something that everyone else is seeing because they’re really passionate about being a “modern quilter”. But here’s the thing – that’s them, not me. Just because I don’t want to call myself a “modern quilter” is no judgement on others who do. Each to their own. I don’t like to call myself a feminist either, but I’ll sure as heck be out there fighting for equal rights (I just think equal rights is a human thing, not just a female thing.)

I don’t give a toss about labels – unless they’re attached to a quilt. The only time a label has any impact on me is when it’s used in a negative way and I hate to say it, but I feel like “modern quilter” sometimes falls into that category. We shouldn’t use labels to define our passions and separate ourselves from each other because in doing so we run the risk of robbing ourselves of the joy and creativity that sharing that passion with others brings us.

For me, personally, I just want to make and create works that speak to me and brings joy to others. I want to share my excitement and passion for quilting with others who are easily excited about their quilting journey.

I’m just a simple girl with simple pleasures.

Edited: If you’d like to read some more thoughts on this topic, check out Jane’s piece on the Make Modern Blog. If you’ve written about your own thoughts on this matter please leave a link in the comments so we can all check it out. I love to hear your thoughts, opinions, ideas and feelings. There is no wrong or right answer, just thoughts and our own personal journeys.

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43 Comments

  1. Raylee December 5, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Catching up on reading your blog, this is an awesome post and I am so pleased you wrote it. Your ability to put your thoughts into words that everyone can relate to and understand often amazes me. It shouldn’t, I know your brain works on so many levels.
    Looking forward to your next brain dump. Watch out editors!

  2. trixi November 29, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    I’ve also just thought of myself as a quilter. I didn’t even realise this debate existed but I have been a little preoccupied over the last year and haven’t actually done any quilting…unless of course buying fabric counts!
    As for labels I guess for myself I think labels put you into a box and confine you there and with my quilting …I just quilt and I love it and thats whats important for me.

  3. Barbara November 29, 2014 at 5:33 am

    I think it’s the terminology that people use, and I think we’re also typed by the retailers. The only time I refer to myself as Modern or not is when I’m looking for quilt fabric online. I think for the sake of this discussion, “traditional” quilting is a genre of quilting defined by the types of patterns, fabrics, and colors one chooses- dusty floral patterns in cranberry, teal and sand for instance. I believe people use the term “modern” quilting to show a person who follows a different set of trends- one where paper piecing, negative space, and lots of Kona Ash are used. If Modern Quilters are only open to following things other “modern” quilters do then they are actually quite “traditional” to my way of thinking.

    In my mind, a true modern quilter is one who tries to break new ground, develop new patterns or techniques or designs. If I follow that reasoning, I am a traditional quilter- I like traditional blocks but I will work them in colors combinations and fabric patterns from the “modern” school of quilting. (If I must be classified, I’d be a “Modern Vintage” quilter.)

    When I have had this discussion before, I’ve sited Denyse Schmidt, who I adore. She is considered the Godmother of Modern Quilting, but I don’t understand that term. She uses classic techniques and classic fabric patterns. Yes, the color combinations are new. The pattern scale may be altered, but it’s all recognizable to “traditional” quilters.

    For people to get heated up about this is silly. We like what we like. I’ve seen really old quilts that look truly modern to me. I’ve seen traditional quilts that are lovely. What would be great is if everyone was open to appreciating the artistry in all styles of quilting and not think themselves any more wonderful than another group just because of the colors they choose to sew with.

  4. Ruth November 29, 2014 at 2:05 am

    Couldn’t agree with you more. I try not to label myself and play with traditional designs in current fabrics, I like negative space and assymmetry too and I love the idea of art quilts. Contemporary feels like it fits better but in the end I make what I like regardless of is it modern and I just want to slow down a bit next year and enjoy the process more!

  5. Ruth November 29, 2014 at 2:04 am

    Couldn’t agree with you more. I try not to label myself and play with traditional designs in current fabrics, I like negative space and assymetry too and I love the idea of art quilts. Contemporary feels like it fits better but in the end I make what I like regardless of is it modern and I just want to slow down a bit next year and enjoy the process more!

  6. kris November 29, 2014 at 12:45 am

    I just like to make things with fabric. Sometimes it’s quilts and sometimes it’s clothes and sometimes I even mend things for my family (see if I want to label myself as a quilter I’m technically not allowed to mend) Sometimes I even sew paper! I am a sewer extrordinaire. (See, I don’t even care about the sew-er versus sewer (sewerage works) “wouldn’t it be better to call oneself a sewist?” thing.)

    {Sometimes I even think my “thing” is just buying fabric… Shhhhhhh!!!!! Don’t tell anyone!}

  7. Becky M November 29, 2014 at 12:25 am

    I think you said it well! I was lucky enough to have joined an MQG (Philly) that includes everyone as long as you are a quilter (and we even had some who weren’t!). I had no idea this drama was happening and feel bad that their are people who have gone to other guilds and been judged and put down. There is value in all creative effort. Our guild appreciates all different types of quilting. There is beauty everywhere!!

  8. Laura November 28, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    I feel the same way you do about labels…always have…they box you in and separate you from others.
    In fact, although quilting is a huge part of my life (and has been for 15 years), I generally say ‘I love to quilt’ rather than ‘I’m a quilter’ because I’ve met people, over the years, who come across with that same stuffy, I’m better than you, attitude when saying I’m a quilter. Let’s all just do what we love and share the joy.

  9. Carla November 28, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    I agree! I am a quilter. Full stop. As I mentioned in my ten quilty little secrets post, I do not understand the distinctions. Most of us are neither traditional not modern but somewhere in between.
    I think you are right. Sometimes, ‘modern’ is used negatively to describe quilters who can’t be bothered to learn anything beyond the most basic techniques. Really, it doesn’t matter. Are you having fund cutting up fabric and sewing back it together in an arrangement that pleases you? Excellent. Carry on.
    Where did the puppy dogs, rainbows and unicorns go? They morphed into deer and owls!

  10. Liz Rose November 28, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    Like you I am a quilter.
    I make quilts for my own pleasure and amusement (condom quilt) and will enter them in a quilt show if I feel like it. I submit quilts for judging if it is that type of show – but my main purpose is to exhibit. It’s like a transaction – I like to see other quilts so I make a contribution by entering my quilt.
    I started quilting in my 20s and have been at it for 30 years (gulp! I’m not really THAT old in my head). I have made quilts in many styles – traditional, art, quirky, making a social comment.
    I just make quilts that I want to make and try not to get lost and distracted in the latest fabric/ pattern/ style.
    Angie – just keep making stuff that pleases YOU and you will find the inner peace/ or your groove and have a great time into the bargain.

  11. Nicky November 28, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    I am just happy playing with fabrics and making stuff – sometimes it is more modern sometimes very traditional – wouldn’t care to label it ! It is just what appeals to me. I do want people to like it though and sometimes they do!

  12. Stephanie Morrison November 28, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    Fabulous post Angie!!!!
    I can’t see why we all can’t just enjoy doing the things in life that give us pleasure and satisfaction. I think putting labels on things just serves to exclude people. Me – I just enjoy creating and making whether that be with fabric or wool or anything that comes past my way!!!!

    Simple pleasures- let that be a new motto!!!!!

  13. Michelle November 28, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Well said! I just like playing with pretty fabrics!!

  14. PennyDog November 28, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    I blogged about this a short while ago because I had an incident of being labelled “not modern enough” which sent me into a blind rage. There are quilt police on both sides of the fence, both as ugly and unnecessary as each other. My argument is largely that the modern movement in an art sense was at the turn of the 20th century (I’m thinking Picasso and friends) and technically the word we should be using is contemporary, and I do think quilts are a form of art. If I am being facetious, I describe myself as a postmodern quilter, and I personally see my style therefore as being culturally influenced and referenced, not taking techniques and trends too seriously and always looking for shortcuts. Embracing all colours, combinations and an appreciation of historical quilting, whilst not engaged with it. I really want to make a half quilted, half bound, half untrimmed quilt for a show and call it “incomplete”. I think this sums up my thought process pretty well!

    1. GnomeAngel November 28, 2014 at 9:08 pm

      Holy carp I’m totally writing this one my hand and repeating it when someone asks about my quilting style. If pushed I’ll refer to myself as contemporary or a quilt of the times. I think it won’t be until we’re all old and grey that they’ll look back and be able to group together certain people and class them as modern quilters. And I agree, I hear “modern” and I think of it in art terms – I rarely think of it as a reference to the time period. Which is probably where I get tripped up. But at the end of the day it’s really just about the creating and doing what we love – I’ll leave the defining of it for those that come after me. I would totally love to see you make that quilt!

  15. Jane November 28, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Great post, BatGnome.
    But now you’ve got me thinking way too hard for a Friday night!

    1. GnomeAngel November 28, 2014 at 7:01 pm

      I am totally getting business cards made up with “Batgnome”!

      Imagine how the cogs have been turning in my head because some unsuspecting Editor (whoever could that be) asked me if I’m a modern quilter. *grin*

      There’s no right or wrong answer to that question, it’s just I sometimes don’t feel safe in my community if I admit to not really caring about labels. Is that more about me than the community, it could be. Who knows.. I have some more thinking to do (which is code for time at the sewing machine). 😉 🙂

  16. Alyce {Blossom Heart Quilts} November 28, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    I’ve always felt like I’ve needed to have a label (in my case, “modernitional”, so that people can quickly and easily understand my aesthetics as a quilter, moreso than a box for me to climb into. In the broad sense of the term, I am a ‘modern quilter’ because I don’t like bottle green and maroon quilts, haha!! But yes, when it becomes an ideological battlefield trying to determine superior styles… no thanks. Had enough of the playground wars when I was in school!

    1. GnomeAngel November 28, 2014 at 7:06 pm

      See, I knew someone would have a cooler hybrid of the two terms than me! I’d be crap trying to work out celebrity couple names. Exactly! I find it so weird, on a whole, that humanity looks for ways to make us the same (by each having a matching label) while also wanting us to all get on (when labels have the reverse aspect of segregating and making people feel unloved). It’s a complex issue, so I’ll just stay in the sewing room where the most complex my life gets is Y seams. 😉 🙂

  17. Sarah Goer November 28, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    Thanks for the post. I think I find myself in the grey area of the traditional to modern spectrum… an area many (most?) of us are in. I’m a member of a 40 year old guild (older than me!) in which we see a variety of styles, so I always feel like I fit… there’s always work I find beautiful which inspires me to work on my quilts. But with modern quilting I think I’m “not modern enough” (though I’m not even sure I understand “the definition”) and have hung back on visiting or joining a modern quilt guild in my area, because despite loving a lot of the work I’m seeing from the group, I’m not sure I fit, and I’m not sure I’d feel welcome. Your post makes me think of how odd it is to me that there’s something about modern quilting or the quilting community at large that makes me questions whether “modern quilters” would welcome me. I’m a quilter. 🙂

  18. Kathy @ Kwilty Pleasures November 28, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Well said. I have been kwilting for 25 years and tried every genre kwilting has to offer. The kwilting journey is about trying whatever makes you happy and embracing change…. Always kwilt what you love and love what you kwilt. Today even the term “quilter” is poopooed by “sewists”! Labels…meh!

  19. Janine November 28, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    I am a quilter, always have been always will be. I have not labelled myself as modern or traditional as I like both. I’m not a member of any guild I just sit and sew and quilt in my little house. I follow quilters on IG and Facebook but that’s about it.
    Your post is very good. Thank you for coming out of the closet 🙂 and for sharing.

  20. Serena@Sewgiving November 28, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    I hear you … although I’m thinking more of the movie with Hugh Grant and Julie Roberts (there’s a blue door in the film and I can’t think of the name right now ..) but she says “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to like her” … we all want to fit in somewhere and identify with other people but we don’t need labels and rules , it only restricts creativity … I think we are all just “today’s” quilters, just creating with ideas that inspire is today 🙂

  21. Lisa H November 28, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    I loved reading your thoughts today. I too am a quilter.

    1. GnomeAngel November 28, 2014 at 8:33 pm

      Thanks Lisa. <3

  22. Kristy November 28, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Every time I read your blog I become more and more convinced that you would be great to know in person. Thanks for your honest, awesome posts.

    1. GnomeAngel November 28, 2014 at 8:30 pm

      Ahh… I have my moments. 😉 🙂 Thank you for the lovely compliment!

  23. Zehrina November 28, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    Now I respect and love you even more my quilting friend…Honesty is best policy

    1. GnomeAngel November 28, 2014 at 8:32 pm

      Awww… stop it you’re making me blush! <3

  24. Rachelle November 28, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Whoooo! Well said! Just cut the pretty fabric and sew it back together. Quilting is intrinsically awesome, no further labelling required.

  25. Anita November 28, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    I completely know what you are saying! I even wrote a published magazine article about this. I’ll have to put it up on my blog. (I just had to wait six months) And the funny thing is I just joined the Modern Quilt Guild as an independent literally half an hour before I read this. But I am also a member of the Canadian Quilter’s Association which seems a lot more traditional to me. So I’m with you! I am a quilter. I don’t want to be penned in to one style or technique. I want to do them all! Quilt all the things! 🙂 I also have felt very uncomfortable about the undercurrent running through the quilting community about “Modern Quilting” and that is somehow seems that there a bit of snobbery attached with that sometimes. I love modern quilts. I also love traditional quilts. Let’s all do what we love and love what we do and what will result is fantastic beautiful quilts.

  26. Leanne Harvey November 28, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    Well said Angie ! I have always had a uneasy feeling in my stomach when the “modern quilting” subject comes up. It’s good to know that others out there feel the same as I do. We are all quilters….. I love quilting and labeling it won’t change how I go about putting my bits together …..
    Cheers Leanne

  27. Natasha November 28, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Beautifully put Angie!

    1. GnomeAngel November 28, 2014 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks Natasha! <3

  28. Johanna November 28, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Great post! We should just enjoy what we do and not put a label on it. Besides, there’s such much blurring between styles and the terms are quite subjective anyway.

    1. GnomeAngel November 28, 2014 at 8:45 pm

      Yes, I couldn’t give you a definition of anything these days it’s all so subjective. I think it’s just one of those things where you have to do what makes you happy – if that requires a label then you choose your label and work it. It’s about believing in your work and having fun. Lots of fun!

  29. Gemma at Pretty Bobbins November 28, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Love this post and love that you took a dump on your blog 😉 here’s to being oneself and enjoying quilting xx

    1. GnomeAngel November 28, 2014 at 8:37 pm

      Thanks for making me feel safe enough to take a dump in public. <3 🙂

  30. collette howie November 28, 2014 at 11:06 am

    awesome post and so so needed to be said!

    1. GnomeAngel November 28, 2014 at 8:40 pm

      Thanks Collette <3

  31. Jana D November 28, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Well said. I am a quilter too!

    1. GnomeAngel November 28, 2014 at 8:37 pm

      Thanks Jana <3