What pushed modern quilting to an international view?

Quilting as a traditional costume has been around communities for centuries; in fact, there are records of different ways of quilting in many countries. As a matter of fact, there are quilting regions in India and Pakistan where is usual to find functional and traditional artwork that dress houses and covers both people and animals.

The curios question among travelers that find themselves shocked by the lack of documentation or readings about this craft comes from an undeniable reality that surrounded traditional quilting. There was not much view to this particular art. The main reason why this traditional costume has not been visualized at a worldwide level is due the lack of exposure that lead to a lack of recognition of the practice.

In the beginning of the new millennium, quilting began to have recognition and exposure due to an early movement back then called Modern Quilting. New modern quilters began to expose their craft and in consequence people started to see this artistic ability dressed in colors, shapes and designs that went hand in hand with what was seen in other artistic scenarios such as movies, architecture, plastic arts and visual arts.

A Defining Moment

After a Martha Steward show in 1998 featuring Denise Schmidt’s quilting, the terms “chic, inspired and modernist” defined her work to the nation, the consequence for quilting after that show was the early beginning of the Modern Quilting Movement. In fact, that was the key inspirational push this movement needed. This emerged to be seen, and not many years later that window would be an international one.

In 2002, exhibitions of modern quilting at the Museum of Fine Arts and a book by Yoshiko Jinzenji’s book “Quilt Artistry” were the very first elements after that defining 1998 interview that assured the creation of an important place the quilting industry was creating for itself in the market.

Online Platforms and International Events

In 2005, two more books were the first tools that gave the online international community a reason to create blogs, forums and later on websites for Modern Quilting. The first of these two books was authored by the very Denise Schmidt and the second one was published by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr.

Three years later on, in 2008, the first social media that allowed venues for quilters was the Flicker Group Fresh Modern Quilts. By that year, there were many more online blogs about modern quilting; consequently, after the new acquisition of this social media input for the modern quilting movement, the online community was well-stablished and more influent.

A year later, the Modern Quilt Guild’s website was launched to give quilters the opportunity to form in person connections. This tool gave birth to events such as Quiltcons, gatherings and connections that was useful to an international community that started to connect and share their patterns, opinions and experience at a worldwide level. 

Events such as Quiltcon, created and hosted by the Modern Quilt Guild was first celebrated in 2013, and has become the largest modern quilting event in the world. In this yearly event, Modern Traditionalism, Minimalism and Bold proposals have a place to be displayed and appreciated. On the other hand, this event has a jury panel of 400 members that ranks the best artwork presented. In addition to it, there are lectures, workshops, vendors and exhibitions that go along for four days.

Inspirational and Groundbreaking Designs

The key element of this movement is a mixture of inspirational mundane elements such as architecture, films, visual arts, experiences and a rebel spirit to break the rules that nurture traditional quilting. In fact, when comparing traditional quilting designs and modern quilting ones there is a clear different that not only time has passed between them, but people and generations also have. 

This means that different eras have left a recognizable trait in these quilts, and luckily modern quilters made sure to stich their own personal taste and modern inspiration in each one of those quilts. The way to create a quilt still goes through traditional sewing techniques such as appliqué, embroidery and patchwork. However, the modern twist shows itself in the fabrics and rule breaking characteristic that stick to every modern quilting design. Likewise, another modernist trait to quilting is the use of technology to design and cut the layers to give a different illusion depending of the concept.

Additionally, many modern quilts are minimalistic in design but functional in use. Also, modern quilters took traditional quilts and have done a modern version of them in order to show the world what a traditional quilt would look like if they were designed today, through a modernist view. In consequence, this different styles and modernist twists to traditional designs do give the movement a distinctive attraction that catches the eye to more worldwide quilters as years go by.

Modern quilting around the world

Quilting is the art of sewing different types of fabrics through specific techniques with the purpose of making noticeable and warm thick covers, in other words, quilts. This crafting skill belongs to a worldwide community that has shown itself through the large and profitable 3.7-billion-dollar industry in the United States only.

In addition to it, this growing movement counts with more than 21 million quilters in the United States who are mostly woman over 60. On the other hand, in Canada, the Canadian Quilter’s Association has over 20,000 members. Plus, this association holds an annual conference in which shows the National Juried Show, a competition to display the members’ original artwork.

Moreover, international quilting communities, that bring together a whole new set of identities for the movement, include countries from the five continents. One of those countries is Hawaii where quilting often meant souvenirs in memory of deceased loved ones, unborn babies and celebrating marriages or major events in the island. The symbolism that surrounds this art represents outspoken and tangible love for the island that is shared around the world.

As for the South Asian part of the continent, in countries as India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan there are two main forms of quilting. The first one is the Nakshi Kantha, and the second one is the Ralli. Traditional Kantha is unwadded quilting made as mats, bedcovers, or all-purpose wrappers. Nowadays, quilting as Kantha is used as community projects to rescue and preserving traditional skills, but also to generate incomes for many poor communities.

Regarding Ralli, widely practiced in Pakistan and India, is predominately marked by a needlework technique named appliqué that does bring honor to the name of this traditional quilting. This form of quilting connects people regardless of religion, tribe, or castes. Within these quilting communities, many women use scraps and hand-dyed cotton to sew different fabrics with a unique style. This styles is embroidered rallies and multiple patchworks that serve with both functional and symbolic purposes. 

To get into more details about this form of quilting, it is safe to say that the colorful quilts are fashioned out of pieces of old cotton clothing and created traditionally by poor people in rural areas in Sindh, Cholistan, and Baluchistan in Pakistan, and also in Gujarat and Rajasthan, India. Other needlework techniques applied in this craft are embroidery and patchwork; the latter, are pieces of colored fabrics stitched together in symmetric geometric designs. Regarding embroidery, the artwork and technique allow the layers to stick together through patterns used also as adornment.

To this point, some international communities were shown to unveil both different techniques, and forms of quilting that are mainly traditional. Having said that, many modern twists or let’s say phases to long traditional needlework, skills and cultural practices elevate these movements to a new and fresh view. Therefore, by modernity brought into tradition younger generations add new elements such as designs, writings that are later on published as books, and styles breeding in novelty. 

Hence, Modern Quilting, a prominent area of quilting is more inclined to the aesthetic aspect of the quilt. However, despite having a special focus in the beauty of designs and outstanding materials, the difference between a modern quilt and art quilt is that modern quilt is also orientated to functionality; this means that originality and modern quilt designs can also be used in a Livingroom booth, bedcover or a piece of clothing. 

The Modern Quilting Movement Culture

Modernity comes with technology, online webinars, and QuiltCons, which is part of the initiatives taken by a worldwide community that seeks to connect, share and help new quilters in this attractive and very modern designs for quilts. Modern quilters gather information differently through online galleries, blogs, and forums that share patterns to practice with. They also share information and quilts through social media and events, and finally, they shop online new fabric that follows the movement’s aesthetic features.

Therefore, even though the dynamic among modern quilters is more interactive, fast and experimental, the rules in this movement do share a different set of characteristics, not rules, that makes their work look like they are part of something different. Among these, there is more of a freestyle, asymmetry, and minimalistic designs.

These distinctive features are the ones that make this movement worldwide. In other words, what makes them different and more striking are their bold colors, graphic-designs and their lack of intricate patchwork, plus repetitive familiar patterns that are characteristic traits of traditional quilting. The focus on this movement is the use of modern fabric that uses high contrast colors; the background in a modern quilt design is brighter and more expansive and design combines the use of technology to visualize designs, make different cuts through innovative cutting machines, or tessetalling.