an image of two people looking at the colorful quilt Cotton Sofisticate by Chawne Kimber

What Is Modern Quilting?

Modern quilting themes and styles have appeared in quilting for centuries. Quilters have been conceptualizing modern design before modern design was recognized. It took until the 2000s for the modern quilting movement to start gaining traction and building a wider audience.

Today, at the heart of modern quilting is innovation. The emphasis is on design and originality over replication and perfection of technique.

As the modern quilting movement started to gain broader recognition, quilters began to expand their knowledge and practice in this craft. Now, with more experienced and curious modern quilters than ever, the boundaries of what can be created with fabric and thread continues to evolve. Thus, modern quilters often define for themselves what modern quilting is.

The MQG is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support and encourage the growth and development of modern quilting through art, education, and community. In order to serve that mission, we have outlined several characteristics often seen in modern quilting. This definition provides a foundation from which we can begin to educate about modern quilting. While these characteristics can be a common thread among many modern quilts, this list is not comprehensive of every attribute in modern quilting, nor is it a constraint to what can be in a modern quilt.

  • Bold use of color
  • High contrast and graphic areas of color
  • Improvisational piecing
  • Minimalism
  • Maximalism
  • Expansive negative space
  • Alternate grid work
  • Modern traditionalism

In modern traditionalism, traditional patchwork quilt blocks, such as a log cabin block, and traditional styles, such as boro and kantha, are often reimagined using modern quilting elements, such as asymmetry, color, and scale.

Similarly, various themes that appeared decades and centuries ago in quilts continue to evolve in quilting today. Pictorial quilts and quilts featuring text tell the stories of what is happening or has happened within society, or one’s own life. These quilts, also referred to as social commentary quilts, are present in modern, traditional, and art quilting styles. In a similar way, the utilization of recycled or upcycled materials, once done out of necessity, is more recently being used for broader environmental impact. This creates an interesting bridge between generations of quilters, with many modern quilters taking the various themes, techniques, and materials of earlier generations and applying different characteristics of modern, traditional, and other styles to create their own unique quilts.

A quilt is typically recognized as multiple layers of fabric threaded together with a finished edge. We have often used the word “functional” when describing modern quilts. This may mean different things to different people: a modern quilt may function as a bed covering, a comfort object, or a piece for visual reflection. In all cases, the use of the quilt does not push it under or pull it out from the umbrella of being a modern quilt, as long as it is perceived by its maker to be useful.

Some quilters yearn for a finite definition of a modern quilt – and some rebel against the idea. We use the above list as our definition, knowing it may be malleable. Art, craft, and quilts are subjective, and modern quilting will always continue to evolve. We look forward to seeing where it goes next!

A Look Back at Modern Quilting

Modern quilting has existed in many forms for much of the 20th century. It wasn’t until the 2000s that quilts with a modern aesthetic began to appear in greater numbers and quilters began to describe themselves as modern.

A defining event occurred in 1998 when Martha Stewart Living featured Denyse Schmidt, calling her quilts a “chic, modernist aesthetic.” For many quilters in the early days of the movement, this was a key inspirational moment.

The growth of the movement was facilitated by four factors: the cultural shift of quality design being recognized by the general public, affordable digital cameras, the changing fabric industry, and the rise of social media.

In 2002, the Quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the publication of Yoshiko Jinzenji’s book Quilt Artistry, further provided inspiration to a small but devoted group of modernist-minded quilters.

Two influential books were published in 2005, Denyse Schmidt Quilts and the Modern Quilt Workshop by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr. The first online quilt alongs were established on blogs around these two books and awareness continued to increase in the online world.

The Flickr group Fresh Modern Quilts, established in 2008, provided the first online centralized social media venue for quilters in the movement. With that Flickr group and many active blogs, the online world of modern quilting took off like wildfire.

In 2009, Alissa Haight Carlton and Latifah Saafir founded the Modern Quilt Guild giving the online community a chance to form in-person connections with other modern quilters.

In 2013, the Modern Quilt Guild hosted the first QuiltCon, which has evolved into the largest modern quilting event in the world. 

The Modern Quilt Guild’s role in this amazing and evolving movement is thrilling and we can’t wait to see what comes next!