Threads that bind…

What is a modern quilt?  As in, what makes it modern?


I have no idea – not a clue.  I don’t think it’s an easy thing to define.

This quilt is titled Alchemy and it was made in 1976 by a young woman named Molly Upton – Martha Neill Upton.  Mixing corduroy, silks, velvets and whatever else interested her – anything but the handful of calicoes that were available to quilters in the 1970s.  This was the last quilt Molly completed before she died in 1977 at the age of 23.  (If you’re interested in reading more about Molly – The Quilted Tapestries of Molly Upton.)

“Modern” can’t just be “of or relating to the historical period following the Middle Ages” because that’s a really, really long time.  Borrowing from the definition of “contemporary” isn’t much help either – it’s “relating to now”.  That would mean a Dear Jane quilt made with Reproduction fabrics is “contemporary”, right?

It also can’t just be about breaking rules and doing things your own way because – news flash – lots of quilters have been doing that for a really, really long time .

Since this is all starting to make my head hurt, let me just cut to the chase… when The Modern Quilt Guild puts on a quilt show, I’ll be there!  You should be there too. The quilts are amazing; the talent and skill level of the faculty presenting workshops and lectures is exceptional; and the MQG is unsurpassed in their professionalism and attention-to-detail.

And okay, QuiltCon is a whole lot of fun.


For four days last week, this is where you could find us – Holly, Cheryl, Amy, Tammy, Lissa and me.  Yes, those are many of the Modern Building Blocks on the wall – this time they’re made with Grunge by Basic Grey.

Solids, textures and near-solids are often used in modern quilts and all three of those descriptions fit Grunge. It’s a dyed-solid fabric with a texture printed on one side – meaning you can use the “wrong side” of the fabric as a solid.  With 103 colors of Moda Grunge, that’s a whole lot of variety and options.

That’s David Bowie on the far “wall” – more about him tomorrow.  For today, these are some of my favorite quilts from the show.


Eichler Homes – pieced by Mickey Beebe and quilted by Tami Levin.  This quilt is made with Grunge – I would have liked it even if it wasn’t.  It won 1st Place in the EZ Triangle Challenge category and it measures 66″ x 76″.


This is the quilt that won Best of Show, it’s My Brother’s Jeans – pieced and quilted by Melissa Averinos. It measures 84” x 91”.

I love this quilt – for the story behind it and for the beauty of the quilt.  The mix of white, ivory and cream fabrics creates an almost luminous effect, especially with the little bits of printed fabrics – they’re almost certainly vintage.

The incomparable Gwen Marston was QuiltCon West’s Keynote Speaker this year, and the Special Exhibit of Gwen Marston: Abstracts in Solids was sponsored by Natalie Barnes of Beyond the Reef.


Linzee wrote about Gwen last week and expressed her “bucket list” wish to take a workshop from her.  I’ll echo her recommendation – if you ever have the  opportunity to hear Gwen speak or take a class, do it!  Even if this will never be your style or preference for quilting, you will enjoy it and you will learn something. She’s funny, engaging, empowering and inspiring – and I hope someday to be as completely cool as she is.

Violet Craft – the girl has some serious skills.  She didn’t just piece this – Violet figured out how to draw this up, she worked out the coloration required, then she pieced and quilt this amazing piece.


This is Jungle Abstractions: The Lion.  As Violet describes it, her Abstractions patterns are “created through a process of original photography, 3D modeling processing and hand-drawn manipulation of pattern.”  Righty-o.  I won’t pretend to know what that all means – the only thing I need to know is that the finished design-quilt is really cool.

I loved what the quiltmaker – Liz Harvatine – wrote about this quilt – “the thought of an entirely hand-pieced quilt with enormous pieces [was] both ridiculous and hilarious.”


This is Hexie Beast – it’s English paper-pieced using poster-board hexie templates measuring 32″ wide.  She wrote that “it was truly a beast to sew together but worth it for the chuckles it continues to give [her].”

My most favorite thing about it?  The quilting.


Most of the quilts that drew my attention had this in common – the quilting.  Hand-quilted or machine-quilted, random lines of straight-line quilting using threads of different colors and weights. No matter what size they were or the types of fabrics used, the finished pieces still had the look and feel of “quilts”.


This is Diamonds Quilt #2 by Tara Faughnan – it was named the 3rd place winner in the Piecing category. I am in love with the mix of hand- and machine-quilting – and the different colors of thread used in the quilting.  Tara had several spectacular quilts in the QuiltCon show – her Double Wedding Ring quilt is gorgeous and it was awarded a 2nd place ribbon in the Handwork category.

In addition to the quilting and use of thread, I was drawn to the quilts made with fabrics in a variety of textures – crossweaves, solids, denims, chambrays, etc.


This is Tranquility by Kristin Shields of Oregon – and it was begun in a Minimal Quiltmaking workshop by Gwen Marston.  The piecing is done in an improv-manner of log cabin design and the color palette is absolutely perfect.


This is Blueberries for Sal by Elisa Albury of Utah.  The deconstructed Bear Paw block was inspired by the classic children’s book of the same name by Robert McCloskey.  From the mix of fabrics and quilting techniques – those yellow Xs! – I loved everything about this quilt.


A Kiss for Paul by Tricia Royal of Chicago – the “X” blocks are taken from the 15 Minutes of Play book by Victoria Findlay Wolfe and the quilt is dedicated to Tricia’s late father Paul, who loved dressing colorfully.

Clerestory by Malka Dubrawsky wasn’t in the show but it still caught many people’s attention as they walked by Malka’s Stitch In Dye booth.


And finally… Piece #12 by Lissa Alexander.  Yes, that Lissa.  The folks from the Modern Quilt Guild asked Lissa if she would let them show this quilt after it hung in the Moda Exhibit in Houston last October.  It’s titled Piece #12 because Lissa originally designed the layout for the cover of a Moda Fabrics Catalog – issue No. 12.


It’s a favorite because of the mix of fabrics and colors – and because of the wonderful quilting by Maggi Honeyman.

I wish I could show you all the quilts, all the exhibitor booths and all the vendor booths but alas, there isn’t time or space.  (And while I took a lot of pictures, I didn’t get pictures of everything because I really was in the booth most of the time.)

What I take away from the show is that as quilters, we’re all cut from the same cloth.  No matter how many differences we have in the fabrics, colors and styles of quilt we like, we all like cutting fabric up and sewing it back together.  In a terrific presentation about the vernacular of quilting, LUKE Haynes stated it perfectly – there are two types of edges in quilting: straight lines and curved lines.  There are also two ways to join the fabric – with a seam or with some kind of applique.  Every quilt is made with a combination of those elements.  End of story.  (He hilariously stated “end of lecture” at that point – less than five minutes in.)

The point is that instead of trying to find ways to differentiate what we do, we’re better served by embracing our shared love of threads, fabrics and stitchy-things.

The Modern Quilt Guild has posted the list of the winners in the various categories.  If you’re interested in going to QuiltCon 2017 in Savannah, Georgia next year, the best way to get information is to join the Modern Quilt Guild as an individual member, or find a MQG near you.

Tomorrow – David.  And Holly.

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16 thoughts on “Threads that bind…

  1. Thanks for sharing the photos some of the quilts are very interesting – I don’t get the comment for the Hexie quilt though ““the thought of an entirely hand-pieced quilt with enormous pieces [was] both ridiculous and hilarious.”” I hand piece entire quilts frequently and some have large pieces some have small – I don’t get what is ridiculous and hilarious of hand piecing a quilt?

    1. I think the hilarious part to me was the hexie was 32″ and English paper pieced with a huge piece of poster board. 32″ is way bigger than anything I have pieced!!

    2. Hi Karen – I’m sure the way I included Liz’s comments created a misconception. She didn’t mean that hand-piecing a quilt -large or small – is ridiculous. Her work shows that she loves both hand-piecing and hand-quilting – she’s very good at both.

      After seeing the quilt in person and trying to picture prepping and joining 32″ hexagons with poster-board templates, the visual image I got was a bit comical. I couldn’t have done it – I seem to be fighting the templates-papers when they’re only 2″ across! And the hexies really are huge – much bigger than a fat quarter. 🙂

      1. ok – I wasn’t sure if that was what was meant or not – yes it would be hard like you template papers larger than 2 inches across can be “fun” to deal with

  2. Thanks for the post and the links. Now I feel a bit as if I attended. Wish I had done so. Inspires me to join the guild so I can go to Savannah next year which is in my neck of the woods. Such interesting and beautiful quilts. Makes my head whirl.

  3. I am so, so glad you wrote this post, Carrie! You have perfectly articulated my inner thoughts on the divide between “modern” quilts, traditional quilts, and just quilts. We are all held together by a common thread – our love of quilting, or lets say fibre arts – and instead of building walls with rules and definitions – perhaps we should be building bridges, and sharing our ideas and embracing our differences along with our commonalities. Your posts are always right on, but this one really resonates with me, because it has long been on my mind! Glad you enjoyed your trip to QuiltCon, and love the photos you shared with us. Lots of beautiful work, there!

  4. I have always felt a kinship with everyone that quilts thinking we are all quilters! But I have been concerned tho that there seems to be a divide when discussing modern quilters & modern quilting. Today, Carrie said it all “we should not differentiate but we’re better served by embracing our love of threads, fabrics & and stitchy things.” So well said! I embrace your thoughts & applaud you Carrie Nelson!

  5. Oh, some amazing quilts, so much talent…Bit far to travel from Australia so thankyou for a wonderful article………….

  6. Carrie,
    This isn’t in reply to your post, but I couldn’t figure out another way to ask a question about your pattern Master Plan. I just purchased the pattern and love it. Would you mind listing the specific charm packs you used for the cover quilt? Thank you!

    1. Hi Mary Beth!

      Vintage Picnic by Bonnie & Camille
      Strawberry Fields Revisited by Fig Tree & Co.
      Little Miss Sunshine by Lella Boutique
      Summer Fest by April Rosenthal
      Aria by Kate Spain
      Bread ‘n Butter by American Jane
      Hometown Girl by Pat Sloan
      Flow by Zen Chic
      Refresh by Sandy Gervais

      I think that’s all of them. 🙂

  7. It was such a wonderful show. And it was lovely to meet you in person, I came home to find all your new patterns waiting. Love them.

  8. Hi Carrie
    Thanks so much for featuring my quilt “Eichler Homes” in your blog. It was fun meeting you at the Grunge Bar! I do enjoy working with grunge fabric in my quilts.

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