Discover Vintage America - SEPTEMBER 2017

Modern quilts - bold colors and improvisational piecing

If you see quilts showing whimsical rainbows of colors next to quilts mourning the loss of loved ones due to violence, you are likely at a modern quilt show. There are almost as many definitions of "modern quilting" as the number of modern quilters and there is controversy on what really makes a quilt "modern".

"Eichler Houses" created by Mickey Beebe. (photo by Sandra Starley)

Technically, any quilt made currently is a modern or contemporary quilt; but generally, the term refers to a style of quilts with a minimal aesthetic, large amount of negative space, solid fabrics, low volume, and simple straight-line quilting.

The Modern Quilt Guild (MQG) is considered the authority on modern quilting and they define the concept as follows: "Modern quilts are primarily functional and inspired by modern design. Modern quilters work in different styles and define modern quilting in different ways, but several characteristics often appear which may help identify a modern quilt.

These include, but are not limited to: the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work. "Modern traditionalism", or the updating of classic quilt designs, is also often seen in modern quilting."

Established in 2009 in Los Angeles by Alissa Haight Carlton and Latifah Saafir, the MQG has developed into an international group of quilters. There are now more than 170 official guilds full of members who all bring their own style to the modern quilt movement. The MQG has rapidly expanded into an influential group and in 2013 hosted their first quilting conference and show called QuiltCon and they continue to grow and evolve.

"Double Edged Love", a variation on the traditional Wedding Ring pattern, created by Victoria Findlay Wolfe, 66" X 77". (photo courtesy of C&T Publishing)

The winner of the inaugural Best of Show Award was a variation of the traditional Double Wedding Ring pattern titled 'Double Edged Love'. This example of modern traditionalism was designed and pieced by Victoria Findlay Wolfe and machine quilted by Lisa Sipes (see photo). The MQG now holds QuiltCon every year and in addition to the juried and judged show hosts themed challenges.

The winner of the 2016 EZ Quilting Triangle Challenge was a midcentury modern minimalist quilt inspired by "Eichler Homes", created by Mickey Beebe and machine quilted by Tami Levin (see photo).

One of the styles/genres of quilts getting a lot of attention in modern quilting are political and social commentary quilts depicting gun violence, black lives matter, loss of family members, and other emotional subject matter including quilts featuring profanity. These quilts vary from in your face graphics to quiet contemplative pieces full of sorrow. All make viewers take a second glance and think.

However, not all modern quilts are so deep and many are joyful explorations of color and stitching and whimsy while others tinker with traditional blocks and design elements to create quilts with a modern twist.

If you want to try your hand at making a modern quilt there are many resources available to start you on your journey. The MQG can be found online at along with many local guilds both affiliated with and separate from MQG. Countless modern quilters have blogs, websites, and other social media platforms sharing their love of modern quilting with tutorials and other tools to teach you how to make your own.

Also, there are a number of magazines currently being published in physical and online editions that feature modern quilts, and probably make up the largest area of growth in the current quilt periodical business. There are modern quilt classes at most quilt conferences and modern quilt categories in many traditional quilt shows.

In addition, don't forget to look back in time, as there have been maverick quilters for 200 years or more quilting to the beat of their own drummers.

Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at Send your comments and quilt questions to

Covering Quilts Archive past columns