‘Modern’ quilts and coloured backgrounds

This blog post is an outpouring of thoughts with a lot of questions about ‘modern’ quiltmaking. You have been warned.

On Instagram over the last few days, Robert Kaufman have been putting up their new Kona solid colours. I think there are some real beauties in there, and it makes me really want to make a quilt where the background isn’t white, or ash grey, or low volume, or doesn’t have a background tone at all because it’s so busy and/or scrappy. That’s right, I don’t just want to use these in a rainbow solids quilt, I really want to make a feature out of a predominant colour.

Here are some of my favourites I think would be great for a different colour background…


I think these would be nice paired simply with one other colour group of patterned fabrics.

Now I don’t like the word ‘modern’ because to me, that was the time of Picasso through to the mods and pop art and Andy Warhol, I’m thinking turn of the 20th century through to the early 70s. I’m not an expect on art history by any means, in fact the last time I learned anything about it I was 14 so please correct me if I am wrong. In fact Wikipedia says it is 1860 to 1970. I personally feel more comfortable using the word ‘contemporary’ to refer to quilts of the time, that reflect today’s tastes, values, time restrictions, culture, etc. I’m not sure if we’re technically in the late modern period or we are postmodern now and that is an issue up for debate by those more educated than me. Maybe the art movement shouldn’t have been called modern in the first place, since a la mode could refer to the present day fashion at any point in history.

Anyway, my point is, can a quilt be put in the category of “modern quilts” if it has a coloured background? If I use bottle green, purple, a deep red, or even black, does that then instantly give them a more old-fashioned look?

I have in the past been told my Wallander quilt (above) isn’t “modern enough” (I’m not telling you for what), purely for the colour choices I made. These colours I might add, were from the modern quilter’s favourite solid collections – the Kona range and some designer couture ones too. I don’t regret these colours, they were an accurate representation of what I was trying to represent and I actually really like this quilt, I’d never give it away.

Are colours truly the deciding factor? Do I have to use more than two colours? If I have brown in my stash does that automatically make me a traditional quilter? Or are shapes important too, and block designs, the quilting and the speed of the construction of the quilt, and how it is put together? What about the invisible binding I prefer so much? Do I need to check off all of these factors, because if I do all but one it doesn’t qualify? To me, this isn’t an old fashioned quilt, it doesn’t smack of civil war quilts, nor is it a hand pieced masterpiece over several years made from old clothes and feedsack.

My parquetry quilt, a deliberate attempt to make brown fabrics into a modern quilt.

I don’t know, but if “modern quilt making” feels so restrictive to me, I think I might not want to be part of it anyway. Maybe I don’t want my quilts to be “a la mode” or definitively modern, I want to make them in the colours and fabrics I like, and to try something a bit different sometimes, and it won’t always work, but at least my quilts will look like my quilts. I’m not here to fit in (maybe that’s why I don’t like the word ‘modern’?!), I’m here to play with fabrics that make me happy, tinker with designs and most of all, enjoy myself. So I’m happy with my style, and if someone wants to coin it postmodern, or whatever, that’s fine by me.

Now the important question: which of those new Kona colours should I choose?

P.S. Be prepared- I’m coming out with a blatant ‘modern quilt’ finish soon. It’s rainbow solids on white and everything and I may even back it with Ikea Nummers! Don’t worry, in reserve I have sketched a design for a mini quilt with a big applique fish on it to balance it out in case that finish makes me feel untrue to myself (or I get through to round 1 of Sewvivor)…

P.P.S. It’s not that I don’t like rainbow solids quilts on white, it’s just that making them isn’t for me, and I love a bit of scrappy too. I’m going to be making the Georgetown on my Mind quilt later in they year and if I can gravitate away from the white backing that would be awesome if anyone has any ideas?


  1. Posted July 22, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    From the above quilts it seems to me that a combination of grasshopper and sangria would be right up your street? bit of black in there too? But go with your heart. And I wouldn’t worry about the quilt police. Just go and make something that is really ‘you’. Go Kerry Go 🙂

  2. Posted July 22, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    To be honest, I thought the “modern” quilt movement was about being open to experiment and anything goes… clearly not. You could start your own movement.

    I don’t think I want to see you do a “standard modern” quilt complete with Nummers… that’s more my style! (though I’ve never even seen any Nummers in Ikea, much less bought any)…

    Choose Ultramarine. Definitely. Rachel recently made a quilt with a jady green background – not quite that green, but close, and I’m pretty sure Kristy Quiet Play did too… I started one in the sandy colour at the top and hated it..

  3. Posted July 22, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    ‘modern’ is a label. Make what you love and look for labels later. Or just label them ‘mine’ we should quilt for ourselves and other people’s narrow definitions of a label shouldn’t define our style. And I would go for sangria.

  4. Jen B
    Posted July 22, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I like scone and ultra marine best. I know what you mean about “modern” quilts. I always think that a quilt of the most traditional blocks in the most traditional fabrics I can think of was the most “modern” quilt ever made once. I don’t really think it matters of you’re a “modern” quilter or not, if you like the quilts you make, that’s all that matters.

  5. Posted July 22, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    I think the best thing is to make what you love, not worrying about what definition it might fit within and go from there. I am not keen on any of those four new Konas personally, except the scone one, but in the end it depends on what you use them with.

  6. Elizabeth McDonald (catskill quilter)
    Posted July 22, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Great questions, Kerry! Sometimes it is possible to look at a completed quilt decades later, and guess when it was made, based on the colors and prints of the fabric; a 1970’s quilt has a certain vibe based in part on the 100% cotton fabrics that were available at that time. (I think some quilters started stashes because there were seldom more than 1 or 2 cotton prints to be found at all in the winter months; we learned to ‘buy it now’ or never see it again!) You can track color trends from clothing options, new car colors, and even colors of household kitchen appliances, but there are always some quilters who work in totally disparate colors. Unless I am making something for sale (and nowadays I am not!) I use the colors that I love at the time I am making the quilt. Hopefully you do too!

  7. Posted July 22, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    THe sangria would make a great background. I wouldn’t pigeon hole yourself. I make traditional ( ish) quilts but using bright colours or I may make a so called modern pattern in pastels so what does that make me? It makes me a quilter content with what she does and two fingers to anyone who says I’m wrong xxx

  8. Posted July 22, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    I clearly need to catch up on the kona feed. Love all of those four especially ultramarine and grasshopper. Hmm I thought modern/contemporary down to style and interpretation not following a set of tick boxes. Just go with being you if it doesn’t excite or make you happy then what’s the point? Plus you inspire sooo many with your designs and outlook 🙂

  9. Posted July 22, 2014 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Wowsers, you got a bag on today! You know my general opinions on this, I don’t like brown, can’t help it, it’s a reaction to the brown of the 70’s, don’t mind coloured backgrounds, just don’t like sludgy quilts! Make what you like making, and damn us all, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, or whatever label they want to put on you or themselves! Nuff said :o)

  10. Lynne McL
    Posted July 23, 2014 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    I just pieced a very minimalist/modern quilt with a dark brownish/purple background. I’m not sure if the modern quilt police would approve, but it’s not a cookie cutter internet quit 🙂

  11. Posted July 23, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said make what you want. I’m not sure labels are very helpful and to me when I think modern I think 1920’s!

  12. Posted July 24, 2014 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    I too struggle with what is modern or not in quilting. I would have thought your quilt was modern, it’s an awesome quilt by the way! I’m surprised that it was deemed not modern because of colour. Long ago I decided that I wasn’t going to buy into the modern or tradional labels and just be a quilter.

  13. Posted July 30, 2014 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Hmm, I think in my mind civil war, 80’s style flowery and Disney vomit fabrics are non-modern, and everything else is, although brown gives me pause, mainly because it’s mostly the colour of civil war fabrics. I’m also not fond of brown, I think partly because my mother traumatised me with the most hideous brown floral dress ever when I was 5 (it was the last dress I wore for about 12 years it was that bad 😉 )

    For the solids, I have modern quilts with coloured solid backgrounds, and I know a lot of other people that have them too, not sure where you got that one from?

  14. Posted August 3, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    I like to have friends and I like to sew/cook/own/dress etc how I like and very often those do not match up. I have spent my life square-ing that circle and like Gina I’ve found the answer is the Archer’s Salute 🙂

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