Woo shows off her quilt during a meeting of the Modern Quilt
Guild at Sew Modern in West Los Angeles on April 7, 2014. Thanks
to a movement that's putting a fresh spin on an old craft, the
time-honored tradition of quilting is shifting -- and in the
process, it's attracting a new generation of sewers.
LOS ANGELES —
When Alissa Haight Carlton and Latifah Saafir organized the first
Modern Quilt Guild meeting in Los Angeles in October 2009, they hoped
they would find a few other like-minded quilters who wanted to get
together. They weren’t alone: The modern-quilting group today has
more than 100 chapters and 5,000-plus members nationwide.
Thanks to a
movement that’s putting a fresh spin on an old craft, the
time-honored tradition of quilting is shifting. And in the process, it’s
attracting a new generation of sewers.
DIY culture got
a big boost in the wake of the 2008 recession, but the seeds had been
sown earlier. "Quilting is the new knitting," Carlton says,
referring to the craft popular in the early aughts. "Sewing took
a little longer to find its way."
modern quilting started to grow after the 2002 debut of the museum
exhibition "The Quilts of Gee’s Bend," a collection of
stunning graphic designs by African-American quilters from a small
Alabama community. Modern quilters like Denyse Schmidt began to
publish books about the style, and quilters linked up online to share
ideas and work.
Carlton and Saafir first connected. Both had regularly visited Rossie
Hutchinson’s popular Fresh Modern Quilts Flickr group, an early form
of social media for quilters. Then in 2009, Carlton wrote a blog post
lamenting the lack of visibility for the burgeoning modern style at a
Long Beach quilt convention. Saafir had attended the same convention
and suggested they meet and start a modern quilting group.
They did, and
word of their group soon spread via the Web. Chapters formed across
the country. "Modern quilters were already very eager to start
meeting, since we were already talking online through our blogs and
Flickr," Carlton says.
is executive director of the national Modern Quilt Guild, in addition
to working as a casting director on reality TV shows such as
"Project Runway." She has written two books about modern
quilting and last year released a line of fabrics. Saafir, a
mechanical engineer, has a website called the Quilt Engineer and
teaches quilting classes at Sew Modern in West Los Angeles.
say there’s no cut-and-dried definition of modern quilting. But
characteristics of a contemporary quilt can include an emphasis on
solid colors and bold, Minimalist designs; experimentation with
negative space; a reworking of traditional fabrication techniques; and
an improvisational approach to pattern making.
endeavors generally aren’t about efficiency, and quilting is
particularly time-consuming. Design and technical mechanics require
skill and patience, so getting feedback and occasional help from
others is a part of the quilting experience. Being around like-minded
people who share a passion for designing with fabric also is a big
part of quilting culture.
The Los Angeles
chapter of the guild meets twice a month. Weekend sews provide an
opportunity for quilters to work in the company of others. Bigger
crowds turn out Monday evenings at Lauren Hawley’s Sew Modern store,
the de facto home of the L.A. chapter.
At a recent
meeting at the fabric and sewing supply store, chapter members were
asked to bring modern quilts for show and tell. Quilters of all ages
filled seats and stood around the store’s cutting table to admire
group members’ efforts, which included a minimalist design inspired
by rush-hour traffic on the 405 and a Jewish wedding chuppah created
for two future grooms — a collaboration between one-half of the
couple and his future mother-in-law, who often attend guild meetings
and Saafir achieved their goal of getting modern quilters to meet in
person, guild members continue to connect digitally, too. Instagram is
now a popular forum for sharing work. And the Modern Quilt Guild
website offers webinars and an online community.
continues to grow. Last year, the nonprofit’s inaugural QuiltCon in
Austin, Texas, drew 6,400 attendees, and organizers are expecting that
number to be higher at the next conference, in February.
of modern quilting may be fluid, but there is a common approach to the
craft, guild founders say. "More than anything, the attitude of
the modern quilter is, ‘I can dive in and try this,’" Saafir