What is Modern Quilting?

Last week the Modern Quilt Guild blog asked the question “What does “Modern Quilting” mean to you? As a traditional quilter who is just beginning to dabble in what I consider modern quilting, here’s what I think:

For me, modern quilting is about a new generation of quilters putting their spin on the tradition of quiltmaking as a creative yet practical art. Through the years, quilts have been made for a purpose (warmth). They’ve also been a creative outlet and a way to add beauty to our lives. Some were made from scraps and others from found cloth (feedsacks, old clothes) or specially purchased materials. None of that has changed.

The biggest difference I see is color/fabric choices. Modern quilting leans toward clear colors rather than grayed colors. Solids are more prevalent. (Based on those two qualifications, modern quilting is very much like traditional Amish quilting.) Prints are either very large scale, graphic, or whimsical as opposed to traditional florals and calicoes. Modern quilting also pairs fabrics much more… um… adventurously. I also see a change in the patterns. Instead of representative blocks, like traditional stars, baskets and flowers, they lean toward geometric designs with less emphasis on symmetry (although there are also some very symmetrical modern quilts). I also see scale playing a greater part in modern quilting, either very large or very small. However, I think a traditional pattern with modern fabrics is more likely to read as modern than a modern pattern with traditional fabrics.


Let me try that again: If you use calicoes in hunter green and burgundy and cream and federal blue to make a Wonky Log Cabin quilt, it will look like a traditional quilt. If you use Amy Butler prints and whites and clear solids to make an Ohio Star quilt, it will be called a modern quilt.

Art quilts are a genre all their own, and I tend to think of them as more complex, smaller, and with more emphasis on different techniques. They may also be modern, but I think of them as overlapping styles, not one as a subcategory of the other.

As an aside, I believe that all quilters can benefit from learning the traditional piecing methods. I don’t think we should use ONLY those methods (or even any of those methods, once learned), but understanding them can give us a starting point for trying new things.



  1. Very well said. I just keep turning it over in my mind, and yours is one of the better responses I’ve seen. Fabric really does play such a huge, huge part in the “personality” of a quilt.

  2. The best answer I’ve seen to this question. I really like how your response addresses a couple of specific points about how “modern” and “traditional” quilts diverge – I find many responses to “what is modern quilting” take some form of simply “not what those old ladies at the LQS do”. Of course there are many more dimensions along which modern and traditional quilts are similar than they are different.

  3. this answer is very helpful and really helps me to clarify in my mind what modern quilting is all about. Thank you. Have to say been struggling with the whole concept of modern quilts and what it is exactly that gives them this distinctly modern look.

  4. I totally agree. The creativity lies in the fabric choices and the use of color. And patterns… oh, the patterns! (Do you remember the technology in Project Runway where they got to create their own pattern? That would be awesome!) I get so excited to see all the vibrant color and pattern choices available and that is where the sketch starts and lends to something amazing.

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