Make It Modern!

Author: Amanda Morris, 2021 Programs, Co-Vice President

Welcome to another exciting year of Guild programs. This year we want to get back to our roots with a year long exploration of modern quilting elements.  We’ve designed our programs to give everyone an opportunity to show off their “go-to” modern quilting skills as well as experiment with new skills that might not have been tried before.

To get started, we feel it’s important to give everyone the same reference point. Though two people might differ on determining how “modern” a quilt is, they can certainly both recognize the common design elements that differentiate modern quilts from traditional quilts. For our work this year we’re going to consider the following elements as our foundation to Make It Modern.

Alternate Gridwork

Sarah O. | 2018

Alternative Gridwork serves to break up the predictable nature of a standard grid. It creates visual tension as the left side of the brain seeks to recognize a pattern and a rhythm to the block layout. It’s a useful tool to move the viewer’s eye around the layout of the quilt as they seek out that pattern.

Notice, in Sarah’s quilt, how your brain wants to line up the colorful ovals and the outlined ovals, with the offset grid laid down in the quilting.


Similar to alternative gridwork, our brains naturally seek out symmetry as a way to organize the information received from the eyes.  Asymmetry is a useful tool to draw the viewer’s attention throughout the quilt as it seeks balance.

Kathleen’s quilt is a great example of Asymmetry, and yet she’s also achieved a wonderful balance between the active blocks and the weight of the dark background.

Kathleen C. | 2020

Dense Quilting

Barbara E. | 2018

Dense quilting creates an overlay of both texture and pattern that is separate from those same elements derived from the piecing and fabric selection. This is a useful tool to enhance the story you are telling with the piecing. 

Barbara has used her dense quilting as a wonderful contrast to the pieced blocks.

Graphic Layout

Bold graphic shapes and high contrast palettes are the most common elements of modern quilting.

Looking at Kathy’s quilt, we see she has used bold, diagonal elements which imply a lot of movement. She’s got high contrast with her white background and the vertical columns of black to navy piecing which are crossed with more diagonal elements in bright, high-saturated colors.

Kathy S. | 2019


Beverly T. | 2018

Improvisation is a tool often used by modern quilters as a way to break the mould of traditional quilting. Improv embraces the concept of Wabi-Sabi and frees us from the expectations of perfectly straight seams and precise points.

Bev has used a creamy neutral as her main fabric while delegating the red ombre fabric as the background.  The parallel quilting combined with the organic piecing produce a wonderful sculptural effect.


Maximalism is all about aesthetic excess. It is the boldest of statements in the loudest of voices. In a maximalism quilt, even the background fabric has something to say.

Looking at Annette’s quilt we see bold gestures in each of  the rainbow ribbons. The echoed lines of the quilting imply the ribbons are moving or vibrating.

Annette B. | 2021


Amy C. | 2020

Minimalism is the act of reducing the elements of your quilt down to the purest expression of your concept. The minimalist artist is always asking, “If I remove this element, does the design stand or fall apart?”

Amy has diligently designed each of her Disney inspired blocks utilizing Minimalism.  You can see in this photo that she has pared down the colors and shapes to the point that the character’s face isn’t necessary to know immediately the reference being made.

The updated colors and graphics in modern prints also serve to reinforce the concepts of modern quilting while adding pattern and contrast.

Katie’s use of modern prints create a subtle rippling effect in the horizontal bands, while the overall color saturation of the modern prints serves to pop the bands forward from the neutral background.

Modern Prints

Katie F. | 2020

Modern Traditionalism

Modern quilting has its roots in the traditional patterns and methods that came before us. Taking a traditional block and updating it or manipulating it in a new way creates a sense of play and experimentation in a modern quilt.

Veronique’s quilt evokes a cartoon animation of a traditional block expanding and floating away.

Veronique O. | 2019

No Borders

Amanda M. | 2019

In contrast with the borders typically found on traditional quilts, modern quilters often forego a quilt border; choosing instead to let the graphic nature of their designs stand on their own over the entirety of the quilt surface.

Notice how the shibori patterns in Amanda’s quilt could continue indefinitely because they are not constrained by a border.

Play on Scale

Making the expected, unexpected through play on scale is a common tool of modern quilting.  An exaggerated scale can create a sense of play or, when combined with several sizes of the same block, can create a sense of depth of field against the negative space of the quilt, as seen in Tricialyn’s quilt.

Tricialyn A. | 2018

Solid Fabric

Rhonda R., Rochelle R. | 2018

The use of solid fabrics helps reinforce the graphic nature of modern quilt designs. Though typically seen as a flat shape, a sense of transparency can be achieved through subtle shifts of solid colors adding a sense of 3 dimensional depth. In the same way, an artist can play with the warmth and coolness of color to “push it forward” or “send it backwards.”  This effect is much more dramatic in solid fabrics than in prints due to the saturation of color inherent in solids.

The colors in Rhonda and Rochelle’s quilt are playing off each other in unexpected ways..  The background fabric is warm and therefore wants to come forward. The shaped pieces are all cool versions of navy, pink and green and would therefore be expected to visually recede.  Yet, despite their coolness, the intense saturation of the pieces pop them forward of the background.  The result is a delightful tug of war between the pieces and the backdrop.

Vast Use of Negative Space

The use of a vast field of negative space serves many purposes in a modern quilt. You can’t have a “positive” without a “negative” to contrast against.  In this way, the negative space serves as a backdrop for the more “meaty” focal point. This also gives the viewer’s eye a place to rest when the focal point of the quilt is more loud and boisterous. 

Jennifer’s quilt implies a sense of volume that holds the smaller hexagons as they float away from their fellow hexies.

Jennifer K. | 2018

I think this list gives us plenty to talk about in our year long conversation about what it takes to ‘Make It Modern!’  Now the fun part begins. 

Throughout the year, I encourage you to do some self assessment.  Periodically ask yourself:

  • Where is my comfort zone on the modern quilt spectrum?
  • What are my ‘go-to’ modern quilting skills?
  • What are my weaker skills?
  • Do I want to challenge myself to strengthen those weaker skills?

Above all, have fun playing with the elements of modern quilting.

2 thoughts on “Make It Modern!

Leave a Reply