Not Your Grandma’s Blanket: Can a Quilt be Modern Art?

A new generation of quilters is challenging the convention that their work is simply a craft.

By Laura RiceJanuary 12, 2016 9:30 am

The new trend in quilting is called modern quilting, inspired by modern art.

“Traditional quilts usually follow this column and row format and modern quilters tend to change that traditional grid pattern up,” says Heather Grant, director of marketing and programming for the Modern Quilt Guild.

She says on the inside, modern quilts are just like traditional quilts – three layers of batting made from fabric. But it’s the outside that sets them apart.

“So they might have large swaths of negative space,” Grant says, “They might increase the scale of their blocks to be really oversized, or they might throw the grid structure out altogether and do something entirely improvisational to kind of create this really organic, different look to a quilt.”

Texans will have a chance to see what modern quilting looks like up-close and in person with a special exhibit at the Texas Quilt Museum. Bob Ruggerio is its director of public information.

“The Texas Quilt Museum has been open since 2011 in LaGrange,” he says, “and what we are is a museum that’s housed in two historic 1890s buildings in LaGrange and we have galleries that show rotating quilt exhibits.”

That can be antique quilts from the 1800s or art quilts that can be so realistic they look like photographs. Now, they have so-called modern quilts. It’s actually the first time the International Modern Quilt Guild has had a juried exhibit for a museum venue.

“It’s the first time that textile museums are starting to look at modern quilts as a way to build their collections,” Grant says.

At the Texas Quilt Museum, quilts are treated as art.

“It is certainly very tempting to want to touch the quilts and even experienced quilters you see them kind of reach out,” Ruggerio says, “but you cannot touch the quilts at the museum simply because the dirt and oil from fingers – even if you have a very, very clean hand – can get onto the fabric of the quilts and damage them. So we encourage a lot of looking but no touching.”

While the museum exhibit is a big, and very welcome, step for modern quilters, hanging on the wall is not exactly the ultimate goal.

“Modern quilters really put form and function together so a modern quilt has to be made to be used,” Grant says. “It’s actually one of the criteria we use. If it can’t make it through the washer and dryer – it’s not a modern quilt.”

But before they hit the dryers, the modern quilts will be on display at the Texas Quilt Museum in LaGrange through March 27.

Modern Quilting in Austin