Lauren Hunt is quick to point out that her quilts arent like your grandmothers. And her quilting skills werent passed down through her family, either. The 27-year-old refers to a fictional Aunt June as her teacher, but the truth?
I learned by sewing badly, Hunt said.
Now a prolific sewer, blogger and fabric designer, she is hooked. As a founding member of Kansas Citys branch of the Modern Quilt Guild, Hunt is in the thick of quilting techniques that are taking off.
Modern quilters like Hunt, and her counterpart Jen Eskridge in Wichita, are ripping at the seams of a tradition that for hundreds of years required piecing together blocks of fabric, often by hand, into a grid system. New quilters are scrapping traditional patterns such as Double Wedding Ring and Nine Patch in favor of a contemporary or offbeat look, and some work without patterns.
The fabrics they use feature lighter, brighter and bigger prints, with a lot of architectural or irregular florals, said Elaine Johnson, who owns Harpers Fabric and Quilt Co. in Overland Park. Also popular are simple solids, especially when paired with large shapes.
Modern quilters can let the fabric tell the story until they build confidence, Johnson said.
For many traditional quilters, discernible blocks may always define the term quilt. But while some modern quilters use blocks or grids, they sometimes alter or eliminate them, said Jacquie Gering, president and one of the founders of the Kansas City Modern Quilt Guild. Its really more about the design than adhering to a prescribed structure.
Modern quilts can be just as intricate as the trickiest of traditional quilts and are suitable for bedding, wall art or tablecloths.
It is hard to put modern quilters in a box, Gering said.
Denyse Schmidt of Bridgeport, Conn., is considered one of the pioneers of modern quilting with her contemporary patterns and fabric designs.
We have altered expectations, Schmidt said. Where once every corner had to match and every seam had to lay flat, now we can attempt, and it doesnt have to be perfect.
While the word modern is used here, Schmidt sees the renewed interest in sewing as part of a trend to be reacquainted with traditional things such as growing food, cooking, knitting and other crafts.
Yet new quilters also have a desire to mix it up. Schmidt said the quilts of the 1970s and 1980s did not appeal to her but did spur her interest in design.
I saw beauty in idiosyncrasies, she said.
Sewing and craft magazines have taken note of the new niche, though most still appeal largely to traditional quilters. So, as with many trends, this subculture spread through countless blogs.
But a huge part of quilting is community, Hunt said. There wasnt a place for modern quilters to show what theyre making.
Know the rules
Wichita has a strong quilting community, with the Prairie Quilt Guild boasting 700 members. A branch of the Modern Quilt Guild started in September and has about 20 members, said member Kyle Leandra Kolkovich. It has a Facebook page accessible to the public online at http://tinyurl.com/WichitaMQG. The group is free to join right now, and the group alternates day and evening meetings monthly at Material Girls Quilt Shoppe, 535 W. Douglas in Delano.
The freedom to freestyle draws novices and experienced quilters alike, but modern quilters should have a plan and know the rules before you break them, Gering said. We can do wonky quilts, but we can still do them well.
In addition to designers such as Schmidt, many modern quilters, including Gering and Hunt, are inspired by a group of African-American quilters in Alabama, in a region called Gees Bend, named for a former slave owner.
The Gees Bend quilts are a century in the making, yet they fit todays definition of modern. Many are brightly colored, with unpredictable designs and shapes.
We used whatever we could to cover up and keep a family warm, said Mary Ann Pettway, 54, of Boykin, Ala. From my torn dress, we cut out the best part. Or my sisters dress. Or my brothers pair of pants.
The Gees Bend quilters dont use patterns. My mama taught me how to quilt with a nine-patch pattern, Pettway said. But today, the designs come out of my head. I like to do what no one else has done before.
The latest craze is designing your own fabric. Producing custom fabrics used to be cost-prohibitive, but now printing them costs about $18 a yard, and you can buy as little as one yard at a time.
Many crafters use Spoonflower (www.spoonflower.com) to create their own fabrics and then sell them online. Users simply upload their designs. Jen Eskridge, president of the Wichita Modern Quilt Guild, has such a business at http://reannalilydesigns.com.
Businesses like Spoonflower are growing in leaps and bounds because designers no longer have to print overseas, Schmidt said. As a result, there is more specialized, custom manufacturing. So whats next?
Youre already starting to see trendy stores appreciate tradition again, said Tula Pink of Stewartsville, Mo., who is a pattern and fabric designer. The next trend always revolts against the last.
The block structure might return with added flavor.
So, a star point quilt might have uneven stars. There also could be a transfer of scale, where parts of quilts that were tiny in traditional quilts might be magnified in a modern quilt, and vice versa.