FCC disclosure: I received a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This post also contains affiliate links, where I receive a small portion of each sale. Thanks for your support!
I was in Portland for the 2014 Sew Down when Bill Volckening kind of blew the lid off of modern quilting. He presented a lecture featuring several quilts from his extensive collection, ranging from full 1970’s polyester to mid-19th-century piecework. But here was the rub: all of these quilts had a surprisingly modern aesthetic. The ways in which the quiltmakers interpreted color or minimalism or texture seemed fresh and unexpected. It was incredibly inspiring.
The Volckening Collection has traveled worldwide and has been featured in many exhibits and publications, including a featured exhibit at QuiltCon 2015. Bill himself has been a strong voice for the intersection of modern quilting and its traditional roots. His latest book, Modern Roots: Today’s Quilts from Yesterday’s Inspiration (C&T Publishing; available May 16), is the next step in this compelling argument. Here Volckening invites modern quilters to go beyond simply appreciating vintage quilts with a modern aesthetic and instead start making these “old” quilts ourselves.
The book features 12 projects, each inspired by one of the quilts in the Volckening Collection. The quilts featured run the gamut, from 1840 to 1970, from log cabins and coin quilts to the lesser-known airplane block and “Crossroads to Bachelor Hall,” a stunning design Volckening featured in Portland and that has since been reinterpreted by Jacqueline Sava. While only a handful of the quilts in the book include a real-life reinterpretation, each of the 12 designs includes an illustrated mockup with a more modern color story. Most quilt patterns also feature two versions: one large, bed-size quilt and one smaller interpretation.
I particularly enjoyed how much this book chooses not to bog down its audience with details. It seems like many quilting books choose to start the quilter at square one, but Volckening knows his readers: people who are well-versed enough in quilting to appreciate traditional quilts, modern quilts, and the blurry lines between the two. Each project includes fabric requirements, simple construction directions, and templates if necessary. That’s it. Modern Roots doesn’t go deeply into piecing or applique techniques, and that’s great! It’s not that kind of book. Instead of dedicating space to painstaking tutorials, the book instead shares the history behind each quilt design (when it became popular and why, what types of fabrics were used in the original versions, what design elements bridge the gap between traditional and modern).
There’s a richer history here than we otherwise see in modern quilting books, where projects are often beautiful but can seem estranged from the quilting inspiration that came before. As I looked through the book, I understood Volckening’s drive to cherish and share the stories of these quilts. This book seems like an embodiment of everything that draws us to handmade craft: a love of things that last in an otherwise fairly disposable world. Ultimately, Volckening suggests that this is how quilting should be done: in context, with an appreciation for the history of our craft. Call these quilts traditional or call them modern; just don’t call them a comeback. They’ve been here for years.