As I’ve written before, I consider my “go-to” quilting style modern traditionalist. I love bold colors, modern prints, graphic contrasts, and alternative gridwork, but you won’t find a ton of improvisation in my quilts. I like geometry and symmetry. I’m a bit Type A.
While my quilting is not as “modern” as that of others, I feel inspired by new spins on classic blocks such as churn dash, flying geese, and eight-pointed stars. On her blog 42 Quilts, Jenifer Dick features Modern Mondays, a sampler project where she modernizes and “wonkifies” a traditional, well-known quilt block. It’s awesome. Some other books by great quilters like Denyse Schmidt have reinterpreted traditional quilts; my current favorite is Vintage Quilt Revival by Katie Clark Blakesley, Faith Jones, and Lee Heinrich. Several well-known modern pattern designers have dug up classic quilt blocks from the public domain, written instructions for creating them, and, I would guess, raked in a nice bit of cash. Good for them!
The resurgence of some of these traditional blocks has me wondering, though: how many other blocks have yet to be “discovered” by modern quilters? I decided to go on a treasure hunt, rifling through a hefty assortment of websites, catalogs, and books that have collected every single block design known to humankind. I found about 500 blocks that could easily cross over to “modern” with a bit of a facelift, but I’ve pulled and played around in Illustrator with my top five. I kept all designs exactly as I found them, but changed the colors to reflect a more modern palette.
I think that once we break free of our assumptions about traditional quilt blocks, they really offer so much in terms of design possibilities for modern quilters. I am NOT a designer in any way (not yet, at least!), but I was able to find some of the cool geometry in these blocks and turn them into designs that we modern traditionalists might want to construct, all by choosing different colors.
I’d encourage all quilters, traditional and modern, to experiment with traditional quilt blocks. What can we do with color, fabric, arrangement, moving this triangle over here and this diamond over there? Modern quilters are forward-looking, which is great, but sometimes some of us too easily dismiss the traditions and techniques of the past. If poring over thousands of quilt blocks in the last few weeks taught me anything, it’s that these designers were the pioneers of our craft. Their blocks are incredibly intricate and innovative, particularly considering they were designed over a century ago without Illustrator or EQ7 (and, for many, without credit). We have such opportunity to continue to honor them by channeling their designs into modern quilting today. Everything old can be new again; sometimes it just needs a bit of color.