I rarely struggle with writing but I’ve spent a lot of energy trying to figure out how to approach reviewing this seminal book on the Modern Quilt Movement. Although light in tone and visually beautiful, don’t be fooled. If you care about modern quilting, this is a must-read book.
Let’s get the obvious issue out of the way: Author Rachel May has written a very flattering essay about our work over the past 15 years so it would seem self-serving for me to write a rave review about it for that reason alone. I will also add that prior to her calling us for an interview, we had never met the author. However, the most interesting, relevant and refreshing part of this 224-page book has nothing to do with us. Rather it’s about getting the story straight and telling the whole story.
There has been a tremendous amount written about the Modern Quilt Movement. Some of it has been accurate but most of it has not been consistent with our experiences during the past 15 years. The biggest discrepancies involve describing who modern quilters are, when the movement began and the breadth of it. This is why it’s perfect that Rachel May authored this book. She wrote this book while pursuing her PhD in English and Cultural Studies. May isn’t making a career in the quilting industry and isn’t trying to use this book to sell a fabric line or workshops. May is a founding member of the Boston Modern Quilt Guild but has the academic chops to see that movements aren’t defined by a single person or group.
We began teaching modern quilting in 2001. Since then we calculate that we have taught around 10,000 students. Fewer than 500 of them are part of the Modern Quilt Guild. The Modern Quilt Guild has done a wonderful job organizing guilds and supporting its members. However, most of the quilters we know who make modern quilts are not part of the Modern Quilt Guild. They make modern quilts within the context of a local guild. They tend to make a variety of quilts and belong to guilds that support all types of quiltmaking. Some belong to the MQG as well as a local guild. They range in age from 20-somethings to 80-somethings. Most do not have blogs and do not aspire to anything in the quilting world other than making great quilts. They are just phenomenal quilters doing their thing, their way. Some are active in social media but many are not. Some live in rural areas and some in urban. Although some are new quilters, others have won prizes in traditional quilting categories at Paducah and are looking to add to their repertoire by learning more about modern quilting. Some have enormous stashes and $9,000 sewing machines while others use their mom’s Singer from 1952 that doesn’t even have a zigzag stitch and buy only project-specific fabric. I bristle when I hear generalizations about modern quilters because our community is just more diverse than the articles I’ve read elsewhere would suggest. Stereotypes make for a good story but they just bear no resemblance to the reality that we’ve seen over the past 15 years. By showing us the range of people inspiring us to make modern quilts, Ray is acknowledging (finally) the diversity of age, experience and interests in the modern quilt community.
Quilting with a Modern Slant will become the book on modern quilting by which all others to come will be measured because Rachel May introduces us not just to the work of those you already know but also to those whose work you may not know but whose work is a significant part of the Modern Quilt Movement. May profiles over 70 artists, many of whose work is foreign to me so I have some learning to do as well.
So here’s what I hope you’ll take away from Quilting with a Modern Slant: Ideas develop and most people don’t take the time or care to learn the history of a particular movement. Rachel May is getting you started. She’s prepared a Smorgasbord of modern quilting for you; interviews, photos, patterns and a little background on how this all came about. It’s all there. Read every page. Try new techniques. Learn the history. Pass it on. Become part of the history. Modern quilting will be defined by the quilts people make and that includes yours.