Quilting can evoke a certain nostalgic image: a circle of white-haired ladies, a large swath of fabric draped across their laps as they hand-sew ornate designs with needle and thread.
That’s one representation, but it’s not the only one. In Salem and beyond, young hipsters, artists, engineers, mothers, women who grew up sewing and women who just got their first machines are all drawn to the traditional craft of stitching together squares of fabric to make blankets, pillowcases, bags and more.
And their finished product is often decidedly contemporary.
Dubbed “modern quilting” by all the books and blogs, the trend underscores out-of-the box creativity; think clean lines, funky fabrics and geometric patterns.
“It’s really not anything new. It’s taking traditional designs and amping them up,” said Janaé King, 41, a Salem-based sewing instructor and pattern designer who teaches at Greenbaum’s Quilted Forest downtown and maintains a sewing blog and website.
She sees three modern quilting trends:
1) Traditional patterns assembled from modern fabrics. These quilts are platforms for dramatic white space and blocky splashes of color.
2) Simple, easy patterns with large blocks. These quilts contain fewer than a dozen pieces and can be constructed in a single day.
3) “Going back to your roots.” Hand-sewn and vintage-inspired, these quilts pay homage to the paisleys, florals and toiles of past eras. (Toile features those charming scenes of the French countryside.)
Chloe Costello, an 18-year-old sales associate at Greenbaum’s and a Chemeketa Community College student, describes modern quilting like so: “There’s so much you can do, like take one piece of fabric and sew a stripe down the middle. That can be a quilt; that can be artistic. There are not as many rules as people might think.”
The final product might be edgy and avant-garde, but the appeal is rooted in a centuries-old yearning for a creative outlet and the do-it-yourself satisfaction that comes from creating functional art.
There’s so much you can do … There are not as many rules as people might think.
Tiffany Luman-Shattock, a 31-year-old engineer and Navy veteran, epitomizes nontraditional, anything-goes quilting. Her most recent project is constructed mostly from two large pieces of white fabric, accented by boldly-hued red, blue and purple circles and stripes, which she carefully designed using Excel. She showed off her new creation at Greenbaum’s new Modern Quilters Club, which meets at the shop at 6 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month.
Like many young quilters, she got her start early. Following her grandmother’s hobby, she made her first quilt in high school from cut-up squares of blue jeans. She returned to the hobby as a grown-up, taking a nine-patch quilt class to refresh her skills.
A perfectionist who is perpetually irked by mismatched corners — “I measure and re-measure,” she said — Luman-Shattock also used Excel to conceptualize her next design: a repeating pattern of diamonds in contrasting royal purple and emerald green fabrics.
“It keeps me busy and sane,” she said of her hobby.
Rebekah Hamilton, 29, didn’t start her first quilt until after she married. She found she had a lot of free time, and some older ladies “adopted” her and taught her to quilt. She thought, “I can do math and I can sew straight lines. Why not give it a try?”
“It just kind of evolved from there,” she said.
She enjoys making quilts as gifts for friends’ baby showers. “I love when you give a finished quilt, the joy they get from it,” she said. “As I’m making it, I’m thinking about that baby who is going to be born.”
Costello also started young. She made her first quilt at age 10 while attending Greenbaum’s children’s quilt camp, which has been a 25-year annual tradition at the shop. Her creation was dark blue and full of stars, “because that was my favorite color at the time,” she said. “Now my brother has it.”
Eight years later, her style has matured. “When people think of quilts, they think of certain designs, such as a repeated block or a traditional style,” she said. “What I like to do is stuff that’s really out-of-the-ordinary, that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a quilt. … A lot of what I do has a twist.”
For example, on her bed is a 70-inch by 80-inch quilt featuring a giant, funky star — large, irregular triangles; no symmetry; no tiny blocks building into something larger. It comprises 17 pieces in all (versus the 150 to 250 pieces in a classic nine-patch or log cabin design). She assembled it in a day.
Another of her quilts hangs from the ceiling of Greenbaum’s, and it’s made up of neutral-toned triangles and hexagons. After gazing at it for a moment, the faces of foxes and the cross-section view of a cut log emerge from the fabrics. “It’s woodsy and modern,” she said.
Evoking a completely different feel is a bold and romantic blanket she created, one side seductively furry, the other saturated in primal red and black animal prints and whimsical flowers.
Some of her friends are intrigued by her hobby. “A lot of my friends think it’s interesting, but they’re intimidated by sewing machines and sewing straight lines,” she said.
She urges more young people to explore the possibilities. “Really, there’s a place for everyone in quilting.”
Learn to Quilt
- The Modern Quilt Guild
- Cluck Cluck Sew
- A Quilt is Nice
Diane Huber was a journalist for five years before she began job-hopping, finally settling into a career in social work. In reporting this story, she discovered her recently-completed log cabin quilt is not at all modern or hip. Undeterred, she proudly displayed it in her living room.
Summer Pommier is an amateur photographer who enjoys the creative challenge of telling a story with pictures.