Traditional Made Modern: A Fresh Take on Traditional Quilt Patterns

“Go North” • Maritza Soto • 69" x 70" | Photo courtesy of the artist

Modern traditionalism is making waves

Quilters are more excited than ever about updating traditional quilt patterns in a new way, and the results are stunning. So why the increased popularity?

Great modern traditional designs are not only fresh and modern but also pay homage to quilting’s historic roots. As the middle ground between modern and traditional design, modern traditional quilts incorporate the best of both worlds, providing endless opportunities for new looks.

“Waiting for Sanity” • Kristin Shields • 49" x 48" | Photo by Lauren Hunt, Courtesy of the Modern Quilt Guild

“Waiting for Sanity” • Kristin Shields • 49″ x 48″ | Photo by Lauren Hunt, Courtesy of the Modern Quilt Guild

What is modern traditionalism?

The term “Modern Traditionalism” generally refers to any quilt that has a traditional pattern, block, or design as its foundation, combined with one or more modern design elements. Modern traditional quilts often start with a traditional block or pattern—perhaps an Ohio Star or a Double Wedding Ring—and then are modified using modern design elements. These elements can include negative space, asymmetry, scale, and more. When one or more of these modern elements meets a traditional pattern, the result is a modern traditional quilt.

Traditional Foundation (Churn Dash) + Modern Elements (Contrast, negative space) | Illustrations courtesy of Riane Menardi

Traditional Foundation (Churn Dash) + Modern Elements (Contrast, negative space) | Illustrations courtesy of Riane Menardi

Timeless modern traditional quilts

Modern traditional quilts are new, exciting, and modern, but they also have a hint of nostalgia. In a word, they are timeless. At QuiltCon 2017, some of the strongest quilts came from the modern traditional category. Let’s take a look at a few examples of winning quilts that illustrate the genre.

“Waiting for Sanity” by Kristin Shields, which took home a Judge’s Choice award, is an excellent example of a traditional quilt made modern. She created the design by varying the scale, value placement, and color choice of a traditional block.

Maritza Soto’s quilt “Go North” won the FreeSpirit Award of Quilting Excellence. The heart of this quilt is a traditional Half-square Triangle block motif. The quilt uses an alternate grid, clean lines, and a graphic color palette to create a dramatic, eye-catching design.

Jeannie Jenkins’ “Fireworks” combines contrast, scale, and a modern color palette to modify traditional star blocks and quarter circles. This quilt took second place in the Modern Traditionalism category.

So how exactly do traditional quilts inspire modern quilts and how can we create modern traditional quilt designs of our own? It’s surprisingly easy and anyone can do it with the right tools.

“Go North” • Maritza Soto • 69" x 70" | Photo courtesy of the artist

“Go North” • Maritza Soto • 69″ x 70″ | Photo courtesy of the artist

How traditional quilts inspire modern quilts

The modern traditional quilter keeps many design elements and techniques (from all quilting styles) in her toolbox. It’s best to cast a wide net to find inspiration—but don’t worry, you don’t need to know everything about traditional or modern quilting to make a modern traditional quilt. Start with the traditional patterns you know and modern elements you feel comfortable with. (Not an improv quilter? Not a problem! You can always add to your toolbox later. Half the fun is playing and learning.)

Traditional Foundation (Dresden Plate pattern) + Modern Elements (Scale, asymmetry)

Traditional Foundation (Dresden Plate pattern) + Modern Elements (Scale, asymmetry)

A simple formula

These components can be mixed and matched in endless ways, but the formula is very simple.

Traditional foundations include:

  • Traditional block patterns
  • Traditional quilt patterns
  • Traditional quilt layouts

Modern elements include:

  • Negative space
  • Improvisation
  • Minimalism
  • Asymmetry
  • Alternate grid
  • Modern color palettes
  • Contrast
  • Scale
  • And more!
“Fireworks” • Jeannie Jenkins • 50" x 76" | Photo courtesy of the artist

“Fireworks” • Jeannie Jenkins • 50″ x 76″ | Photo courtesy of the artist

So let’s explore the components of a modern traditional quilt.

To create the quilt, all you need is to combine one component from the traditional column, with one or more modern elements. The results will be striking. You may find that using one element (like asymmetry) will naturally lead to incorporating another (like an alternate grid). Here are some examples of formulas and how they illustrate modern traditional quilt designs.

Traditional Foundation (Medallion quilt layout), Modern Elements (Minimalism, graphic color palette)

Traditional Foundation (Medallion quilt layout), Modern Elements (Minimalism, graphic color palette)

Any combination of elements can be a starting point, and you get to decide exactly which direction to go.
Can you spot the combinations of traditional and modern elements used in the quilts featured in this blog? As you follow your modern traditional journey, be sure to build your toolbox, experiment with new ideas, and have fun. You’ll fall in love with the unique and timeless designs of modern traditionalism.

Happy sewing!

Riane Menardi is a writer, designer, and modern quilter from Des Moines, Iowa. A lover of linen, straight lines, and high-contrast hand quilting, her work has been featured in many publications including QuiltCon Magazine.
Visit her website here. vesselquilts.com

Check out a ton of modern patterns in our pattern store!

 

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