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A baby quilt by Ronelle Kiziak, a 33-year-old from Camrose, Alta. (Picasa)
A baby quilt by Ronelle Kiziak, a 33-year-old from Camrose, Alta. (Picasa)

Quilting returns with bolder, brighter patterns and contemporary colours Add to ...

Modern quilts aren’t exactly what your great-grandmother used to make; they’re brighter, bolder and embrace minimalist patterns and contemporary colour palettes. In short, they’re cooler. And young artisans are taking note.

Like the resurgence in rug hooking, another practical craft of generations past, quilting clubs are popping up across the country and guilds are consistently gaining new members.

Rebecca Burnett, a member of the Toronto Modern Quilt Guild, says there are 35 women in her group, ranging in age from 20 to 70.

“But most of us are thirty- and fortysomethings,” she says. She credits the demographic to the current popularity of baby quilts. “We’re all in our baby-making years and started out making a quilt for our own kids or a friend’s, then got hooked,” she says.

The idea of a hipper quilting bee began in Los Angeles in 2009 and quickly caught on with sewing enthusiasts. To date, the organization has expanded to 150 guilds in cities across the United States, Canada and beyond. (There are also chapters in Australia and South Africa.)

The Modern Quilt Guild provides support and inspiration, and hosts events such as QuiltCon, a yearly conference that features classes, vendors and exhibits and will be held this year in Pasedena, Calif., Feb. 18 through 21.

For those who didn’t grow up with the tradition and are looking to bypass the club-like atmosphere in favour of straight-up instruction on sewing technique or mastering patterns, there are now classes available across the country.

“We’ve seen quilting get more and more popular since we opened eight years ago,” says Karyn Valino, owner of the Workroom, a sewing studio in Toronto. The Workroom currently offers more than 25 quilting and patchwork-related classes that teach old techniques and new styles.

“Quilting has taken on a new identity that is modern but still very much based in tradition,” Valino says. For example, traditional appliqué can be done with vibrant fabrics and traditional block patterns can be altered any which way. The basics haven’t really changed, but modern quilting allows crafters to break the rules – whenever and however they see fit.

Updated designs are just part of the story. “High-end fabrics are really what set the latest quilts apart,” says Alicia Storey, president of the Vancouver Modern Quilt Guild and owner of Dinkydoo Modern Fabrics.

Ronelle Kiziak, a 33-year-old quilter in Camrose, Alta., agrees: “While I love the traditional quilt styles and patterns used by my grandmothers in heritage quilts, the fabric used was lacking sheen and the soft feel of today’s materials.”

Some quilt-fabric designers such as Lizzy House and Bonnie Christine have even gained a following of devoted fans; avid quilters are known to curate impressive fabric collections.

“I’ve heard that serious quilters can easily have $6,000 worth of fabric in their homes, on hand for upcoming projects,” Burnett says.

That’s quite a switch from the fabrics our grandmothers used. In generations past, quilters used scraps from worn-out dresses or work shirts. By the time the blanket was pieced together they were left with a physical tribute to their recent history. That’s not to imply that a modern quilt lacks meaning, though.

“Every quilt I make tells a story from the time and place that it was made, about the events that might have been happening in my life at the time,” Valino says. In fact, patchwork can be so meaningful that it outgrows the confines of a bed.

“Not all that I sew becomes a quilt – I’ve made a patchwork-covered skateboard, too,” she says.

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