Modern quilt guilds start online, meet in person

This quilt is a Works Special Edition Tangerine/Poppy designed by Denyse Schmidt of Bridgeport, Conn. It remains her favorite, and she uses it on her own bed. Visit her website at

Have you heard? The quilting world is on the cusp of an exciting new movement, one that our younger sisters in fabric are joining in droves.

The style is called modern: bold lines, rich, saturated colors — often in solid fabrics — and plenty of white space. Traditional quilting techniques may be used with contemporary materials, or the piecing may be improvised in a no-rules approach.

The global movement actually started online through modern quilters’ blogs and Flickr sites on the Internet. is a popular photo-sharing website.

Then Los Angeles quilter and blogger Alissa Haight Carlton, 35, decided to form a group that met face to face. In October 2009, she co-founded the first Modern Quilt Guild, gathering regularly to share their “urban modern” passion.

The guild numbers 90 dues-paying members with 500 more participating online, often in virtual quilting bees. The average age is late 30s.

“Modern quilting is an aesthetic approach, a new wave of quilting,” explains the self-taught Haight Carlton.

After only four years of quilting, she has made more than 80 quilts in this style. Her personal taste includes solid fabrics, small-scale graphic prints such as dots and stripes, and “negative space.” Haight Cartlon focuses less on patterns and makes more improvisational pieces.

She estimates that 95 percent of a quilt she makes is from solids, and she shies away from large-scale prints and florals.

A former member of that L.A. group, Melissa Richie, 39, of Colorado Springs, founded the Front Range Modern Quilt Guild late last year and has 35 members who attend regularly from Denver to Cañon City.

She credits the famous quilts of Gee’s Bend for starting the movement. As these quilts from Southern slave descendants were seen in museums, they were appreciated for their simple lines, utilitarian beginnings and improvisational styles.

“They were beautiful in a nontraditional way,” Richie says.

When she first tried improv piecing, Richie felt uncomfortable with 90-degree angles that didn’t square up in a wonky log cabin design.

“But then I found it liberating,” she says. “It didn’t have to look perfect for me to be pleased.”

Through the modern guild, Richie enjoys the company of others with similar tastes. Among them are nurses, teachers, shop owners, photographers and stay-at-home moms. They tend to also enjoy crafts, knitting, making scrapbooks and sewing clothing.

“We are making things we want to use, baby quilts, table covers to spill spaghetti on, potholders — for ourselves and for others,” Richie says. “We’re not making them to hold up for a prize.”

Despite being functional and perhaps out of place at most quilt shows, modern quilts still require quality craftsmanship, such as quarter-inch seams and well-pressed blocks, she says.

Both Haight Carlton and Richie are fans of Denyse Schmidt’s quilt designs and fabrics.

“She is hugely inspirational to me personally,” Haight Carlton says.

Schmidt, 50, of Bridgeport, Conn., has been in business for 15 years, developing high-end couture quilts for interior design and offering a range of others in varying prices.

With a degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, she says traditional quilts influence her work, “how they can look modern with a spare color pattern.”

White space was used in antique quilts because that fabric was more readily available and less expensive than print fabrics, she says.

What makes quilts modern are subdued tiny prints on a solid background, often white, but not in such a limited palette as 100 years ago, she explains.

With rotary cutter in hand, but no ruler, Schmidt strives for a free-form quality, “more like painting or collage,” rather than “cutting out multiples of blue or red triangles.”

Later this month, Schmidt will travel to Los Angeles to teach improvisational patchwork to the Modern Quilt Guild there.

“My process is really fast and fun. We don’t get bogged down in what’s the right color, the right size, but the combining of colors, sizes and shapes.”

Fascinated with the evolution of the traditional guild, Schmidt says “it’s gratifying to see young people’s interest in crafts” at this level.

To that end, she has written the foreword in a new book titled “Block Party: The Modern Quilting Bee,” written by Haight Carlton and Kristen Lejnieks.

It’s the result of a virtual quilting bee, 12 modern quilters who corresponded through the Internet, exchanging fabric and blocks through the U.S. Postal Service over a year’s time. Each finally was able to assemble a collaborative quilt of her own, sharing photos of them in cyberspace.

Haight Carlton wrote six chapters; Lejnieks of Washington, D.C., wrote the other six, communicating entirely online. They finally met in person after the book was completed. It debuted earlier this month.

A fitting ending to a story that starts through high-tech social networking and ends with low-tech, hands-on sewing.

Email Sherida.Warner@


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