What’s in a name?

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For those of you who don’t know who I am, my name is Hilary and I am the Public Relations & Marketing Coordinator at Quilter’s Compass. Just about everything you read on Facebook, Twitter, our newsletter, class schedule, and here on our blog is written by me. I try to write most things for the shop in a “we” not “me” tone, but for this post, I decided I wanted to write it in my first-person point of view.

It just so happens that my mom is the owner of Quilter’s Compass and we were talking the other day about how different words mean different things to people. For example, some people say “reproduction fabrics” and mean a completely different thing than what I mean when I use that term. After we discussed this idea, I was looking through the Fall/Winter 2007 issue of Quilt Sampler Magazine and the first shop they highlighted was described as “A cosmopolitan quilt shop filled with bright and contemporary fabrics…”

As someone with what I consider more modern tastes, I got a little excited and started looking at all the pictures. To me, they did not read contemporary.

Merriam-Webster defines the word “contemporary” as “marked by characteristics of the present period”. Well, that’s awfully broad, isn’t it? Let’s look up “modern”. “Of, relating to, or characteristic of the present or immediate past.” I’m not sure that applies directly, either.

I suppose the point of sharing these definitions is that modern or contemporary quilting techniques, fabrics and patterns don’t seem to fall into an explicit category. I like to think of it in the same way that many people think of art. You know; your paintings, sculptures, drawings, dances, sonatas, architecture… the list goes on. All of these things are art and they all go through periods and movements where different techniques are popular and themes and motifs are more common in certain times than in others.

Quilting is an art, too. Do you know how quilt appraisers or textile historians date quilts that have no labels or tags? They look at the fabric. They look at the colors and patterns of the fabric and compare those characteristics to the characteristics of fabrics from time frames that they know to be accurate. They also look at the techniques used to make the quilt. Was it machine-quilted or hand-quilted? What type of stitching was used? What about the actual quilt pattern – was it even available during the period when the quilt may have been made?

Art historians look at the same things when they date pieces of art. They look into the techniques and the theme. They examine the types of materials used.

Some of you may be familiar with the Modern Quilt Guild – a quilt guild that started online and soon transformed into a massive movement of modern quilting. In the “About Us” section of their website, they state:

Modern quilting is sometimes difficult to define because in many ways the definition is as individual as the quilter – changing from quilter to quilter. In addition to reflecting the individual personality and personal style of the quilter it also reflects the current aesthetic of the day.

I think that sums it up perfectly. To me, modern quilting means clean lines and bold colors and patterns, but I find exceptions to my “definition” all the time.

How do YOU define “modern” or “contemporary”? Do you use the two words interchangeably? What about “traditional” or “reproduction”? Many people use these words interchangeably, but they are actually separate things. Most reproduction fabrics are traditional, but not all traditional fabrics are reproductions.

Reproduction fabrics are typically from the 1930’s or Civil War era, but they are not limited to those time frames. Reproduction fabrics look at the styles, colors, and patterns of those times and make new fabrics in those same styles. These fabrics, as far as we know, are patterns and colors that would have been found during those time periods. Traditional fabrics, on the other hand, tend to have styles similar, in some ways, to reproduction fabrics, but are not trying to, in a sense, copy the fabrics of times past.

In many ways, “traditional” is just as difficult to define as “modern”. Many people who I have talked to say they think of dark colors when they think of traditional. This is not necessarily a true statement. Just look at the 1930’s! 30’s fabrics are both reproduction and traditional fabrics. Many of them are very colorful with a mix of brighter colors and more muted tones.

We can also look at the example of solids. Some consider solids very traditional because they are a staple in Amish quilting. On the other hand, many people consider solids to be ultra-modern. Many contemporary quilting books and patterns that you see on the shelves today are designed to be made with solids. Robert Kaufman just had a challenge for the Modern Quilt Guild using their Kona Solids!

Again, nothing fits into a box. Or, perhaps, we can put things into small boxes then put them into larger boxes. Sort of like those stacking cups. 1930’s fabrics can go in a box which can then go into a larger box labeled “reproduction” which also houses a “Civil War era” box. The reproduction box can be put inside the traditional box which has countless other “sub-boxes”. Traditional will stack inside of a larger box labeled “fabric” next to the contemporary box, the batik box (which some people might place inside the contemporary box), the novelty print box, the outdoors box (which some might put inside the traditional box) … I think you get the idea.

It might be nice to have set definitions so when you walk into a shop and say “I’m looking for some traditional blue fabrics and some contemporary green fabrics,” the person you’re talking to knows exactly what you’re looking for. But do we really need to always put ourselves into labeled boxes? Do I tend to lean to more modern designs and patterns? Yes, I do. At the same time, I see some traditional and reproduction fabrics that I really like. For now, I think I may just wade into each pool, or dip my toes into the water of a few different labeled boxes.

The ultimate point is that the only box your fabrics or quilts need to fit into is the one labeled with your name. If you love it, what else matters?


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