Last month I attended a fabulous talk on the differences between Modern and Contemporary Quilts given by the amazing Linda Seward.  This really struck a chord with me because for some time now I have been offering courses, workshops and talks in this general area, though I focus on an aspect known as Modern Traditionalism – and doesn’t that sound like a contradiction!

Linda focused on the distinctions between Modern and Contemporary quilts, showing some photographs of quilts and getting us to say what category we thought they were.  In many respects I am tempted to ask “so what?  What does it matter which category a quilt is labelled?  What matters is if we enjoyed making it, if we enjoy seeing it, if it speaks to us in some way.  All of which is true ……… unless you want to enter a quilt into a competition and the competition organisers have  broken it down into a specific categories.  Or if you are trying to use the short-hand of a definition to describe a quilt.  Different competitions or shows have their own categories, and these may not exactly mirror the definitions we use.  Festival of Quilts (FoQ) uses, amongst others, Modern, Contemporary, Traditional and Art.  The organisers of FoQ won’t refuse to hang a quilt if it does not fulfill the requirements of the category (some competitions and shows will refuse) and they won’t move it into what they believe is the correct category.  But the impact of this can be that when we visit shows and look around quilts that have been arranged into specific categories, we see such a variety of quilt designs and are asking ourselves “Why is THIS quilt hanging here?  It doesn’t seem to fit”  “This is a fabulous quilt, way better than lots of the quilts around it.  Why hasn’t it won something?”  The answer can be that the quilt has been entered into the wrong category.  But how are we to know that when we are looking round?  I don’t think there is an answer to that – apart from reading really carefully the category descriptors ourselves.  And I would suggest reading them well before you visit the show so that you have a good sense of what the show organisers and judges are looking for.

Last year I had originally decided to enter a quilt into FoQ.  I was telling a friend about it and she asked me what category I was going to enter it into.  Modern, I said, with great confidence.  Rubbish, she said!  Actually, she didn’t.  She was far more polite than that, but that was what she meant.  I had looked at the category definition, but only superficially.  I read into it what I WANTED to read!  Lesson learnt – read carefully the category descriptors – for that SPECIFIC competition, and make sure the quilt fits them (and don’t try to make the descriptors fit the quilt!)

Look at the two log cabin quilts – very different.  One is very definitely modern, but one is a very poor trad quilt!  Which is fine – because the quilt turned out exactly the way I wanted it.  The colours are gorgeous in real life – despite how the camera has interpreted them.  Irritatingly, the camera coped with the colours of the roof at the NEC but not the gorgeous magenta and indigo dyes.  The quilt is only quilted along the magenta lines and around the border – it created exactly the effect I wanted but it didn’t really fulfill the category descriptor as it was written.

So, whatever shows or competitions you are going to enter (and please DO enter – we don’t have a show without you!), take the time to READ and UNDERSTAND the category descriptors, taking care to ensure that you fulfill any size requirements.  Let me tell you, there is very little worse than realising the quilt you planned on entering is about an inch too small!  And if you had realised it earlier you could have adapted your design and made it fit!  And don’t fret about if you agree with their descriptors or not – that isn’t important.  The only important thing is that you follow the rules.

Of course, if they don’t follow and apply their own rules …… well, that would be a different blog altogether!

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