Modern quilting: Where tradition meets the iPad

Rhonda Jordan chose her words carefully: "The modern quilt is simple, uncomplicated and contemporary," she decided. Jordan owns Tabby Fabric & Studio in downtown Beaufort, is raising two boys, is a quilter, just attended QuiltCon in Austin, and, with her fellow 23 members of the Beaufort Modern Quilt Guild, is organizing an exhibition at ARTworks in April and May. They've invited members of the Modern Quilt Guild in Greenville and Charleston to exhibit, too.

The modern quilt movement is big. Its ideas are well documented online in colorful blogs. Quilters share ideas at electronic speeds and make them their own at the usual pace, one stitch at a time.

Jordan showed me her "Gather on the Square" quilt as an example. Squares of cool gray hosted a few squares of blue and purple, in which she embedded smaller pleated squares. She's a graduate of Savannah College Art and Design, which itself is embedded in that city's green squares. Her quilt is a minimalist homage to successful urban planning, in a way.

Kelly Biscopink is in the show too. She's the co-author of "Modern Designs for Classic Quilts," and a popular quilt blogger based in Charleston.

"Every time I sit down to sew, I feel very connected to everyone who came before me. I learned to quilt from my mother and she learned from her mother," Biscopink explained. "There's such a long history of quilting. The community of quilters is important to me. It's thriving and connected to the past, which is wonderful."

This month, Biscopink is also teaching a class for Sea Island Quilters of Beaufort, who are having their show May 3-4 at the Greene Street Gym. Then everyone, modern and traditional alike, is invited to a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. May 4 at ARTworks.

Biscopink's quilt for the modern show is titled "Stars in Stripes" and is an Ohio Star quilt.

"It's a block pattern, which is very traditional," she said. "The color placements make it very different. Red print background, floral black and white stripe sashing, the stars are aquafoil -- fabrics that you wouldn't think go together. I'm breaking some rules but I think it works."

Breaking the rules seems to be a qualification for modernist quilts. The quilters I spoke with mentioned breaking the rules in a freedom-loving kind of way.

"There's a visual aesthetic in modern quilts that differs from tradition," Biscopink confirmed, "but in general, 'modern' is a new interest in trying new patterns, fabrics, color placement, negative space, asymmetrical layout."

Abbey Reed, who will display her modern 60- by 60-inch quilt at ARTworks, immediately contradicted that list of modern features, and that's a positive thing.

"Modern is random, but I like symmetry, the math part of it all," she said. "I'm not an artist, I can't paint or draw, but I love the feel of fabric. I have found my way into the art world with quilting."

Reed said that blogs are her main source of inspiration. She spotted a certain block-of-the-month that's turned out to be her quilt for the show, "but I didn't want to wait for all 12 months, so I kept going with that one."

When I asked Paige Alexander, a Greenville quilter, about her modern quilt, she had just won a blue ribbon at Quilt Fest in Tennessee. That quilt, she explained, is more traditional.

"I started out as a traditional quilter, but with everything out on the Internet, I was drawn to the modern. The info on blogs is vast and instant."

Her modern quilt for the Beaufort show (which is, thankfully, not a competition) is from the blog Lady Havertine. "It's a little scrappy improv piece she calls Confetti. Hers was white with colored blocks, I did mine with batiks and hand-dyed fabrics. It's my first modern quilt really. It's just great that Rhonda's bringing us together from across the state." It's as great as sewing a classic Wedding Ring quilt and blogging about it on an iPad.

Lisa Annelouise Rentz works for ARTworks, the arts council of Beaufort, Port Royal and the Sea Islands. She can be reached at 843-379-2787.