An interview with the Mother of modern quilting - R0ssie
“By suggesting that the word modern means everything, the word comes to mean nothing.” - Rossie
This is the first of a monthly interview series based on Proust’s questions.
I’ll never forget when a note popped in my inbox asking me to add my quilt to the Fresh Modern Quilts Flickr Group several years ago. There were only a couple dozen quilts in the group at the time, but they were wonderful. They were what I was looking for. They were like me! Many of the first photos were added by some of modern quilting’s most influential people, bloggers, authors, founders, magazine contributors and teachers. It’s no secret I am very grateful to Rossie for starting the Fresh Modern Quilts group on Flickr. It all started there.
Rossie lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, blogs and is the Mother of the modern quilting movement. Denyse Schmidt was the mentor and muse to many of us, but Rossie found us, corralled us together, started connections, facilitated inspiration and honed the aesthetic meaning of modern quilting. If you have not seen her video on modern quilting, I encourage you to check it out. It is very much worth it.
Like many of us she self-taught herself from traditional books but was unfulfilled by traditional design. Inspired by Denyse Schmidt and Kaffe Fassett, she started improvisationally piece and design her own quilts. When her quilts started to gain comments on Flickr, she realized there were other people out there with a similar aesthetic viewpoint. She started Fresh Modern Quilts sometime in December 2007 to January 2008 and started to search for quilts. Using terms like simple, modern, fresh, geometric, Amy Butler, Kaffe Fassett and Denyse Schmidt, she asked people to add their photos into her group. In just a few years, the group boasts more than 3,800 members, over 24,000 photos and was undeniably the birth of the modern quilting community.
What is your chief characteristic? Wit.
What is your main fault? Bluntness.
What is your favorite occupation? Making distinctions.
What is your idea of happiness? Laughing with friends and family.
What is your idea of misery? Poverty.
If not yourself, who would you be? Cory Doctorow.
What is the quality you most admire in someone? Kindness.
What do you appreciate most in friends? Going for the laugh and giving the benefit of the doubt.
What inspires you? A good idea, well stated.
Who is your favorite artist? I’ve been rather obsessed with Lucienne Day’s textiles for the last year. In photography, I like Nan Goldin and Sally Mann. There’s also this French woman who’s name escapes me who does awesome stuff in a variety of media.
Who is your favorite non-fabric designer? I think a lot of the designers I like don’t have their names attached to what they do. Who does the advertisements for Target? Who makes it look like that inside of an Anthropologie store? Who does all the colors for Martha Stewart? Why do I have no interest in reading Real Simple, but love looking at it?
What is your favorite color? White
What is your favorite neutral? White
When did you complete your first quilt? Where is it now? 2003. An ex-boyfriend has it.
What are the number of WIPs, UFOs and projects on your to do list? Quilts? Around 10. Other stuff? None. I’ve learned that I should just buy bags, not plan on making them and the same goes for clothing and accessories. I’d rather be quilting!
How old is your oldest UFO? About 4 years old. It’s a huge thing with 3.5” blocks that have to be individually hand dyed, so I am taking my time.
What is the current state of your studio? Does a desk for sewing count as a “studio”? If so, it is currently ready and waiting.
What do you listen to when you sew? The television, where I stream Doctor Who, Ugly Betty, McLeod’s Daughters or something similar.
What was your first machine? I don’t know.
What is your current machine? The Janome TB12 Threadbanger Sewing Machine. It is a twin to the Janome/New Home L-108 and the Janome Travel Mate 4612 (and probably others, this is a popular all-mechanical style that Janome re-releases periodically with new styling.)
What is your favorite sewing tool? Imagination.
What was the last piece of fabric you bought? Kona Curry.
What was your last completed project? A twin size quilt, The DoublePlusGood Quilt, which was pieced as a leaders-and-enders quilt.
Do you have one of your quilts on your bed? No.
What is your favorite part of the quilting process? Everything except that part when piecing when it seems like you are “almost done” for an eternity.
What is your least favorite part of the quilting process? That part when piecing when it seems like you are “almost done” for an eternity.
What is your favorite time of day to sew? On the weekends, in the afternoon.
Do you fudge? I piece improvisationally, so I’m not sure “fudging” is even possible. So, I’m going to go with “no.”
Cats or Dogs? I quite like both, but if I had to have just one, I’d have a border collie.
Your favorite motto? “Sapere Aude” (Have the courage to think).
To help me write Rossie’s biography above, I asked her some basic questions. The last question I ask is, “Anything else you’d like to add?” Rossie’s reply was more than I was expecting, but it is so spot on that I must share it.
What she talks about is something I have been thinking about as well. Modernism is a specific aesthetic style. A good parallel to consider is interior design or architecture. Pottery Barn is “today” or “now”, but it is not modern, far from it. Pottery Barn does not have the same aesthetics as Design Within Reach. In architecture, is a new home with mission revival styling modern because it is build today? No, it is mission revival inspired home. Modernism in art, architecture, interior design, graphic and industrial design means a specific thing. Like these, the quilt is a visual art and it makes sense to think of quilting in similar classifications.
Rossie, anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve been interested in reading various blog and website postings about what “modern” means and been largely disappointed by the typical conclusion that the word means “today” or “now” or even that it means “whatever you want.” By suggesting that the word modern means everything, the word comes to mean nothing.
When talking about aesthetics, modern has a very specific meaning. I’d like to see people struggle with the real history and set of looks associated with this term. When the “modern” meme starting circulating, I was hoping it would stir up provocative arguments, not empty but “nice” pronouncements. Look up “nice” in an etymological dictionary; it means ignorant.
To play the devil’s advocate, here are some provocative statements that could be made about what it means to be modern: 1. If it is cute, it isn’t modern. 2. If it isn’t going to be used, it isn’t modern. Utility is key. Hanging a quilt on a wall to look at = using. Putting a quilt on a bed = using. Filling a cabinet with quilts = not using. 3. If it ignores the politics of its time (for example using racist or sexist fabric), it isn’t modern.
I think everyone should make what they like and be as original as possible and not necessarily worry about whether the end product is aesthetically modern. But, I do think it is useful to make distinctions and know the meanings of words. That way, if you want to make something that will be aesthetically modern, that knowledge can guide each choice. I think that the attempt to be inclusive with the term modern backfires in that it doesn’t provide any guidance when a quilter is in process.
I also think that by saying “new” and “today” it suggests that traditional quilters should be relegated to the past. This both ignores the fact that many people are both traditional and modern quilters and that people have been making quilts that look “modern” for decades. It’s the height of vanity to suggest that anything being made today doesn’t come from the same visual culture as what has been made yesterday. There is no need to drive a “that was then, this is now” wedge into the quilting community. This has been the result of some of this chatter, resulting, I think, in the volley of “lazy” that gets thrown back at modern quilters.
While I have no interest in making a quilt that looks traditional, I have learned a lot from women who love that look and have tons of experience with piecing and quilting that they are happy to share. I’m always interested in a different techniques and in showing my flaws to people who know how to fix them or avoid them next time. One of the things I appreciate about this blog, Modern Day Quilts, is that it encompasses a variety of aesthetics. The quilts shown here are all being made today and have quite a range of looks. The past is present in the “modern day,” when something is created is not the same as what it looks like. A bit of time spent in a modern art museum or at the library looking at books on modern art, architecture, or design should help people discover the difference between modern as “now” and modern as an aesthetic.