Friday, July 1, 2016

The great debate!

I`ve been meaning to write about this quilt for a while - today`s the day.  If you went to Quilt Canada, you would have seen this quilt. It`s called Crackin`the Code by Tannis Fahlman.  I spoke to Tannis in person and she has allowed me to discuss her quilt on my blog.

Crackin`the Code by Tannis Fahlman

Crackin`the Code by Tannis Fahlman

What type of quilt comes to mind when you look at this quilt?  Is it traditional? Is it modern?  There was a lot of discussion about this quilt. The quilt was entered into the Traditional Wall and Bed Quilts and it won FIRST PLACE.

I must confess that I was a bit dismayed when I first saw that this quilt had been awarded the first place ribbon for Traditional Wall and Bed Quilts.  I was concerned of the message that was being sent to the quilting world. Is the traditional quilt on the way out? I know there were a few comments about how few quilts were hand quilted.  Let's face reality folks - not many people are hand quilting. If we want this industry to move forward, we have to accept that machine quilting HAS taken over - years ago.  If people still hand quilted their quilts, nothing would get finished.

But back to this quilt - traditional or modern?  Was the proper message sent to the quilting community?  As I mentioned, I had the good fortune to have Tannis in my class, so I had time to chat to her.  Her rationale for putting it in the Traditional Category is this - there is ONE block in the quilt. AHA - I hadn't thought about that. Indeed - there is only one block in the quilt. Now that one block is NOT traditional (she made it up) but there are thirty identical blocks in the quilt. That is very traditional and NOT modern at all.

The block in this quilt

The blocks were rotated in a "random" pattern until the quilt deesign was pleasing to her eye. Then she sewed it together.

The other thing about this quilt is there are TWELVE borders. Yes TWELVE.  That is also very traditional (to have borders) and very NOT modern.

Twelve borders

The quilting would also qualify as non-traditional, but seriously - with machine quilting - what is tradtitional and what is not?

The quilting

I wish they could have put a sign on the quilt to tell people why this quilt was traditional, not modern because it has a very modern feel to it.  I think the colours also add to the modern look, yet the way it is assembled (30 blocks and 12 borders), is very traditional.  Maybe that is what they call Traditional Modern quilts. If you look on Google Images for Traditional Modern, you get traditional blocks in modern coloring.

There is a category at QuiltCon called Modern Traditionalism – Quilt design incorporates the use of an identifiable traditional block pattern and modernizes it by applying design elements such as alternate grid work, asymmetry, color, scale, etc.

So technically Tannis' quilt wouldn't fit that category because her block is NOT traditional.  Interesting.......

Anyway, I thought you would be interested in that story.  I think this quilt is pivotal and we're going to see more modern traditional quilts in this category in the future.

Have a great day!!!


PS - just a quick note about the judging process for Canadian Quilter's Association (and Quilt Canada). All THREE certified judges have gone through a very rigorous training session over the course of several years. The certification is taken very seriously. All the quilts entered go through a very strigent jury process as well and the quilt maker is contacted if the jury feels the quilt is in the incorrect category. Tannis said she was contacted by the jury and she gave them her rationale (outlined above) why she wanted the quilt to remain in the traditional category.

There is no right or wrong to this debate.  It just goes to show that quilting is constantly evolving and it becomes harder and harder to categorize some of the quilts. I think that is a good thing - it's means we, as quilters, are growing and pushing the envelope.


  1. Woohoo, I love the opportunity to talk about stuff like this! I can tell you that when they enter their quilts in the jurying process, the first step is to ensure they are in fact in the right category in the National Juried Show at Quilt Canada. CQA/ACC who hosts this national event has developed a Quilt Judge Certification Programme to train/teach quilters to become judges. It is a rigourous, extensive, yet highly educational 3-5 year program to ensure that when judging the best in Canada it is done to the best of their ability. Many other shows do not use trained professional judges. We do. While it may seem interesting and thought provoking that this quilt be in this category, and win an award... I can guarantee that there is a whole set of reasons from qualified judges as to why it did.

  2. There are traditional elements in this quilt as you pointed out, but I didn't see them. What I see is a modern quilt mostly because of the block used. I love that the quilting world has expanded so much in the past 20 years to include so much more in technique, colour, blocks, fabrics, quilting etc.

    I believe, however that we must embrace the past and the present. When a quilt show has a category for traditional quilts, the quilts entered in that category should be truly traditional.

    Having said that Tannis Fahlman's "Crackin' the Code is a fantastic quilt and I love it. For me, it's modern.

  3. I really like this quilt. I was surprised it was classified as traditional until I studied it and found the block. Even the block elements used a lot of traditional techniques even if they don't end up as the pieces we might recognize as such. I think Tannis did an amazing job

  4. Thank you Jackie for the explanation. I struggle with modern - notin doing but seeing what people perceive as modern. In 10 years it will be old. I see so many modern quilt techniques being taught and I just shake my head! The are old techniques! Modern? What is "modern"? For anyone who still has their stash of quilt magazines, go back 10 or 20 years. If using one block repeated in a quilt is traditional, how does one explain a sampler from 1800's? Modern is a relative term. How far back do we go to define traditional? Quilts made from silks, linen, feedsacks - Ancient? Do we create a category for Fortrel (70's) quilts? Tacky? OK, I am being silly here - trying to make a point. Modern is early 2000's? By 2020 - will we have "New Modern"? Wonderful discussion - thank you Cray Quilter - I think I will spend some of this Canada Day "browsing".

  5. Thanks for sharing this Elaine. I was involved in a discussion at quilt Canada regarding this quilt as well. First of all I want to say that I loved this quilt...I think of it as modern and I was thinking that some of the other traditional quilters might have been annoyed that it took first place in the traditional category.
    I like Jaquie Gehrings ( can't spell her name) continuum, that goes from Traditional to Modern to more Modern. I don't think there is too much point in getting hung up on labels.

    There still are some people who are hand quilting and I am always in awe when I see hand quilting on a quilt. Although I agree most of us are machine quilting and I also agree there seems to be little difference between the two.

    1. To clarify. Little difference between the quilting in the Modern and Traditional quilts.