‘Not your grandma’s quilts’: Ottawa Modern Quilt Guild celebrates 10 years

The three quilters pose for a photo on the Ottawa River pathway. Downtown, including the parliament buildings, can be seen distantly in the background.
From left to right: Kristin Fearon, France Cyrenne, and Joel Bekker are all members of Ottawa’s Modern Quilt Guild. Photo by Aaron Reid.

By Hannah Wanamaker

Block by block and stitch by stitch, Ottawa’s Modern Quilt Guild is embracing spontaneity in a new era of beautiful and iconic quilts.

Modern quilting is a movement that draws on other contemporary art movements like minimalism, solid and bold colours, negative space, and most recently, graphic maximalism. It is a movement of reimagination and individuality. 

The Modern Quilt Guild, an international organization with chapters in cities across the world, defines the movement as “a cacophony of size, colour, and shape with not a lot of resting space for your eyes,” said Carlington resident Kristin Fearon, who’s been a member of the Guild since it started a decade ago.

The reclamation of traditional, artisan crafts, like quilting, has become increasingly popular alongside sustainable art forms and hands-on skills over the last few years. 

After decades of quilting, Fearon said she is currently seeing people “reclaiming craft as an amazing, post-apocalyptic skill, as a way of shunning fast fashion and some of the mass-consumerization and really bringing back artisan crafts and making things.” 

Not only is its comeback stylish, but modern quilting addresses social issues and barriers too. 

France Cyrenne said that many quilters are tackling sustainability by recycling fabrics. She often pops by local thrift shops or clothing exchanges looking for used clothing or fabric to use for her projects. 

“I like modern [quilting] because I don’t have enough material to do a whole quilt with all matching [patterns],” she said. 

Patterned fabric for more traditional styles of quilts can get quite pricey and limit a quilter’s design options. Using scraps keeps fabric out of landfills, adds small details to a quilter’s piece, and repurposes it into something functional and beautiful. 

Kristen and Joel look over the Ottawa river with their backs turned facing the Quebec side.
Kristin Fearon and Joel Bekker pose with their quilt jackets along the Ottawa River. Photo by Aaron Reid.

Joel Bekker, another fibre artist who’s been sewing for almost 10 years, says he has never thrown away a scrap of fabric.  

Using recycled fabrics is another way Ottawa’s modern guild achieves its mission of promoting the craft and making it more accessible. In the last decade, members have ensured accessible locations to hold meetings, found ways to mitigate financial barriers, and welcomed quilters of all levels and backgrounds. 

Modern quilting has seen an influx of its younger population in recent years, which Cyrenne attributes to the style’s dynamism and flexibility. 

“These aren’t your grandma’s quilts. I think they’re works of art and they’re bold and beautiful,” she said. 

Another part of reclaiming this craft is dismantling the idea of gendered spaces and quilting women’s work. Many modern quilters do this by introducing their craft as an art form that resonates with those who don’t gravitate toward painting or drawing.

“I think social media is helping a lot with popularizing those crafts in the younger folks,” Cyrenne said. “How many TikTok videos have I seen of a guy making these crazy crocheted things or knitting, and that is telling all the young men out there that they should be doing this and it’s okay.”

Quilting for a cause

Community is at the heart of Ottawa’s Modern Guild. During monthly meetings, members learn from each other and socialize with like-minded people while making art. 

The notion of community continues beyond meetings and even beyond the crafting process. When a quilt is finished, its artist generally donates it to a Canadian organization or a fundraising auction. 

“Everyone who goes through chemo is entitled to a quilt through Victoria’s Quilt, and those quilts have to come from somewhere,” Cyrenne said, adding that she donates most of her quilts, many of which go to Victoria’s Quilt. 

An up close photo of three colourful quilts.
Modern quilting puts an emphasis on solid colours. Photo by Aaron Reid. 

Ottawa’s Modern Guild also gathers to make quilts each year around Truth and Reconciliation Day for survivors of residential schools. Many members donate smaller quilts to Ottawa’s NICUs or to Quilts of Valour, which sends them to returning soldiers and their families.  

“We all have this skill and we all want people to feel that hug when the quilt goes around them,” said Fearon.

On June 1 and 2, Ottawa’s Modern Quilt Guild will be displaying over 50 of its member’s quilts at Bayview Yards to celebrate its tenth anniversary. They will be featuring a quilt gallery representing eight styles within the modern genre, with artist statements and inspirations next to each piece. 

“The Saturday night, I really wanted it geared towards the general public, like people who aren’t quilters,” said Bekker, who has been a central organizer of the event.

They are kicking off the festivities with a catered gala on Saturday, June 1, where guests can preview some of the quilts. This “unique and interesting” experience will include live music from Alanna J. Brown, a cash bar with a signature quilt-related cocktail from a Bar from Afar, and swag bags for the first 150 people to arrive. 

During the Sunday gallery, guests have the opportunity to see the exhibit and meet some of the featured vendors and quilters. 

The three quilters pose for a photo with their quilts, which are hanging off a fence under a bridge.
Ottawa’s Modern Quilt Guild doesn’t stitch by the rules. They instead choose to create their quilts using modern techniques and prints. Photo by Aaron Reid.

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