Exhibit in Towson rethinks traditional quilting

Amy Verne, of Timonium, made four of the quilts on display at a new exhibit in downtown Towson.

Amy Verne figures if you were to buy one of her largest so-called modern quilts, "you couldn't afford them."

For better or worse, you can't buy them, anyway, because "I don't sell any of my quilts," she said. "I make them for family and friends. It's my main hobby and I have time to indulge my hobby."

Verne, 54, of Timonium, is a member of the Baltimore Modern Quilt Guild, which is sponsoring "Quilts: A Modern Perspective," an exhibit on display at the Towson Arts Collective, 40 W. Chesapeake Ave., through Nov. 21. The Baltimore guild is a member of the national Modern Quilt Guild, based in Los Angeles, which is made up of 150 guilds worldwide.

Verne has four of the quilts on display, including one called "X," a large multi-colored one in the shape of an X, and one called "Mod," with oval patterns that spell out the letters MOD if you tilt your head sideways to look at the quilt.

Modern quilting is less traditional and more improvisational than quilts you might see in, say, Pennsylvania Dutch country. The colors are brighter and the patterns more curved. The quilts are more abstract, or depict scenes or objects such as a night sky or a Jewish menorah. Some modern quilts even have text interspersed. Some have more than 500 individual squares; others have just one block made to a larger scale. Some are two-sided.

"They break the rules," Verne said. "I definitely like the modern aesthetic more (although) I certainly admire what traditional quilters do."

She and other modern quilters are taking turns staffing the exhibit, the first of its kind for the Baltimore guild, and designed to introduce the public to an incarnation of quilting that they might not know exists.

"I think it's a great opportunity for the guild to show the community what we do," said Verne, a former computer programmer who quit to raise a family. "Some people don't even know what a modern quilt is. It's not what you would have seen 20 years ago."

"There's been a resurgence in quilting," said Deb Kleiner, of Mount Washington, outgoing president of the guild, about half of whose 70 members are under age 35. The guild meets the second Sunday of the month, usually at one of Baltimore County's library branches. The most recent one was at the Catonsville branch, she said.

The guild, which draws members, mostly women, from as far away as Howard and Harford counties, Annapolis and Washington, also sponsors "sew-ins" at Bear's Paw, a fabric store in Towson, Kleiner said. There are often member demonstrations or speakers at the get-togethers, and sometimes day trips to other fabric stores in the region..

"There's always an educational component," said Kleiner, 50, who was one of the first people to join when the guild formed in 2010. "You get inspired by what people are doing."

"Even a walk through Target will get people inspired," said Heather Kojan, of Owings Mills, founder of the Baltimore guild. And on Web blogs and online forums with links for quilters, as well as guild retreats, "you can see what everybody else is doing."

Some of the groups have swaps, in which people can exchange quilts, some from as far away as Australia. Verne said she used to do swaps, and got some good ones, but stopped participating in them because she hated to give up her own quilts, on which she had worked so hard, sometimes for several months from designing it to the actual quilting.

"I don't like giving my quilts away to strangers," she said.

Kojan said the gravitation of younger people toward modern quilting, many of them engineers and graphic designers, is due to a combination of factors, including a lack of home economics classes in schools, more home decor magazine articles and online blogs on the topic, and mothers passing down the art of quilting to their daughters, who are tweaking it to reflect their own artistic and aesthetic sensibilities.

Although modern quilts are less traditional, they are generally functional, for use as bedspreads, wall hangings, baby blankets or throws for the back of sofas. But many of the quilts in the exhibit have fanciful names, such as Carol Rubin's "Wonky Menorah," or Rose Daley's "A Winding Way," with a curving brown line traversing a backdrop of green fabric.

Verne bucks that trend, too, giving her quilts more simplistic, journalistic names, such as "Bed Throw."

"Like I said, "I'm a functional, utilitarian quilter," Verne said.

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