Quilting with a Modern Slant

People, Patterns, and Techniques Inspiring the Modern Quilt Community


By Rachel May

Formats and Prices




$24.95 CAD



  1. Trade Paperback $19.95 $24.95 CAD
  2. ebook $11.99 $15.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 28, 2014. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Modern quilting allows artists the freedom to expand on traditions and use fabrics, patterns, colors, and stitching innovatively to create exciting fresh designs. In Quilting with a Modern Slant, Rachel May introduces you to more than 70 modern quilters who have developed their own styles, methods, and aesthetics. Their ideas, quilts, tips, tutorials, and techniques will inspire you to try something new and follow your own creativity — wherever it leads.



This book is for all quilters and sewers, for those who need some more color in their lives, and in memory of Judith Leigh Thompson (1941–2013).




Six Steps to a Quilt

What You'll Need

Find Your People

What Is Modern Quilting

1: A Sense of Play

Weeks Ringle & Bill Kerr

Quilters Unite!

Project: Broadband

Rashida Coleman-Hale

Andrew Mowbray

Yoshiko Jinzenji

Angela Walters

Tutorial: Free-Motion Quilting Paisleys

Project: Jagged

David Butler

Miriam Blaich

Kathy Mack

Rebecca Loren

Grandmother's Fan Variation

Anna Williams

2: Improv

Rossie Hutchinson

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Project: Fraction Quilt

Gee's Bend Quilts

Katie Pedersen

Kyoung Ae Cho

Rayna Gillman

Tutorial: Improv Piecing with Scraps

Nancy Crow

Victoria Findlay Wolfe

Tutorial: Curvy Dresden Improv Piecing

Denyse Schmidt

Tutorial: Curved Piecing

Sherri Lynn Wood

Project: Modern Memory Lane T-Shirt Quilt

Danielle Krcmar

3: The Personal Is Political

Kristin Link

Chawne Kimber

Denise Burge

Michelle Engel Bencsko & Gina Pantastico

Betz White

Line Bruntse

Alice Webb Greer

Tutorial: Finishing Your Quilt

Jan Johnson

Tutorial: Bullion Stitch

Museums Discover Quilts

Laurel Krynock

Alexandra Ledgerwood

Donating Quilts

Lee Heinrich

Blogging Advice

Thomas Knauer

4: Quilting from Tradition

Anna Maria Horner

Project: Bouquet

Reading Up on Quilt History

Pepper Cory

Log Cabin Block

Allison Harris

Amish Quilts

Aneela Hoey

Tutorial: Hand-Quilting Basics

Kathreen Ricketson

Tacha Bruecher

Project: Paper-Pieced Pillow

Katie Blakesley

Katy Jones

Vanessa Christenson

Cynthia Mann

Starting a Business

5: For the Love of Color

Amy Butler

Elizabeth Hartman

Alexis Deise

Amy Keefer's Color Culture

Natural Dyes

Elizabeth Barton

Kaffe Fassett

Malka Dubrawsky

Resist Dyeing

Project: Pieces-of-Eight Pillow

Monica Ripley

Sonia Delaunay

Tutorial: Dyeing with Avocado Pits

Red & White Quilts

Kim Eichler-Messmer

Kelle Boyd

Creating Your Own Fabric

6: Practicing Scale(s)

Jane Sassaman

Jacquie Gering

Ashley Newcomb

Tutorial: Paper-Pieced Heart

Heather Grant

The Modern Quilt Guild

Debbie Grifka

Star Variations

Project: Milky Way

Valori Wells

Jessica Kovach

Aimee Raymond

Caro Sheridan

Tutorial: The Four-Patch Trick

7: Coming Full Circle

Valerie Maser-Flanagan

Geta Grama

Stacey Shrontz

Tutorial: Fusible Web Appliqué

Project: Quilting with Kids

Laurie Matthews

Lisa Mason

Caroline Mason

John Q. Adams

Men Who Quilt

Project: Summer Twist Quilt

Maritza Soto


Pippa Eccles Armbrester

Tutorial: Reverse Appliquéing Ovals

Virginia B. Johnson

Opening a Shop

Sarah Fielke

Melody Miller




Metric Conversion

Photography Credits


Share Your Experience!


Most of the people in this book began quilting on a whim, having seen something in a book, online, or at an exhibit. They opened a blog, went to a museum, or browsed through a bookstore, and wham! Struck with the notion that they wanted to make that, weeks later their houses were half-full of fabric, and they were addicted to making quilts. That's the story I heard over and over again. He saw something on Pinterest and knew he wanted to make a quilt. She had decided to stay home with the kids and needed something to fill the gap that not working had left in her life. He wanted to do something with color. She needed to make something with her hands, to have a complete project to show for her work at the end of the day.

Maybe this is you.

Six years ago, it was me. My sister had given my mother a book of Gee's Bend quilts for Christmas, and, stealing a peek over the holiday, I was intrigued. I'd known how to sew since I was little, but hadn't been interested enough in making the outfits that I once fantasized would fill my closet. I didn't like the careful measuring and cutting process required for making clothes, the precision needed for each seam to be in just the right place.

As I interviewed quilters, I heard over and over again that inspiration struck, and a few days later, they were making their first quilt.

Still, I had a sewing machine sitting in the closet. And if I made quilts sort of freestyle, I thought, it might be fun. I went to Jo-Ann's and rummaged around in the sale basket for scraps that ended up costing a total of $25. I went home and pieced my first quilt, a wedding present for friends. I didn't measure or plan too far ahead, just one strip at a time, one piece next to the other, then the strips became rows until I had the top of a quilt. Once I finished that, I Googled how to make a sandwich. I watched a video. I bought some safety pins, tied the quilt layers, and did a hodgepodge binding job.

It was a quilt!

I was thrilled, and . . . addicted. And once I learned how to do a proper binding, I saw the beauty of quarter-inch seams, gaining more complex skills, and learning from patterns.

All it took was a look at my mother's book of Gee's Bend quilts for me to get my sewing machine out of the closet.

Give It a Go

If you've never sewn a stitch before, the easiest way to start is to get a used sewing machine, find a tutorial on threading it, and go home and practice sewing straight lines. Once you can sew a straight line, you can make lots of different projects — including a quilt. It really is that easy. I hope that this book will give you some ideas to get you started. You might work with a pattern, make a mini-quilt, or improvise. Some people get a lot of satisfaction from handwork; you could start by paper-piecing hexagons. Others like to work on the machine. Follow the thread of your curiosity.

The quilters in these pages were inspired by Amish quilts, traditional patterns, Nancy Crow (page 59), art quilts, Gee's Bend makers (page 51), a local quilt exhibit — and on and on. I've included information about quilt history that inspired today's quilters, in the hopes that you'll explore even further. Check out the bibliography (page 218) and list of these quilters' online sites (page 216). Head for your local bookstore or fabric shop. Go online and look at quilt history sites and contemporary blogs and Flickr. There are endless possibilities for getting that spark of inspiration, gaining knowledge about quilt history, acquiring skills, and finding what you love.

Amish quilts

Gee's Bend's quilts

Clockwise from top-left: Blocks and strips work-clothes quilt (1970) by Lucy Mingo, 79" × 69"; Snowball (1950) by Lucy T. Pettway, 83" × 85"; Housetop (1975) by Qunnie Pettway, 82" × 74"; Housetop — four-block variation (1965) by Mary L. Bennett, 77" × 82"

What I hope you'll discover as you read are the myriad styles and processes of quilting. And I hope that, as you read these people's stories and look at their work, you'll find something that strikes you and inspires you to pick up fabric and scissors, needle and thread, and make something of your own. As you sew, you'll find what you love — and eventually, your own voice.

Rachel May


Six Steps to a Quilt

  1. 1. Piece the top. This can be done in any style, from improv to traditional pattern. A simple way to start might be strip piecing: simply sew together long strips of fabric in rows until your quilt is long enough. Or try this easy improv log cabin (see page 113 for more log cabin variations).
  2. 2. Make the backing. If you're making a small quilt, you may be able to use a single piece of fabric, rather than sewing together two long strips. (You can piece more, of course: make the backing as fancy or as plain as you want.)
  3. 3. Cut the batting to size. The batting (a.k.a. wadding, filler, insulating material) should be a few inches wider on every side than your top. Lay out the batting underneath the top to make this easy.
  4. 4. Make a quilt sandwich in this order: backing on the bottom, batting in the middle, quilt top on the top (naturally).
    • First, lay down your backing on the floor, right side facing down, and use painter's tape on the corners to keep it in place and wrinkle-free on the floor. It's okay if your backing is bigger than your top.
    • Lay down your batting (which should be a little bigger than your quilt top, remember) over the backing, and smooth it out with your hands.
    • Lay your top piece right side up, lining it up with the backing underneath the oversized batting. Spread it smooth, and then start pinning the quilt from the center out, applying pins about 4 inches apart (the holes the pins make will disappear with quilting and washing).
  5. 5. Quilt it. This could be as basic as tying the quilt, or anything from a simple to complicated machine-quilting design, or hand-quilting.


    Machine quilting

  6. 6. Bind it. See how in the tutorial, Finishing Your Quilt, on page 92.

Handquilted by Pamela Thompson

Curved Pins

Curved pins made just for basting will make your life easier, allowing you to push the pin down through every layer of the sandwich and then back up to the surface. If you don't like pins, you can also stitch-baste, or spray baste. Once your quilt is basted, you'll be able to move it through the machine (rolling it up to fit through the throat, if the quilt is large) without fear of wrinkles or shifting.

Spray Baste

For some, spray baste makes life a lot easier, saving you from long pinning or stitch-basting sessions hunched over a quilt on the floor. You'll need to use spray baste in a well-ventilated area, simply applying it to both sides of the batting. If you want your quilt to last as an heirloom, though, there's research showing that spray baste will break down fabric over time.


You can also stitch-baste your quilt sandwich. This involves making long stitches across the quilt (with unknotted thread), starting in the middle and working your way out. Use a different colored thread that you'll spot easily after quilting. If you have a pattern you want to stitch into the quilt, baste just inside or outside of the pattern. Use an upholstery needle, and make your stitches long to save time and cut out easily after quilting.


A sew-in is when you meet with friends to sew by hand or machine. More often than not, when members of our guild have sew-ins, we chat and eat together; our projects never make it out of the bag. Fun — no matter how you do it.

Fabric Lingo

Bias: The diagonal of the fabric. Why does it matter to know about this? Fabric moves differently depending on how you cut it. Bias-cut fabric is stretchier, which is why bias-cut bindings (see page 92) are so wonderful.

UFO: Unfinished Object

WIP: Work in Progress

Stash: The pile o' fabric

Scrappy: A quilt made with lots of fabric scraps

Strip piecing: Sew together rows of fabric, then cut to re-piece in different ways.

Warp: The long threads that run the length of the fabric

Weft: The shorter threads that run across the fabric

Hand: When we talk about how fabric or quilts feel or move, that's the "hand." As in, "This has a really nice hand."

Cutting Fabric

Stack 'n' whack: Piling fabric and cutting through all layers at once with a rotary cutter

Fussy cut: Cutting by hand to include prints or designs.

Subcut: Cutting a piece of fabric that's been cut once already.

Quilt Lingo

Crazy: Patchwork technique of irregular shaped pieces of fabric

Cutaway: Remnants from apparel factories, usually forming irregular shapes

Drafting: The process of drawing a quilt design

Strike-offs: A printed sample of a fabric design


What You'll Need

The items in this list will come up again and again in projects throughout this book. I won't repeat them in the materials lists for each project; by then you'll know what you need.

Fabric. Any fabric will do, from repurposed, outgrown clothes to muslin (super-cheap and good for practice) to a friend's scraps to high-quality quilting cottons found in a local quilt shop or online. There's something to be said for starting with cotton, only because it's the easiest to work with for quilting. Silks, corduroy, denim, and other fabrics make for beautiful quilts but are a little trickier to work with. But, hey, if that's what inspires you, go for it.

Scissors. Fabric scissors are best because they're so sharp and cut much better than your average scissors. If you buy fabric scissors, save them only for fabric (paper will dull them) and know that you can get them sharpened over and over to make them last forever. I use my scissors for everything when I quilt, but most people just use them for fussy-cutting and other small jobs. You'll also want a pair of smaller snips, like the ones shown below, belonging to Alexis Deise (see page 138).

Rotary cutter and mat. A rotary cutter is the modern quilter's best friend. You can slice and dice like nobody's business with this sucker. You can get pretty fancy with your rotary cutter models, too.

Needle and thread. If you plan to quilt by hand or appliqué, invest in some basic sewing and quilting (very tiny) needles. Thread can get pretty fancy, but you can start with an all-purpose thread for piecing and quilting. The thread you use in your machine is important, because certain threads will shed less, saving your machine over time. You can start by using an all-purpose thread, but if you sew a lot, consider a brand that comes on bigger spools.

Sewing machine. There are a myriad brands and models of machines out there from which to choose. If you already have a sewing machine, you don't need to get a new one for quilting! Just start and see how your machine handles it. If you don't have a machine or you start quilting a lot, a quality refurbished quilt-specific machine is always a safer bet than a cheap model that's made for general sewing projects. Your most basic new quilting machine will cost about $300.

Author's Choice. I still have the smallest Janome they make, and I've been able to piece and quilt full-size quilts on it. Some claim to be able to quilt king-size quilts on machines this size, but I find that pretty hard. I've outgrown this machine, but it took me four years to do it. It's a good place to start, and a far, far cry better than the all-purpose Singer I first used, mostly because the Janome motor is made to go for the long hours I use it each time I sew and it has all the feet and stitch settings that I've needed to start quilting.

Walking foot. You'll need this if you want to machine-quilt (a regular foot compresses the layers of fabric too much and creates creases and folds as you sew).

Free-motion foot. This is a little trickier to use, but once you get the hang of it, you can create all sorts of quilting patterns and designs on your quilts. When you use a free-motion foot, you lower the feed dogs (those spiky circles under your needle) so the machine doesn't feed the fabric through. Then you can control the motion and direction of the stitching.

Iron and table. This can be a small DIY table that's set right next to your cutting table (a luxury when piecing a complex project that requires lots of pressing), or you can use the old standard ironing board. Like machines, irons come in a variety of sizes and styles. I love the Cadillac irons that have more weight to them and smooth metal surfaces that just glide over the fabric, but I use a cheap iron that does the job just fine as long as I keep it filled with water to steam the cotton.

Design wall. You can make your own design wall pretty easily by pinning a piece of felt, sized as big as you like, up on your wall. Fabric will stick to the felt, so you can place the pieces and rearrange them as you conceptualize each project. If you want to get fancier, you can stretch the felt over a wooden frame, which allows you to move it out of the way if you don't have the space to keep it up all the time.

Pins and cushion. In addition to safety pins for basting, you'll also need straight pins to use while you're piecing. You can get them in anything from your basic metal to those with colored tops that help you keep different piles of cut fabric organized. Make sure you also have a pincushion or magnetic pin holder to stash the pins as you remove them.

It's fun to make your own pincushion, or participate in a pincushion swap. I still use a green pear cushion that Laurie Matthews (page 196) gave me during our first guild sew-in.

Barrettes or binder clips. These come in handy to hold your binding down as you sew it. You can easily shift the clips ahead as you sew.

Quilting gloves. Save your arms and hands from getting sore as you hang on tightly to the fabric while free-motion quilting. The rubber grips on gloves will do the holding for you.

Thimble If you're hand-sewing or quilting, save your fingertip with a rubber, metal, or (my favorite) leather thimble.

Find Your People

If you want, you can sit in your room and sew, relishing in the quiet and time away from the world. But one of the best parts of quilting is the community you'll find, people who will become your friends and from whom you can learn more. Seek out quilters at local shops, online (through blogs, Flickr, or Pinterest), or by joining a local guild. Your local fabric shop and both traditional and modern guilds offer the chance to get to know fellow quilters who share your enthusiasm. They can offer you all sorts of advice about where to buy fabric, how to perfect a new technique, the best way to store quilts, and everything else you'll wonder about the further you get into quilting. You can meet friends at one another's homes for sew-ins or get together at local shops that offer a seating area or even at a coffee shop for some sewing and chatting time. Your quilting friends will likely become some of your best friends.

In a quilting community, you will no doubt find opportunities to join challenges and bees. Challenges offer the chance to make a quilt within certain parameters, say with a certain stack of fabrics or in a certain style. You then enter your quilt into the challenge and a "winner" might be chosen.


  • “In this collection, writer and crafter May profiles some of the big names in modern quilting and some quilters who are lesser known but whose work is quietly helping to redefine the possibilities of quilting. The book is divided into seven sections, each focusing on a particular aspect of modern quilting, such as improv, color, scale, or a theme (e.g., “the personal is political,” “coming full circle”). The bounty of creativity is inspiring, and the variety of quilts featured will open the readers’ eyes to all of the aspects of this popular movement. There are some fantastic patterns and tutorials throughout, but what sets this work apart is its emphasis on quilt makers rather than on quilt making. VERDICT May does a marvelous job of capturing a moment in the modern quilting movement, as well as the viewpoints and opinions of the creators who have made modern quilting into an enduring form of expression. This volume belongs in all quilting collections.” — Library Journal Starred Review

On Sale
Jan 28, 2014
Page Count
224 pages

Rachel May

Rachel May

About the Author

Rachel May is an organizing member of the Boston chapter of the Modern Quilt Guild and a lifelong crafter who has focused her energy on quilting for the past 6 years. She teaches writing classes and is currently a Ph.D. student of English and Cultural Studies with a focus on quilts and narrative at the University of Rhode Island. Her writing has received multiple awards, including two Pushcart Prize nominations. She lives in Rhode Island.

Learn more about this author