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The torrential rains that washed out roads and closed schools in Nashville, TN could not dampen the enthusiasm of visitors to QuiltCon 2019 at the Music City Center from February 21 – 24. Arriving at the airport, you could already pick up on the excitement, as friends met up for their weekend of fiber fun. Even strangers could recognize fellow quilters among the crush of travelers.

Organized by the Modern Quilt Guild (MQG), this annual confab of diehard modern quilters gathered to see over 550 quilts on display as well as take classes, hear lectures and see the fabric, notions, tools, machines, and accessories offered in dozens of vendors booths catering to their every need.

Now defining what makes a quilt “modern” may be a bit squishy. Per the MQG’s website, the elements of a modern quilt, “include, but are not limited to: the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work.”

No matter how you define them, the attendees were chomping at the bit to see all the modern quilts on display.  We saw hundreds of people lined up long before the doors opened at the convention center on the first morning of the show.

Award Winners

QuiltCon 2019 best in show

Best of Show winner at QuiltCon 2019, “Smile”

The Best in Show award went to “Smile,” a colorful quilt made through the collaboration of an international group of ten quilters led by Canadian Leanne Chahley (@shecanquilt).  It was densely quilted in horizontal lines on a longarm quilting machine.

Another ribbon winner — for piecing — was “Bear Fence” by Maria Shell. This graphic quilt had a unique story behind it. Evidently, there’s a compost pile in Maria’s Alaskan neighborhood protected by an electric fence and each of her three boys have not been able to resist touching it.

Maria Shell

“Bear Fence” by Maria Shell

See all the winning quilts from this year’s QuiltCon right here.


Modern quilts are known for their look, but another characteristic of many modern quilts is their commentary on current events. Quilts with social justice themes were plentiful at this show – touching on themes of poverty, immigration and the “Me Too” movement, just to name a few.  Those viewing the quilts were stopped in their track by some executions and there were many impromptu conversations with strangers in front of these quilts.

Social Justice Sewing Academy

Quilt made by young adults from the Social Justice Sewing Academy

A subset of these current event-themed quilts was an exhibit from the Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA), a group based in Antioch, CA (near San Francisco).  Per the group’s website: “Through a series of hands-on workshops in schools, prisons and community centers across the country, SJSA empowers youth to use textile art as a vehicle for personal transformation and community cohesion and become agents of social change.”

The group uses supplies donated by the community.

Charity Quilts

Charity quilt made by the Edinburgh (UK) Modern Quilt Guild, “Snow Wonky”

Charity quilt made by the Edinburgh (UK) Modern Quilt Guild, “Snow Wonky”

Charity quilt made by the Dallas Modern Quilt Guild, “Fruit Stripe Gum”

Charity quilt made by the Dallas Modern Quilt Guild, “Fruit Stripe Gum”

One of my favorite exhibitions at this show is always the charity quilt challenge. For each show, the Modern Quilt Guild selects a color palette and then groups of quilters around the world are challenged to come up with designs using that palette to make twin-sized quilts. Then after hanging in the show, each quilt is donated to a charity in the makers’ area. (You can read more about the Challenge here.)

Charity quilt made by The Eastern Piecers (Accord, NY)

Charity quilt made by The Eastern Piecers (Accord, NY)

There were 147 quilts in this exhibition. What’s fun is to see the variety of executions that result when starting with the same design parameters.  Some of my favorites included those made by the modern quilt guilds in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Dallas, TX as well as one from a group living in a tiny town in New York state.

QuiltCon is a show that travels the country from year to year.  For your planning purposes, the dates of next QuiltCon are February 20-23, 2020.  The show will be held in Austin, Texas.


Tina Curran is an award-winning quilter, pattern designer, lecturer, and teacher.  Her work can be found at tinacurran.com.

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