green frost quilt
[ Quilt Along/BOM ][ Quilt Design ]

Modern Traditionalism in Quilting

Are you a modern quilter? If I am a quilter using fabrics that are currently available, I guess the label fits. But is there more to it? Modern Traditionalism is a category used by the Modern Quilt Guild, which boils down to doing new things with classic quilt blocks. That is definitely one of my favorite aspects of quilt design here in the 21st century!

Contained quilt with Long Dash blocks in green and cream fabric held by two women

Modern Traditionalism

How do you take something that has been around for over one hundred years and “make it modern”? Changing the dimensions is one way to modernize the traditional quilt blocks we are all familiar with. That is the basic premise behind the Little Bit Different block-of-the-month program – let’s change the typical square quilt blocks into rectangles that finish at 6×9 inches. Then, figure out what a classic design such as the Friendship Star would look like in this new size. 

rectangular version of the classic Friendship Star pattern


We first notice that the Friendship Star is a nine patch. When we divide our 6×9 rectangle into 9 equal segments, they are still rectangles. The result of this change in proportion means that we no longer have traditional half square triangles as our star points. Because we are not using the standard 45 degree angle, we need to learn a new construction method to make our HRT blocks. New and unusual elements in a quilt will certainly fit in the modern category and the block is still recognizable as the traditional Friendship Star.

Modern Designs

Another style of quilt that I consider an example of modern traditionalism is an asymmetrical design. I played with this concept in a quilt called Green Frost, which is found in my book Monochromatic Quilts: Amazing Variety. Using a basic chain block and a radiating design, I offset the “center” of the quilt.

green frost quiltYou’ve probably seen this effect in a snowflake pattern that has been popular over the last few years. The quilt was designed by Nicole Daksiewicz of Modern Handcraft and the pattern is available on her website.

snowflake by modern handcraft


We can also play with the scale of our blocks to make them modern. If you look at traditional sampler quilts, you typically see straight rows of blocks that are all the same size. If you include a variety of sizes, from very small to much larger blocks, your quilt has entered the realm of modern traditionalism. I have designed many quilts with this feature, such as Gear Shift (read about it here) and Clusters, which features the April Stretched Star from the Little Bit Different BOM.

Clusters quilt lap size

QuiltCon 2023 Winner

Outbound by Michelle Bartholomew was the first place winner in the Modern Traditional category at QuiltCon 2023.

Outbound by Michelle Bartholomew Quiltcon 2023

In this quilt, the traditional Flying Geese block is made modern with changes in proportion, some asymmetrical columns, and a variety of scale. These design elements combine in such an interesting way that you want to stop and study every inch of this work of art.

Now it’s Your Turn

Want to explore the concept of modern traditionalism in more depth? Then it’s time to join the Little Bit Different Block of the Month program! Each month in 2023 I am offering a free quilt block. All the blocks are 6×9 inches so we have to adapt the traditional blocks you may already be familiar with. At the end of the year, you will have 12 blocks to arrange in a sampler quilt. Of course, to give you some ideas, I am creating a new quilt every month so there will be a variety of layouts to choose from in December!

You can find all the patterns in the Little Bit Different Collection here.

Little Bit Different 2023 BOM

I can’t wait to see what you create. Please share photos with me in an email or on social media.


If you want to see more Modern Quilts, check out these participants in a challenge from Island Batik.

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Longarm Quilter, Pattern Designer, Teacher


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