Maximalism in Modern Quilts

I love Maximalism in Modern Quilts!

modern quilts
improv block in progress

Since I began quilting over 25 years ago, I have always loved making tops with lots of vibrant color.

However, when I moved deeply into modern quilt design about 5 years ago, I started by learning about the minimalism and simplicity design principles.  That was fun and I learned a lot. See some of the minimalist quilts that I made in posts here and here and here.

Then, I decided to start moving back towards the use of color that I have always loved.  Where did my inspiration come from?  Well, I visit museums a lot and I study  20th and 21st century art on line. I initially fell in love with Abstract Expressionism.  This led me to another group of painters.

The Color Field Painting movement truly captured my heart and expanded my mind.  A few of the artists that provide inspiration for me include Alma Thomas, Sam Gilliam, Sonia Delaunay, Clyfford Still, Helen Frankenthaler, Stanley Whitney, Lois Mailou Jones, Kerry James Marshall, Jacob Lawrence and Mark Rothko.  Warning: When you Google these artists, be prepared to spend a bit of time. Their work is deeply interesting and one link leads to another.  I suggest searching on their name and then starting with the images tab.

My Instagram hashtag should be #allthecolors.

[divider]Maximalism Design Principles

I describe maximalism very simply as a design aesthetic characterized by use of saturated and vibrant colors in all areas of the quilt.

There are four design principles for Maximalism that I am exploring. They are:

  • Maxi Color
  • Maxi Color Negative Space
  • Gray for Maxi Pop
  • Double Maxi Color Negative Space

I’m sure that my ideas will continue to evolve as I work with even more projects and explore these ideas in workshops with my students.

[divider]Maxi Color

I am always looking for fabrics that have clear bright colors in many values and hues.  I tend to stay away from muted fabrics.  I choose the combinations carefully because all that color has to play well together.

And, this quilt, Sarasota Sunset Improv, is one of my favorite quilts because it has MaxiColor to the max!

modern quilt
Sarasota Sunset #3. Techniques Pattern coming in 2018.


Sarasota Sunset #3 Detail
Beach Bound Mini Quilt


Making strips — maxi color in this quilt for days.

One of my favorite type of fabrics for Maxi Color are the ombres.  I love the way color changes across the fabric–giving movement in the quilt.

Ombre fabrics
More ombres with a vibrant stripe that provided Maxi Pop

[divider]Maxi Color means that many hand dyes don’t work well for me because they tend to be more muted. And, yes, I know that some hand dyers do create vibrant colors so no disrespect meant.

[divider]Maxi Color Negative Space

Many of my maximalist quilts don’t have a typical neutral solid (or low volume) fabric in the negative space.  Instead, I’ve used yardage of a single vibrant color like here:

Madly Modern Flamingo MiniQuilt

Or here I used a very bright green for the negative space. I love showing this quilt at my lectures–it comes as a shock to [traditional] quilters who thought that all modern quilts were gray….

modern quilt workshop
Fibonacci Quilt #1 [pattern coming in 2018]
modern quilt pattern
Detail of Fibonacci quilt #1. I used darker green fabric in the improv block to subtly continue the negative space.

Or, I will use a large areas of fabric used in the rest of the quilt.  In this Modern Jelly Roll quilt, I used two Gelato Ombre fabrics in the top and bottom border. The two large borders act as negative space.  [See this post for more about this quilt]

See tutorial on how to make this quilt.

[divider]Gray for Maxi Pop

In most quilts that I’ve made, I will use a bright or unexpected color to add POP or Zing to the quilt.

In this mini, I’ve created Maxi Pop by using shades of gray. Usually gray is thought of as a calm neutral.  Here it is playing a more important role.  The gray fabrics make the colors even brighter–even though there is only a relatively small amount of gray in this mini.

Curved Piecing with improv strip blocks! In progress mini.


Detail of a new quilt. The ombre gray pops the colors. I used a white tone-on-tone fabric as negative space. I wanted to see if it would detract from Maxi Color but it actually enhanced it, I think. Full reveal coming next year with Technique Pattern.


[divider]Double Maxi Color Negative Space

Here’s an example of Maximalism using two colors as the Maxi Color—in this case a vibrant yellow Moda Grunge and a gray Moda Grunge.  Since these two fabrics are used in almost equal amounts, they are both acting as negative space. Is it a yellow quilt with gray blocks or a gray quilt with yellow blocks?

And, I think some Maxi Pop comes from the use of the prints which are black/white/yellow or black/white.  This idea was lots of fun to play with.  I really fragmented the pieced blocks and incorporated both gray and yellow Grunge into them.  (If you’d like to learn more about my basic approach to this fracturing process, you can find it in my book, Madly Modern Quilts on pages 14-16. In the quilt below, I combined fracturing with improvisational piecing.)

In one way, this quilt was a struggle for me.  I had to really restrain myself—I soooo wanted to add some red to this quilt…AAAAhhhh, there aren’t enough colors…. 

I’m very glad that I stuck to the plan which was to explore double negative space and Maximalism with a limited palette. 


Fractured Disappearing 9 Patch/4 Patch



[divider]So, what will the future bring?

I’m looking forward to seeing how I can continue to explore even more ways to create Maximalism in Modern Quilts.

And, please tag me on Instagram if you are also exploring #maximalism! It will be great to learn and explore with you.

2 thoughts on “Maximalism in Modern Quilts”

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top