4 reasons to banish “modern” from sewing vocabulary

I have a bone to pick.

Maybe because I’m middle-aged and have been around just long enough to see styles and fabrics and patterns go out of style and come back again as “modern.”

Maybe because sometimes I like fabrics that aren’t considered “modern” by  designers in their early 20s.

*Jealousy, perhaps??*

But most of all, because the word “modern” is simply overused. Beaten up. Old.

The word “modern” is no longer, well...modern.

Really, I do understand that the term “modern” is a style….but the word is used so often that it’s lost its appeal.

So here are my 4 reasons to banish “modern” from sewing vocabulary.


4 Reasons to banish modern from sewing vocabulary. On sewmccool.com

1. The word “modern” is being used to try to sell us stuff.

There are more than 600 books on Amazon that use the phrases “modern” and “sewing.” (that’s an affiliate link). Really. More than 600. Are we trying to convince ourselves that sewing is a modern activity…because people who don’t sew think we’re old fuddy-duddies by sewing? I mean, unless we’re looking for patterns for prairie costumes…or leisure suits…or 1980s power suits…aren’t we all really looking to sew things that are up-to-date?

When I went to the spring International Quilt Market in May, I sat in on one Schoolhouse session (show-and-tells to get shops excited about products so they’ll place orders) where a couple of women were trying to sell a garment pattern that – to say it nicely – just wasn’t going to be worn by any woman who considers herself to be “modern.” But they kept throwing around the words “modern” and “chic” and saying “this is so modern and updated.” I felt uncomfortable…the fabric and silhouette and concept was soooo NOT “modern.”

It ain’t so just because you say it is. Even if you say it 52 times.

2. Some styles are vintage. We’re wearing or using them today. Do we need phrases like “vintage modern?”

Yeah, I get it.  1950s dresses that we can wear today – with or without tattoo sleeves. But if I see a photo of a woman in 2014 wearing a vintage-style dress, I’ll pretty much know that she’s modern. I doubt that she vacuums in either her heels *or* in that super cute dress while waiting for hubby to get home from work.

3. Just because there’s open space in a quilt doesn’t necessarily make it “modern.”

Certainly it might be “modern.” But it might be old. Really, really old. In fact, many so-called modern quilt designs are inspired by vintage quilts – and sewn in post-2010 fabric. It’s all good, really – it’s so important to look back at our roots, be inspired, and derive something new from them. But if a quilt pieced 200 years ago is still “modern” today, is it really modern? Have you seen the book on The Quilts of Gee’s Bend (Amazon affiliate link)? Lots of modernity goin’ on there, even though some of those quilts are quite old.

4. Sometimes “old” can become “modern.” And we love it anyway.

There’s nothing particularly modern about hexies and quilts or other items made from them. Yet they’ve made a comeback. The quilt above was made sometime in the mid-20th century (if you’re a fabric expert, feel free to share your expertise on the decade). I was given this quilt by our parish priest who, in his words, was going “to pitch it” if I didn’t accept it from him, because it has some tears in the top and he needed something new.

I guess I saved this quilt from death in a modern landfill.

Along these lines, I’m a fan of the show “Project Runway” and am often struck by judges’ comments when someone doesn’t design an outfit for a younger woman. The designers are tongue-lashed by judges who say the outfit isn’t “modern” or “young” and “hip.” Does everything have to be modern and young and hip to be great anyway? If a woman in her 60s dressed like a woman in her 20s, wouldn’t that be strange? Can’t women in their 60s (and older) be modern-minded?


What do you think about the term “modern?” Do you have a 5th reason it should be banished? Or am I simply a crazy sewing blogger who’s taking this modern “phrase craze” too seriously?


Deanna McCool writes for sewmccoool.com. To make sure you don’t miss a fun post, please follow SewMcCool by e-mail (the link is at the top of the right-hand column) or join me on BlogLovin’ – the button is just below the e-mail feed box! :)



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  1. says

    I agree with you. I am so over the overuse of modern. Also “trendy” and “hip” can go away too. Maybe because I may have reached that age, where being “modern” “trendy” and “hip” just don’t really matter to me anymore. I am more concerned with making what I like and not what is “on trend”
    Jonie Brooks recently posted…August Mystery Challenge – FruitMy Profile

  2. says

    You are sew right on Target! I design and create what I like and what I think others will like, it’s my style and it fits. I must be doing pretty good with my style, and don’t think I have ever used the word Modern in any sentence.

    Great Topic!!

  3. says

    Well said. Paper piecing is not a “modern” technique…and “impromptu” quilting goes back before Gees Bend quilters. Also one does not have to be in their early-something years to enjoy the aesthetic claimed by the young ” modern” sewists. I make what I love and love what I make regardless of a label or trend. I am up and over the hill…but the view up here is lovely! Thanks.

  4. says

    Paper piecing is not a “modern” technique. Neither is “improv or wonky”. Like the Gees Bend quilter’s, my mother, grandmother and great grandmother, generally didn’t use a pattern and made utilitarian quilts from clothing scraps and feed sacks. One does not have to be “young in years” to enjoy the modern aesthetic. Make what you like and like what you make. There is room for all…without labels.
    Kathy @ Kwilty pleasures recently posted…GHAST, STASH and RUSH!My Profile

  5. says

    I think they should banish that word too, but unfortunately many publishers will disagree with us. I was doing some reading about the refashioning, and one of the texts mentioned that authors realised they needed to get the young ones interested in skills such as craft, sewing and knitting – many associated them with their gran. So words, like “contemporary” and “modern” popped up…. Oh, that’s why we also have a knitting club called “Stitch Bit**”!! I suppose it is working, but it’s overkill!!
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  6. says

    I agree that not everything has to be “on trend”, “with a pop of colour”. We don’t all spend all day “working” or “rocking” our outfits either! So many overused phrases, so little time!
    All that said, I do love winding up my teenagers by using phrases that I shouldn’t know let alone use. I told my son I had “the feels” about some tv program the other day and he spat his drink everywhere laughing so much. What a “modern” mum I am!!!
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  7. Brenda says

    I usually do not comment on blog posts, but found this interesting. I am a quilter in my 50’s and am drawn to “modern” quilts. No, they are not new ideas, as they are based on the Modern 60’s era, using geometrics, 60’s modern art and design. As far as techniques, just google Gwen Marston, Liberated Quilting Techniques, as well as, Ricky Tims’ Caveman Quilting. The “modern” techniques are not new but new to a 20-30 year old, and yes, the word is OVERUSED! What I am happy about is a new generation is learning to sew with passion. I love that there are new quilter’s out there who want to learn to sew and quilt and can appreciate works from their mothers and grandmothers and for that, I am happy.

    • Deanna McCool says

      Yes, that’s a really good point – as long as younger people are learning to sew and quilt, we can be happy that the tradition is thriving! Thanks for your comments.

  8. says

    I agree that in sewing – and especially quiltmaking – the word modern can be overused ad nauseum.

    I must disagree with the Project Runway assessment however. That particular contest has very specific clientele and goals in mind. Their perceived clients are young urban professionals on the cutting edge of fashion. The judges on Project Runway aren’t saying there is no place in the design world for the dress designs for 60 year old women – only that this particular contest is not that venue.


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