QuiltCon, Negative Space, and a Puzzle

I will start my reflections on QuiltCon with the categorization system itself, and then my thoughts on Negative Space. The categories are problematic in that they are neither consistent nor exclusive. Some categories are about method (piecing, applique,improv, bias), others about design (minimalist, use of negative space, modern traditional)–immediately creating overlaps. That within the design categories a quilt can feature negative space and be a minimalist design adds to the confusion. Even though the categories were confusing, it was frustrating not to be able to choose which one to enter a quilt in. It seems they could have let quilters say their preference and still move a quilt if they felt it filled an empty spot elsewhere. It would have been nice to know that the first glance was where the quilter preferred.

I especially enjoy seeing creative uses of negative space. I have a few photos of quilts I especially liked and a couple that show I need more information. Only a little off from the judges who gave it a third, I would have given first place to Stephanie Ruyle’s Read Between the Lines.

Read Between the LinesThe narrow red accents crossing from the design to the negative space appealed to me on this one. (And the negative space fit with my understanding of the concept.)

Also appealing to me, and with understandable negative space, were Cheryl Brickey’s Pikes Peak and  (I think I have the name right–my photo of the tag isn’t clear) Amy Dame’s Wake Up, Wake Up.

Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak

I have a fondness for flying geese, but even without that, the overall design impact would have caught my eye. The quilting that emphasized the lines moving toward a point with its varied widths added interest. There was a clear unity between the piecing and the quilting, something I strive for but don’t always accomplish.

Wake Up, Wake Up

Wake Up, Wake Up

I was drawn to the upper half circle “calling” to the two rows and to thinking of various wake-up scenarios: parent to child, sun to plants, and so on. Again the quilting seemed appropriate to the piecing. That the quilting echoed the lower rows and not the upper half circle placed the emphasis on the waking more than the calling.

You can see that both of the above could easily also have been placed with minimalist design (something I like almost as much as creative use of negative space). And Pikes Peak could have been placed with Modern Traditionalist.

Now to the two that raised questions for me. Phoebe Hamel’s (another unclear photo of tag) Transmission and Heather Pregger’s Tuning Fork #12. (Remember, the quilters did not choose the categories.)



Where is the negative space? It all looks like design to me. Or does each row take its turn being design and then space? Or instead of seeing six rows am I to see four rows and space? Inquiring minds want to know.

Tuning Fork #12

Tuning Fork #12

I really like all that I have seen of this series (three in person, several in photos). The controlled busyness appeals to me as does the subtle color variation in the background sections. The energy. My questions are these: To what extent is “background” synonymous with “negative space”? How much design can negative space hold and remain negative space?

Now it would be lovely if I could ask the judges directly, but I doubt they read my blog. So I’ll link up with Nina Marie’s Off the Wall Friday (button in sidebar) in the hopes that readers there will comment to clarify the concept of negative space.



Filed under quilting

19 responses to “QuiltCon, Negative Space, and a Puzzle

  1. No clarification here, boss. My understanding agrees with yours.

  2. In the art world, negative space refers to anything that does not contain a line or pattern. It may be solid color. If you draw a hashtag on a piece of red paper, the surrounding area is negative space as well as the tiny squares within the hashtag. It is pretty much subjective. In modern quilts, I teach that at least 40% of the overall space should be negative space to qualify for the Modern Quilt category. But all judges are bias in their opinions, so Modern Traditionalists will have different preferences than Modern Minimalists. Interesting subject, is it not.

    • Thanks for a very helpful start toward understanding negative space. I should not be surprised that the definition differs between art/modern quilt worlds, especially after hearing a lecture that included comments about different composition considerations.

      Now I’m wondering if quilting counts as “line” in art quilts. Or is it more like brush strokes that are left in an oil painting–and I assume would still make space count as negative?

    • I am a visual arts teacher and I always explain negative space as the part if the piece that is not drawing your attention. The space around the focus of the work. To me, the negative space can hold pattern or different colour, hues and tones, as long as it doesn’t attrack your eye right away. Think of a picture of a slightly mysty or foggy landscape with a person standing in front of the camera. The person is the focus, the land and sky work as a negative space. To me, the quilt with the pattern in the dark areas falls in the category of negative space.
      Personally I find it awkward that using only one colour and no pattern turns it into negative space…. Doesn’t the quilting add a pattern or textute? To me there is no difference in the pattern created by i.e. piecing or thread use in FMQ.
      What a lovely topic to discuss!
      Love that everybody has their own opinion!
      And yes is is also confusing!

  3. Good topic!!! Thank you for your thoughts and the photos

  4. Thanks for this! I wasn’t at quiltcon- but when I was thinking about submitting it drove me bananas that quilters couldn’t pick a category. It would have been really interesting to be a fly on the wall when they were deciding categories. Out of curiosity, were there other categories those last two (beautiful but not really “negative spacey”) would have fit in? I can’t remember what the categories were.

    • One would fit piecing, maybe modern traditional if you think of Drunkard Path squares.One would fit piecing and improv.

      I too would like to have been a fly on the wall.

      Once at Quilt National(in Athens, OH) there was an exhibit about jurying quilts into a show. It included interactive viewing and selecting as if one were a jurist (from a small set–some actually in the show and some not). Very educational.

      https://knitnkwilt.wordpress.com/ http://www.knitnkwilt.com

      On Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 7:39 AM, knitNkwilt wrote:


  5. kathleenloomis

    Talking about Heather Pregger’s quilt (which by the way I have seen in person and it’s really nice) — certainly at the top left the colored forks seem to be floating on a field of dark. I would call this negative space, even though it’s composed of many small pieces with a bit of value contrast.

    From what I have read in blogs and magazines, I think the modern quilt people often think of negative space way too restrictively as big fields of white. In the art world in general it refers to space around whatever seems to be a focal point or shape. Sometimes you even have questions about which is the negative space and which is the “positive space” — also expressed as which is the figure and which is the ground.

  6. my understanding of negative space is not really shown in these quilts. To me, there is a foreground, a background and if there is negative space, it lies between these two and creates it’s own pattern. The arrow in the FedEx logo is a good example of negative space. The white around the rest of the logo is only background. Just having a solid color background does not fit the term “negative space”. The closest example above is the Pikes Peak quilt… the black bits create negative space that reflects the original pattern, but none of the other quilts even come close IMHO. Although I ADORE “Read Between The Lines” quilt! Negative space is tricky, crafty, cool and totally obvious when done right.

  7. Good points and I agree with you on the quilts. While I am not a fan of the modern quilts I do appreciate the quilting in the otherwise empty areas that I thought was the negative space. Having a great big area to show off your quilting – isn’t that the
    Point of negative space? To me the modern quilts are all about the quilting not the piecing. Interesting conversation though

  8. SusanL

    I totally agree with you!! I love the Tuning Fork series but I wouldn’t categorize it as negative space at all! Read Between the Lines and Tuning Fork are my favorites of all of the ones you’ve posted here.

  9. I appreciate all the help so far, and what is to come. I had a feeling it was more complicated than I knew.

  10. martidiy

    Very interesting. I would assume, like you, that the last two had no negative space. I’ve learned a lot through the above comments too.

    Last year I was scribe to a judge at a quilt show and I was surprised and a little saddened to see how she judged.

  11. Hi!!!! Very interesting!!!!! I enjoyed getting to see all of these!!!! I really think the artist should decide which category they wanted their quilt entered in!!!!! Thanks for sharing!!!!!

  12. When I got the survey from the Modern Quilt Guild last year, they wanted to know what we were confused about. I said, “What is negative space?” My idea of negative space wasn’t large areas of the same color of fabric. I thought it meant creating an image using negative space. I believe we crave “categories” so that we can move through the world knowing the difference between a knife and a cupcake. “What is modern quilting” hurts my soul because I can’t find what the elements are for that category. Is it a knife or a cupcake? Is it negative space or minimalism ….

  13. Pingback: There are no rules in making a modern quilt, but just in case. Five Things you should know. | Wanda's Life Sampler

  14. Well, I’m not sure I can answer the negative space category and you featured my quilt (which was placed in the negative space category). I love the one description of the secondary Fedex logo. But, for me I use it as the canvas to paint the whole picture. The space that lets the eye wander, but also rest, and a place to not only have the quilting play a role, but to let you guide the viewer around the quilt, and in my particular case, make you look at all the details, including the binding! (my quilt was Read Between the Lines and thank you for the kind words and your viewers for the thoughtful comments. Also, negative space doesn’t have to be white or light. I have another quilt going to the International Quilt Festival in Houston this year and on to Quiltcon 2016 that had negative space that’s pieced and darkly rich.

  15. Betty Colburn

    This post is exactly the kind of observation I hope to develop within the design group. I’ll miss you on October 14.

Conversation is good, so please join in. I'll reply here if it seems relevant to others, by email, or by visiting your blog.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s