Thursday, October 3, 2013

Sentimental Modernism in Quilts

Here we have the classic conflict in 20th century quilts. Is Sunbonnet Sue modern or not modern?
She's abstract; she makes use of modern colors, solids and abstracted floral prints.
Yet, she was never going to make the modern cut in 1930s Paris because she is a sentimentalized image.
If you feel like saying "Ohhhh, isn't that cute," it's sentimentalized. And it's not modern (Remember modernism has a lot of rules.)

She may not be modern but she is popular because she evokes a lot of emotions, mostly having to do with smallness, babies, naivete.

Here's her almost as popular cousin The Colonial Lady

This sentimental pattern doesn't appeal so much to the need to cuddle something cute; rather it's designed to make the viewer nostalgic.
She's a Colonial lady, perhaps answering the need for the authentic Americanism everyone was looking for in  the Colonial Revival of the 1930s. She's dressed in a costume of mixed historical antecedents with a Sunbonnet to remind us of pioneer farmwomen .

Her dress print is quite up-to-date, an abstracted flower.
She's modern yet not-modern

In this version she is dressed more like a Southern belle with hoops skirts, flounces and pantaloons--perhaps nostalgia for the idealized Southern plantation---a Gone With the Wind sentimentality.

Nostalgia wrapped in chiffon.

Well I'm not buying it and neither did the people in my sewing group.

In 1979 we made The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue.

It's been published a lot. Many people interpret it as a feminist comment. We were not commenting on women's rights; we were commenting on art.


See more of the quilt here at the Museum at Michigan State University, where it resides thanks to a gift from Kitty Clark Cole.


  1. No sentimental bonnets here. I love it!

  2. I had heard about this quilt in a class given by Kimmy Brunner, and have been trying to find pictures of it. Thank you, thank you for sharing!