Book Review: Quilt As You Go Made Modern

Quilt As-You-Go Made Modern: Fresh Techniques for Busy QuiltersQuilt As-You-Go Made Modern: Fresh Techniques for Busy Quilters by Jera Brandvig

I bought this book at Back Porch Fabrics in Pacific Grove, California back in November when Friend Julie, Mom and I did our mini-shop hop. The publisher should pay Gail at Back Porch Quilts to sell this book, because I would never have bought it without her enthusiastic sales pitch. After watching her do a brief demo, I was convinced that this book would solve all of my quilting problems. I think I probably need to take a class from Gail with regard to this book, because my efforts did not go as well or as easily as advertised.

The book starts out with a Table of Contents that tells the reader the book has 30+ pages of instructions and 13 projects. The cover advertises an additional 25 bonus ideas.

Jera Brandvig uses the Introduction to give the advantages of QAYG (pg.7), but also to bash “traditional quilting.”(pg.6). She talks about what a hassle it is cut precision pieces. It gives some idea on why the author started using this technique. She calls Quilt-As-You-Go (QAYG) a “…fresh, fun and simpler-than-it sounds technique.” (pg.5). There is nothing about where she heard about it. There is a perfect place between the first and second paragraphs where she could tell us, but that information is obviously missing. Even though I know better, I was left with the impression that Brandvig herself thought up the technique.

The book has a list of supplies, (pg.9-11) which includes some tips such as ‘If you do have to stash your mat when it’s not in use, be sure to keep it flat against the wall – or under your bed – so it doesn’t develop wobbles.” (pg.9). Aside from the word ‘wobbles’, this statement is one that makes this a beginner friendly book. It goes a step further by including such useful charts as “Planning Your Quilt Size” (pg.14) and “Not Sure How Much Batting Yardage to Buy”(pg.15).

The chapter called “Quilt As You Go Technique” (pg.17) starts the how-to section. The first block exercise has the reader making a log cabin style block and quilting each fabric after it is added (pg.18-19). There is no mention of backing and it becomes clear later (pg.20) that backing isn’t used at this stage. The author also give guidelines that include a very obvious ‘don’t’ (pg.21).

Jera Brandvig gives some alternatives for quilting the blocks (pg.24-25) if the reader did not quilt each patch as described in the log cabin example (pg.18-21).

We finally get to the assembly of the blocks, which is the part that gave me fits (pg.28-) when I was doing this technique on my own. Brandvig details the two ways in which the blocks can be assembled (pg.28-31). The first method, sewing the blocks together directly, is the one I thought would be easiest. I don’t like the method using joining strips (pg.29), though it does have it uses.

Ms. Brandvig expands the options by including a section on mixing in “traditional” block patterns with QAYG methods (pg.32-35). She explains an additional four different methods. This is one of the expansions that make this an interesting book. She doesn’t just stick to a couple of methods. She thinks beyond the basics.

I wondered, after reading the how-to section, whether it was really possible to provide a quilt pattern. The author says at the beginning of the project sections that it is difficult to have precise patterns, a statement which I applaud. She tries to alleviate any perceived problems this might cause by giving the finished quilt size, the finished block size and the trimmed block size (example pg.38). The author refers frequently to the how-to section in each of the project directions rather than repeating information. She includes page numbers, which makes it easier to flip back and forth. The patterns are on the long side compared with other books with the same sort of designs. They include a lot of photos and some variations! Yay!

Most of the patterns use variations on strip quiltmaking. I like the colors and style of Rainy Days (pg.44-47). Emerald City makes stars (pg.85) and has lozenge variation (pg.84). Some of the layouts such as Cascade Range (pg.91), are clever and relieve the monotony of the strips. Portage Bay (pg.92-95) is built on one huge piece of batting, which could turn into a quick baby quilt. Once you are done piecing, there are no blocks to put together. With some more quilting, you have a quilt top.

Techniques for finishing the quilts come at the end of the book (pg.102-109). This is where I had the most trouble with my project and felt the most resentful about the technique. Regardless of any advertisement, the quilt still needs a backing and the backing needs to be held on with quilting. Jera says “You work with small and manageable pieces, which means you can quilt more intricately without the physical strain and frustration of feeding a large quilt sandwich through a sewing machine”(pg.7). While most of the projects are on the baby-kid quilt size, the author does provide information about making larger quilts (pg.14). There seems to be a disconnect between the beginning and the end of the book.

In the section on finishing (pg.102-109) it is confirmed that we still have to baste the backing to the top (pg.103). The advantage presented is that the reader will need far fewer pins (pg.103). Brandvig writes that the quilt will only need minimal quilting since the blocks are already quilted. My experience, however, was that I had to add more quilting than I expected because of sagging/bagging fabric. The book shows a picture of the minimal quilting suggested (pg.103) and I don’t think it is enough. YMMV.

The book also includes comprehensive instructions on binding (pg.106-109), which can be used for other projects.

Back Porch Fabrics felt the need to add a sheet of notes to the books they sold. The notes seem to reorganize information already in the book into an easier to access manner. For the method where the blocks are sewn together directly, they also suggest sewing the blocks together with a 1/2″ seam allowance. I did this and found it to be a hassle because I couldn’t use my quarter inch foot.

I was kind of annoyed at the book before I wrote this review because of my experience. I felt that it did not live up to the its promise. I also get annoyed when no mention of the historical / previous efforts in the technique are mentioned. After writing the review, I want to try QAYG again, especially for charity quilts. The Charity Girls have a hard time getting quilts quilted and I really don’t want to add to their burden. This is also a good technique for using scraps. I’ll think about using this technique with the Solstice Parade pattern (pg.38-43) as it uses strips and I have a lot of strips in my scrap drawers. I think this technique has promise and I’d really like to make it work.

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Book Review: Double Vision Quilts

Double Vision Quilts: Simply Layer Shapes & Color for Richly Complex Curved DesignsDouble Vision Quilts: Simply Layer Shapes & Color for Richly Complex Curved Designs by Louisa L. Smith

This is not the first book by Louisa Smith that has intrigued me. She has an interesting style. This one wasn’t on my list, but it intrigued me and I bought it on impulse at Stitch in Ferndale. The first thing that attracted me were the bright colors on the cover. In looking at the cover again, I can imagine using Dale Fleming’s circle technique to make it.

This is a ‘normal sized’ C&T book which includes 94 pages, 11 projects, a gallery and lots of technique information so readers can make the projects their own. After the detailed table of contents (pg.3) and a short introduction (pg.4), the book begins with a section called “how it started” (pg.5-6). Smith discusses her idea, her inspiration, all the while implying the importance of doodling. She goes on to discuss how changes in her design led to other versions and the second section, “Working in a Series” (pg.6).

Working in a Series is all about the ‘what if’ of the creative process – those spin off ideas that pop into your mind as you work on one piece. As you know, I often work in a series because of this reason. See more about my series quilts.

The colors throughout the book continue to be a huge draw for me. As I page through the book, I am kept interested.

In “The Layered Approach” (pg.8-10) she talks about how layers improve/make these quilts. Layering fabric is something I have played with on and off, so I can appreciate the value of such an approach.

This book has basic construction techniques. I don’t mind it because the instructions are related to this specific technique, for the mist part. There is a very brief section on quilting (pg.85) – just commentary. It is not a how-to. She also talks about her method of piecing a back (pg.35). The instructions are brief, but useful. She covers blocking (pg.36), binding and facing (pg.36-38), displaying using stretcher frames and making a sleeve (pg.39).

If you are a beginner expecting full instructions for every step, you will be disappointed and will need another book with basic instructions or check out my quilt class tutorials. The security tips given are specifically dedicated to help you make these quilts.

The 3 methods of construction described are “Using a Grid of Blocks with 1/4 KISSes and No Fusing” (pg.11-12), “Using a Grid and Fusing” (pg.13), “Using an Invisible Grid with Multiple Layers of HUGs and KISSes” (pg.16). Method 2 is split into two parts, thus you see four methods listed.

“Color” (pg.17-25) is a long and valuable section. The author discusses value (pg.17-18), finding a color scheme (pg.19-24) as well as balancing color (pg.24-25) and using a proportional color wheel (pg.25). The section on choosing a color scheme is well developed and includes examples. The examples really help to improve the reader’s color knowledge.

The section on “Machine Applique’ ” (pg.26-29) includes examples of stitches (pg.27), basic applique’ techniques (pg.26) and has a lot of pictures. She suggests experimenting with your machine before starting on your Double Vision quilt. I agree I always do a test of the satin stitch (or whatever applique’ stitch I am using) to figure out the density, whether I like the thread and sheen, etc.

Smith defines Embellishing, another section (pg.30-32), as “…adding something to the quilt top to make it better” (pg.30). I think of embroidering or beading as embellishment.  While she talks a bit about machine embroidery (pg.32), most of the section refers to layering on shapes.

“The Gallery” (pg.40-46) is fantastic. The section shows a lot of quilts, tells what method was used to make than as well as the artist. It is a feast for the eyes!

Finally, comes the “Projects” section (pg.47-88). Each pattern has a picture of the quilt on the section’s main page as well as a larger picture on the main project page. As you would expect, the pattern shows fabric requirements. These are a little different because the fabric requirements are divided up into layers. Fabric is followed by cutting and assembling directions. Applique’ and embellishing are included, if applicable to the pattern. The colors throughout the project section are phenomenal. Finally, the book has full sized templates coded to the relevant pattern (pg.89-94).

This book is interesting. It is definitely not the same-old, same-old. It will really stretch the reader, both in skills and in fabrics. This book is  definitely worth a look.

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Book Review: Brilliant Little Patchwork

Kaffe Fassett's Brilliant Little Patchworks: 20 Stitched and Patched Projects Using Kafe Fassett FabricsKaffe Fassett’s Brilliant Little Patchworks: 20 Stitched and Patched Projects Using Kaffe Fassett Fabrics by Kaffe Fassett

I received this as an unexpected gift and my first impression was “UGH! Twenty MORE projects I’ll never have time to make.” It wasn’t on my list, but neither did I have it. Immediately thereafter, I was distracted and enchanted by the color and patterns of the fabric. The writing was also engrossing.

My despair quickly disappeared. While I am not much for project books, the difference in this book being primarily useful household items – aprons, showls, stool covers, placemats, cushions, a kimono and other items. There was one miniquilt.

The best part of this book is the visuals. There is some kind of image on each page. Some are step outs, others show sewing and lots of inspiration photos. All are well photographed and interesting in color, composition and design.

All of the projects use Kaffe’s fabrics. The benefit of this book is how to use his fabrics successfully. The large flower prints are the showpieces. The pebbles, lattices, dots, stripes and zigzags point the viewer through the tone-on-tones to the showpieces. This book shows that there is method to the seeming madness of Kaffe’s groups/lines of fabrics. This book also shows that throwing a bunch of large flower prints together doesn’t necessarily work.

My favorite project is the tea cozy. I seem to be fascinated with tea cozies and will have to make one to get it out of my system. I have had an idea to make tea cozies for the whole family in the colors of their kitchens, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Looking at the projects made me interested in the shawls. However, I think that I would only make one if Kaffe made organza.

I think the main value of this book is how the fabrics are combined as well as the simple designs that show off the motifs.

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Book Review: Hack That Tote

Hack That Tote!: Mix & Match Elements to Create Your Perfect BagHack That Tote!: Mix & Match Elements to Create Your Perfect Bag by Mary Abreu

I received Hack That Tote for Christmas. I can always count on the YM to get me something towards the top of my wishlist. I hack bags, because I actually use the bags that I make. I wanted this book to help me be a better bag hacker. You have seen my attempts at hacking the Petrillo Bag pattern. I am happy with the results, but I thought a little additional understanding of the structure of totes and their patterns would assist me in my efforts.
This book starts with a basic pattern and gives a visual representation of the various hacking options (pg.6-7).

The first chapter is called “Anatomy of a Tote Bag” (pg.8). It only mentions the elements of a bag, but explains them thoroughly. For example, I never knew that “the square notches cut from the bottom corners dictate the shape of the finished project” (pg.8). I probably knew it somewhere deep down, but this book writes it clearly and puts it out there for my brain to chew on.

There is also a discussion of ‘drop,’ how pockets work best and how the “width and length of the bag work with the bottom corner notches in determining the finished bag size” (pg.9). All of the these structural tips in the information sections help with hacking a tote. Understanding the underlying structure of anything helps the maker to disassemble and reassemble their project, including bags.

The images are also helpful. Pages 6 and 9 have images that help understand the underlying structure – or how bags change as they are hacked. This structural information is brief but well written and useful.

The third chapter is called “Overview of Hacking the Pattern” (pg.10). The section starts with changing the size of a bag and gives the formula for scaling up or down. Changing fabric is really an easy ‘hack’. It is actually barely a hack and probably should not have been mentioned in the same context as changing the size of a bag. As a very basic hack, Abreu briefly discusses ways of using fabrics to change the look of one’s project (pg.12-13). This section makes me think of my mosaic pieced journal covers and how making such a large piece of fabric would use up a lot of scraps as well as be interesting if one could deal with all of the seam allowances.

Fabrics are discussed in an entire chapter of their own entitled, shockingly, ‘Fabrics’ (pg.14-). This section is different than the above in that it discusses particular types of fabrics and their qualities in relation to making bags. The chapter includes my favorite fabric tip. “I nearly always select light colored fabrics for bag linings” (pg.14). The author also discussed aligning fabric motifs (pg.14) and different fibers (pg.16-19) extensively. She provides for use of different fabrics and her opinion on their suitability for bags.

“Interfacings and Stabilizers” information is given space as well. The topic is illustrated with a page spread (pg.21). The chapter gives extensive help on why to use stabilizers and the author’s preferences such as “… to interface both the exterior and the lining, which allows the bag to maintain its shape over time” (pg.20).

Again, Ms. Abreu gives an illustration of various interfacing and talks about their uses (pg.22-24). I was pleased to read about buckram, which I have never used (pg.22). I was also pleased to get a short lesson on craft stabilizers, which Abreu describes as “beyond the heartiest of interfacings lies a category of products called craft stabilizers” (pg.24). I have never heard this term so I was pleased that she named some brands with which I was familiar so I could get context. The author also gave useful tips on sewing through them.

One thing I like about this section the “Considerations of Interfacings/Stabilizers” (pg.25). This part gives advice on when to use what type of interfacing. She uses projects in the book as examples. While this could be seen as self-serving, I think it is a great idea because there are a wide variety of projects which provide a variety of examples for almost any available pattern.

Handles can be hacked as well. Ms. Abreu talks about different types of handles (pg.26) with examples (pg.27). Pockets, decorative elements, bottoms, hardware as well as handles are all included in the Elements section (pg.26-35).

After a lot of great information, the patterns start with a basic tote. The patterns each run about 4 pages, depending on the complexity. I have seen some full sized quilt patterns in books on a shorter number of pages. The basic tote is the pattern on which most of the other patterns are based.

I originally saw this book at a store and one reason I put it on my list, besides the basic hacking information, was the Tubular Frame Purse (pg.60-67) pattern. I like the idea that I might be able to carry one bag for work rather than a purse and a tote or briefcase. I like the shape and the fact that it stands up by itself. The pattern calls for foam interfacing such as Soft and Stable.

Like many of the patterns, there is a sidebar called “Inside the Hack” (pg.60), which discusses how to accommodate different sizes of parts. There is a lot of cutting for this pattern and the design uses several different types of interfacing. Though I haven’t made the bag, the steps seem to be well written and clear. This pattern has a bag bottom, so the maker could use press-on vinyl to protect the fabric from wet floors. Keep the negative sides of press-on vinyl in mind when you use consider using it.

This pattern uses a tubular frame. It is definitely on my list to try out. I just have to find some proper fabric, assemble the interfacing and supplies.

The Boat/Pool tote (pg.68-73) would be a great project in which to use a large print fabric for the outside. alternatively, I might use a laminated fabric for the outside, especially if I planned to use the bag around water. This pattern doesn’t have a separate bottom piece so press-on vinyl isn’t an option.

The Laundry Duffle Bag (pg.94-98) could be a great option if you want to include a storage bag for a gift quilt. One option (hack?) given for this project is using French Seams and a heavier fabric. This interests me and I want to think about how to parlay this into use for different patterns.

Hack That Tote doesn’t have an index, but it does have an illustrated Glossary (pg.99-102) and a Resources page. I find the Glossary helpful for techniques with which I am unfamiliar. I would have liked it better if projects that used the listed techniques were include with the entry.

A ton of photos were included, which makes navigating the instructions easier. I recommend this book.

There are a wide variety of patterns in this book of different shapes and sizes, including a messenger bag and a crossbody bag. Some look like patterns I have seen from other designers. There are a limited number of shapes for bags so, perhaps, it can’t be helped.

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Book Review : The New Hexagon

The New Hexagon: 52 Blocks to English Paper PieceThe New Hexagon: 52 Blocks to English Paper Piece by Katja Marek

I bought this book because it was a block dictionary and the cover was very appealing. I think I also liked the cover’s color and was in a weak mood. Still, I do love block dictionaries and this is a great one for new a way of looking at hexagon blocks. I have never seen a grouping of hexagon ‘blocks’ before and these are really unique. I am really excited about English Paper Piecing right now and can see myself starting several projects using that technique. I am trying to restrain myself, especially since I plan on making the La Passacaglia quilt.

This book was paired with the Marti Michell Perfect Patchwork Templates set G. I thought they would be great for cutting the fabric. The sizes of the rotary templates don’t match the sizes in the book so that is a problem. However, as creative people I know that most of us can adjust the blocks to the size of the templates since they make cutting fabric much easier.

Predictably, the book starts out with a table of contents. After the table of contents, the author presents us with her view of paper piecing. The method I use (thread basting) is considered “truly laborious” (pg.4), though in fairness to the author, I do buy paper templates rather than cutting them out myself. Marek advocates glue basting fabric to cardboard over thread basting.

The author discusses the advantages of EPP, including its portability. I do agree that English Paper Piecing is portable, as you have seen with my half hexie project.

The Tools and Equipment section (pg.6-7) is compact but information filled. I was thrilled to see that Ms. Marek goes to the level of telling her readers what weight of paper (pg.6) she uses to print her EPP papers. This is very useful information if I decide to print templates rather than buying my papers. In addition to the tools, Marek also describes her “on-the-go box” and what it contains. I am a huge fan of Go Bags as having a bag ready to take on trip means I don’t have to rummage for supplies and possibly forget something. It also means I might actually get something done on a travel weekend where I might otherwise get no time with a needle.

The fabric in this book looks like Kate Spain’s Terrain, another appealing aspect to the color scheme of this book. It is well suited to the examples as there is opportunity for fussy cutting from some of the motifs.

English Paper Piecing Techniques (pg.8-11) follows the chapter on tools. This section has everything you need to know about paper piecing. Keep in mind that this is the author’s method and variations you use are not wrong. While I haven’t tried the glue basting method, the complete directions given do encourage me to give it a try. I normally only wash my quilts as needed so I worry about the lasting effects of the glue on the fabric. She talks about removing the papers but not about reusing them or washing the glue out of the fabric.

There is the ubiquitous section on “Quiltmaking Basics” (pg.12-15), over a page of which is concerned with binding the quilt. There is no talk of quilting the quilt beyond following the manufacturer’s instructions. Of course whole books have been written on the subject so I am not surprised.

One of the most interesting chapters is called “Working with Patterns” (pg. 16-18). One thing this section shows is why the reader should prepare the templates in the way the author recommends. “The following is the so-called ‘fine print’ — the little details that are often glossed over. You may never choose to changed the size of the blocks in this book, and you may never need to calculate the height of a hexagon. But when you become inspired to start designing your own quilts using the blocks I have provided, these little tidbits are here to help you. The size of the blocks in this book is determined by measuring the length of one side (in this case 3 inches) (pg.16). Even I, who glosses over directions with wild abandon and to my shame, can see the wisdom in Marek’s words. This section also gives tips on fussy cutting and provides ideas on layouts. Study these pages carefully and you will benefit greatly. I did and found a variation of Jack’s Chain which has my head spinning with thoughts on that layout.

Over 71 pages 52 hexagon blocks are presented (pg.19-52). The author has named all of them with women’s names. Carol is the most basic divided hexagon, being made up of 6 triangles. Most of the other blocks have smaller hexagons and diamonds, some half hexies (Lorraine is similar to my EPP project), triangles, parallelograms, and kite shapes all rearranged into hexagon shapes in very clever ways.

Finally, the book has a few projects. Because of the nature of EPP, I think this is a book that will inspire quiltmakers to design their own quilts. All of the projects, especially those made in Terrain are very appealing. My favorite might be the Rain Chain Nursery Quilt. It reminds me of the modern donation quilt our color group made a few years ago. There is a lot of background, but the layout is very appealing. Sadly, the Jack’s Chain variation is made from unappealing beiges.

There is also a list of resources and a gallery. This book has a lot of scope for inspiration

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Book Review: Syllabus

It isn’t my intention to have very frequent book reviews in this Friday space. I think, however, that this book review feeds directly into my search for continuing creative inspiration. There are a lot of words in this review, but you will get more out of the book review, if you go buy the book (or find it at your local library). Definitely read and comment on my review, but go and get more out of it by looking at the illustrations and other materials in the book, too.

Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental ProfessorSyllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard about this book when I listened to the Creative Mom podcast. This is not normally my kind of book, but I really enjoyed it. I was also very taken with the profound insights into the creative process and the thoughtfulness in nurturing creativity. The book is the product of a curriculum from one of Lynda Barry‘s classes and the content still has those qualities. I liked Barry’s idea of a curriculum: clear standards for the class that had more to do with production than perfect drawing. My favorite thing about this book is that it conveys the message that I was trying to convey with the Creative Prompt Project:

Just draw (or paint or sculpt or dance) and don’t worry if it looks imperfect or childish. Experience the act of making something with your hands/body.

The book looks like a composition notebook, one of those black and white marbled notebooks seen in massive stacks at stores during the back-to-school season. Barry uses very humble materials. They are not low quality, but humble — crayons (pg.87), Flair felt pen, etc. The title page and verso are not very obvious at all, which caught me, as a librarian, off guard. There is no table of contents and no index. The text just starts with the question “Is Creative Concentration Contagious?” There is a method to the seeming madness, however, and the book includes the story about the class Lynda Barry taught.

As I wrote the review, I wanted to go back and read all the pages over again. There is so much to see on the pages, I think it is possible to get something new no matter how many times you look at the pages. One part I cannot get out of my head is something I knew, but could never put into words. I was very glad when Lynda Barry wrote it down for me. “We know that athletes, musicians, and actors all have to practice, rehearse, repeat things until it gets into the body, the ‘muscle memory’, but for some reason, writers and visual artists think they have to be inspired before they make something not suspecting the PHYSICAL ACT of writing or drawing is what brings that inspiration about. Worrying about its worth and value before it exists can keep us immobilized forever. Any story we write or picture we made cannot demonstrate its worth until we write it or draw it. The answer can’t come to us any other way” (pg.163). I love the quote and think I will write it down and put it up where I can see it. It is so important to remember that inspiration is a must, but it is not everything. Practice. Practice. Practice.

There are a lot of slightly scary (I am not a horror person) and disturbing images in this book. A lot of the images are dark. This book is probably not appropriate for 5 year olds, but is perfectly fine for the tween to adult set. Also, it is a good reminder that not all drawings (or quilts or other artworks) are pretty in a conventional sense. This does not diminish other aspects of the piece (pg.29). The encouragement to just be creative regularly is the point.

The book discusses drawing a lot – not theoretical aspects, but the sheer magnitude of work the students are expected to create. Yes, you get better the more you practice, but you also have to have an “experience by hand” (pg.31), which has value. Barry writes “…what if the way kids draw — that kind of line that we call ‘childish’ — what if that is what a lines looks like when someone is having an experience by hand?” (pg.31). When I work, there is definitely something I gain by having fabric in my hands. It may be because my paid work is just stuff appearing on a screen while my quiltmaking is more of a whole body experience.

There is so much that translates directly to quiltmaking. I almost couldn’t take it all in. “I told them to color had in order to do it right. And go straight to use force — thinking I was showing them a short-cut — this took away the way of coloring they would have found on their own. By telling them just how to do it, I took the playing-around away, the gradual figuring out that bring something alive to the activity, makes it worthwhile, and is transferrable [sic] to other activities.” (pg.89) I love this passage. It makes me wonder if there is joy in using quilt patterns? Sure you have a quilt when you finish, but did the making of a design that someone else has already made bring joy to the quiltmaker? Perhaps this is the product vs. process question.

There are random and very interesting facts scattered throughout the book. “Every baby old enough to hold a crayon can already use and understand these 3 languages. Sometimes all at once.” (pg.14). She is talking about the relationship between pictures, music and dancing. This struck me as really amazing. She also talks about the relationship between hands, images and insights referring to using what is at hand to make art. One example is a child in bed interacting with his/her blanket as if it were alive. Another example is a of a homeless man acting out Romeo and Juliet with a cigarette butt and bottle cap as the main characters. (pg.15). This section is too insightful to include quotes. I would have had to type the entire section, which is why you should read this book. 😉

One good reminder (pg.19) is that even though we don’t like a piece of our artwork, it survives. This reminds me of finishing a quilt and being very glad to be done with it. Still, six months later, the quilt is one of my best. It is a good thing to remember that our work survives even if we don’t like it. Barry also states “Liking and not liking can make us blind to what’s there.” (pg.23). I make no secret of not liking brown and having a hard time appreciating Civil War reproduction fabrics. Some years ago, I forced myself to look more carefully at some of these types of quilts in order to appreciate something else about the quilt, such as the piecing and the design. While I have a hard time imagining such quilts in brights and dots, I can appreciate intricate and exact piecing.

The book is filled with tips, many of which dovetail with what I am trying to do with my blog. One states “I know if I can just keep them drawing without thinking about it too much, something quite original will appear…” (pg.21). I think it is very important to keep working, even if you make a lot of terrible work, because at some point, something great will happen that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t done so much mediocre or okay work. One tip is to use smaller spaces. Lynda has her students fold 8.5″x11″ sheets of paper into 16 squares and use those for their drawings. Friend Julie is making small square quilts as a weekly exercise. Is this something that would jolt my creativity? Your creativity?

Words in the book described as tips become profound when I think about them. One such group of words is something that I tried to espouse in the Creative Prompt Project. “Daily practice with images both written and drawn is rare once we have lost our baby teeth and begin to think of ourselves as good at some things and bad at other things. It’s not that this isn’t TRUE but the side effects are profound once we abandon a certain activity like drawing because we are bad at it. A certain state of mind (what McGilchrist might call ‘attention’) is also lost. A certain capacity of the mind is shuttered and for most people, it stays that way for life” (pg.115). This quote, idea hits close to home. I know I do it. It is easier to do things I am good at and avoid things I think I am bad at. I don’t do needle-turn applique’ because it is hard and I have to work at it. I want the time I spend to mean something more than ravelly edges on a piece of applique’. Still, what am I losing with this attitude?

One aspect of the ideas in the text that really struck me was about images. Lynda Barry writes “I was trying to understand how images travel between people, how they move through time, and if there was a way to use writing and picture making to figure out more about how images work. (pg.49) This idea has been rumbling around in my head, including the relationship to quiltmaking. We know that newspapers used to print patterns. We know that ladies would trade patterns. Now we have digital cameras and record quilt images that way. Still, we see images and they rumble around in our heads, morph and change before they become a quilt. Even when they become a quilt, changes are still possible.

The other thing about this book is the author encourages us to notice things. The composition book acts as a life note book. She encourages a small box to record things students did, saw, heard and then there is a space for a daily drawing. “what goes into your diary are things that you noticed when you became present — that is to say when the hamster wheel of thoughts and plans and worries stopped long enough for you to notice where you were and what was going on around you — little things…” (pg.61). This happens to me when I walk and am not listening to a book. This book makes me think I should just allow my mind to wander more often. What am I losing by not giving my mind that space?

Partway through the text, Barry writes “sometimes right before class I’ll see students rushing to finish the homework I gave them and I always feel sad. They’ll get nothing from the work without the state of mind that comes with it. It’s a thing Dan Chaon calls ‘Dreaming Awake’ – we can use writing and drawing to get to that state, but not by rushing” (pg.128). I think I get to this state when I am piecing a lot of the same types of pieces. It allows me to accomplish something in the quiltmaking world while my mind wanders off to other places to solve other problems. I don’t think we have enough of this type of time. While I like to have a basic plan in place when I start a quilt, often I just want to try something and that ends up as a quilt, like the Swoon did. I think there was an element of this type of working in the IRR as well. Lynda talks about this when she says “It’s a kind of picturing that is formed by our own activity, one line suggesting the next. We have a general direction but can’t see where we are until we let ourselves take a step, and then another, and then we move on to the third”(pg.136). There is an element of uncertainty when working this way, but also an element of excitement, because the maker does not know exactly where s/he is going.

Fixed places are a concept I cannot completely wrap my head around, but if what I think the author is talking about is true. I can identify at least one group of fixed places relevant to my life. Lynda B writes “Poets claim that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used to live in our youth. But these are most hazardous pilgrimages, which end as often in disappointment as in success. It is in ourselves that we should rather seek to find those fixed places, contemporaneous with different years” (pg.181). I wonder how fixed places affect our lives. The point about failure and success is well taken. You can’t go back and we do look back on the past with rose colored glasses and forget the difficult parts.

Finally, Ms. Barry talks about journals. Journals, as you know, are near and dear to my heart. I have kept one for years and she gives voice to my thoughts on journals and writing in a journal when she says ‘the nature of notetaking by hand. Thinking of one’s compbook as a place. The practice of developing a place not a thing” (pg.194). For me, a journal is a place to think. It can be a mess. If I force yourself to make it beautiful I know it is less useful. I need a place to dump and my daily journal is that place.

Towards the end of this 200 page book, Barry tells a story “He said that during those years, as a child, he used to imagine that he was the son of the emperor of China, and the old, wise advisors of his father set a spell on him: he would have to experience all these terrible events so when he grew up and became the emperor himself, he would not make war. Since, I stopped thinking that art is decoration in life; for me, it is proof that art is essential to our surviving.” (pg.173). Using creativity to survive a terrible situation is so clever that I cannot think how this author thought of it except that he practiced and it was second nature.

I guess the thing about this book that I liked best was that it made me think in a different way. Barry’s book gives me a lot to think about. It made me wonder if I can to do more to develop my creativity? Practice more? Draw more? Dance more? More walking without headphones and an audiobook? Allow my mind to wander? There is a lot in what I have written in this review, but there is so much more. Go buy this book (shameless plug!!) and read it. Then read it again and again.

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Book Review: Fearless Design for Every Quilter

Fearless Design for Every Quilter: Traditional & Contemporary 10 Lessons Creativity & CritiqueFearless Design for Every Quilter: Traditional & Contemporary 10 Lessons Creativity & Critique by Lorraine Torrence

This is the year of cleaning up little details. This book has been on my list for a long time as I worked through the Design Series with Sandy. We haven’t finished the podcasting portion, but I want this book off my list. This book did not take me 4 years to read! I refused to take it off my list until, first, I finished the design series with Sandy and, second, I wrote this review.

I have taken at least one class with Lorraine Torrence. She is an excellent teacher who teaches concepts and techniques more than projects. In the classes I have taken with her, and articles & books by her I have read, the principles and elements of design infuse her work. Thus I was excited about this book when it came out. As I started my own studies into the principles and elements of design, I found this book to be a good resource and starting place. It is, however, not comprehensive.

The book comprises the creative process as well as five of the principles and elements of design. It starts with a comprehensive table of contents (pg.4) and continues with an introduction that includes a brief history of the contemporary quiltmaking movement. The introduction continues with a section from each of the two authors. Lorraine’s section talks about her long term Design Essentials class, including sketching out the content of the class allowing any shop to offer such a class. I am not sure that was the intent. Jean was a student in the class and talks about her experiences while Lorraine talks about the evolution and teaching of the class.

The introduction is followed by a short section on the goals of the books and some introduction on how to use the book. Critique and inspiration are part of using the book and are described in this part as well.

The overall message in this section is figuring out the exercises and that people learn more when the instructions are vague or do not give all the information. This is not meant to deprive the reader, but to encourage experimentation.

The above sections are followed by “Commit to Create: The Creative Process” There is an interesting discussion about how “being creative is not a mysterious process.” (pg.8), telling the reader that creativity is a process in which anyone can engage. There are comments in this section that I have said to others. This section is not all about telling the reader s/he is creative, there is also a process outlined and how to engage in each step. The process includes: Prepare, Incubate, Create, Evaluate.

I like this process because it is simple yet effective. The authors provide a lot of information, but it is concise, to the point and easily digestible.
The Creative Process is covered in the Critique Process (pg.11). The word critique is scary but this section starts by talking about vocabulary and phrasing, which helps to take some of the sting out of the process.

Throughout the book are references to other books and articles that add to or expand on the content.

Students participated in this book and they are introduced starting on pg.13. “Their work and thoughts appear as examples of design and critique.” (pg.13) “The first part of the design course focuses on the principles and elements, exploring the relationship of these components to the overall success of a quilt design” (pg.11). The principles and elements covered are Balance, Asymmetrical Composition and Value, Scale, Value and Balance, Identifying Value in Color, and Color. As I said these are a good place to start, though not comprehensive. Each of these chapters gives an exercise then goes through a critique section, using the student work as examples. There is also a section within each chapter called ‘the continuing education process’, which suggests different approaches and tools.

These chapters are all full color with many images throughout. The words making up the chapter are filled with helpful information, definitions and examples. One quote, which is a great reminder is “Doing the exercises in this chapter is simply a way to try out color ideas visually to find new combinations….” (pg.50). Replace ‘color ideas’ with other concepts and the line becomes a universal excuse for going to your studio and working.

The next major section is called “Design Sources and Inspiration” (pg.52) and focuses, not surprisingly, “on sources and inspiration” (pg.52). Some of the inspirations are Words (pg.53), Using Images from your Surroundings (pg.58), and Maintaining Unity Using Panels (pg.64). These chapters also show student work in the critique section, include a creativity exercise and suggested reading.

The section called Designing Borders and Quilting (pg.69) is put together like the others, but seems to be a section that the publisher said the authors had to include. It isn’t a comprehensive how-to quilt section; it is more about fitting the quilting to the overall design of the piece. The quilting doesn’t show up very well on some of the pieces in the critique session (pg.70-72).

There is a section on borders, which is interesting. It starts with “A good way to audition borders for a quilt is to photograph the quilt and make several paper picture frames for the photo” (pg.74). Of course, you could copy the fabric you were planning on using or you could take the idea and reproduce it in EQ or another quilt software.

Throughout the book you are encouraged to produce a ‘library’ of designs. In this section, the idea is to add to this concept with a quilting design library. This reminds me of Inspiration Odyssey by Diana Swim Wessel. You could just use her materials instead of creating your own, but creating your own makes your project personal and provides a starting place. Christa Watson has a new machine quilting book that has fill designs, etc, that would be useful. This idea isn’t bad if you have ideas of your own that differ from those published. As the authors say, it “will be a good resource for ideas.” (pg.74)

There is a tidbit in the Creativity Exercise in this section that I really like. The authors say “…do a mental check to see if you have built ‘fences’ around your ability to be creative. Sometimes we can get stuck in what we know have always done, rather than focusing on what we creatively dream” (pg.74). I really love this thought. It isn’t easy, especially when we are in ‘get ‘er done’ mode, but its important to try to remember and practice.

The chapter in this section is called “Designing and Working with Pattern,” which is all about understanding the fabric design process and using those fabrics you create (pg.75). The exercise is to design fabric and the assignment gives you ideas on how to do it such as printing on fabric and others. I immediately thought of Tsukineko inks. This creation process is followed up by using the fabrics.

The next major section is called “Working in a Series” and covers topics such as What is Series Work, Where to Start, and How Long to Work on a Series. This section ends with the reminder that quantity equals quality and is followed by student work.

The book sums up with a Section called “Summing Up” (pg.90) that tells readers where to go from this point. The suggestion is to start your own critique group and the book gives a list of things to consider when doing so (pg.91). In the “Some Final words” section there are thoughts on your inner critic, on inspiration and other things.

I am disappointed that this book does not have an index.

Goodreads is showing the ebook for this review, but I have the print version, which has a nice selection of art quilt books on the last page by such quilt luminaries as Jane Davila, Katie Pasquini-Masopust and Ruth McDowell.

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Book Review: Scraps, Inc.

Scraps, Inc.: 15 Modern Quilts Made to KeepScraps, Inc.: 15 Modern Quilts Made to Keep by Editors at Lucky Spool

The best thing about this book is the photos. The colors are great; the photography is great. Other than that this is a project book with projects you have seen before done by ‘names’ in updated colors and fabrics.

First, I am going to talk about the projects and then will talk about the introductory pages at the end of the review.

The book has 15 projects by some of the most well known modern designers, including Camille Roskelley, April Rosenthal and Amy Smart. The artists begin each of the projects with a description. I liked it that some of them suggested alternate color options, though I didn’t see alternate color options shown in the book. There might be some examples on the individual quiltmakers’ websites. Each of the designers has a “Scrap Stash Tip” at the end of their chapter/project.

I thought the font was really good. Bold headlines are bold. The illustrations in the directions are also excellent. I haven’t made any of the projects, so I cannot comment on the technical quality of the project directions.

Many of the projects are based on traditional patterns: Bangles, Courthouse Steps, Favorite Things and Richmond, even if the names are different. I realize that everyone has different scraps, but a lot of these projects would not work for my scrap bins, because of the sizes required. Some of the projects require 4.5″ squares and I have very few scraps that size, so I would have to cut from yardage.

Amy Ellis’ My Favorite Things quilt project (pg. 24-35) is made up of all classic blocks. Her fabric usage would be considered modern, appearing to use a variety of background fabrics rather than just one. The setting is a rectangular medallion style, which is a little different than other classic settings. The complexity of this project is really nice.

Allison Harris’ Bangles quilt (pg.19-23) is made differently, but is the same pattern as the Jewel Box quilt pattern that was so popular several years ago. I guess everything old is new again? This quilt has a more stereotypical modern feel with its bright white background and no border.

The usage of many traditional block patterns and settings is a good way to draw in quiltmakers who don’t think the modern movement is for them.

My favorite quilt in this book, hands down, is Overcast by April Rosenthal (pg.5-58). I love this quilt and want to make it. I think it is reasonable use of scraps. In the introduction to the project, Ms. Rosenthal has some good advice. “Be sure to choose a grounding ‘background’ for your quilt. A strong solid here will help the rest your piecing stand out, and provide much-needed contrast to the fabrics with a white background and to the scrappy colored strips.” This pattern requires that colors don’t bleed into one another and the fact that the whites stand out give it a bright appearance that is also complex and interesting. I would have liked a couple of line drawn blocks with the lettered designations she uses for the piecing. The designer uses a glue basting method for piecing the curves, which she describes as being helpful for beginners, but may not be necessary as the maker progresses through the quilt. I thought this was a helpful tip and also acknowledges that sewists get better at skills as they progress through a project. I also like the way she assembles the curved units. She has the maker add on a strip made up of three squares rather than piecing a tighter curve. This allows for greater use of scraps and more success at small curves.

Unraveled (pg. 77-81) is an interesting pattern and it has that lozenge shape I have not yet explored. The blocks are rather big and I think I would like it better in a smaller size. It uses the flippy corners method to make the lozenges, thus I think could be resized relatively easily.

Kati Spencer’s quilt, Woven, (pg.89-83) intrigues me. It reminds me of a Jelly Roll Race quilt, but more planned. I like the different arrangement of strips and the coordinating of colors.

Most of the designers’ Scrap Stash Tips revolve around getting scraps organized immediately after finishing a project. Some cut into certain sizes a la Bonnie Hunter and others.

Templates at the back must be photocopied. I do not see a link to a downloadable version in the book.

Finally, we are back to the beginning where there are three pages of text, a welcome and some basic instructions on making HSTs and strip sets. There are templates at the end of the book. I was put off this book immediately in the first paragraph of the introduction, because the language used is deprecating to makers. “…with a love for every inch of the leftover fabrics…” implies a problem with obsessiveness. Later, the author writes “This has likely turned you into a scrap junkie.” While I understand that this was probably used in a tongue in cheek manner and that my own may have affected my understanding of the implications, ‘junkie’ is someone who has a drug problem. I really don’t think that loving fabric and making quilts should be equated with substance abuse. I also think we, as quiltmakers, should be supportive rather than judgmental about fabric purchasing or amounts of fabric each of us own.

Also in the welcome the author says “….colors we are loving right now, combined with innovative, on-trend designs…”. This begs the question of whether the project designs will be out of style when these on-trend scraps are out of fashion? What if you have scraps from 20 years ago? Are the designs not suitable for someone with a broadly reaching scrap bin?

I would, as usual, have liked to see more about the inspiration for each quilt. I think it gives readers ideas about where to get inspired on their own. As I have said, I think some of the projects are interesting. This book is definitely worth a look.

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Book Review: Adding Layers

Adding Layers Color, Design & Imagination: 15 Original Quilt Projects from Kathy Doughty of Material ObsessionAdding Layers Color, Design & Imagination: 15 Original Quilt Projects from Kathy Doughty of Material Obsession by Kathy Doughty

I sought out this book after I saw a quilt, which referenced the book at the Tuleberg Quilt Show and after I saw Gerre bring her fantastic quilt to show and tell at a recent BAMQG meeting. I have Material Obsession in my library, but it hasn’t filtered to the top of the stack for a review yet.

As I was preparing to write this review I was thinking about what attracted me to Doughty’s style. I am really interested in the layering of color, design motifs, e.g. quilting, embroidery, embellishment, and the juxtaposition (almost clashing) of fabric/color motifs in quilts. You know how Kaffe Fassett has a riot of fabric prints in his quilts that somehow seem to work? That is what I mean.

You can see some of my experiments in this area in the Red and Black Improv quilt, but looking at Scrapitude Carnivale is what really made me think more about the successful combinations of different fabrics.

While this type of combination of fabrics and colors seems common today, Doughty curates her fabrics more carefully. She does not seem to be of the mind that more is better and the more you have the more will go together, unlike some other quilt teachers.

The book starts with an introduction, which says “The lives and voices of the makers are sewn into a composite piece of visual delight that evocatively joins color, technique, and style into a long lasting memory.”

This is only part of an introduction that is a delightful essay about making and some of the thoughts quilts evoke in people. It sets the tone for the book. After reading this, I had a dark thought that went back to my post on quilt labels, which was that unsigned/unattributed quilts break the connection of the maker to their quilt.

The intro is followed by a section on Kathy Doughty‘s quilt journey (pg.6). After giving a brief description of how she came to write the book, own a shop, etc, she reminds us that “just as important as the how of making the quilt is the why.” I think about the ‘why’ a lot and find that most quilt authors don’t discuss it very much, if at all.

The author brings the reader into the circle with the next section, “You and the Book” (pg.7). She says “simple fabric selections, basic patterns, and obvious designs gave way to more mature, thoughtful designs.” You have to walk before you can run. This section outlines how the author intended the book to be used. She encourages readers to use their stash.

Kathy Doughty suggests asking yourself “what do I want to say?” at the beginning of each quilt. This question stopped me. I almost never ask myself this I often start a project because I want to try a technique or teach myself a skill. I never think of infusing my quilts with a message or starting at a point with a message in mind. As I scroll through the quilts I have made in my mind, I know why I made most of them and only a couple of them have messages, or started with messages.

As with most quilt books, the intro sections cover the basics. A message about creativity (pg.8) is one that I would like to copy and put up on my inspiration board.

Doughty encourages readers to use our stash fabrics and gives some ways to think about your beloved fabrics.

All of the sections in the Tools of the Trade chapter are infused with Doughty’s creative and positive style. La de dah creativity is great, but good technique is important as well. Thus, I was pleased that she said “however, it is also important that the quilt lies flat, that the seams join, that lines of the design are distinguished, and that in the end the quilt is square – not to mention sewn together in a manner that will stand the test of time and wear.” (pg.11). I think that good technique gets short shrift a lot of the time, but I believe that it is amazingly important and am glad a well respected shop owner, author and designer like Doughty agrees.

I have never seen a section on Rulers and Templates (pg.12-13), but the author has one in this book. She is also the first person I have seen who recommends Creative Grids half and quarter square triangle rulers. In the photograph (pg.13), I see a few rulers that I have, but a number that I do not. In this section, Doughty’s reasoning and comments are included with the picture. The picture is followed with a Tips section, which describes techniques such as cutting strips (pg.14), cutting wedges from strips as well as from a wedge ruler (pg.15), and using the specialty rulers (pg.16-17). There are also a few pages on other tools (pg.18-19).

Finally, we get to Chapter 1! It is called “Working the Stash”. Doughty writes “The simple act of collecting is a favorite pastime for many of us. As a shop owner I have heard many stories about stashes. I am often left with a curious feeling: Why collect if it is never to be used?” I have no interest, cause or reason to judge why people buy fabric and whether they use it or not. If a quiltmaker collects fabric for the joy of collecting more power to her (or him!). Yards of fabric are no different than salt & pepper shakers or 50s style Pyrex baking dishes. We all collect something. Still, I am glad Ms. Doughty brought this up. When I buy fabric it is with the intention of using it. Whether I do or not is a different story, but my intent is to cut it up and put it in a quilt or bag. I have found that when I put ‘special’ fabrics into my quilt I enjoy them even more.

The author acknowledges that selecting fabrics for a quilt can be a challenge, but that it should be a fun process. Her tip is to find a link, an idea with which I agree. She points out that a stash that is not used starts to look dated. I have found this to be true as well. I have found that my tastes change if a fabric languishes or I am not interested in the project for which I bought the fabric after awhile.

She talks, in general, about scrap organization in this section as well.

Right after that one page chapter 😉 come a few projects related to the text of the chapter: stashes and scraps. Of these projects, I am quite fond of Vintage Spin (pg.22-27) . As I said, my friend Gerre made a version of this quilt and I loved her piece.

Each project has a short section oh how the author started, construction, assembly and how she finished. The directions are adequate, but only a few pages. I think a maker would do well to have a few quilts under his/her belt to make these quilts. Even a confident beginner could make some of the projects.

Chapter 2 is called “Working with Templates (pg.59). Kathy says that she loves to cut all kinds of shapes with templates, because they are efficient. Material Obsession has a line of templates for many of the projects in this book. These rotary cutting templates are featured throughout the book in the various photos. They are listed as optional in the book’s supply lists.

Big Wedding (pg.86-91) is my favorite pattern in this section, though I would use a different color palette.

“Working with Scale” is the title of Chapter 3 (pg.93). Modern quiltmakers love to blow up one block design to cover a whole quilt top. Doughty has done this, but in a fresh way.

She points out that making blocks really big means that you can use large print fabrics (like my man, Phil’s 😉 fabric lines!!!) to great effect. Why didn’t I think of this?? This is an excellent point, which goes beyond ‘making it modern’. My mind is zinging!

Kathy Doughty mentions “The puzzle in this process was how to maintain the feeling of tradition while exploring the blown-out size structure.” I think that is an important question, because no matter how hard we try 9 patches and Churn Dash blocks have been around for awhile and are considered classic blocks. The joy of quiltmaking, for me, is taking something and making it new and my own,which includes classic blocks.

I like most of the quilts in this section or had some feeling about each one. I really like Basket Case (pg.94-101). The name alone is worth the price of admission! The finished version of Lily Field (pg.102-109) was very appealing. The infinity look of the Mega Churn Dash (pg.110-115) was fun, but the fabrics were dull and uninspiring. I would have added something to the quilt as it looks like something is missing. Perhaps it would have been more appealing to me if the background had been mosaic pieced? The good thing about this quilt is that it would be a fast gift.

Super Nova (pg.116-121) may be my favorite quilt in this section. I am yearning to try it with some of my Philip Jacob prints!. I love Sawtooth Stars and the off center design offers a lot of movement. The different sizes of blocks also adds to the movement. The opportunity to use large scale prints might be too good to pass up. I bought a charcoal dot print recently that would be an excellent background for this quilt, so I am on my way! 😉

Star Man (pg.122-126) may be a good design for one of my nephews while not being boring to sew.

The last piece of the book is a relatively detailed bio of Kathy Doughty. This is followed by a packet of template pages in the back of the book.

I plan to buy this book and hope you will as well.

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Book Review: Make It, Take It

Make It, Take It
Make It, Take It

Make It, Take It: 16 Cute and Clever Projects to Sew with Friends by Krista Hennebury
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Julie and I were together at the Granary when we saw this book. It has appealing projects on the cover and I looked through it. It is a project book with no how-to directions and no index, but with a long introduction.

I was confused as I started to read the introduction (pg.7-10) because the author talks about quilting/sewing retreats and her retreat business. She eventually gets past the bliss of retreats and sewing in those settings and begins describing the projects.

The project are organized into “Getting Equipment There Safely” and “Sew When You Get There.” This is an interesting way of organizing the book, but it feels like something is missing. I always have plenty of projects on which to work on retreat, but I guess it is good to inspire people.

There are some interesting projects in this book, which all seem to be designed by different people. My favorites are: Ultimate Equipment Tote (pg.12-20), the Big Mouth Thread Catcher (pg.21-25) for gifts and the Big and Little Patchwork Totes (pg.32-39). The fabric really makes those interesting, as you can see on the cover.

The Half Moon Needlecase (pg.48-54) appeals to me. It might make my needles more accessible than my current needlecase, however, it wouldn’t in my handwork kit. I also think the fabrics used make the project appealing.

I probably wouldn’t use the Selvage Cutting Mat (pg.60-65) myself, but it would be a good gift.

I like the idea of the woven placemats (pg. 80-85), however I would probably sew squares together and avoid the top stitching. If I had a round table. If I used placemats. They are cheerful and I like the look.

The pattern directions seem to be pretty extensive for a book, judging from the number of pages devoted to each pattern. I haven’t made any of the projects, so I can’t comment on the clarity or accuracy of the patterns.

The quilting on the quilts towards the back of the book is pretty amazing. I like the distinct motifs on the Orange Grove Quilt (pg.92-97), which you can see well on pg. 97. The quilting is thoughtful and not just an all over pattern to get the quilt done.

Throughout the book are tips and tricks. There is much about inspiration for the projects.

One of the appealing aspects of this book is the color and fabric use. There are good projects, as mentioned, but few of them are super unique. The book ends with some resources, short bios of the contributors and a page called About the Author.

I like this book. The pictures are appealing and there are enough interesting projects to make this worth the purchase.

Corrections are available at the Martingale site.

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Book Review: The Little Spark

The Little Spark 30 Ways to Ignite Your CreativityThe Little Spark 30 Ways to Ignite Your Creativity by Carrie Bloomston

One of the things I try and do with the creative prompt project is to help you spark your creativity. A regular habit really encourages the creative person to continue. I was intrigued to see what Carrie Bloomston thought on the subject when I saw her book.

The book starts out by saying that it is an interactive workbook. When I write reviews, I read the whole book straight through and it was hard to stick to that practice with this book. The book contains 30 ‘sparks’, which are exercises to ignite, inspire, encourage your creativity. The book gives options for doing those exercises, but does not demand a certain way of doing them. Do one a day, one a month or dip in and out.

The author’s definition of living a creative life is a definition I enjoy. She writes “It is a way of living life with curiosity and openness. It means thinking from your heart, thinking for yourself, and thinking outside of the box.” It is actually definition that I am also a little afraid of. She tells the reader right upfront that we will be getting out of our comfort zone.

The Introduction is a kind of call to arms. Bloomston talks about the earliest examples of people making things and of many different ways people have expressed themselves through the ages. Then she says …”your desire to make things is bigger than you.” That line startled me, because I often think about why I feel such a strong need to make quilts and sew things. Yes, to use up fabric. Yes, to try something new, but there is something even deeper that demands I have something soft yet colorful in my hands on which to work. I suspect is has to do with a life not being forgotten.

The first spark confirms that we will be getting out of our comfort zone. Spark 1 has the old creative adage: just start and goes on to explain how starting is hard. We have all heard it before, but it doesn’t make it any less true and the beginning is a good place to start.

The general format of the chapters (sparks) is to introduce the spark, provide directions for the exercise and then provide tips. The tips for getting started are things like don’t hoard materials, do some warm-ups (creative prompt project anyone??) and take baby steps. All of these are sensible and we have heard them before. Still gathering all of these pearls of wisdom into one book is handy.

The sparks are all different and many are things I didn’t think of in this context. Space, classes, messes, permission, grace, rule-breaking, time and many other things are all covered. Yes, I have heard of some, but some were surprising, if completely reasonable to me. The author also does not whitewash this process and talks about issues such as “The Crazies” and self-doubt.

The book just ends after the 30th spark. No sad farewell, drama or an index. The book just ends, which I think is appropriate, because if you have done the book right, then you will be off on a new journey.

I like the layout, colors and photos used in this book. I think it will work well for those of you concerned about creativity and encouraging it in yourself.

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Book Review: Personal Geographies

Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media MapmakingPersonal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media Mapmaking by Jill K. Berry

I bought this book because of Maureen and Nancy and their work in creativity. I am also interested in mixed media – in doing mixed media projects, but don’t have the space right now, so I don’t do much. I carried this book around for a long time, dipping in and out and not really getting it. Finally, something nudged me towards it again and I picked it up and began to seriously read it, starting from the beginning.

This book is self described as containing maps of the physical self, maps of experiences and dimensional projects with a cartographic theme (pg.5). Aside from these brief words of description, the book begins with only a few paragraphs of thoughts and inspiration. The best quote is “maps make known our relationship to the world at large” (pg.4).

The introduction is followed by a section called “What is a Map?” There is a quote from Miles Harvey, who wrote The Island of Lost Maps, which expresses the potential of creativity, to which, I think, the author is aspiring. The quote is “A map has no vocabulary, no lexicon of precise meanings. It communicates in lines, hues, tones, coded symbols, and empty spaces, much like music” (pg.6). I love this quote think this expresses quiltmaking as well as cartography. This section has several other quotes which really express the creativity and sense of map making.

The quote section is followed by the start of the projects. The author, Jill Berry, eases the reader into the projects by asking, first, inspirational questions to help start to define the maps you might want to make (pg.7). She also provides some encouragement and inspiration around what a map could be. She writes “you can make a map of nearly any journey, place, day or experience, however menial it might seem. Maps can be intricate and personal, or grand and inclusive. They can be a ritual way to journal your day, or a permanent and elaborate illustration of your life’s journey” (pg.7) This is a section that could be used for inspiration with a variety of creative pursuits or media.

Examples of different maps start on pg.8. Explanations of parts of a map follow (pg.10). Ms. Berry explains the cartouches, types of creatures that appear on maps (though not the why), the legends, neatlines, paths and places, water features, etc.

She also says that all maps need a compass rose and the text purports to tell the reader how to design one. More accurately, the author gives resources for finding one to use (pg.12). I would like to have seen more information on truly designing a compass rose. As quiltmakers we can design our own using skills learned in Judy Mathieson‘s books. There are also directions on creating a cartouche (pg. 13).

After the introductory and background inspiration, we are presented with a list of general supplies (pg.14-15) and the meat of the book starts. Chapter 1 has to do with mapping the self. “The process and results are for personal enrichment…” (pg.17). A sidebar talks about the inspiration for this project and gives a template, specific supply list and step by step instructions. The projects also provide an example of a completed variation. The directions are very general and suitable for a confident maker to fly within. I think the how-to is good, but I would like to see a selection of symbols and some ideas to spur on content creation. I think such aids would spark the imagination and make this book more successful.

Chapter 1 includes a body template and project, a hand template with project, an ‘articulated self’ project (like a paper doll), a heart project which also includes variations. There is a gallery of works by other artists that were inspired by the templates in this section of the book. These examples expand the content for the reader so there is more scope to consider when thinking about making a project. I can see using some of the templates for appliques on art quilts.

My favorite piece from the ‘Self’ section is the Hand Map (pg.54). I like the idea of documenting a day out with parents and it has the most meaning for me. I can follow the idea and it seems like a good memory to celebrate. It also reminds me of a Hamsa necklace I saw in a  catalog once. The image grabbed me and I want to do something with that image sometime. I also liked “My Heart Belongs in Wisconsin” (pg.52). I like the idea and the look of the piece.

Chapter 2 is called Mapping your Experience. “[T]hese maps are about the experiences of your soul” (pg.57). This chapter seems to me to be about preserving precious memories. One thing the author suggests is “to limit the amount of time you spend on planning and to go with the first thing that comes to mind…” (pg.57). There is a lot to be said about this advice in almost any creative endeavor. However, I found it hard to imagine what to map. As an interesting addition, in this chapter, the author shows the reader how to fold a map in an interesting way in order to take up smaller space and add interest to your art (pg.62).

As I read this book, I was having a hard time imagining how to make my own map until I saw ‘Your Artistic Journey’ (pg.64-65). My first thought was about my first quilt class, which was, then, followed by a Mary Mashuta class on story quilts. The trajectory popped into my head. I rewound a bit and thought back to grammar school and projects I made there as well as experiences in art that led me to that first quilt class. I can now see making a map from this thought process….or journey of thought.

Collaborative maps, narrative maps are also included along with another gallery of experiential maps. This gallery has maps that I can actually imagine making. They are not perfectly rendered and look like something a novice would make.

Chapter 3 covers plans, projections and possibilities and the projects are designed to use ephemera (pg.97). My favorite drawing is the Warning Map of Fort Worden (pg.98. I love the squid!

Overall, my favorite project is the book of postcards. I can imagine buying postcards, using the backs for journaling and then making them into a book when I got home (pg.120-121).

One thing I noticed about this book was that it made me aware of details in other, non-art, maps such as road maps. I noticed details such as scale, different colors for different types of roads and byways. I also noticed the lack of explanation provided (is it readily available and I have not noticed??) on online maps such as Google Maps. Would it enhance, detract, or confuse Google Maps users to have a sea monster pop out of the ocean on their app?

As with the introduction, the projects have a little information on motivation or inspiration, There is a lot of how-to information, but not as much why. I am interested in process so I would have liked more about how the author came to these projects.

In going through the book, I see the projects become progressively more complex. I also see a progression of mapmaking. There is an undertone of encouragement to the reader to make all of the projects in the order presented in order to improve skills and progress through the book. I don’t think that course of action is really realistic outside of a classroom setting, except for those looking for a path to follow or someone who is extremely motivated in this area. It would be hard for me to stay motivated.

Throughout the book pieces of art from other artists are placed to fit in with the projects. Towards the end of the book is a more complete gallery called’ More Maps of Possibility’ with more maps and items from other artists int he back.

It was hard for me to pay attention to the beginning as I was eager to read this book, but the beginning is the best part. I went back and read it again. I would have liked more inspiration, more process (as opposed to how-to) and more of why she designed these projects. I haven’t found any book, except Inspiration Odyssey by Diana Swim Wessell that talks much about inspiration. This book also makes me want to investigate the history of mapmaking in a little more depth.

The book is beautifully designed and has an index.

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Book Review: Double Wedding Ring Quilts

Double Wedding Ring Quilts Traditions Made Modern: Full-Circle Sketches from LifeDouble Wedding Ring Quilts Traditions Made Modern: Full-Circle Sketches from Life by Victoria Findlay Wolfe

The photos are gorgeous. The quilts are gorgeous. The detail shots are gorgeous. The writing is ok and essentially, at its bones, this is a pattern book, but it is not your normal pattern book. What I like about the progression of patterns is that Wolfe tells you what inspired her about the pattern to encourage her to move on to the next iteration of the design. This book seems to me to detail a series of works. Since I like to see the progression of works in a series, this is a refreshing look at pattern books and works in a series within the construct of the current quiltmaking world.

I also like that Wolfe has revived a classic pattern. In the spirit of the Modern quilt movement, she seemed to exude “I am going to do this and I can do it”. Roderick Kiracofe writes about the history of the pattern in his foreword. I always appreciate the reminder that a pattern did not spring from nowhere when the oder quilt Movement appeared. He includes a little of Wolfe’s journey to this book.

The foreword is followed by an introduction, which includes a photo of Victoria Findlay Wolfe and her QuiltCon award winner, Double Edged Love. In the introduction, she talks about works in a series. She says “but what if we look at one pattern, change one thing each time we try, and see where that play will lead us next?” (pg.9) This is essence of quiltmaking for me and it made me very hopeful for this book. She delves into working in a series a little bit and implies, in this section, that we could all work with one block or one pattern forever by “chang[ing] one thing” (pg.10).

A narrative on the inspiration behind and making of Double Edged Love follow the introduction. Wolfe talks about her inspiration, talks about getting started on this quilt and how the process felt. There are feelings of YES! within a creative process and Wolfe makes that clear in this section. She is very clear that she used an AccuQuilt Go! cutter for the Double Wedding Ring pieces. I think this shows that she is not afraid to use tools and that using tools is not cheating. The creative process is the important part and Wolfe focuses on the process and discusses it in depth. The tools are just that: tools. There is no extra importance attached to them.

The section called You Are Here takes the next step out from Double Edge Love. She talks about what ideas she wants carried over (pg.20) and what the goal is. This is an interesting way to think about being inspired for quiltmaking, but it also fits well with idea of a series and moving forward in the series. Wolfe gives examples of what to do to move forward in a series AND work towards your goal. For example, she talks about about stripping the colors out of photos using Photoshop and then printing the resulting image on fabric (pg.21) to use in the quilt.

Wolfe’s mantras are:

  • Think Out of Your Box
  • Ideas Carried Over
  • the Goal
  • Add Layers
  • Push It Further

Whether or not you read her book, these are principles we can all use.

Wolfe follows the above format in each section. If you make each quilt and think about your work in the way that Wolfe suggests, you will end up with a series and you will be able to see the progression. Each section has a little bit of her story as well. I found the story to be interesting, but the writing seemed to be choppy or badly edited.

The fabrics used in the book’s quilt projects are clearly scrappy. There are no lines of fabric except perhaps some solids, which means the reader is free to pick from his/her stash with wild abandon and not worry about buying the exact kit. There are also projects using all different kinds of fabrics. Quilts using flannel looking shirt prints are paired with gingham and these combinations share space on pages with brown calicos (see Farm Girl, pg.79-85). They all sit next to 1930s looking prints.

Summer’s Day has an interesting series of photos detailing the evolution of a medallion, which includes a Lone Star block (pg.62). The photo series shows what happens when you make an unexpected choice.

This is the first book I have read where polyester is considered AND used! It is also one of the few books that discusses tying quilts.

Surprisingly, Wolfe manages to add in some doilies and a Christmas pattern. I suppose those were obligatory to widen the appeal of the book. For her, the doilies were not the challenge; using so much white in the quilt was the challenge, which I find to be interesting. Her Christmas quilt is a memory quilt, pure and simple. The love of her grandparents is scattered throughout the book, but this pattern celebrates them and the memories in a concentrated way.

Yes, there are directions on making a Double Wedding Ring block. They are in the back (not the front where they will bog you down before you get excited) starting on pg. 102. The directions do not tell you how to put the entire projects together. You will need some piecing experience if you plan to make the double wedding ring quilts.

The colors are bright. There are photos of New York City, taxis, neon signs and lots of people. Wolfe points out the joy in quiltmaking. Take a look at this book and absorb the lessons about series. Your work will be better or it.

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Book Review: Bojagi & Beyond II

Bojagi & BeyondBojagi & Beyond by Chunghie Lee

This book was sent to me by Karen Searle at the publisher, Beyond & Above, after I offered to review it. This edition is, apparently, the revised edition of Bojagi and Beyond published in 2010 and has new material added.

Being the tactile person that I am, the first thing I noticed was the paper. The cover isn’t as thick as other paperback/trade paperback covers of books I have reviewed, but the paper used for the pages has a thick and pleasant feel.

The first pages of the book talk about BoJaGi outside of Korea as well as some inspirations. Since I didn’t know what BoJaGi was before I read this book, I wished that the first part would have included an explanation. The author got around to it after a bit, never fear!

The introduction describes classes at the Rhode Island School of Design and how those students took the art form further and made it their own. “While these classes and workshops outside Korea have produced work to convey ideas and personal expression, the same is largely true of the work made over the centuries by women in traditional Korean households. While those makers practiced the craft as a means to fill a practical need for special ceremonial textiles, they also saw it as an outlet for their artistic and spiritual expression.” (pg.iv) This reminds me of what people say about quilts. In both instances the need for something practical provided an opportunity for women to express themselves when they had few other ways to do so. This is also another example of people from different backgrounds and cultures being more alike than different.

The introduction and foreword applaud the author for her work with students and how that work influenced work in other countries and in other textile disciplines.

The true introduction (called Introduction), was written by Chunghie Lee herself, does describe what BoJaGi are and mentions that a related form called ChoGakBo which involves patchwork. Truly, however, the introduction is a mini-bio of the author’s achievements.

The table of contents comes next and tells the reader that there are many different kinds of Korean wrappings. We glean that some are especially used for events like weddings or for covering a table for a meal, but most of the table of contents leads the reader to making and designing these wraps.

The history of BoJaGi includes their usefulness, a reflection on the lives of Korean women and when and why the tradition of making and using BoJaGi was established (pg.1). The book discusses the oldest BoJaGi in Korea (pg.3) and how they were used in the royal court. In this section ChoGakBo and other varieties of BoJaGi are also described (pg.5). This section says that the wrappings “are named according to function: OpBo are large BoJaGi used to wrap large items such as bedding. SangGo are lined with oiled paper and used as food covers” (pg.5), etc. There is a long description of the usefulness of BoJaGi, which make me look at my Tupperware cabinet with a speculative eye. Colors and symbols are also covered (pg.7) in this section, which is well illustrated with examples of the cloths and symbols.

Examples are shown of the various types of wrappings in the next part. This section is illustrated with watercolor illustrations and I got an image in my mind’s eye of a pile of fabric wrapped gifts at a wedding or other major (graduation?) event (pg.14-15).

In the food covering section, different types of handles are shown, also as watercolor illustrations. These handles could be adapted and used for tote bags, I think.

A gallery of works by Chunghie Lee is included in the book. Many of the pieces are installation pieces and shown in situ (pg.24-25, etc). One outdoor installation piece reminds me of Christo and Jeanne-Claude (pg.60-61). I particularly like the journal shown on page 28. it reminds me of fabric journals I have made in the past. These works, in general, are different in influence, but do not look very different from some art quilts. A number of the works have embroidery stitches and screen printing (or similar). Chunghie Lee uses images of women’s faces on many of her pieces and this practice makes me think of honoring the anonymous women who have made other textiles such as quilts, table linens, pillowcases, etc. She also expanded into kimono shaped robes and other types of wearables, though I hesitate to call the pieces wearables. They may be normal, if large, BoJaGi draped over people (pg.44-59).

The first part of the ‘how-to’ section centers on using a BoJaGi. The illustrations are drawn and show how to wrap and object, including a decorative knot (pg.78-79). Making a basic BoJaGi is a logical next section (starting on pg.80) and includes photos of the product, drawings of the supplies and sizes in both English and metric systems. The process is simple and similar to finishing a quilt without batting in the envelope style. Directions for making the tie are also provided (pg.82), which is immediately followed by some ideas for making the tie more decorative (pg.83). Again, my mind raced to making tote bags more decorative with something like these ties. The directions for other types of specialty BoJaGi are also shown and include pictures. I can see a transformation of the display of gifts for the holidays when you use your plentiful fabric to make these BoJaGi and wrap all of your gifts in them!

A section on embellishing starts on page 105. One of the embellished Bojagi shown looks like a Cathedral Window quilt (pg.109). Another embellishment looks like prairie points (pg.111). The wedding embroidery KiLeoKi (pg.112) are very beautiful and provide a lot of inspiration.

As with many books sold today, there are projects included. The directions for the 5 projects start on page 121. The wall hangings don’t look very different from some modern or art quilts, but the other items have a distinctive Korean flair. In general, they have a different aesthetic than other projects in other books.

The final section is about designing for BoJaGi and the thing I liked about it was that the author asks you to consider your materials in a different way. One thing she says is “consider scale in the repetition of elements (pg.138)”, which makes me think of the design series.

There is a lot to look at in this book as well as a lot of inspiration to be had. I would recommend you take a look at it.

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Book Review: Circle Pizzazz

Circle Pizzazz: 12 Vibrant Quilt Projects Easy Curves Endless PossibilitiesCircle Pizzazz: 12 Vibrant Quilt Projects Easy Curves Endless Possibilities by Judy Sisneros

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I saw quilts made with this design at the San Mateo County Fair. One in particular, a black and white with turquoise beauty, grabbed my attention and inspired me to want to make one. From reading the first few pages, I thought that learning this technique might be better in a class than through a book. Towards the end, I got the idea and feel I could make some blocks using the book as a guide.

The book starts with a short introduction and some information on tools, supplies and fabric. This introduction makes it clear that quiltmakers will be sewing curved seams. Sisneros gets me on her side by admitting that the Winding Paths block is actually, historically, called The Snake Tail block and explains why she changed it for her purposes. I appreciated her honesty and her reasoning.

The project part of the book follows the introduction with making the original Winding Paths block. All the blocks in the book start with this block. Sisneros goes over trimming the block including her Secret of 4 and 6, which is actually a helpful tip that makes sense.

The project section of the book is, first, broken down into numbers of blocks- 12, 20, 36, etc for the original Winding Paths block. In this section, one thing I like is that she gives you the tools to make the quilts (teaching how to make the blocks), but then just shows what is possible when making the quilt. She doesn’t give every step for every quilt and she acknowledges that it is impossible to make an exact duplicate of her quilt. She makes the quiltmaker think a bit and I appreciate her assumption that quiltmakers have brains. Cutting directions and fabric requirements are included for the quilts in the Winding Paths block section.

The information on making the Circle Pizzazz block is a little less clear. I believe, from the images that the maker sews the D-E combination to the A block after it is made. This specific instruction seems to be left out, but makes sense from looking at the photos and the rest of the directions as well as the result.

The making of the Circle Pizzazz block section is, again, followed by a series of projects using this new block. It was a little hard for me to understand where to put fabrics I wanted to show up as a focus or featured fabric. The line drawings made this part easier. This section also has fabric requirements and cutting instructions.

I think that with all that curved piecing, I would want the piecing to stand out more and, thus, would use more contrasting fabrics. Ms. Sisneros’ quilts often have blendy fabrics that obscure the piecing. This might be a good strategy as you get better at the technique, but it is difficult to see the piecing when you are a beginner. There are a number of quilts on Google (type in snake tail quilt) so you can see the original block.

The Circle Pizzazz blocks are followed up with the Interlocking Circle Pizzazz block. This block adds a few more pieces to get a different look. The directions for the block are followed by projects. This book has plenty of illustrations and images, which makes understanding the concepts easier.

The book also includes a section on using the leftover pieces cut away when making the three other blocks. It is a nice idea as some quiltmakers might consider the cutaway pieces waste. I wasn’t particularly enamored with any of the projects shown. Of course, it all depends on the fabric, so YMMV.

I received this book as a gift in eBook form. I was excited because I didn’t have to devote my non-existent shelf space to another book. I started reading the book and also realized I couldn’t make copies of or print out the templates either. I will try a few things and see what works, but I can see this being a problem with the eBook version.

The book includes a gallery of student work. Transparency by Jeanette Pohl is one of my favorites. I like the way the background shows through some parts of the quilt.

The quilt I first saw and liked turns out to be in the gallery. It is by Rose Marie Hackett and called Black, White & Blue By You. The turquoise goes so well with the black and white and the combination really shows off the pattern.

Trails of Confusion by Teresa Williams is also very interesting, because of how the center pattern continues, partially, out into the border.

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