Donation Quilt Wednesday--Two Books for Ideas

Over the weekend I had the chance to stop by my local library again to check out the quilting section; I was in the mood for a special treat, and I was not disappointed! I found a couple of books that are geared at donation or quick gift quilts--they're both great resources if you find yourself running out of ideas or getting tired of doing the same three stand-by designs all the time.

Debbie Mumm's I Care with Quilts: Sewing to Make a Difference, (2009, Debbie Mumm), is not only filled with patterns, but it has information about organizations to which you can donate, ideas for small gifts, and inspirational quotations. It really would make a very good resource. Her designs are classic Debbie Mumm--sort of a modern country. The book is nicely laid out and is pretty simply to look at. Although the designs are all fairly simple, some of them looked like they wouldn't be easily defined as "quick." Several you could probably knock out in a few hours; others seemed like they'd take more time. But still, I did enjoy looking through this book and got a few more ideas planted in my head for future donation quilt projects. 

24-Hour Quilts by Rita Weiss (2006, ), is a little bit more "classic donation quilt project"-friendly, I think, only because most of those projects really are pretty fast and simple. Weiss' premise is that you can make an attractive quilt in under 24 hours--and she's counting that as working time, not 24-hours-in-which-you-also-eat-and-sleep time. As she says, 24 hours doesn't need to be all in one stretch; it could be one hour for 24 days, eight hours for three days, or whatever. And I found it a nice feature that she actually lists the estimated time for each pattern. I don't recall that any of them were listed as 24-hour quilts: The average is probably around eight hours or so--some a little less, some a little more. I saw several designs I liked; found myself double-checking the library due date to see if I felt like I could pull out a couple of quilt tops before I had to return the book. I wasn't as keen on the organization of the book, though. For whatever reason, the publishers decided to put a gallery of all the quilts in the book right at the front, with all the actual patterns in the back. I found myself doing some flipping back and forth. I don't think that would be an issue if you were working on one of the designs because everything you need for the making is right in the pattern itself. But other than that, everything seemed very well laid out and clear--I don't think there would be any problem following the patterns, although, to quote Fats Waller (I think), "One never knows, do one?" I can't judge how well a pattern is written until I actually try to work with it, but it seemed to make sense, anyway.

Do you have favorite books for donation quilts or fast gifts? Let everyone know!


Book Review: Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber

Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years : Women, Cloth, and Society in Early TimesWomen's Work: The First 20,000 Years : Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For what seems like it would be a dusty, dry, academic tome, Women's Work was really quite an enjoyable read. Reconstructing women's life and position in society from Paleolithic times to the Iron Age using advanced archeological methods as well as methods borrowed from other areas of research (linguistics, for example), Barber delves into the world of textiles--in particular, spinning and weaving--for what it reveals about the culture and society of the day. As a quiltmaker, I was interested in the development of cloth-making techniques but even more fascinated by the social and cultural connections being made. As I was reading, I was reflecting on possible connections with the textile world today--how cloth is used in fashion and in craft as a form of expression.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Barber's writing style is engaging; her own experience as a weaver, having been taught to weave by her own mother, gives a more direct insight into exploring methods of weaving through centuries. Whether or not you choose to accept all of her conclusions, you can't walk away from this book without a far deeper understanding of the connections between textiles and society in general, and a deeper understanding of a woman's daily life in a variety of contexts over the centuries.

My one critique, although it's an understandable one, is that she focuses solely on the Western world. Clearly there is an ancient tradition of textiles in the Eastern world as well. To cover both in one book would most likely lead to either more cursory and therefore dissatisfying examinations of each, or a book so long that anyone would hesitate to crack open the front cover! I would love to see a sequel by Barber following the Eastern tradition; or by another author (as long as that author was as easy and enjoyable to read as Barber!).

If you're interested in textiles, in weaving, in women's issues, or in the exploration of culture, I do highly recommend this book.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Stack the Deck Revisited

Stack the Deck Revisited: Updated Patterns from Stack the Deck!Stack the Deck Revisited: Updated Patterns from Stack the Deck! by Karla Alexander

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It might be a little early to post a review of this since I just bought it today and haven't actually made anything from it yet. But I bought it because someone had taught me this technique at a quilt retreat a few years back; I've made a few quilts using the basic idea, but could never get it to work quite right. What a difference it made reading her actual instructions! Now it all begins to make sense...

Plus, I like some of the variations she presents on the basic concept. I'm particularly a fan of the stained glass window version towards the back of the book.

So, although I've already made three and a half quilts using this idea (the half being a UFO I really must finish before winter hits!), I can see a few more in my future. They're a hoot to do and, if you stick to fairly basic versions, pretty fast. Great gifts for babies, kids, and anyone needing a cuddle quilt.

View all my reviews

Machine Quilting with Alex Anderson: 7 Exercises, Projects & Full-Size Quilting PatternsMachine Quilting with Alex Anderson: 7 Exercises, Projects & Full-Size Quilting Patterns by Alex Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Machine Quilting with Alex Anderson is a good companion book to Beautifully Quilted with Alex Anderson. (See my review.) In Beautifully Quilted, Anderson teaches the reader how to create quilt designs from scratch--which is very useful, although the designs she presents are much more easily suited to hand quilting, which is her first love. Machine Quilting deals with this issue, albeit briefly, with a short section on adapting hand quilting designs to machine--continuous line--quilting.

As always, she begins with a brief description of equipment needs--partcular features that are helpful, although not strictly necessary, on a sewing machine; consideration of needles and some troubleshooting tips here; considerations for threads, marking tools, and gloves or other helps in free-motion quilting, pins, and basting.

The next section is entitled "Preparing the Environment," and has a lot of really good information on ergonomics, lighting, and other things to keep in mind to set yourself up for better success. I wish I'd known some of this when I first started out--I learned some of it the hard way!

Following is a section on "Preparing the Quilt," which discusses marking, the adapting of designs for machine quilting, and basting. Next, there is a section entitled "Getting Started," which addresses machine tension, planning your stitching strategy as she terms it (what direction you're quilting in when), handling the quilt itself as you maneuver it through the machine, starting and stopping, anchoring your stitching line, and a short section on troubleshooting. Finally, there is a section addressing "Techniques and Practice Exercises" to get you rolling before you tackle a first project. The exercises take you through grids/straight line quilting, curves, echo quilting, following the fabric motif, stipples, and so forth.

Then there are the requisite projects that all her books contain which help you practice what the book teaches. "Perfect Practice Placemats" give you a chance to practice every one of the techniques in a small and easily managed way. "Floral Fiesta" would be a quick quilt pattern to put together as the center section is simply a large-scale floral print that you then practice following with free-motion quilting. "All Geese A'Flying" is an adaptation of a flying geese block to give lots of room for grid and cable quilt patterns. "Scrappy Nine Patch" allows for more grid practice, but then the border is a cable which wraps around the corners, giving you the opportunity to practice measuring and connecting your border patterns. "'Round the Twist" gives large open spaces to practice motifs, and "Straight Furrows"--a log cabin setting--allows for free-motion straight line quilting. (I have more difficulty doing a straight line with free-motion than I do curves!)Finally, "Basket in Blue" is a wholecloth quilt which is a great final project to the book--wholecloth quilts make the quilting "the thing," so skill is important here.

The book also has a brief section on quilt labels and recommended resources, plus pull-out paper patterns with quilt designs she has used in the book.

This would be good for beginners to machine quilting--it takes you step-by-step through a process meant to build your confidence in this technique.

View all my reviews

Beautifully Quilted with Alex Anderson: How to Choose or Create the Best Designs for Your Quilt: 6 Timeless Projects, Full-Size Patterns, Ready to UseBeautifully Quilted with Alex Anderson: How to Choose or Create the Best Designs for Your Quilt: 6 Timeless Projects, Full-Size Patterns, Ready to Use by Alex Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought Beautifully Quilted a few years ago but just fell in love with it all over again as I pulled it off my shelf to review it. In terms of usefulness, I think this could easily be my favorite of the Alex Anderson series. I haven't done a lot with creating quilt designs that needed planning or marking, favoring free-motion quilting. But there have been plenty of times that I would have preferred to do something that required a little more forethought but wasn't entirely confident in my abilities to take it on. Now I see the possibilities in front of me and am hankering to take something on!

First is a section on "Tools and Terms," which describes basic tools that are useful in creating and marking quilting designes, from pencils and Sharpies to velum or tracing paper on a roll. I found myself making a list of tools I either didn't have yet or had forgotten where they'd run off to--and I'll note here that none of the supplies listed are particularly specialized. A plastic protractor like kids use in 6th grade math, butcher paper...easy to find stuff.

Next is a section on choosing quilting designs, discussing things such as filling the space, proportion, balancing the amount of quilting overall, background designs behind a main motif, and so forth. She also discusses ways to adjust commercial templates and how to transfer a design.

The next several pages are a wonderful gallery of quilts that highlight different quilting designs and shows how they add to the overall effect of a quilt. We all love the eye-candy, of course, but in this case it's very useful and educational eye-candy!

Following the gallery is approximately 20 pages of tips and techniques for drawing your own quilting patterns: grids, feathers, repeated motifs, and how to create a quilt design from an inspiration such as architecture or kid's drawings. Her instructions are extremely clear with excellent illustrations--it would be a very simple matter to take her information and create your own unique and original designs.

As with all of her books, there are several projects (five) that give you the opportunity to practice creating quilt designs. The quilt patterns are very simple blocks with lots of open space to highlight quilting, but that doesn't make them any less attractive.

That being said, I don't see myself doing the patterns in the book just to practice the quilting designs. Instead, the strength of this book lays in the 20 pages of techniques described in the paragraph again. I should also note here that the book does contain a tear-out section with full-size quilting patterns ready for use. But with her instructions in the book, I'm not sure I see the need for the patterns! I will also note that the designs she works with are more appropriate for hand-quilting than continuous-line machine-quilting, but with a little more thought and planning should be adaptable.

If you're not confident in your ability to draft your own quilting designs, I'd highly recommend this book.

View all my reviews

Kids Start Quilting with Alex Anderson: 7 Fun and Easy Projects, Quilts for Kids by Kids, Tips for Quilting with ChildrenKids Start Quilting with Alex Anderson: 7 Fun and Easy Projects, Quilts for Kids by Kids, Tips for Quilting with Children by Alex Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The concept behind Kids Start Quilting is an interesting one: write a book that gives a series of "workshops" that enable to reader to work with kids from ages 9-14 how to quilt. "Their approach to fabric and color was without the restrictions we adults seem to get hung up on. They were eager to get involved and learn. There were no gender boundaries....The kids were far more skilled and 'ready' than we had anticipated," Anderson states in her introduction. The book was based on real-life experience that Anderson and Liz Aneloski had in working with kids in this age range, so it's well tested.

The book is actually written for the kids themselves, but it has tips in it for adults working with kids. Honestly, I don't see a nine-year-old sitting and reading the book her- or himself, but perhaps a 14-year-old would. That being said, the book starts with a brief description of what a quilt is, the blocks that will be covered in the book, a list of standard mattress sizes, tools and supplies, some information about fabric, fabric grain, and preparing the fabric, and then it launches into "The Basics." The section on basics covers rotary cutting, pinning, stitching, seam ripping, pressing, settings, borders, backing, batting, basting, how to tie a quilt, hand quilting (nothing on machine quilting), and binding.

Then follows seven projects, including a split-rail fence quilt, four-patch, log cabin, "secret" sawtooth star, half-square triangle quilt, and then a sampler quilt which includes each of those blocks. The final project is instructions for making pillows from each of the blocks.

If you have kids and would like some help in teaching them to quilt, or think they'd be old enough and interested enough to work through the book themselves with a little adult assistance here and there, I'd think this would be a good addition to your library.

View all my reviews

Finish It with Alex Anderson: 6 Terrific Quilt Projects, How to Choose the Perfect Border, Options for EdgesFinish It with Alex Anderson: 6 Terrific Quilt Projects, How to Choose the Perfect Border, Options for Edges by Alex Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"In some ways, making a quilt is like parenting a child: your best intentions for them may not be the road they choose," begins Alex Anderson's Finish It with Alex Anderson. (Well, OK, it doesn't quite exactly start with that sentence, but the sentences appears within the first couple of paragraphs.) Her premise is that quilts often make their own decisions about how you should finish them, and she does outline some instances in which that happened for her in Finish It. If you're looking for some basic information on border treatments, this is a good resource.

The book begins with a section on basic quilting tools that are specifically relevant to border-making, such as a tape measure (which I don't use for anything else in quiltmaking, frankly). The other tools are pretty standard stuff--"Be sure your machine is in good working condition," "Use a quality cotton thread," and so forth. I don't know that the section was necessary--one would think by the time you got to making borders you already knew you'd need good thread and a working sewing machine. But for some reason all quilt books in the last decade include basic quiltmaking information, like a brand-new quilter might pick up a book on finishing a quilt before she'd ever even started one, and would try to learn how to quilt from it. Perhaps, I suppose. I would have rather seen that page used for something else, such as further discussion on allowing the quilt to talk to you in determining borders. (She started out in such an interesting way but then doesn't come back to that whole line of conversation much.)

Next, however, Finish It then moves to the crux of the matter: "Border Basics." Here there are sections on things to think about in terms of border proportions and other design matters, squaring up the quilt, measuring for borders, cutting and grainline, stitching borders, and border options (butted, mitered, partial-seam, corner squares, pieced borders, self-bordering quilts, and applique and quilted borders), with basic instructions or considerations for each. Good information, well presented.

The next chapter is "Edge-Finishing Basics," including a section about binding: straight-grain vs. bias binding, figuring binding length, double-fold, preparing the quilt for binding, squared corners, mitered corners, methods to end binding, and scalloped-edge binding. This chapter also includes directions for creating folded piping and prairie points.

For some reason, the book then has a couple of pages with "general quiltmaking basics." See my comments above on my thoughts on that in this case. I will say that some of the general quiltmaking basics here do specifically reference borders. And it's only two pages, so it's not overly prominent. But still, I'm just sayin'.

As all Alex Anderson books do, Finish It then uses six projects to give quiltmakers the opportunity to experience different border treatments. "Rail Fence" is a self-bordering quilt (in other words, the blocks themselves become the border by being done with a different color treatment). "Amish Baskets" is a medallion quilt which uses corner blocks in each of the borders: the two narrower inner borders just have a corner square of fabric; the main outer border has corners of basket blocks. Additionally, this quilt also uses piping along the binding edge--an opportunity to play with two techniques. "Unknown Star" has a pieced border of half-square triangles. "Irish Nine-Patch" has a scalloped border (on which Alex used a scrappy pieced bias binding that's quite cute). "Butterfly" has prairie points, and the final project, "Scrappy Triangles,' has a very lovely appliqued border.

There isn't a single Alex Anderson book that I don't like on some level. They're always well written, have easy-to-follow instructions, and they start with the basics and then challenge the reader to move just a little beyond. Finish It offers solid ideas and guidance for several traditional methods for finishing a quilt--it does what it sets out to do very well. In the grand scheme of reference books on border methods, however, this one doesn't stand out for me. It's good, just not great. Finish It with Alex Anderson: 6 Terrific Quilt Projects, How to Choose the Perfect Border, Options for Edges

View all my reviews

Neutral Essentials with Alex Anderson: 7 Quilt Projects o 3 Keys to Fabric Confidence o Fat-Quarter FriendlyNeutral Essentials with Alex Anderson: 7 Quilt Projects o 3 Keys to Fabric Confidence o Fat-Quarter Friendly by Alex Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Neutral Essentials with Alex Anderson is one of my favorite quiltmaking books in my library, partly because at the time it was the only book specifically focused on quilts using neutrals that I'd seen published at the time. (After having done a quick Google just now, there seems to be only one other book currently available and that's on Japanese blocks done in neutrals, but there also seems to be a book about to be published by Martingale Press by Pat Wys, entitled Spotlight on Neutrals.) I love neutral quilts. I find them soothing and energizing at the same time. But there's definitely a knack to making one that really showcases the neutrals and the design at the same time, and Neutral Essentials gives fantastic guidance as to how to do that.

In the Introduction, Alex Anderson describes how she came to make her first neutral quilt and fell in love with the genre. She also describes the process of creating the quilts and designs used in the book--she gathered a group of other "extraordinary quilters....for a day at [her] house and swapped ideas and fabrics, and then each quilter put her personal spin on a quilt made with neutral fabrics." The quilters then each went off to do their own thing and Anderson didn't really know what the final outcome would be until the quilts were delivered back to her. My first thought when reading this paragraph was, "how great that she was willing to relinquish some of the control of her book to others!" Then my second thought was, "What a hoot that would've been!" and wishing I'd been a fly on the wall in her living room that day!

The book then moves into a chapter entitled "Working with Neutrals," which offers a pretty comprehensive look at what constitutes a neutral, then lists "three keys to success" in working with this group of fabrics: color, value, and character of print. Eight pages devoted to the exploration of neutrals really made me look at my stash with a very different eye. After reading this book, I've been much more conscientious about staying on the lookout for really great neutrals, and a wide variety of them. They truly are more than simply a background fabric. (The chapter also includes a section entitled "Permission to Stretch" to offer some options to those who aren't ready to give up color entirely.)

The chapter closes with sections entitled, "Building and caring for a neutral collection," and "choosing and implementing a design," each with really useful guidelines for helping you set neutrals to their best advantage in a quilt.

There are seven projects in the book that represent piecing and applique, traditional and more contemporary designs. The projects in this book are universally gorgeous--there isn't a single one of them I wouldn't love to make at some point. My only very slight quibble is that every one of the projects is rated as "confident beginner," but they represent varied level of difficulty. I can understand the editors wanting to make anyone feel as if they could make any of these patterns, but at some point skill level ratings become meaningless if applied across the board. Might I just suggest that a couple of the patterns might have been more appopriately rated as "intermediate," or "very confident beginner?"

The book concludes with the standard basic quiltmaking instructions, but the section concludes with a couple of paragraphs specific to neutral quilts, "Quilting your neutral quilt." In this part, Anderson makes a couple of points about considerations that need to be made when planning your quilting here because neutral quilts behave differently visually than other quilts do. This is something I probably wouldn't have thought about on my own without her giving me fair warning.

If you love neutral quilts and are contemplating making one, or if you made one and aren't thrilled with the results but aren't quite sure why, this is definitely a book you should pick up. Even if I never get around to making one of the projects in the book, I already regard and use neutrals differently than I did before just having read it. It's also just gorgeous eye-candy--I keep pulling it off my shelf just to thumb through it again and again. Beautiful stuff.Neutral Essentials with Alex Anderson: 7 Quilt Projects o 3 Keys to Fabric Confidence o Fat-Quarter Friendly

View all my reviews

Hand Applique with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects for Hand AppliqueHand Applique with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects for Hand Applique by Alex Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: I can't quite figure out how to do an accented letter in this format so please forgive that the word "applique" never appears with the accent over the "e" as would be proper. Just imagine that it's there.

See my other Alex Anderson book reviews for background information as to what I generally like about Alex Anderson books. In a nutshell: always well laid out, always very clear in instructions, approached with humility (IOW, she doesn't claim to know the only right way but rather presents what works for her). Now, to move on...

Hand Applique with Alex Anderson is a good way to introduce yourself to the techniques of hand applique. In her brief introduction, Alex states "There are several ways to approach applique, each with its own benefits," (p. 4), and this book will introduce you to a few of those methods. While not an exhaustive exploration, she does a good job at getting you started in the right direction. It seems that her purpose is to introduce you and get you hooked--then you can continue to build your skills through other resources or classes.

First, Hand Applique starts with a look at the necessary supplies: Fabric--with tips about what types of fabric will tend to work best in different situations; equipment (needles, thread, thimbles, scissors, pins); template materials (plastic, freezer paper, bias bars); and marking tools, plus reference to a few other "miscellaneous" supplies. With each of these, she gives a brief explanation of some considerations to keep in mind as you explore the possibilities open to you.

The general instructions cover fabric grain, pressing, pinning, sets, borders, and finishing. She doesn't spend a lot of time in any of these--I think her expectation is that you already have at least some quiltmaking experience before picking up this book so she can afford to skim through the basics and only highlight how they may be different in an applique situation. If you've never quilted before, you might need other resources to cover the basics first. But you don't need to have done a lot of quilting to be able to pick up where this book starts.

The section entitled "Basic Applique Preparation" discusses thread basting on paper; glue-stick basting on paper; drawn line for needle-turn applique; preparation for reverse applique; preparation for buttonhole stitch; arrangement of applique pieces; and preparation for the applique stitch. Mind you, this section is three pages long with a whole bunch of white space and very few images. She describes the method, beginning with particular situations in which it is useful. The descriptions are clear enough but a few images would have helped tremendously. I questioned whether I understood her descriptions so easily because this wasn't my first book on applique, and I've taken a class. So for me, reading her descriptions of the methods had more the feel of a refresher course. If I had never been exposed to it at all, it may not have been as clear. Hard to tell on that one. I'm always for a good picture to illustrate a method and her books typically excell on this point. This book fell a bit short.

The section on "The Applique Stitch" was superior to the previous section by far. With plenty of photos showing both left- and right-handed approaches, she outlines the basic applique stitch, outside curves, inside curves, V's or inside angles, points, circles, bias strips without bias bars and bias strips with bias bars, and a button-hole stitch. This was an excellent section--clear descriptions, good illustrations.

As in all her books, the bulk of the teaching is through projects. While I usually like Alex Anderson's project designs, the ones in this book didn't do a whole lot for me, although I can see their usefulness as teaching tools. And whether you like or dislike a pattern is such a personal thing--you may certainly completely disagree with me! The first project, "Color Sampler," is intended to teach a wide variety of applique situations--with flowers, stars, leaves, berries, and a curving stem, you'd be exposed to most of the basic applique shapes and considerations. "Autumn Leaves," "Cherries," "Hearts," "Rail Fence with Stars," and "Mittens" are each a practice opportunity for a single shape. "Rose Sampler" is also primarily a single set of shapes--rose, rosebud, leaf, vine--set in a variety of designs, so it looks less repetitive than the others.

I only gave this book three stars rather than my usual four for Alex Anderson books because of the lack of illustrations in the applique preparation portion and that some portions of the book are quite cursory. That being said, it's still quite useful and would be a good way to get your feet wet with applique.Hand Applique with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects for Hand Applique

View all my reviews

Start Quilting with Alex Anderson: Six Projects for First-Time Quilters, 2nd EditionStart Quilting with Alex Anderson: Six Projects for First-Time Quilters, 2nd Edition by Alex Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought Start Quilting with Alex Anderson several years after I had, well, started quilting. Periodically I go through a few days of what I refer to as "sending myself back to quilty boot camp," reaching a level of frustration with myself that sends me into a frenzy of using books or DVDs to remind myself of basic quiltmaking skills. I bought this book in one of those fits. It was up to the task although, as is the case with most of my quiltmaking book reviews, it seems, I have to admit to never having actually made any of the projects in the book. However, reading the text of the book was enough to get me started again in a forward motion, plus I found several helpful tips, charts, and suggestions that have now been added to my quiltmaking arsenal.

See my review of Fabric Shopping with Alex Anderson for the background to why I like Alex Anderson books in general (hint: it's not because of her celebrity). I won't bother re-walking that ground in this review.

"...I decided to write this book to get the beginning quilter started with the basics. You must remember that there are many different approaches to quiltmaking, one not better than the others, just different," (p. 4). Refreshing. I've read other books in which the author takes potshots at people with different approaches than the author's own. I much prefer Alex Anderson's style, in which she attests to there being multiple "right ways," and then simply goes on to present her own methods and techniques as an option. I do wish sometimes she would give a little more background as to the benefits of her particular method (what problems it avoids, and so forth). But she's also being pretty careful, I suspect, not to overwhelm new quilters with too much information right at the outset.

The book is laid out very well, as all her books are. Lots of white space, great images, easy-to-follow instructions. The project pages includes little tips or definitions within the instructions as well. The projects are not shown in alternate colorways, although she does explain how she chose the colors she did for each project and, again, includes teaching tips therein, so you'd be able to adapt it to your own preferences fairly easily.

The introduction to the book begins with some basic information about the different parts of a quilt, standard widths of fabric, and so forth. She meshes that with her own personal history as a quilter and some nice foreshadowing of the wide world of quilting that's open to the new quilter to explore. She also recommends that a new quilter start with a small project to avoid being overwhelmed, and then ends with, "Besides, if you start small, you can begin another quilt sooner." Hear hear! She also gives a very brief explanation of how to make any given project from the book larger, and includes a helpful chart of standard mattress sizes for reference. (However, she includes "three-year crib" and "six-year crib" in her mattress sizes. Is that a California thing? My kids both had just a plain ol' crib.)

Additional sections cover tools and fabric (including color/value, grain, and preparation suggestions). Then it goes into "The Basics," which take you step by step from choosing the block you want to work on from the book, rotary cutting, pinning, stitching, seam ripping, pressing, settings, borders, planning the quilting, backing, batting, and basting for both hand and machine quilting. The next section, "Quilting," gives information for both hand and machine quilting, and binding.

The projects in the book, intended to introduce a new quilter to squares, rectangles, and triangles in easy-to-chew-portions, are a Rail Fence, Nine-Patch Variation, Log Cabin Variation, Friendship Star, and Flying Geese. The projects are all wallhanging size as presented--around 30-36" square. The final project is a sampler quilt made up of a few of each of the blocks. You don't see many sampler quilts in blog-land but they have always been an excellent way for new quilters to learn a variety of skills in a single project. Her sampler quilt is extremely attractive--it's not the standard blocks-and-sashing presenation. It looks wonderfully--shall I say it?--modern in its layout.

I would easily recommend this book and, in fact, have loaned it to new quilters a couple of times. I think it's an easy way to get your feet wet and gain comfort level with the basic skills.

Start Quilting with Alex Anderson: Six Projects for First-Time Quilters, 2nd Edition

View all my reviews

Fabric Shopping with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects to Help You: ¥ Make Successful Choices ¥ Build Your Confidence ¥ Add to Your Fabric StashFabric Shopping with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects to Help You: ¥ Make Successful Choices ¥ Build Your Confidence ¥ Add to Your Fabric Stash by Alex Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fabric Shopping with Alex Anderson is out of print at this point but you can still purchase it through Amazon (and its network of independent booksellers). I got it for 50 cents plus shipping a few months ago. It was not only worth the 50 cents, it would've been well worth the original list price had I bought it when new.

I'm not one to buy a book simply because it's written by a celebrity quiltmaker, but I do quite routinely check out Alex Anderson's books when they first come out to see if it's a topic I'd want. Her books are very high quality--very well written, clear instructions, nice patterns that are mostly fairly simple in construction but attractive and more complex-looking in completion. Any of her books would be excellent additions to a beginner's bookshelf. Even as an intermediate quilter, I will occasionally go back to her books for a refresher course or simply design inspiration.

Fabric Shopping is as much a book on color, value, print, and design as it is on how to purchase fabric. As the coverleaf states, the book has "Seven projects to help you: Make successful choices; build your confidence; add to your fabric stash." I can hear you laughing now--does a quilter really need help adding to her fabric stash? Isn't that something we all excell at? What the statement should have said more specifically is "add to your fabric stash intelligently." We're all great at buying the pretty, pretty fabric that catches our eye. But when we look at our stash as a totality, how usable is it? This book will help you build a stash that is well-thought out, filled not only with attractive focus fabrics or a few collections, but would have enough background fabrics, blenders, and other fabric for "supporting roles" that you'd have a much better shot at making an entire quilt from what you already own.

Additionally, in her introduction, Anderson relates this story: "One day in a class while attending San Francisco State University I decided to voice my strong personal likes and dislikes of certain colors. The teacher, Marika Contompasis, who could make color magic from a bag of ugly wool yarn, stopped the class and said, 'To say you hate a color tells me you are ignorant of its use.' I felt pretty embarrassed and have never looked at color the same since that day." First, I like that she's willing to tell a story about her own embarrassment. Second, that's exactly right. I might have favorite colors and color combinations as well as those colors I naturally turn away from, but all colors can be beautiful and perfect in just the right way. Fabric Shopping helps you think through the fabrics you already own and how to continue to build your stash in a way that will make all colors available to you for beautiful design.

The chapters are:

--"Shopping Sense," which talks about how fabrics are organized in a quilt shop, deciding which fabrics you need and how much--including a description of the different categories of fabrics including tone-on-tone, novelty, and so forth (although she breaks them into different categories than I've heard others use but I do like her descriptions), and fabric quality.

--"The Three Rules," which includes value, character of print, and color families, plus a discussion of the color wheel. (Before you get itchy about the word "rules" and start thinking quilt police, she doesn't give specific guidelines as to what you should and shouldn't do so much as things to keep in mind as you're going about your stash building.)

--"Fabric Groups," a discussion of things such as holiday fabrics, monochromatic fabrics, neutral fabrics, solids, focus fabrics, "personality" fabrics (her term for a group that includes novelties), and scrap fabrics.

--"Care, Storage, Design Wall," where she addresses briefly the pre-wash-or-not argument, storage tips, and ideas for creating a design wall. This is by no means an exhaustive discussion of any of these items--the entire chapter is two pages with a ton of white space. But it gives you some ideas that you could then follow up with your own research later if you so chose.

--"General Instructions," which is the usual general quiltmaking instructions included in most pattern books. However, since this book is aimed specifically at beginners, she does cover such things as pinning, seam ripping, sets, pressing directionally, and basting for either hand or machine quilting, and so forth.

One of my fave things about Alex Anderson's books is that, even though she is clearly a "celebrity quilter," she comes at her books with humility. She often references that there isn't a single way to do things, then goes on to present how she does it with no judgment whatsoever. To whit: "I like to pin. As host of 'Simply Quilts,' I discovered that half the quilting world runs the other direction at the mention of pinning. But I find my results to be much more pleasing when I take the time to pin," (p. 23), then she goes on to describe her pinning process. Rather than stating unequivocally "you must pin," as some quilt books are wont to do, she's basically saying that some do, some don't, she prefers to herself. Great! Now I feel free to either do it or not do it as I so choose rather than feeling scolded or shamed into the sense that if I don't pin I'm somehow being lazy or rebellious.

Just as a point of interest, sometimes I pin, sometimes I don't. Depends on the situation. Thanks, Alex, for making me feel like that's OK!

To me, the seven quilt projects presented in the book are almost beside the point, although they're all quite nice. I haven't made any of them, although I do enjoy the patterns. They're not overly simplistic but they're also all within reach of a beginner. They have a lot of pieces but they don't require advanced techniques--just paying attention. But the point is the use of color and different types of fabric, so from that perspective I find looking at the images of the completed quilts very useful from a design inspiration standpoint. Each one shows the block units presented in different colorways (not the entire quilt) so you can see how it takes on a different feel. Her books always have extremely clear instructions with good images throughout. I'm a particular fan of the "Snail's Trail Variation" in nuetrals, but then I also have her book Neutral Essentials (which I'll also review at a later date) and am very much looking forward to making a neutral quilt myself. She's definitely sold me on that concept.

If you aren't sure whether your stash makes sense or are looking for more education on different types of fabric and the use of color in design, this book is a fantastic one to take the effort to track down. Sadly, again, it is out of print but still available in some venues.

Fabric Shopping with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects to Help You: ¥ Make Successful Choices ¥ Build Your Confidence ¥ Add to Your Fabric Stash

View all my reviews

Book Review: The Creative Pattern Book by Judy Martin

The Creative Pattern Book: Complete Patterns, Intriguing Ideas & Musings on the Creative ProcessThe Creative Pattern Book: Complete Patterns, Intriguing Ideas & Musings on the Creative Process by Judy Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been seeing a lot about "Shakespeare in the Park" on various quilty blogs lately. Intrigued, I looked up the quilt and it's gorgeous. Then someone mentioned what book it was in and...lo and was a book I already owned! I inherited The Creative Pattern Book: Complete Patterns, Intriguing Ideas & Musings on the Creative Process by Judy Martin from my mother when she passed away and it's been on my shelf for three years. I'd glanced through it once or twice when I first got it, but hadn't spent much time with it. The other night, I pulled it off my shelf and have now spent several nights reading through it. Figured it was time to do a review!

I actually have somewhat mixed feelings about The Creative Pattern Book, although I do give it four stars. I like it very much for where I am now in my quiltmaking journey--I've been doing it for several years, and could probably rank myself somewhere in the intermediate category. This book has some elements that suggest it's for beginners but to be very candid, if this is the first book I'd ever picked up, I suspect I'd have been scared off before I even got to the third page. Hence, my mixed feelings.

Martin's writing style is engaging and there are several excellent elements to this book that are missing in a lot of other pattern books or books on technique and skills. And the quilts are beautiful. But the text is extremely dense and the layout doesn't help it any--I could've used a few more bullet points or some such method of separating ideas out from one another and making the lists more clear.

I liked her "7 Secrets of Sewing Success." I had seen most of them before, of course, but there were a couple that I don't normally see in beginners technique books, such as #4 "Practical Point Trimming," and #7, "Finger-Press for Finesse." She comes across rather strongly in #5 "Aim for Accuracy" as she takes a potshot at the school of thought which says, essentially, "don't stress so much about perfection--you can usually fix things along the way." Instead, "Don't let anyone tell you that you can fix it later," she states unequivocally on p. 29. I don't have any issue with encouraging someone to be accurate. Yes, it does save you a lot of headaches in the long-run. But my mom taught me the "how to fix it" tricks when I was first learning to quilt, and I loved knowing those techniques. I don't need them nearly as much now as I did then as my skills have definitely improved. But I'm very afraid that if I'd been sweating perfection so much when I first started, I'd have quit in frustration. Instead, I could experience the pure joy of creation and playing with fabric for awhile, until I knew this passion had fully taken hold. Then I started working on my accuracy and made life easier for myself. Is that the long way around? Perhaps. But it worked for me.

I love the fact that not only does she have "spool ratings" for the difficulty of the quilt patterns, but that she also includes a "lightbulb" rating. The spool rating is as you would imagine: the relative difficulty of the sewing techniques needed. She points out that none of the patterns is actually all that difficult, but three spool patterns include set-in seams which can take a little doing. But the lightbulb thing? Brilliant! As she says, "One-bulb patterns are repetitive and can be made with one lobe of your brain tied behind your back." Then she goes on to say that she's not included any one-bulb patterns in the book because they bore her. Two-bulb patterns "require that you stay awake" but aren't overly difficult; and three-bulb "require the full participation of an operational brain." I've never seen that type of a rating system and I actually find it much more helpful than the more typical sewing difficulty rating. Most quilt patterns only require a few techniques to pull them off. But some patterns require a whole bunch of paying attention. I like that she's called that out right up front.

Once you get into the pattern section, I like the fact that she gives so much background information on the design choices she made along the way, including things she changed from start to finish. She also outlines information about different color choices in the variations presented. My favorite components, however, are "Ideas for Taking [name of quilt pattern] Further," and "Ideas to be Gleaned from [name of quilt pattern]." I've not really seen either of those things dealt with--at least as thoroughly--in other books. They are extremely helpful ways to look at a pattern as not just a pattern, but a learning experience.

And finally? She includes suggested quilting patterns with the designs ready to be turned into stencils. So if you're still learning how to choose quilting patterns, you aren't peering at a 6" picture in a book and holding it up to different lights trying to figure out where the stitches are. (Come on, you know you've done it!) She also spends some time discussing why different quilting patterns work with each quilt patterns and suggests others you could use as well. Excellent learning material.

I wasn't as keen on how the book was laid out--it's difficult to tell where each new quilt pattern begins. Rather than having the picture of the quilt right at the front of the pattern, it appears two or three pages in. All that separates one pattern from the next is a heading with a bar of color. They chose this layout because she starts with some overall information about the pattern in general, then gives several variations on each pattern--so the pictures show up right before their cutting and sewing instructions. Still, I would've preferred to see a picture of the quilt first before reading the background information so I'd know what she was talking about, without having to flip back three pages to check it out each time.

All in all, I did find a lot of extremely useful information in the book. It's more than just a pattern book, although the patterns are gorgeous. It was inspirational and educational as well. If the layout had been different, I probably would be even more enthusiastic.

If you're a rank beginner, you could certainly use this book. It'll just take some commitment. If you've made a few quilts and are ready for some more in-depth training, this is definitely the book for you. If you've been quilting for a long time, you'll still find lots of great information, tips, and inspiration here.

The Creative Pattern Book: Complete Patterns, Intriguing Ideas & Musings on the Creative Process

View all my reviews

Book Review: Schnibbles Times Two, by Carrie Nelson

Schnibbles Times Two: Quilts from 5Schnibbles Times Two: Quilts from 5" or 10" Squares by Carrie Nelson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I. Love. This. Book. Carrie Nelson's Schnibbles Times Two: Quilts from 5" or 10" Squares is one of my favorite new additions to my quiltmaking library. Is it the designs? Partly. Is it that it uses those cute little precut packs we love so much? Partly. Most of my love, though, is engendered by the way the book is written. With all of the quiltmaking books on my shelf, I have never sat down and read word-for-word the basic quiltmaking instructions section that's always included. I ordered Schnibbles last summer after reading about it on several blogs. The day I got it in the mail, I sat out on my back patio with a glass of ice tea and the book in my hands and a stack of magazines beside me. I expected to take about 10 minutes flipping through the designs and then moving on to the magazines. After paging through the patterns and realizing how much I was enjoying her descriptions of the development and naming of each one, I went back to the beginning to read her introduction, and then the basic instructions. I never got to the magazines. She is a hoot. She has a way of giving the same kinds of directions as every other quiltmaking book but in a way to make you actually enjoy reading them. To whit:

"Mise en place (meeze on plahs) means to have on hand all the ingredients, already measured and prepared, so that you can cook efficiently and without interruption. We do the same thing with quilting, we just call it...what do we call it? Whatever, that's what we're going to do now," (p. 8). I love someone who approaches what we do with tongue firmly in cheek, but still taking it seriously. That's a tough balancing act and I think Carrie does it extremely well.

This book was also the first book on precuts that I've seen which actually tells you how to approach the fact that many of them come with pinked edges. I never knew whether to measure from the outside point or the inside angle. She tackles that topic in a sidebar and I loved her for it. Thanks, Carrie!

Before I ordered the book, I had a slight hesitation about buying a book that simply presents every pattern twice--one using charm packs, one using layer cakes. But yes, while I should be able to do that math myself, it's so much easier to let someone else do it. Plus, it's interesting to see how different a pattern can feel when you simply change the size of the pieces.

The patterns in this book are light-hearted, and although they're based on traditional blocks they certainly have an approach to them that falls neatly into the "modern quilting" category as well. This book has launched a lot of quilt-alongs and chatter on the blogs: you hear about Schnibbles everywhere now. In my opinion, that's with good reason. The patterns are approachable without being simplistic. Some are good for beginners while others will challenge beginners to advance further in their skills. For advanced quiltmakers, you'll still find plenty of inspiration in the colors and designs, and while you may find the patterns easier to put together, if you're looking for a challenge you will find plenty of opportunity for great quilting designs.

While I'm giving this five stars, I would say my only slight gripe with it is the same gripe I have with most other books based on pre-cuts. Almost without exception, they require two packs of whatever--two charm packs, two layer cakes, two jelly rolls. I understand that's the economy of size--you can only do so much with 40 5" squares, after all. And I know you can add from your own stash, of course, but I don't often have the right mix of colors to be able to get the equivalent of another coordinating charm pack. I'm just not much in the habit of buying two of whatever catches my eye. Maybe I should start. The fabric manufacturers are nodding their heads in excited agreement right now.

That slight gripe aside, my copy of Schnibbles Times Two is already bent and worn from being read through so many times. I'm just waiting to clear the decks of other projects before I make one of these, but it will happen before the year is out. Schnibbles Times Two: Quilts from 5" or 10" SquaresCarrie Nelson

View all my reviews