Book Reviews

You can find these books and patterns in your local quilt shop. For your convenience, I've added direct links to from book titles.

Reviews are organized by topic:

  • Beginner's Books/Basics
  • Fiber Art and Artists  
  • Hand Quilting 
  • Historical Quilts
  • Machine Quilting
  • Miniatures
  • Paper Foundation Piecing
  • Rotary Cutting/Strip Piecing
  • Techniques for Advanced Piecework

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    Beginner's Books/Basics

    I learned to quilt from "The Perfect Patchwork Primer" by Beth Gutcheon, "Lap Quilting With Georgia Bonesteel", and Margaret Ickis' "The Standard Book of Quilt Making and Collecting". Things have changed quite a bit since the mid-1970s. There are many, many "basics" books available but the only two that I recommend are "Quilts! Quilts!! Quilts!!!" and "Your First Quilt Book".

    Your First Quilt Book - Or It Should Be (That Patchwork Place, 1997)

    Carol Doak, known for her paper-foundation piecing books, takes beginning quilters aside in this handy book. A friendly hand icon guides you through basic techniques and projects ranging from a table runner to a wall quilt. "Your First Quilt Book" is especially handy, so to speak, because it assumes that you have little sewing experience and thus explains piecing in terms that everyone can understand. An outstanding feature is that it offers instructions for hand-piecing and machine-piecing, and deciding which one is for you. The book also covers using templates versus how to rotary-cut. "Your First Quilt Book" is an excellent starter book. It doesn't pretend to cover all the basics; it paves the way for other basic techniques books by That Patchwork Place.

    Fiber Art and Artists

    Deidre Scherer: Work in Fabric & Thread (C&T Publishing, 1998)
    No doubt you've seen her portraits -- Deidre Scherer's work illustrated "When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple" -- although "portrait" may not be a fair description.

    "When I am sitting with, listening to, and drawing a particular person, I am aware that I want to make that individual universal. In essence, my works are not portraits. I capture the likeness of my models, but that is not important in and of itself."

    In "Work in Fabric" Scherer describes her thought process as well as her technique. A drawing, from live model or photograph, provides a framework for the fabric piece. Then she builds her vision in fabric. Machine stitching, straight stitch and zigzag, holds edges in place and adds visual depth.

    Haven't you always wondered why an artist does what she does? Reading "Work in Fabric" is like having a private conversation with Scherer.

    Hand Quilting

    Hand Quilting with Alex Anderson (C&T Publishing, 1998) 
    If you've ever wanted to hand-quilt, this is the must-have book to teach you how. Alex Anderson, host of television's "Simply Quilts", encourages you every step of the way. That's no surprise -- she's known in the San Francisco Bay Area as an excellent teacher.

    Anderson, herself a southpaw, shows the quilt stitch in right-handed and left-handed steps. What's more impressive is that she teaches you how to quilt in any direction as she does: using a thimble on the thumb, index, or middle finger. That comes in handy when quilting a feathered wreath, as you'll do in one of six projects.

    "Hand Quilting" also discusses basic techniques: hand-basting, marking a quilt, using a hoop versus a frame. It includes instructions on building your own quilting frame. My only quibble -- and it is a quibble -- is that the book deserves better attention to language. Wimpy sentences such as "But always remember you generally get what you pay for, with few exceptions" make me wince. As quilting books go, this one is inexpensive, but worthwhile.

    Historical Quilts

    Dating Quilts: from 1600 to the Present (C&T Publishing)
    Essentially the gleanings from Helen Kelley's notes, this pocket-size spiral notebook is a well-organized resource for anyone interested in textile history. It is outlined so that you can guess at when a quilt was made, based on the style, quilting, dyes and fabric. Each section contains dates and a brief description of what happened when. For example, under the Styles section, 1875-1900 notes that the Kate Greenaway designs were popular. As a simple guide it's a pretty good concept. I especially liked that Kelley included washing instructions -- the Care & Repair section is excellent! -- as well as a brief glossary. What's lacking, however, are illustrations. Unless you've seen a "roller print," you probably won't recognize it just from the description.

    Machine Quilting

    Machine Quilting with Decorative Threads (That Patchwork Place, 1998)
    There are several excellent books on quilting with decorative threads. Add this one to the list. Maurine Noble and Elizabeth Hendricks organize this handy workbook into 11 lessons. Although billed as a sequel to Nobel's "Machine Quilting Made Easy," "Decorative Threads" easily stands on its own.

    Are decorative threads only for the brave of heart? Definitely not! Quilters frustrated by breaking metallic threads learn several solutions, including how to use decorative threads in the bobbin. "Decorative Threads" includes an excellent chart of thread ands best techniques. Too bad that it only gives five quilting designs for practice.

    Machine Quilting Made Easy (That Patchwork Place, 1994)
    Add Maurine Noble's "Machine Quilting Made Easy" to your collection on machine quilting. Sashiko? Couching braided thread? This workbook of 16 exercises takes you from adjusting machine tension to quilting a feathered wreath. Perhaps you don't want to do all of them. No problem. By design, the book's exercises build skills, but don't require that you complete them in order. "Machine Quilting Made Easy" covers just about everything: thread, needles, basting tools (including QuilTak), and batting. What's missing is more detail in the batting table about bearding.

    Miniature Quilts

    Miniatures by Gretchen McKinsey-Clarke
    Carve out a little space on your table for Gretchen McKinsey-Clarke's miniature series. Jellybean Trail, Triple/Sawtooth Star, Amish Flower Basket and Spring Fans are sweet bits of temptation. The step-by-step instructions are so clear, it's as if you're in a class.

    When Gretchen indicates how to piece, she illustrates each step in color fabrics. She also is a purist, so expect 1/8" seam allowances. Each pattern includes a treat:

    • Jellybean's instructions offer two sizes: 12" and 24".
    • Flower Basket and Spring Fans each have two quilting patterns (including a feathered spray!).
    • Triple/Sawtooth Star, which is adapted from an Alex Anderson quilt in the book "Quilts Galore," sneaks in a lesson on quick-piecing the Flying Geese block.

    I found Jellybean Trail and Amish Flower Basket to be the easiest of the four patterns. Beginners could handle the other two with a little patience.

    New issues of Gretchen's patterns include instructions for wall-size quilts.

    Paper Foundation Piecing

    More Paper Piecing Patterns (Shirley Liby Publications)
    Ever tackle the Mariner's Compass? It's a challenge, even for experienced quilters. That's why I picked up "More Paper Piecing Patterns" at a quilt show. Shirley Liby's encore has a 10" Compass Star that makes this compass variation a breeze. Her instructions are simple and clear. She also reminds you that you can enlarge or reduce the patterns on a copier to get the block size needed. The book has lots of cats, and then some very unusual patterns: a train set, diaper pins (remember those?), horses, wagons, teapots, landscapes and even a birthday cake. It's spiral-bound, so it's easy to place on a copier. Shirley has thought of everything.
    Easy Reversible Vests (That Patchwork Place)
    Carol Doak builds on her designs from "Easy Machine Paper Piecing" (That Patchwork Place) with "Easy Reversible Vests." It isn't easy to make a subtle patchwork vest‹at least, that's what I used to think. Here, you learn to build a vest around a few foundation-pieced miniatures. Browse through the 41-vest color gallery. Then, either follow the directions like a recipe, or use the gallery as a guide to create your unique vest. Be sure to check Carol's sections on color choice and embellishments. A pullout sheet contains vest patterns for women's American dress sizes 6-24. Carol also includes 38 foundation patterns, most in 3" sizes, which makes it a bargain for foundation piecers.

    Rotary Cutting/Strip Piecing

    Around the Block With Judy Hopkins (That Patchwork Place, 1994)

    Don't be deceived by the dull cover. This is a must-have book. It contains rotary-cutting instructions for traditional blocks in six sizes, which makes it easy to combine many-sized blocks. In all, Hopkins gives 200 blocks and includes black and white illustrations to indicate construction and suggested shading. You can tell at a glance the size, number and how to cut the patches. Color plates of each block appear in a separate section. Although the blocks are listed alphabetically, finding what you need is a bit challenging because the more traditional names aren't always used. I've never seen Kaleidoscope as an eight-pointed star or Jacob's Ladder as a Flying Geese combination. But that's part of the intrigue of patchwork, in seeing the names change as the craft migrates across the continent.

    Techniques for Advanced Piecework

    Montana Star Quilts (Montana Quilts, 1998)

    Our friend, Linda Parker of Helena, Montana, published "Montana Star Quilts," 20 years in the making. I really like her book, not only because John and I are in the Acknowledgements, but mostly because page 107 features the Bitterroot Star quilt she made for us.

    Linda's book combines Native American culture with quilt-making instructions for her own quilts. Beginners will find the construction challenging; you can do it but be patient with yourself. I've made the Fast Star quilt twice from Linda's instructions. For a Lone Star variation it is fast, but not something that you will piece in a day unless you are very experienced and comfortable with Y-seam construction. However, the results are spectacular and well worth the effort.

    Piecing: expanding the basics (C&T Publishing, 1998)
    Before strip-piecing, we pieced with templates.

    "Mastering these assembly methods is part of your craft. As you become more adept, you will find you can greatly expand your ability to sew complicated pieces."

    Ruth B. McDowell, master of tessellations and complex quilts, shares her techniques in this template-piecing primer for intermediate and advanced quilters. It's organized into three parts: technical skills, designing original piecing, and designing, although there's little logical difference between parts two and three.

    What I particularly like about "Piecing" is how she talks through the fabric selection process. It's difficult to know which fabrics will work. You can audition fabrics, but you must have an adequate range of choices. Here are McDowell's thoughts on why most of us don't:

    "For the most part, students have more bright colors and dark- to medium fabrics than they may need, but not enough subtle shades and mixtures, large-scale fabrics, and light fabrics. This is partly the seduction of the fabric store at work. In a vast array of color, it is hard to choose to buy pale and subtle fabrics."

    Lessons include piecing insets, diagrams from McDowell's quilts, and an excellent teaching guide.

    Soft-edge Piecing (C&T Publishing,1995)
    Often it's the motifs of a print -- those peacock feathers or the flowing iris -- that attract quilters to a fabric. Then we take it home and try to box the print into squares and triangles. The process is a bit like taming a hedge. Sometimes we let those motifs breathe by judicious placement of templates. Jinny Beyer, master of the border print, takes that idea one step further by letting motifs flow out of the box. It's a new piece-and-broderie perse method which she calls "soft-edge piecing".

    The idea itself is simple: the print, not the block design, dictates the shape. Jinny's book, designed as a workbook, leads you through the process gradually. First you learn how to look at border prints and how to use them effectively. Then you learn how to work with the prints' motifs to break out of the geometric design, using a grid system. It requires some piecing and a little bit of appliqué. Sound hard? Don't be intimidated. The featured blocks range from beginner to advanced. Jinny illustrates her ideas with lush color artwork, much of it featuring prints from her new RJR Fashion Fabrics line. Appliqué enthusiasts and traditional piecers especially will want to take a look.

    Last updated 22-October-2002
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