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Friday, April 17, 2009


Goddess of the Last Minute

Goddess of the Last Minute: Laughter and Lessons from an Uncommon Quilter
By Robbi Joy Eklow
Voyageur Press, 2009
Hardbound, 224 pages
Retail: $18.00

Reviewed by Lynn Holland

First, let me say that I have been reading things written by Robbi Joy Eklow for probably fifteen years now. She used to amuse those of us on the Quiltnet maillist back in the mid-90s, in the day when the internet was not yet in every household and iPhones were only seen in sci-fi movies. I can still recall her tales of her husband’s Toronado and her adventures with art quilting. I remember my delight seeing her name on her nametag (along with Robbi herself) one of the years we both attended Paducah. Certainly I have been a fan of hers for quite some time, and although I haven’t read any of her columns for Quilting Arts, I know she has quite a following.

However, I have to admit: I was prepared not to be thrilled with Robbi Joy’s new book “Goddess of the Last Minute.” Not for any substantive reasons, of course. My negativity was provoked more by the title, since I have instant doubts about anyone who self-proclaims as a goddess. Yes, I realize many women do this. No, I am not required to refrain from gagging when they do it.

So, with this unfortunate mindset, I began reading her latest book. I whipped through two or three essays, then tossed the book into my car when I needed to clean up the bedroom for my cleaning lady. About a week later, (since I had not yet needed to clean up the car for the car wash), I found myself getting out of the same car to go to a doctor’s appointment. In the past, I have taken knitting or handquilting with me into the waiting room, but since my physician’s office has become increasingly efficient, it has hardly been worth getting out my equipment, finding my place in the pattern, and then having to stuff it all back in my bag when my name gets called. Furthermore, more than a few stitches have been dropped when, in my hurry, point protectors did not get put on firmly enough. As a hedge against boredom if I had to wait more than two minutes, I grabbed up Robbi’s book and took it with.

Thank goodness.

That day, the doctor’s was not doing its usual clockwork routine. An hour past my appointment time, someone came “just to let you know we are running behind.” Really. Since I do not wait well, things could have been beyond tense. Thankfully, I had brought someone with me to pass the time: Robbi. Her two hundred entertaining pages were almost as good as having an old friend with me. She is a very entertaining author who is as honest about her shortcomings as she is about her talents. Her detailed though not laborious descriptions of everyday things provide visuals that are almost as good as YouTube productions. You may experience self-recognition in her essays, too. Multiple drawers of rotary cutters? Yup. Manic single color-obsessions? Uh-huh. Collections of things that don’t have major purpose? Well… Buying strange stuff on sale because it’s such a great deal? Surely I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Many of her essays are about topics other than quilting. She covers diverse issues such as working at home, the writing process, airplane etiquette, technology competencies (and lack thereof), fashion attire, waffle making and care and feeding of spouses.

Of course, this is not meant to be serious literature. It is meant to give the readers a break, maybe a sense of belonging to a group of people like you, people who have finally figured out that being perfect isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and really isn’t much fun. This book is a wonderful present for a friend, a relative or even for someone who’s hard to buy for but needs to lighten up.

And I owe Robbi some serious thanks. Normally, if I had to spend multiple hours in the doctor’s waiting room, building security would be called. However, I was able to stay controlled and keep my problematic blood pressure in check thanks to her amusing prose. Serious unbroken time gave me a chance to really spend time with her book and indirectly with Robbi herself. Next time I see her in Paducah, I will ask her to autograph my book. Although I have to admit it’s hard to think of someone who spends all day in her pajamas as a goddess, to me, Robbi Joy is the Goddess of the Long Wait.

Friday, April 03, 2009


Insider’s Guide to Quilting Careers

Insider’s Guide to Quilting Careers
By Merry May and Linda J. Hahn, 2009
Paperbound, 168 pages
Retail price: $19.95

Merry May and Linda Hahn have worked in a large number of different areas of the quilting industry: together (and separately) they have been teachers, inventors, long-arm quilters, pattern designers, cruise and retreat organizers, retailers, commission quilters, consultants, and now, authors! Collaborating on their first book together, they have brought all their varied experiences to bear on the subject of making a career in quilting.

This practical and down-to-earth guide fills a serious void in the universe of quilting how-to books. Most of us have heard quilters express the fervent wish that they could “quilt for a living,” or open a quilt store and “do what I love.” Without throwing too much cold water, Merry and Linda provide a needed antidote to unrealistic expectations. Truth is, the quilting “industry” is not a place one is likely to get rich, and even if successful, those in the business put in long hours and do a great many things that they may or may not “love.”

A quick glance at the table of contents reveals a wide range of quilting activities covered in the book, including shop owner, teacher, retreat/cruise organizer, longarm quilter, author/publisher, appraiser, quilt restorer, professional exhibitor, fabric designer, quilt show judge, quilt show manager, and vendor. In fact, many serious quilting professionals do more than one of these things to, among other things, realize several different streams of income. And each of these activities comes with its own set of beginner questions that the authors set out to answer: how do I price my work? How do I become known as a teacher? How much money will I need to open a quilt store?

All of these issues are discussed plainly and in detail, with plentiful examples and concrete advice. In addition, Merry and Linda share their insights into the things that can commonly go wrong and how to prevent them, or recover from them after they have happened. They address such issues as whether a traveling teacher is obligated to stay at a guild member’s house to save the guild money, and the pros and cons of making “charitable” contributions of door prizes to guilds.

Supplementing all of their great common-sense advice are generous samples of resumes, class descriptions, order forms, program flyers, expense statements and various other useful documents. There is also a directory of supplemental resources, such as lists of insurance companies and quilting supply distributors, complete with web addresses. The book also emphasizes the importance of having a website, no matter what kind of business you are in, with instructions on setting up a simple site for yourself.

While the Insider’s Guide to Quilting Careers doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of the quilting business (and it is a business if you’re going to do it right), the overall tone and approach of this book is one of encouragement and support. It has long been a tradition among quilters to support one another in their endeavors, and that spirit also informs much of what goes on in the business of quilting. If you’re contemplating moving to the next level with your quilting by turning it or some aspect of it into a livelihood, or looking for a way to increase your success with a business you already run, reading this book can save you not only money but also a lot of potential heartache. Take the plunge, but do it with your eyes open!

Monday, November 17, 2008


November Book Briefs

Rectangle Pizzazz: Fast, Fun & Finished in a Day
By Judy Sisneros
C&T Publishing, 2008
Paperbound, 48 pages
Retail price: $16.95

This slim little volume is fat with good ideas. We all suspect rectangles are boring, but you'd never know it from Judy Sisneros's designs, which truly do generate pizzazz by the way she uses fabric and juxtaposes shape and color. Many of her designs use a panel or fussy cut motif as the centerpiece, bordered by an amazing variety of block arrangements made from the basic rectangle. While these medallion style designs are impressive, the most interesting ones to me are the straight rows and columns of rectangles that make dazzling patterns through the juxtaposition of colors. “Garden Party” and “More than Lavender” in the book's gallery section are examples of these. Best of all, because of their simple construction, most of these quilts can be completed quickly – in a day or less.

Quilter's Happy Hour: 11 Quilts with Cocktail Recipes
By Lori Buhler
Martingale Press, 2008
Paperbound, 80 pages
Retail Price: $24.95

I've seen quilts married with wine, ice cream, chocolate and a variety of other foodstuffs, so it's not surprising someone would eventually use colorful cocktails as inspiration. Lori Buhler does it quite cleverly, and beautifully, in this collection of 11 designs loosely based on exotic mixologies. The drinks are familiar, and mostly what some might call “lady” cocktails (except for the Stinger, which looks like it might pack a wallop), but the quilts look intimidating. They're full of applique motifs and precisely positioned points that look like they might cause a quilter to pull her hair out. Lori is ready for our objections, however, as she introduces a technique for dealing with these quilter headaches that takes all the pain out of them. She calls it simply “The Interfacing Technique,” and it involves the use of lightweight non-fusible interfacing for tracing the applique patterns. She then joins this up to paper piecing techniques to drive away the boogeymen of curved piecing. Of the drinks, I like the Tequila Sunrise; of the quilts, the Raspberry Kiss. It's not as hard as it looks . . . really!

Snuggle-and-Learn Quilts for Kids
By Chris Lynn Kirsch
Martingale Press, 2008
Paperbound, 80 pages
Retail price: $21.95

Those familiar with Chris Kirsch's work will remember her 2001 book from Martingale called Replique Quilts: Applique Designs from Favorite Photos. Chris reprises her method in this book and, inspired by the birth of her granddaughter Hanna, employs it in a series of colorful kids' quilts that double as learning templates. For example, a placemat pattern shows us where the basic eating utensils go at a civilized table, and a lap quilt helps associate the right word with the right color. This is a very clever idea, and the designs are big and blocky to accommodate both easier sewing and toddler perception. My favorite is one called “Touch Me, Feel Me, Read Me,” which adds a tactile dimension to the lesson with such words as “soft,” “bumpy,” and “fluffy” done in different fabric textures. Also very clever is a portable roll-up chalkboard which uses a special fabric available at quilt stores for the chalkboard portion of the design. You can actually write on it. This is a great, fun book for grandmas to create something unique for the little ones that keep appearing in their lives.

Holiday Wrappings: Quilts to Welcome the Season
By Loraine Manwaring and Susan Nelson
Martingale Press, 2008
Paperbound, 32 pages
Retail prices: $16.95

Holiday quilts are a great addition to the seasonal decorating we all do, hung on a wall or draped over the back of a chair, the center of attention or as an accent. And each year quilters come up with great new variations on the familiar themes. Loraine Manwaring and Susan Nelson give us a half dozen original designs that pick up on some of the lesser-known themes and images of the season. For example, opening the book is a delightful quilt called “Merry Mail,” which uses a Christmas card and envelope theme. Christmas candy is another theme, with quilts called “Peppermint Dish” and “Candy Sticks” to tempt our tastebuds and feast our eyes. There is also a more traditional table-topper pattern with a Christmas tree skirt variation provided as well. The most different design, complete with button embellishiments, is “Hand Warmers,” which juxtaposes snowflakes with brightly colored children's mittens. All quilts are accompanied by complete instructions and good diagrams.

Warm and Cozy/Merry and Bright: Christmas Quilts from Hopscotch
By Heather Willms and Elissa Willms
Martingale Press, 2008
Paperbound, 72 pages
Retail price: $24.95

This holiday pattern book is really two books in one. When I picked it up, I looked at the Warm and Cozy cover and prepared for the primitive country style of Christmas, with earth-tones and gingerbread men. Then I noticed instructions to flip the book over, and on the back was the cover for “Merry and Bright,” featuring bright, appealing colors. Both halves of the book are primitive country, but the difference in color schemes makes for a dramatic contrast in the overall feel of the designs. There are seven designs in each style, for a total of 14 in all, which include tree skirts, wall-hangings, advent calendars, and charming country cloth balls, among other designs. A variety of techniques are employed, including applique and paper-piecing.

Rolling Along: Easy Quiilts from 2 ½ – Inch Strips (Jelly Roll Friendly)
By Nancy J. Martin
Martingale Press, 2008
Paperbound, 80 pages
Retail price: $24.95

Like all producers of goods, fabric makers are driven by an eternal quest for the new. New lines of fabric are introduced twice a year, to great fanfare, and the companies compete for the shelf space of quilt stores around the world. New fabric designs are not the only way to crack the market, however. Increasingly, clever packaging and marketing have put fabric in new containers or new forms – e.g. the “jelly roll” introduced by Moda last year. These packages, which contain 40 2 ½-inch strips, are popular both because they look cool and because they give you a good variety of coordinated fabric in a convenient form. Nancy Martin, ever the one to take advantage of a quilting fad, has now come out with a baker's dozen of “jelly roll friendly” quick strip quilts that express her elegant and charming design sense. Nancy has always been the queen of the quick quilt, and the coordinated colors of the jelly rolls add another speed dimension to these quilts by eliminating the need to agonize over fabric selection. Add the speed of strip piecing, and you might just be finished before you even begin. Some of these designs add applique grace notes and other embellishments, but my favorites remain the traditional pieced designs, especially “Boxing Day” and “Strip Pinwheel.” For reproduction fabrics freaks, “Forties Four-Patch” is a stunner.

Friday, November 07, 2008


Report from Quilt Market

Given the economy and the recent hurricane in Houston, expectations were somewhat lowered for Quilt Market this year. We went anyway, as did thousands of others, and it looks like quilting may help us get through hard times. See our review of the quilts and new products on display at the 2008 market.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Crazy Quilts: History, Techniques, Embroidery Motifs

Crazy Quilts: History, Techniques, Embroidery Techniques

By Cindy Brick
Voyageur Press, 2008
Hardcover, 160 pages
MSRP: $29.95

While researching this book, Cindy Brick came across the following assertion in the catalogue for Joseph Doyle & Co., from about 1900:

It may interest many to know that the first 'crazy quilt' was made at Tewkesbury (Mass.) almshouse by a demented but gentle inmate, who delighted to sew together, in hap-hazard fashion, all the odd pieces given her. One day a lady visitor was shown the quilt as a sample of poor Martha's crazy work. The conglomeration of color, light and dark, of every conceivable shape and size, caught the visitor's fancy, and within a week she, herself, was making a crazy quilt. And thence the furor spread.

Whether this passage is a true account or simply an early example of urban folklore, it captures something of the mystique and widespread appeal of that most unique of art forms, the crazy quilt. Exuberant, seemingly random, yet highly formal and ordered, crazy quilts celebrate all needlework at once in a riot of patches and stitches. This comprehensive and loving look at the crazy quilt undertakes the difficult task of determining provenance and origins, and celebrates the persistence of the form with a high degree of historical integrity and grace.

Part one of the book is the history of the crazy, and it is fascinating. Not only does it present and analyze outstanding examples of the form, both historical and contemporary, but it has many interesting and instructive digressions on other emerging styles, such as the Grandmother's Flower Garden and the Log Cabin. Particularly noteworthy are the section on the growing influence of Asian art in American textiles and a sidebar on the commercial response of manufacturers to the craze, which resulted in a flood of tools, threads, fabrics and embellishments aimed directly at the crazy quilter market. Cigarette silks of course have a prominent presence in the embellishments category.

Crazy Quilts contains many beautiful color photos of significant examples of the style from its heyday in the 1890s, but equally significant is the coverage of the legacy of the crazy style into the present day. Stunning quilts by Judith Baker Montano and Terrie Mangat, among others, are generously represented in large photos. My favorite is the double-truck of Mangat's “Cleveland Fireworks,” a dramatic expressionist work commissioned by the Cleveland University Hospital for display in their entrance foyer. It absolutely takes your breath away.

Part 2 of the book is the inevitable and indispensable section on how to make your own crazy quilt. It addresses piecing, stitching and embellishing the quilt, including three different construction methods, traditional hand-piecing, paper foundation piecing, and a Cindy Brick technique called “shadow crazy piecing,” billed as the fastest of the methods, using either hand or machine piecing. An appendix includes a large collection of elaborate embroidery motifs with lots of birds, flowers, and an Art Deco alphabet, among other designs.

This handsome volume belongs on the shelf of any quilter touched by this rich tradition. Which in all likelihood includes all of us.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Beautiful and useful

Contemporary Quilt Art: An Introduction and Guide, by Kate Lenkowsky
Indiana University Press, 2008
Hardbound, 288 pages
Retail price: $34.95

Contemporary Quilt Art is a big, erudite, and beautifully produced book in the style done so well by university presses. In Part I, it provides us the 30,000-foot view of the development of the art quilt, drawing in the social milieu and economic factors, the role of quilting organizations and adventurous museums in promoting the craft, the place that textile art takes for itself in contemporary art, and the hardships the medium has had to overcome to be accepted by the larger art community. We've heard many of these before -- quilting's origins in folk and domestic arts, its long association with women artists, its populist serialization in newspapers and magazines. This recounting of the trials and tribulations of quilting to find its true place in art is no doubt accurate, but it has a curious defensive quality that underscores the inferiority complex that quilters have had for so long with regard to acceptance as a "true" art form.

If anything belies the need for another apologetic for art quilts, it is Part II of this book, "Artists." This section features, with biographies, aesthetic musings, and lush photography, the work of 19 prominent quilt artists from around the world. Well-known names such as Nancy Crow and Michael James are mixed in with lesser-known talents such as Marilyn Henrion of New York, Korean Kyoung Ae Cho, and Britain's Pauline Burbidge. You will want to linger over these brilliantly original works of art and steal ideas and styles shamelessly in the great visual art tradition. The variety of approaches, media, and style are a stunning testament to the power of the individual vision as it melds a profusion of influences into a unique expression of self and the world. It is clear that the art quilt movement has come to a rich maturity.

After this riveting survey of the current scene, Contemporary Quilt Art succumbs to what seems to be the inevitable need for quilt books to be useful as well as beautiful. In its final third section, "A Guide for Buyers and Collectors," there is much valuable information about how to evaluate quilts, insure them, hang, store and preserve them. Aimed at educating a collecting public and thus encouraging the growth of the high-end quilt art market, this excursion will no doubt assist the struggling quilt artist in getting a better price. Somehow, though, it seems once again unnecessarily to validate the second-class citizenship of quilts in the world of art. Which is too bad.

Nevertheless, this book is a must for any private or guild quilt library. The inspiration to be gained from the hundreds of quilts represented here is invaluable, and should encourage many a young would-be quilter to follow her eye and mind to creations which lead contemporary art into new territory.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


A Fat, Full Thing

The Quilter’s Catalogue: A Comprehensive Resource Guide
By Meg Cox
Workman Publishing, 2008
Paperbound: 598 pages
Retail Price: $18.95

In her acknowledgments to this book, author Meg Cox starts by thanking her publisher, Workman Publishing of New York, for turning down her proposal for the book, twice. Their resistance, and her consequent persistence in improving the scope and quality of The Quilter's Catalogue, made it, as she says, “the fat, full thing” that it is. At nearly 600 pages, it is probably the biggest quilt book you’re ever going to find. You’re unlikely to find one more comprehensive or enthusiastic, either. There appears to be no quilt-related subject too obscure, no technique too arcane, no quilt tool too specialized for Meg’s voracious appetite.

As you have probably already gathered, this book departs significantly from the standard model quilt book. It is not primarily about technique or projects (though some are included, about which more later), and it is not a full-color book of instructions on how to make a quilt sandwich. Meg’s purpose is broader – nothing less than to create the comprehensive encyclopedia of quilting available. She wants to create a resource guide for the initiated and uninitiated alike, to the vast, complex universe that quilting has become.

Meg’s background is as a journalist (a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal), but she knows that quilters like it personal, so the book begins with what all quilters want to share, her personal quilting history. After recounting her family quilting tradition, she tells the story of finishing a complex appliqué quilt her mother left partly completed at her death. The quilt was being made for Meg’s niece, and though the technique was beyond her skill at the time, Meg promised to complete it (it took five years). After this personal introduction, which establishes her credentials as a quilter, Meg then takes us all for a roller-coaster ride. She debunks six quilt myths (beginning with “Like jazz, quilting is an American invention”) and gives us a fascinating survey of “Who Quilts Today and Why.” Along the way we get to meet a varied cast that includes the Gees Bend quilters, Calvin Cooledge, and Celia Eddy, among a gazillion others.

So what aspect of the craft are you interested in? Quilting and computers? Internet resources for quilters? Building a fabric stash? Using photos in your quilts? Fabric dying? No matter what your interest, Meg not only has it covered, but provides a wealth of further resources. One might think, with all the information now available on the internet, that a book of this type would be hard-pressed to add anything to the conversation. But what this book provides is an organizing intelligence, a sorting service, and a tour guide of the quilting galaxy.

I said at the beginning that The Quilter’s Catalogue departs from the standard model of quilting books, which are mostly about projects and techniques. But despite being crowded with factoids, tips, and encouraging words, the book makes room for twelve charming projects. My favorite is the Fruit Tart Pincushion, based on a design by Ami Simms, and which looks for all the world like a piece of finely shaped pastry. The instructions for this and the other projects are very detailed, and accompanied by great diagrams, templates, and technical tips. Although most of the book is printed in two colors to keep the cost reasonable, there is a full-color section covering the twelve projects.

On the back cover of The Quilter's Catalogue is a banner that says "The Bee-All and End-All." That's an excellent description of the most comprehensive quilting resource you're likely to find. And which can all be yours for less than twenty bucks.

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