Category Archives: Books

Favorite New Tool? Libib!

I don’t buy new gadgets or tools very often. I have a pretty basic stock of rulers, the same domestic sewing machine for several years, and a supply of pens, pencils and markers that wouldn’t draw much envy. I did upgrade my longarm quilting machine this year, which is exciting for me, since I do my own quilting and often make larger quilts.

And glue, glorious glue! Elmer’s basic white school glue, glue sticks, basting spray, WonderUnder. They’re all ways to stick something to something else. But I’d argue that they are supplies rather than tools. And really, they aren’t new to me, even though I’ve used more glue this year than ever before.

My favorite new tool — and perhaps simply from the glow of recent discovery — is Libib! Libib is a library management tool, available for free for personal use, and for a fee for larger needs. According to the home page: “Our library management service caters to both home and small organizational libraries. Our online software lets you create multiple libraries, catalog books, movies, music, and video games, lets you create tags, leave notes, import/export, and much more. We offer two different subscription options to best fit your needs. Libib is the best system for cataloging your media available online.” (bolding emphasis mine)

You can download an app to either Android or Apple phone, and use the phone to scan your books’ ISBN bar codes. If the book doesn’t have a code, info can be entered manually. The phone-captured data is stored in the cloud, and you can access it on your computer, as well.

My whole quilt library takes up 47 linear inches, and includes about 100 books. What is so cool about this for me, a person with a relatively small library? It took less than half an hour to scan all my quilting books. Okay, there were a few that don’t have an ISBN bar code, and I’ll have to enter them manually. All the rest, done fast and slick! Try that with almost any other listing method, and it certainly would take longer and not include as much information.

You can sort alphabetically by title or author, by date published or added to your library, or by rating of library users. I’m the only user and I haven’t rated them, so that one doesn’t help me. Here’s a look at my computer-based window to my library, with a list view by date published. You can see the ⇑ to the right of the sorting menu. That sorts in reverse chronological order. Also there is a horizontal menu for decade to display. This shows ALL:

Most of my books are older. Only 22 were published in the last 10 years.

Here’s a look at a few of the books by authors whose last name starts with “B.” This is in the grid view.

And if I want more specific info about a specific book, I can get that, too. Here is a screen showing Elizabeth Barton’s Visual Guide to Working in a Series. On the right margin of the screen shot, there are a few icons that allow editing, adding tags, notes, a price, or deleting the entry.

Why delete? As I re-shelved my library, I identified a few books I won’t need to keep, things I’ve outgrown. I can delete them once they have gone away.

Okay, so why? What difference does it make if I have an accurate list of my holdings? Maybe not a lot. But if I needed to make an insurance claim, this would allow me to provide a list to the insurer. You can’t claim it if you can’t name it. I can access the list on the phone or the computer. If I’m at the public library’s used book sale, or at a book store, and wonder if I already own a book, I can check my phone. Once I have my books “tagged” with some identifiers, I can look up all my books on story quilting, for example. I’m an orderly person. I like lists. This is way cool.

Another very cool thing about this is my guild library needs to be re-inventoried. It’s supposed to be inventoried every year, but due to technical issues (committee members not knowing how to use Excel,) it hasn’t been done for 2 or 3 years. There are about 300 items in the guild library. If it takes a half hour per 100, this app will make quick work of the listing. Your guild library could use it, too.

How do you keep track of your household or quilting books? Do you list them? Share in comments.

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Lessons: Round Robin Books Review

The Quilting Party, Artist Unknown, c. 1840-1850.

I’ve recently provided reviews on almost all the medallion books there are, as well as five books on quilt borders. Before I finish with reviews, I want to include four books I own on collaborative quilting. Two specifically consider round robins, while two are a little different.

Round Robin Quilts by Pat Magaret and Donna Slusser, 1994
It’s surprising how much great information is packed in this older book. It covers round robins as a friendship or small group project. Besides the familiar medallion format, the book suggests a handful of variations. Considerable space is spent discussing options for group rules, including having no rules at all. Photos are abundant of real projects, and while not all the individual projects are inspiring, they give a sense of the possibilities. Besides group dynamics and projects, the authors also cover both design and construction in depth. In fact, the design discussion here includes elements (line, shape, color, value, texture, and space) as well as principles (unity, emphasis, balance, scale, and rhythm.) It is clear, easy to read, and is written with a friendly tone, befitting the projects. I honestly don’t remember where I got this book, but I’m glad to have it. It is one of the best two medallion books I own, along with Sally Collins’ Borders, Bindings & Edges, reviewed here.

Round Robin Renaissance by M’liss Rae Hawley, 2006
As the title says, the focus here is on round robin (group) projects more generally, including medallion quilts, row quilts, samplers, and others. The section on medallions is small and provides two patterns with very specific sizing for elements. The other types of projects seem to be similarly rigid. More disconcerting, though, is the section on behavior by participants. Hawley recommends substantial paperwork be passed with projects, fully-specified fabrics, same-brand rulers to ensure consistency of sizing from all participants… She has a list of rules for how to be a “perfect team member,” and even recommends wording for when you need to tell another member that their work isn’t up to your standards. Honestly, it is just odd. If any group suggested I participate in such a constricted and obsessive way, I would certainly decline. If you want that much control over your quilt, make it yourself! (I just donated this book Monday at my guild meeting.)

Freddy & Gwen Collaborate Again by Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran, 2009
Following up on their prior book Collaborative Quilting, Marston and Moran play with bright colors, bold designs, and liberated piecing. The range of formats includes block, strip, and medallion quilts. They show how to create the various parts used in multiple quilts, and then include a gallery referencing which parts were used.

The point of the book isn’t actually to advocate for working in pairs or groups. It doesn’t discuss the logistics of collaboration, or the benefits or pitfalls. However, the influence of both designers is visible in the joyful results. In my opinion, that speaks for itself. This book is just fun to look at, which is why I bought it and why I still own it.

Setting Solutions by Sharyn Craig, 2001
Of all the books in my personal library, this is one I would reach for if I could only keep ten books. It isn’t about medallions, it isn’t about round robins. It’s about solving problems. Problems that are common for group quilts include blocks that are sized differently, unusual numbers of blocks, and oddly colored blocks. Craig addresses all these issues with creativity and practicality.

For a more complete review, see my post on the best book I don’t own. (I own it now!)

Do you have a favorite book (or other resource) on collaborative quilting? Certainly these just touch on the subject. Block swaps, bees, friendship and album quilts, remembrance quilts, political quilts… There are many ways to work together in quilting. Do you have stories to tell about working with others on quilts? I could tell you stories… 

Lessons: Border Books Review

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The other day I presented book reviews of almost all the existing medallion quilt books. Of course, medallions are defined as quilts with a center block surrounded by a series of borders. I find border books quite useful in developing my designs. Unlike with medallion books, there are dozens available. I own five of them and give short reviews of just those five below. If you have favorite resources that aren’t on my list, please feel free to comment. Let us know the book and author, and what you love about it.

The Treasury of Patchwork Borders by Elizabeth F. Nyhan, 1991
I added this book to my library late last year. Aside from an introduction to explain how to use it, the book consists of black and white line-drawing charts to illustrate 40 different borders with variations. The charts include sizing for a variety of unit measurements, with border widths and section repeats. One of the features I like best is the demonstration of how corners meet, which isn’t always obvious on first consideration. The book is great for ideas — though its line-drawing configuration means you must use your imagination for color and value placement — as well as for construction guides. I expect to use this a lot over the years.

Sensational Sets & Borders by Rodale, 1998
I picked up this reference book at last year’s guild book sale. About half of the book is focused on setting layouts for quilts, such as straight or on-point setting, with or without sashings, and other formats. The other half is the meat I care more about, borders. The chapters explore types of borders including mitered, pieced, and appliquéd. Pages are formatted with three different insights for construction and design, with tips sprinkled in liberally. Each chapter also ends with a problem-solving page, such as the “Fudging to Fit” tips for pieced borders. Each time I thumb through this book I see new things, not necessarily new ideas to me but great ways to present them.

Borders, Bindings & Edges by Sally Collins, 2004
This book  presents the outer parts of the quilt as equal in importance to the center. Whether you’re making a medallion or other format quilt, Collins provides great ideas for finishing. Borders receive the majority of attention, but bindings, piping, prairie points, and other edge treatments all are discussed.

Collins includes design discussion (color, proportion, continuity, etc.) as well as detailed technical pointers for how to get different strategies work. Some quilters may find the math intimidating, but it is presented clearly for those of us who just need some brush-up. Overall, this borders book is the best medallion book I own.

Beautiful Borders, Backings & Bindings by Jill Reber and Margaret Sindelar, 2005
Again borders receive the majority of discussion here. There is a great gallery of ideas and a large section of projects. Though the treatment is much more simplistic than in Collin’s book, there are great tips and lots of large photos and helpful drawings throughout. I don’t use this book a lot anymore, but I’m glad I own it.

The Border Workbook by Janet Kime, 2006
Kime’s book gives specific instruction on more than two dozen borders. There’s a little bit of information on problem solving and some technique/math help. Mostly though, it’s just borders. I like the book though I haven’t used it to develop any particular project yet. There are basics such as sawteeth and checkerboards, as well as more unusual ones like kitty faces, interlocking friendship stars, and side-by-side hearts. One minor weakness is the border blocks and treatments are given as specific sizes, so it may be hard for some to translate those to their own needs.

What’s your favorite way to border a quilt? What’s the most unusual border you’ve created? Are borders fun for you, or just a last desperate gasp to finish a quilt?

Lessons: Medallion Books Review

Very few books on medallion quilts have been published in the last 35 years. Mostly they provide patterns. A few provide some historical context. Only one has an in-depth discussion of design.

For those interested in medallion quilts, whether made by yourself or in a round robin, I wanted to give short reviews of the ones you might encounter. Some I own and others I don’t. All reviews are presented in order of year of publication.

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The Art and Technique of Creating Medallion Quilts by Jinny Beyer, 1982
I own this out-of-print book and am glad I do. It’s a useful reference even though it is dated in presentation. Beyer’s writing is wordy; the book is largely in black and white; the quilt styling is formal and symmetrical; and construction methods use individually drafted templates for piecing. None of this is very appealing to today’s quilters, used to rotary cutting and quick piecing methods, as well as less formal styling. Things I like include a comprehensive history of the medallion format. Also, two chapters specifically consider design, though they focus on the broad outlines of proportion and not on aspects like color, value, shape, line, and movement. This book acknowledges construction challenges but provides little help for solving them, and there are no projects or patterns.

Classic English Medallion Style Quilts by Bettina Havig, 2003
This book shows traditional styling, providing patterns but no design context. The author asserts you can make an authentic English-style quilt using a center block and borders that alternately are pieced and wholecloth. There are ten types of border block units with instruction. The layouts of quilts are attractive, but the colors would be considered dated now. In addition, there are no construction strategies offered to help the quilter get borders to fit, assuming all sizing is absolutely accurate. The author provides planning charts, allowing quilters to customize their quilts with different blocks. However I find the charts very confusing, and the borders sizes odd. I don’t use this book much.

Medallion Quilts: Inspiration & Patterns by Cindy V. Hamilton, 2006
I don’t own this book but I’ve checked it out many times from my guild library. It includes some historical information about medallions, as well as beautiful photos. Hamilton is a skilled designer and includes patterns for four quilts. (I have not made any, so can’t comment on quality of instructions.) Though she encourages substitutions in border styles for the quilter’s preference or skills, her patterns include complex piecing with templates, and significant amounts of appliqué. Also, Hamilton’s book mentions making borders fit but doesn’t discuss solutions so quilters can do so.

Liberated Medallion Quilts by Gwen Marston, 2012
Marston is best known for her exuberant, “liberated” style. With its wonky, non-standard styling, liberated piecing gives plenty for the eye to enjoy. In this book she extends that styling to the traditional medallion format, and provides plenty of evidence for the notion that liberated IS traditional. The quilts in this book are playful and unique, a treat to look at.

In text Marston argues for design-as-you-go, but she doesn’t support that with strategies the reader might use to design their own, though there are patterns for a number of quilts. In addition, though I love many of these quilts, the liberated style is not how I like to work. So I use this beautiful book for inspiration if not instruction.

Focus on the Center by Pat Sloan, 2012
This is a pattern book with no design discussion. There are patterns for six lap quilts and one bed quilt. The marketing information doesn’t say what sizes those mean. I haven’t seen it in person, but the pictures of quilts are generally attractive.

Blocks, Borders, Quilts! by Sunny Steinkuhler, 2012
This book includes one blueprint for customization of a 40″ square quilt, with a number of specifically sized blocks. Though the creative reader could deviate from this pattern, there seems to be little to no design or construction information. I haven’t seen this book in person. One thing in the Amazon preview puts me off entirely. Steinkuhler says about contrast, “… you may not want any contrast in your quilt at all. There are no wrong answers here.” While wholecloth quilts can be very beautiful and interesting, they do have contrast in texture. And her book is on pieced medallion quilts, not whole cloth. What reason could there be for piecing a quilt with no contrast? I found this confusing.

The Modern Medallion Workbook by Janice Z. Ryan and Beth Vassalo, 2015
I don’t own this book but I’ve checked it out from the public library. Compiled by Ryan and Vassolo, it is a book featuring patterns by 11 designers including themselves. In addition, there are notes on basic quilt creation such as choosing fabrics, improving seam allowances, and cutting, which might be useful for beginning quilters. It is marketed as a “workbook,” as implied by the title. The premise is that the quilter can pick and choose favorite elements from the patterned designs, to customize a quilt to their taste. The workbook section does provide some helpful tips for this process. However, at only six pages, it really doesn’t cover either the design process or construction strategies in any depth. In the first printing, all three formulas given were stated incorrectly. All three said to multiply when the function should have been to divide, and one of the three had incorrectly stated order of operations. An experienced quilter might be able to suss that out, but a new quilter might be hopelessly confused. I won’t add this book to my personal library. For a more complete review, check the one written by Joanna the Snarky Quilter.

Quilter’s Academy Volume 5: Master’s Year by Harriet Hargrave and Carrie Hargrave, 2016
I wrote an extensive review of this new book when it came out in January. It was a big disappointment to me, for several reasons. The book is poorly formatted with at least three page layout styles; photos are murky; and all the quilts shown are in dull, muted colors. The content is marketed as a reference book and specifically not as a pattern book. Instead, it features patterns. The design reference section focuses on how to draw medallions on graph paper. The writing is confusing, both for basic text and pattern instructions. The authors’ tone is at least as off-putting as anything else. Please see my complete review for more detail.

Do you have any of these books? What do you think of them? What are your favorite medallion quilt books?

The Worst Book I Own

I reviewed the holdings in my personal quilt library this week. It’s always a treat to touch each book, flip pages, remember why I keep it. There was one I didn’t open, but merely re-shelved. If I numbered my 81 quilting books from 1 to 100 (yes, I meant that — just imagine a gap in numbering…) with 1 being best and 100 being worst, there is a qualifier for 100. Hands down, the worst quilt book I own is Hidden in Plain View.

In 1999, the stories of a woman named Ozella McDaniel Williams were published in the book Hidden in Plain View, by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, Ph.D. The book also includes a mesh of related research about African symbolism, escape routes, and information about the times.

Author Tobin met Williams in 1994. Williams was a South Carolina quilt vendor at a flea market mall. In 1997 during their second of three meetings, “Ozella,” as the book refers to her, told Tobin stories she claimed were passed down through her family. This oral history, if confirmed, would change our understanding of methods of communicating about the Underground Railroad and routes to freedom.

The book tells Williams’ tale of eleven quilt blocks in the code. The blocks were sewn into quilts, which would be displayed one at a time on fences or clothes lines. Because it was normal to air quilts regularly, showing the quilts this way wouldn’t arouse suspicion by owners or overseers.

Sounds intriguing, yes? Indeed it is, and intrigue led the book to bestseller status.

What about it is so bad? And if it’s so bad, why do I keep it?
As a piece of writing, it is badly done. Full of breathless suppositions and conjectures, the authors repeatedly ask questions rather than state conclusions. Facts and fiction are woven together to try to create a whole cloth. But there are holes throughout. Since the book was published, extensive research has shown many errors of fact. In addition, there is no supporting evidence of the premise. You can read a lengthy summary of the Underground Railroad quilt code stories, and evidence refuting them, here.

It’s not at all clear if the story, either as told by Williams or as reported by the authors, is intended to be a fraud. Any or all of them may have been conveying history as they actually understood it, rather than with intent to profit off fiction. Either way, between the poor writing and the poor scholarship, this is a book that had a much larger audience than it deserved.

I keep the book because we need to keep a record of myth as well as truth. Those who know the difference can show it most easily when they have both to draw from, including myths in their original form.

As I said in the linked post, “Truth is strength. We don’t need to pretty it up with cozy quilts and homey images. We owe it to those who suffered slavery, to ourselves and our children, and to the future, to know and tell the truth.”