Tag Archives: Harriet Hargrave

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?

Review: Quilter’s Academy Vol. 5 — Master’s Year by Harriet Hargrave

(and her daughter Carrie Hargrave-Jones)

Yesterday I listened to a podcast featured by Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps. Abby interviewed Jennifer Keltner, publisher and chief visionary officer of Martingale, the big craft and quilting book publisher. (Fun fact — Jennifer and I were on our high school speech team together in the late 1970s, and our team won the state championship my senior year.) Jennifer talked about the books we cherish. She said if you ask anyone to show and talk about their favorite book, they may start out looking at the book, but soon they’ll be caressing the cover as they describe it. (If you have any interest at all in the publishing world, this was a great interview, well worth the time.)

That is how I wanted to feel about Quilter’s Academy Volume 5. As a book about medallion quilts by a premier author and teacher, I wanted it to be a great book. I thought it might be. After all, if I had to pick only a few books from my personal library to keep, one of them would be The Art of Classic Quiltmaking, by Harriet Hargrave and Sharyn Craig.

Quilter’s Academy Volume 5 came out on January 7 of this year. I bought it a few days ago. I wanted to love it. I don’t.

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A QUICK OVERVIEW
The format of the book is intended to emulate a year or more of coursework in quilting. The chapters are titled as “classes,” suggesting that studying each carefully will earn the reader credit towards their achievements in quilting.

This is the fifth book in a series of six. As the fifth book or “year” of coursework, this touts itself as master’s level study, incorporating all the quilter has learned from the previous four volumes, and extending it with the difficulty that medallions pose.

The authors’ note claims the book is not intended to be a pattern book, but a source of inspiration for design of original medallion quilts. In fact, however, half of the book’s pages are patterns.

WHAT I LIKE
Let’s start with what I do like. “Class 510,” aka Chapter 1, covers a history of medallion quilts, from palampores of the 1500s, to appliquéd Broderie Perse of the late 1700s, to fully pieced medallions of the 1800s and later. The chapter features many photos of historical quilts and has a bibliography at the end. It’s fun to see photos of a few quilts that are new to me, and I appreciate inclusion of the historical information for those who haven’t studied it.

Class 590, or Chapter 9, covers a wide variety of border ideas and their construction. From checkerboards and half-square triangles, to squares on point and diamonds, the book provides a lot of well-illustrated choices, with varying amounts of construction detail.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE
Unfortunately, there is a lot more I don’t like about this book than I like. I can’t cover it all, but I’ll hit a few points.

The Look
Though it’s a cliche that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, admit it — quilting books are judged on their looks. It’s a fair assessment in this case: if we want to make beautiful quilts, we want to learn from someone who understands and shows us beauty. The cover, as shown above, is highly unappealing to me. In greys, browns, and tans, there is nothing about it that invites a look inside. We can’t see a compelling quilt, just a stack of monotone fabrics and a pile of pencils and graph paper.

If that look brightened inside, the cover might be forgotten. Unfortunately it’s not. Most of the quilts are built in browns. Of those that aren’t, most are very muted palettes. The authors explain the choice this way:

If you are just discovering the Quilter’s Academy series, please don’t judge it based on the photos of the quilts. We have kept the fabric choices very traditional to keep them from looking dated, which the use of faddish colors can do. We do hope you realize that all the patterns can be jazzed up by using wild and crazy fabrics…

So, they want the luxury of showing us unattractive quilts without being judged on them. We just have to use our imagination and try some “wild and crazy” fabrics or ones that are faddish, if we want a different look. There actually are some classic, traditional color combinations that are brighter than those shown.

Another problem with the book’s look is inconsistency. Initial pages are full-page, single-column layouts. After that, page layouts come in a wide variety with no apparent logic. There are two columns of equal width, two columns of unequal width, and three columns. This leaves the illustrations, photos, tips, and notes of all different sizes.

Finally, the photos are generally murky, not crisp and showing good detail. This may be a problem of reproduction rather than photography or photo selection, or even quilt selection. However it further diminishes the appearance of the book.

The Content
The book is marketed as a text or reference book on medallion design, and one which will inspire readers to create their own medallions. The authors state it is not intended to be a pattern book. In fact it is. There are 12 quilt designs with construction information, or patterns. There is very little teaching of design. There are minimal comments on border widths relative to construction, but little to nothing on sizing for pleasing proportions. There is no obvious discussion of design principles and elements such as unity, repetition, proportion, color, value, or shape.

Instead, the design portion of the book covers drawing medallion layouts on graph paper. I didn’t notice any mention of the various software packages available, or even that there are any. The “Final Or Thesis” section provides graph paper layouts of six quilt designs. However, they are already drawn. I guess our master’s thesis assignment is to color them in, presumably with browns and tans, so they are not faddish.

A reference book and a pattern book do share one responsibility. That is clarity in writing. Here again, the book disappoints. Pattern directions are written in an informal way, rather than structured like technical writing. Construction directions for each border should include the same information in the same order. They should include the finished width of the border, finished width of the center when the border is attached, the size of the units, and the pieces to cut. Then concise directions for construction should follow, or a broader “make half-square triangles by your preferred method.” Too often the authors intend specific directions for units and refer the reader to other volumes in the series. In my opinion, the book should be able to stand alone, but it does not.

Math is mentioned but rarely demonstrated. Sentences like “The math shows … ” don’t actually show what equation was used or the inputs. The reader isn’t shown how to replicate the method with different numbers.

Clarity is a problem in the descriptive writing, also. Several of the quilts are “inspired” by photos of quilts found elsewhere, such as the internet. The inspiration pieces are referred to, but without pictures, it isn’t possible for the reader to make the leap between inspiration and execution. Also there are cases such as “This classy Christmas quilt is made totally from blocks… This quilt was inspired by… ” The second sentence immediately follows the first, but they refer to different quilts. It is confusing.

Finally, a reference or text book should have an index. This book does not.

The Tone
One of the points discussed by Jennifer Keltner in the While She Naps interview was the writer’s voice. The author’s personality should shine through, as it would in a spoken conversation. In this book, the “voice” is exhibited most clearly in the introduction. In less than a full page, the authors dismiss modern quilting as a fad, suggest modern quilters have few skills and poor workmanship, and accuse quilters in general of preferring “chronic mediocrity.” They speak of non-traditional colors as “faddish” and “wild and crazy.” And they excuse any mistakes in the text: “Our intention was to cause you to think through the problem and arrive at the answer… We have received all types of comments and emails concerning this…” The paragraph goes on to say the students who celebrated the authors’ mistakes as learning opportunities are the ones who “totally got it!”

Besides the negative, unpleasant tone of the introduction, I object to the premise of the book on the face of it. It pretends that medallion quilts are in rarefied air, something only appropriate for “master’s level” quilters. This is simply not so. Beginning quilters can create beautiful medallions if they can sew a consistent quarter inch seam. You don’t need special qualities, except perhaps being both adventurous and persistent.

Summary
The book is a big disappointment to me. I bought it hoping for a useful, enjoyable addition to my library. I bought it hoping it would be MY book, brought to life by someone else so I don’t need to. My book focuses on design, and on teaching quilters to make their medallion quilt, not MY medallion quilt. Sadly, the Hargraves’ book falls far short of my hopes and expectations.

[Having said that, in case you wonder about a conflict of interest, my book is on hold for now. I am not dissing the Quilter’s Academy book because it represents competition. It does not.]

Publishing this review, frankly, is fairly stressful. Everyone wants to be “nice” and say nice things about others’ work. However, the US retail price is $27.95. I buy my books carefully. I try to keep a small, useful, and inspiring library. If you feel the same way about your library and your book budget, you deserve an honest appraisal before considering this book.

Please feel free to disagree, respectfully, in comments. Either way I am interested in your opinion.

More Book Reviews

I’ve mentioned before that I’m on my local guild’s library committee. The reality is I’m the committee’s chairman. And with that I have the privilege of choosing new books to add to our library. I buy new books several times a year, with no particular schedule. I think we have an official budget of $250, but we’ve also sold many books over the last three years, raising at least that much each time. And as mentioned before, I almost always buy books on discount, both for myself and for the guild. (For the guild, however, I only buy new.) Truthfully, I don’t worry much about the budget…

Our guild year begins in September. Last guild year I added a number of books. Here are reviews of a few of them.

Reviews of Guild Library Books
Quilters Playtime by Dianne S. Hire
As the name implies, this book wants to make quilting more fun with a set of games. The games range from tiddly winks, pick-up sticks, tic tac toe, and musical chairs, as well as several others. A lot of the techniques include sewing blocks and slicing, and then resewing parts from a number of blocks together. Others include fusing and machine applique.

The resulting quilts are interesting, fun, and refreshing, and they give me an “I wanna try that!” feeling. Frankly, a lot of books with offbeat techniques don’t make me feel that way. In fact, this one looked like so much fun, I bought a copy for myself.

Liberated Quiltmaking II by Gwen Marston
Marston originated the term “liberated quilting” and uses it to describe her freeform, improvisational process. This 2010 publication by the favorite author/quilter takes readers through nine processes to create fresh quilts without patterns. From liberated log cabins and wonky stars, recut blocks and sashing, and truly wild geese, she shows how to make parts that can be combined in various ways. The final two processes, Liberated Medallions and Liberated Samplers, show how the parts can be combined in multitudes of ways for a new look.

Throughout the book, photos of finished quilts, diagrams of stitching and cutting instructions, and tips provide the reader with everything they need to begin liberating themselves from traditional patterns.

Create Your Own Free-Form Quilts by Rayna Gillman
My sister bought this book first, and excitedly showed me through it and some piecing she had started inspired by the book. I love the quote on the book’s back cover: “No such thing as a mistake!” So many of us, as we learn to quilt, focus more on our mistakes than on our victories. This is a sure way to kill pleasure and creativity.

This book’s philosophy carries the no-mistakes theme all through. The author’s cheerful attitude takes the reader from sewing strips cut without rulers, joining strip sets, slicing them across and apart, framing, and rejoining. The resulting quilts are thoroughly original and, to me, reminiscent of architectural studies. A bonus is the chapter on using orphan or ugly blocks. Once they are sliced up and re-pieced with slashes and strips, they aren’t recognizable anymore, but are reborn.

Quilts Made Modern by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr
Unlike the three books above, this book uses purely traditional processes. However, it does so within the styling of “modern” or “contemporary” quilts. Sections on design and construction sandwich the section of patterns, making this a more traditional book just by its arrangement. The patterns in between also show multiple colorways and information to make each quilt in varying sizes.

The patterns themselves allow quilters of differing skill levels to try simple Chinese coins, transparency, curved piecing, and different kinds of applique. Few of the quilts use a typical block style, and though the patterns are modern in this regard, no one would mistake the quilts for another art or textile genre.

Men and the Art of Quiltmaking by Joe Cunningham
This exciting book provides a gallery and artist summaries of about thirty male quilters, as well as several patterns. The men’s comments on their introduction to quilting, their creative processes, and why they quilt are not very different than you would hear from most women. But culturally we often are surprised by men who quilt, and some of them discuss others’ reactions, as well.

The photos of the quilts reveal a variety of styles. Some show traditional block-pieced quilts, others focus on applique, while others veer into the art quilt world. The common thread, in my opinion, is the boldness of color and form. While the author may have chosen these quilters specifically for this quality, it stands out to me in a way a collection of women’s quilts might not.

Reviews of Books from My Personal Library
A few days ago I blogged about buying books. One of the things I mentioned was the idea of creating a written inventory of my personal library.

I used an Excel spreadsheet to record the title, author, and publication date for each. I also noted the category of the book. Categories include History, Patterns, Machine Quilting, etc. To preserve the list, I uploaded it using Google Docs.

On the list are more than 80 books acquired over the last few years, and I’ve probably donated another 20 or 25, books I decided I no longer need.

As I entered them in my spreadsheet, I wondered which ones I’d keep now, if I could only have a few. Four of them stood out for different reasons.

The Ultimate Quilting Book by Maggi McCormick Gordon is one of the first books I owned. At 448 pages, it is survey of classic quilts, including patchwork and applique. Antique and contemporary quilts are shown in high-quality photos with discussion of pattern, layout, and the histories of them. The last half of the book focuses on techniques.

Scrap Quilt Sensation by Katharine Guerrier is another favorite. The author takes color a completely different direction from the antiques of the prior book. Rich blues, purples, and greens dominate, with warm colors as accents. Block styles have a more fluid nature than in traditional quilts, but she uses all the traditional techniques. This book helped me look at color and format in whole new ways.

I checked Scrap Quilts: The Art of Making Do out of the public library dozens of times before I finally had for a copy of my own. Roberta Horton shows fabric and color combinations to honor, not imitate, antique quilts. As a fun addition, the latter part of the book also discusses story quilts and how to compose them. I find this book fascinating and refer to it over and over for inspiration.

Finally, Harriet Hargrave and Sharyn Craig‘s The Art of Classic Quiltmaking is a classic unto itself. It serves as a how-to resource for a variety of technical skills, but it also discusses color and composition, as well as other topics necessary to the skilled quilter.

Do you have favorite books or bookstores for your quilting adventures? Are there “best” books for learning techniques or processes, for learning color theory or design? Share with us!