Tag Archives: 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.

Studio and Stash Tour

I’m a member of the Stashbusters yahoo group, and one of the traditions is to give a “state of the stash” report during one’s birthday month. October is my month!

Since my last report, I’ve lamented my stash both privately and out loud. Having “too much” makes me a little uneasy. Fabric is intended to be used, not hoarded, as I wrote (and reposted recently.) And at various times over the past year, especially, I’ve felt like my inventory got a little away from me. However, after less buying for several months and some good work putting things in their right places, it all feels more under control now.

What you see below is the vast majority of my stash. The upper two shelves have 5 plastic bins each. I think they’re considered shoe box size. I separate most of my fabrics by color. On the top shelf, for instance, is black, brown, purple, and two kinds of pinks. Most of the bins are pretty full. In the lower part of the armoire are two cabinets. The right one has some pieces that are bigger and maybe useful as backing or background. In the left cabinet are odds and ends of flannel (hardly any,) some chunks of muslin, and some decorator fabric. There’s also a skein of yarn (why??) and a little embroidery stuff in there.

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Besides the armoire, I have plastic roller bins under my cutting table. The three drawers on the right have “projects,” somewhat loosely defined. The middle drawer unit has bags, basic scraps, and remnants of bindings and odd blocks or parts. You can see none of the drawers is stuffed full.
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All this is in a spare bedroom. In the closet I keep a roll of batting and some packaged batting. My extra machine and roller case, and some other odds and ends also live in the closet.

Also in the bedroom is my cutting table, my long-arm, and my book shelf.

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Above the window is a long LED light bar. It adds a huge amount of light when I am quilting.
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The last item in that room is an old shelf that has my long-arm accessories and threads.
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As you can tell, nothing is very fancy but I have plenty and especially plenty of space! In fact, besides that room, I also have space in the adjacent family room. It includes a long desk area where I use my domestic machine and sometimes use my computer. My ironing board is here, as well as a currently blank design wall.

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The design wall is empty because my current project is almost done. Its size now is a little too big and heavy to stick on the craft felt wall.

So, my friends, the state of my stash is healthy, and my studio is spacious and easy to use. I am so very blessed. Thanks for reading.

Reviewing Books

Nope, this isn’t a book review. It’s just a few thoughts about my own quilting/textile library. You’ve seen the picture below of my one bookcase, shelf bowed by the weight. Each shelf has about 24″ of space, and it was full.

I have a rule, though. That’s IT. That’s as much space as my books get. As said before, I want to be in control of my stuff. I don’t want my stuff to control me. Since I add several books to my collection every year, to stay within the confines of that bookcase, some need to go away.

My book shelf was empty, having been moved to wash walls. When I put it back, I turned the bowed shelf over. As I put the books back last night and today, I reviewed them. I looked at each one, considering whether or not they were worth their shelf space. (Okay, I’m analytical, but in truth I didn’t think about it like that. I just thought about whether they were useful to me or not.) A surprising number were not.

For those left, I made sure one of my name/address stickers was placed inside the cover. And I updated my spreadsheet that I use to keep inventory. Each is recorded by title, author, publication date, and category of book. Why keep track? There are hundreds of dollars worth of books in that little case. If bad things happened and I needed to make an insurance claim, I want a record of them.

My history books. Best? American Quilts by Robert Shaw. Worst? Hidden in Plain View.

Eighty-one books made the cut. The largest portions of them are on quilt history and what I consider to be pattern books. I have nine books on quilt design. Eight books are on medallion quilts or borders. Two of those are not very good, but I keep them because there are so few books specifically on these topics.

My small quilt group is doing a used book exchange for our holiday meeting. I’ll save one or two of the discarded books for that. The rest will go to our local Mennonite relief thrift store.

What’s in your quilt book library? Do you sort it regularly like you might a clothes closet? Are there items that no longer fit or are no longer your style?

What do you do with books and other quilty items you no longer need? Do you pass them on to other quilters?