I thought I would start off this journey through some of my quilting book collection by looking at some of my general how-to books. These are the ones I first bought when starting out on this hobby of ours and the ones I continued to buy when I thought they might help my students and/or my teaching. I may have been doing patchwork for more years than I care to think about but there is always something new to learn – whether it is a new tool to assist with tricky bits or a new technique or piecing strategy – especially the ones that make you think how sensible, how logical and why didn’t I think of doing it like that.
The very first book I acquired is one that I think many of those of us who have been here for far too long bought – the BBC book Discovering Patchwork which accompanied a TV series of that name back in 1978. I confess I watched the first programme more by accident than design and thought cutting up bits of fabric into smaller bits and then folding them over paper shapes and sewing them back together again was the first step to madness so I failed to watch any more of the series. It was to be another few years before I met Barbara Chainey and was introduced to this madness – and found it quite enjoyable.
I then bought what I now think of as my main go-to book to refresh my memory on something I haven’t done for a long time and that is Linda Seward’s Patchwork, Quilting and Applique. My copy is the original edition but there is a more recent one (which includes rotary cutting!) and both are still available. Both the BBC book and this book rely heavily on written instructions and monochrome diagrams with a few photos of completed projects here and there. As does the next book I bought – Beth Gutcheon’s The Perfect Patchwork Primer – which claims on the back to differ from other quilting manuals by teaching you not only how to reproduce old quilts but also how to create and execute your own quilt designs. This was more my kind of quiltmaking – no papers involved but lots of simple geometric shapes stitched to make ‘blocks’, although you still had to draw everything out on graph paper, make templates and cut out with scissors at this stage.
I then fell for a more colourful simple-looking book – First Steps in Patchwork, Quilting and Applique – it had lots of colour diagrams and photos and not so much writing. But it was very simplistic and the projects were not at all the sorts of thing I wanted to make so it has languished on the shelf for many years, along with a few others of a similar nature. I’m obviously not alone in having hung on to this for a long time as I found a couple of copies for sale online.
After my daughter was born we moved to a new area and in order to find new friends I took Barbara’s advice and put an ad in the Post Office window offering patchwork classes around my kitchen table. To my surprise (and horror – I had to tidy up!) six people rang up the next day. From there I started teaching LEA recreational classes at the local community centre. Whereupon I realised that I needed to do a little more than keep one lesson ahead of my students. It was all very well having a teaching qualification, but that was teaching biology to children – a very different thing. So I bought my next how-to book Quilts! Quilts!! Quilts!!! and its follow up Quilts Galore and then Quilts, quilts and More Quilts by Diana McClun and Laura Nownes. These three were brimming with ideas and techniques for teaching – there was even a teachers’ handbook to go with the series – and were to prove invaluable. They even covered rotary cutting they were so up-to-date.
And finally we move into this century. I went back to teaching a complete beginners class after several years of teaching students who really didn’t need a teacher but just enjoyed coming to classes for a new pattern or idea and to meet friends and chat for a day. After such a long break I felt I too needed to move into this century with my teaching ideas and found a copy of Alex Anderson’s Start Quilting. It is quite a slim book but covers the basics with lots of photos and colour diagrams – very different from the ‘beginner’ books that I started out with. I can’t say I followed it when teaching but it did give me a few ideas.
Finally we come to my most recent purchase. I regret that I have not read all these volumes from cover to cover but I have dipped in to them (and still do) and picked up a lot of hints and tips. If you are a perfectionist and want your patchwork to be the very best you can make it then these books are for you. Harriet Hargreaves and her daughter Carrie take you on a five book (year?) quilting course which covers everything you ever likely to need to know from perfecting your seam allowance to pressing correctly so everything lines up and your points never ever get cut off. There are lots of projects to try and ideas to take further (‘homework’). The books I am referring to are the five volumes of the Quilter’s Academy. All five volumes are not cheap but could be worth it; they are available for Kindles too – which shows how up to date we have come, even if I haven’t as I don’t own a Kindle. Again these books are bursting with colour illustrations and photos to complement the text, making them much clearer than the older books and easier to follow if you are a visual learner. If you were to work your way diligently through all five there would be very little you didn’t know or couldn’t do, although it might take a while.