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Review: Modern Quilt Perspectives
My tastes have been evolving away from project-based craft books for some time now. I mean, I can usually get deeper technique instruction by hunting around the internet, and even the smallest Google search will bury me in project ideas and instructions. So what are craft books for these days? Well, lately the craft books I've been enjoying most contain an element of philosophy – of examining the deeper ideas contained in a craft, and finding personal and global meanings there.
Thomas Knauer's Modern Quilt Perspectives is one such book. Thomas designs quilts conceptually, starting with a big idea he wants to explore, and then finding the shapes, colors, and construction techniques that will convey that idea. And he writes about the progression of this ideas so beautifully.
This book is structured around 12 projects, but not in that way we're used to seeing, where the projects are clustered around some visual theme and beauty is their key distinction. Each of the projects in this book has a really interesting story to tell.
Case in point: this quilt, which is called Cinderblock. Thomas designed this in response to the ever-popular Log Cabin block – which, as he says, is awesome, but "definitively a nineteenth-century reference; in the twenty-first century, log cabins are more a vanity than a necessity."
This cinderblock form represents more modern construction material, and also provides a gorgeous field for playing with color – which is something the Log Cabin block also does. See what I mean?
The quilts are organzied into four thematic chapters: Conversations (quilts as connectors and collaborations), Identity, Social Commentary, and The Quilting Tradition (modern quilting in dialogue with the craft's historical context). Which gives me an opportunity to mention one of my very favorite elements of this book: its introductions. Thomas writes chapter and project introductions that ruminate on the concepts behind the work, illuminating his thought processes, but also giving you glimmers of your own.
I often keep craft books on my shelf with the intention to scan the pictures from time to time, drawing visual inspiration. I know I'll be keeping Modern Quilt Perspectives so I can re-read the writing and draw idealogical inspirations.
Is this a beginner's book? Not in the sense of guiding you through the whole process of making a quilt. Refreshingly, Thomas posits that the internet is filled with basic sandwiching, quilting, and binding instruction, and he saves page space for content that's ultimately much more valuable. I applaud him and KP Craft for making this decision.
Definitely, though, these are quilts an adventurous advanced beginner could handle, with lots of straight-seam piecing. As Thomas says, "I am a big fan of using the simplest possible means to get an idea across, of letting the concept move to the foreground rather than be buried by technical wonders." (Amen!)
He does include a few well-photographed pages of special techniques that apply to the quilt projects, as shown above.
I've been racking my brains for the right way to express how I feel about these quilts as… well, quilts. My usual pattern when I flip through any craft book is to look at the beauty shots and make snap decisions: "That's pretty… I don't like that one… That's a great color combo…" and so on. The quilts in this book demand more engagement than that.
For example: the quilt above is called Mitosis, after the process of cell-division that creates all living things. On the surface, it looks like a colorful modern quilt of squares. But in reality, the design is built on a progression of complexity – starting with a two-block set, which repeats itself in the next four-block set, and so on. As the sets of blocks get longer and longer, each one incorporates the colors that appeared in the previous sets, and adds new colors. Like the process of mitosis.
When you understand the ideas, it casts the design in a whole new light.
…And every design in the book operates on this level – deceptively simple in visual terms, yet illustrating ideas powerfully. I keep asking myself whether I would make any of these patterns, and the answer I keep coming up with is this: instead of following any pattern exactly as written, I think I would take a cue from Thomas' writing, and find ways to tweak the project so it expresses my own take on the concept.
…Which, when you think about it, is a pretty awesome kind of inspiration for a craft book to deliver.
Since we know I'm a big nerd about the instructional side of craft books, I'll just quickly mention that the presentation of pattern instructions here is organized and straightforward, with a few diagrams where needed but mostly text steps. Again, given the simplicity of construction here, and the fact that the book doesn't seek to be a beginner's manual, this presentation works just fine.
I think this might be the first time I've ever said this about a craft book, but the sidebars are worth the price of admission by themselves. Thomas writes about broader themes in quilt-making, wrapping in elements from his life, his favorite tips and tricks, design concepts, and inspirations. All wonderful food for thought.
I'll wrap up with this quilt, which is called In Defense of Handmade. Thomas was inspired by a factory-produced quilt from China that claimed to be made from a "handcrafted pattern." This got Thomas thinking about what "handmade" really means in this era, when the word evokes a look and a lifestyle as much as it does a technique.
If you find a copy of Modern Quilt Perspectives in your local bookstore, do yourself a favor and turn to page 72 and read the intro to this project. To me it encapsulates the particular value of this book – to provoke you to think about your craft more deeply, and to explore how you see the world, and how what you see might travel out through your hands and manifest as something amazing.
This has been a long review, I know. I'm so glad to see thoughtful books like this emerging from the quilting community. Don't you think this kind of depth is also possible in, say, papercraft books? Jewelry-making? Garment sewing? I would love to see many more books like this one.
Disclosures: KP Craft sent me a review copy, and the title links above are affiliate links. Whew!