Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"The Swan Thieves: by Elizabeth Kostova

* * * .5

I was so excited to hear that this book was almost ready to ship! I had had it on "pre-order" since I had been able to add it to my cart on Amazon. "The Historian" had been one of my favorite books of all time and I had high hopes for this book as well.

Unfortunately, I am probably going to buck the tide on this one, but I was very disappointed in it. The narratives were long. The book consists of chapters as told by several people and also through letters. Having the chapters titled by whose character is 'speaking' is a valuable thing because it would be difficult to  follow if it had not been arranged this way. Elizabeth Kostova is a fabulous writer and her narratives are good but I just thought that is book had a lot of filler.  Generally I give a book about 150 pages to interest me. If is hasn't by then I generally lay it aside to wither give away or try again at another time. I keep going though in reading this book because I could not believe that by page 200 I was not spellbound - as I had been with "The Historian". I plowed though this whole book. The end was a bit of a redemption - and the book, for me, picked up towards the end. I am not sure that I am glad or not that I continued reading this book until the end - there are so many wonderful books on my bulging shelves waiting to be read that I know would have kept me enthralled from beginning to end. I think I kept going because I thought that there HAD to be better pages ahead.

I notice on Amazon that there are many VERY positive reviews - so I am, in fact, bucking the majority - but that's the way I call it. Now, I will once again wait with bated breath for Elizabeth's Kostova's next book to be available for pre-order and I am sure that I will order it as soon as I am able to. I hope it will thrill me more.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Amish Abstractions; Quilts From The Collection of Faith & Steven Brown" Published by Pomegranate Communications

 * * * * *
I have been enamored with Amish Quilts for more years than I care to admit to! My obsession with them began with an exhibit of Amish Quilts at the Whitney Museum in New York City in the 1970’s. I have always thought that Amish quilts represent the height of quilt artistry and I’ve collected books on Amish quilts for many years. I was, therefore, thoroughly delighted when I was asked to review this new book from Pomegranate Communications!

“Amish Abstractions: Quilts From The Collection of Faith &  Steven Brown” is a lush, beautifully printed, book presented by the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums and is, as mentioned above, published by Pomegranate Communications . I have known about Pomegranate as a purveyor of fine cards, book marks and wonderful calendars, but I was not aware of their extensive, very beautiful, line of art books. Their catalog is impressive!

"Crazy Quilt" circa 1930, Arthur, Illinois  78 X 63 " 
Could anything be more modern, abstract or awesome as this Amish 'Crazy Quilt'?! 

The forward to “Amish Abstractions” is written by John E. Buchanan, Jr. Director of Museums/ Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Faith & Steven Brown have written an excellent ‘Collector’s Note’ about their superb collection and the book contains essays ,written by noted quilt historians,that are both interesting and very informative.

Janneken Smucker, quilt historian, presents an excellent, very enjoyable, essay entitled ‘Quilts In Amish Contexts : Traditions and Adaptations’ in which she explains a bit about the history of the Amish, the Amish aesthetic, and how the tradition of Amish quilt making began. This essay offers a compact history of how the Amish began making quilts, initially large scale patterns made from fabrics left over from clothes making - progressing to how the Amish ultimately used more mainstream patterns in their quilt making.

 Below: "Unnamed Pattern" Circa 1930, Crib Quilt 30 X 25"

The eminent quilt historian Robert Shaw has contributed an essay entitled “Fundamentally Abstract: The Aesthetic Achievement of Amish Quiltmakers”. This is a well written essay that describes the evolution of Amish design work and the historical differences between the quilt styles of various Amish sects. From the Lancaster Amish and their brilliant central diamond designs that feature large open spaces filled with beautiful feathered quilting patterns to the Midwestern Amish quilt makers who favored blue & black, used pieced patterns, and used more main stream cottons and other fabrics as opposed to the wools used by Lancaster County quilters – this essay is an excellent preview to the history of Amish quilt patterns.

An essay contributed by Joe Cunningham, another noted quilt historian, is entitled “All In The Details: The Making of Amish Quilts”. It’s a concise, well presented introduction to the history of the quilt patterns that were most often used by the Amish.
Above: "Unnamed Pattern" circa 1930, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania  70 X 70 "

What I enjoyed the most about this book is that the Brown’s collection of Amish quilts contains some amazing examples of quilts- some of which I have not seen. The plates in this book offer some prime examples of the large, beautifully quilted, wool quilts of the Lancaster Amish, but there are also some spectacular examples of quilts made from more main stream patterns: Amish crazy quilts, abstracts, nine-patch and variations, ocean waves, hole in the barn door, broken dishes – all ‘main stream’ patterns that, in the hands of the Amish, become works of art. The Amish aesthetic and their utilization of colors make the patterns sing and their use of juxtaposed colors raise the patterns from traditional patch work to artistic masterpiece. I think that the artistry in Amish quilts is what has always fascinated me about them – they are brilliant, bold, aesthetically pleasing and, to my eye, they always represent the epitome of quilt artistry.

Below: "Tumbling Blocks", circa 1925  Ohio or Indiana  72 X 70 "

I highly recommend this book for quilt enthusiasts in general but most certainly quilt historians and those who admire Amish design will be especially pleased with the Faith & Steven Brown Amish quilt collection presented in this book. The color plates are very well done and the text portions of the book are excellent reading. I could go on and on about the patterns and color plates in this book – but it is probably best if you just buy the book! All in all, although I seldom provide the rating, I believe that this book deserves five stars!

Above: "Railroad Crossing" circa 1888, Melinda Miller, Walnut Creek, Ohio  89 X 69"

Below: "Ocean Waves" circa 1925, Holmes County, Ohio   89 X 76"

Disclosure Note: I received this book in exchange for an honest opinion and review. No other remuneration was received.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Quilt It With Wool" by Nathalie Mornu

 * * * *
My deep appreciation for the use of wool in quilts began long ago when I first saw a collection of Amish Quilts made of wool at the Whitney Museum in New York City. Wool, aside from being warm , wool is also a pleasure to work with - and it makes color sing.

I've been involved in the quilting world for many years now and I have wondered why quilting with  wool has not made a comeback. It seems like a perfect fit to me. Voila! This new book "Quilt It With Wool: Projects Stitched On Tartans, Tweeds, & Other Toasty Fabrics" by Nathalie Mornu (Published by Lark Books) is finally beckoning sewing enthusiasts and quilters back into the "make it from wool" fold. Things like penny rugs have made a significant reappearance in recent years and wools have become a prominent fixture at large quilt shows. Richly colored and patterned wools have, it seems, become more available. Wool is,perhaps, a bit more expensive than most quilting/sewing cottons - but colors are rendered so much richer in wool! This book offers a variety of projects that will not require a huge expenditure (you can even use re-purposed wool) but will whet your appetite for all things wool!

Ms. Mornu begins her book with a thorough and informative section about wool's history, wool types  and how to choose wool for the projects in the book. She also  reviews things like what the components of a quilt are; batting, non-wool fabrics & thread selection. A handy reference for putting together a basic sewing kit is included in the front of the book as are some suggested settings for using your sewing machine to work with wools.

The projects  range from a sumptuous gathered wool handbag, a beautifully stitched eyeglass case, a fun and quirky wooley bird mobile, wool earrings, an obi styled belt, an adorned wool capelet, a draft dodger (to keep the cold from under your doors out), stylish pillows, pencil holders (aka a container) to footstool covers. All in all this book contains 23 projects crafted from a variety of wools. The instructions are well thought out and richly illustrated. I was thrilled to see that wools are once again becoming a more mainstream selection for quilts and quilter projects. Start your own adventure and discover the pleasures of quilting and sewing with rich, colorful wools! Give this book a try - I highly recommend it !

Please note: The publisher and author kindly supplied me with a galley of this book for review purposes only. No other remuneration was received.