Book Review: Quilter’s Academy Vol. 1–Freshman Year

Quilter's Academy Vol. 1--Freshman Year A Skill-Building Course in QuiltmakingQuilter’s Academy Vol. 1–Freshman Year: A Skill-Building Course in Quiltmaking by Harriet Hargrave

I have mixed feelings about this book. The idea is GREAT. I applaud the idea, especially in light of the recent Piecemeal Quilts discussion. There is a lot of good information in the book and I think it fills a need. As an experienced quiltmaker, I was pleased to learn some tips and tricks.

My two concerns are the tone and discussion of fabric. The tone is bossy, very much “my way or the highway” and I am concerned that new quiltmakers, without other local resources, would be overwhelmed by the content and, then, turned off by the tone. I am pretty sensitive to tone, so others may not notice.

I was hooked on the book from page 4 after reading “A Note from Harriet.” She says “…there are many classes taught as projects, but the basic skills needed to really understand the process are severely lacking.” When I read this I thought about the Sampler quilt class I took and how we learned butting seams, matching points, curves, triangles, etc. I am sad that quiltmaking isn’t taught using sampler quilts very much anymore. At some point , I think every quiltmaker would benefit from a Sampler class, but I understand that time is valuable and people are busy.

The book is broken up into classes, which cover everything from setting up an ironing area, sewing machine, selection and presser feet to piecing and binding your quilt.

The sewing machine section is biased towards Bernina machines. While the authors make some valid points about drop in bobbins, they don’t discuss ways around them. I have successfully made quilts on a Janome machine for years.

There are multiple projects in this book. Ironically, the projects are not Sampler quilts. The authors do, however, use the projects well to teach skills, and may use the ideas from Sampler classes in future books. Each project has full directions. It is nice not to have to refer to previous pages to find the basics of one step. I applaud C&T for adding this extra information.

The step outs, drawings, charts and tip boxes are all very well done. They also break up the page, making the information easier to digest.

There is a comprehensive section on rotary cutting which covers the cutter, mats and rulers. The ruler section is expanded to discuss basic sizes, slippage prevention and measuring guides. One major omission is a discussion of the placement of the ruler. There is some discussion about it on page 19, but the extent of it is “align the line of the measurement you desire with the cut edge.” Harriet Hargrave and Carrie Hargrave don’t say anything taking the width of the ruler’s line into consideration. While this might be a picky detail, tricky because of different rulers on the market, and not important, I think it might be worthy of a few paragraphs.

Harriet Hargrave and Carrie Hargrave repeat information in different places where relevant. We don’t learn something the first time we hear it, so the repetition is helpful.

One thing I found helpful was the thread and needle size chart on page 21. They also talk about thread size, which is something I can never hear often enough.

Harriet and Carrie also give a definition for a scant quarter inch and why to use it, which is not only helpful, but also interesting. They give a variety of options for creating a quarter inch seam, which is useful for the wide variety of machines in use.

I like the way the Hargraves talk about the tools. In Class 140, their topic is upgrading a sewing area, a subject quiltmakers start to thinking about when they get a little piecing under their belt. Lighting, irons, ergonomics and useful gadgets are also discussed. The authors mention starch, but don’t mention that some types can attract bugs.

One topic covered that many quilt books skip is drafting. Class 150 covers the foundation of drafting quilt blocks. While I don’t agree with Harriet’s assertion about quilt software, I am glad to see this section included, because I believe that if you can dissect a block, you can piece it. My drafting habits include both graph paper and EQ7.

In Class 120, the authors talk all about fabric. They prepare their fabric in ways that I never have, but may have to try. One tip in this section that gave me pause said, “for beginners, Carrie recommends sticking with safe colors.” (pg.15) In fairness, most of this tip discussed transferance of dye, however I really think the maker should love the colors with which they are working.

There are a lot of good pictures of groups of fabric. In this section the authors’ opinions definitely come through. In Freddy Moran‘s book, Freddy’s House, she uses all dots and bright colors in every quilt. In Quilter’s Academy Vol. 1Freshman Year: A SkillBuilding Course in Quiltmaking, Hargrave says about dots “Dots can add interest, but as with calicoes, too many can become very busy and detract from the design of the quilt. The fewer fabrics your quilt design has, the more important it becomes to limit the use of this type of print. (pg.69) Hargrave likes small prints and suggests their use frequently. She does mention large prints and gives standard observations and advice for using them. I would suggest that readers read this section carefully and consider the advice, but to buy fabric that will be enjoyable to work with and pleasing to the eye.

Harriet Hargrave and Carrie Hargrave include a section on color in this book. I don’t agree with everything they write, but I applaud the inclusion. My main quibble is the style of the fabric. I am a bright and bold fabric kind of girl. I know that the fabrics I love will go out of style or look dated, so perhaps the authors’ choices were picked so the book wouldn’t look dated in a few years. The authors comment that neutrals will enhance any quilt is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion, but if the Hargraves consider red and turquoise to be neutrals in some circumstances, then I am on board with these comments. 😉

Harriet Hargrave and Carrie Hargrave give some basic color terminology and show a color wheel, which in the context of the rest of the book makes the color subject matter not scary.

I really liked the section on value (pg.71), especially the examples of light colors looking medium when placed next to a dark fabric and medium fabrics looking dark depending on what colors/values they are placed near. It is a really important point and one exercise that is good for quilt playtime. You can use scraps to test out this theory.

The authors give good advice about selecting colors in the “Design Elements: Color” section (pg.70). They suggest NOT to assume you have ‘trouble with color’ if you are not happy with your quilt’s end result. They suggest looking at it critically and figuring out what you don’t like before you assume you are not a colorist. They have specific elements to look for that the maker might want to change with future quilts. Hargrave reminds us to trust our instincts, which is very good advice. I think the section above is one of the most important in the book.

I did like the section on precision piecing (nine patch, pg.74). It was really good. The quilt lesson that follows reinforces the precision piecing skills.

I like books where I can look at the pictures and identify the blocks in the quilt examples. Some of the quilt photos in this book are not in high enough resolution to do that. However, the authors have provided a colored line drawing for each block in the various project sections, which is helpful.

I would have liked to have seen the various projects done in an alternate color way (gallery in the back?). I think such a feature would show beginners the variety of possibilities in a single design.

I learned a lot from the border section. The section has good examples on measuring for mitered borders. One thing I read in this section was about choosing types of borders (butted or mitered) (pg.98). The comment made me realize that the authors have sprinkled design advice throughout the book. In lieu of a design section, which might intimidate beginners, the design advice is offered where it is needed. Great feature.

The authors have had a shop and taught for years. Part of their tone seems to be that “this is a job.” One lack in this book is communicating the joy of quiltmaking. Quiltmaking should be fun.

The book could use a glossary and index.

All in all, I think this is very useful book, despite my concerns about tone and fabric. At a minimum there are very useful section that would help any level of quiltmaker hone her skills. At a maximum, a determined newbie could gain good skills from this book. I plan to take a look at Quilter’s Academy Vol. 2 –Sophomore Year: A SkillBuilding Course In Quiltmaking.

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