Book Review: The Practical Guide to Patchwork

The Practical Guide to Patchwork: New Basics for the Modern QuiltmakerThe Practical Guide to Patchwork: New Basics for the Modern Quiltmaker by Elizabeth Hartman

I am still looking for a comprehensive, basic guide to quiltmaking; a book to which I could refer when I had a question. I am beginning to think that such a book does not exist and may not be possible to create. Granted, I haven’t read every single book purporting to be a “comprehensive guide.” Why do I care? Aside from wanting that all-knowing guide, I want my students to have a resource to which they can refer when they get stuck. The resource should be comprehensive, basic, detailed and POSITIVE. Skills are important, but the quilt police are not. I want to get people to their sewing machine to experience the joys of quiltmaking.

The Practical Guide to Patchwork: New Basics for the Modern Quiltmaker by Elizabeth Hartman, of Oh! Fransson fame, is another entry into my unofficial contest on ‘ultimate guides.’ This is a beautiful book. It is a nice size, the paper feels good, colors are cheerful, the photos are wonderful and the fabrics are appealing. I also like the way she arranged the projects: “Projects to get you started,” Projects for the a Confident Beginner,” and “Intermediate-Level Projects.” No advanced projects, but perhaps that is coming.

Hartman talks about supplies in a good amount of detail. Her advice, which I agree with, is to “…buy the best-quality materials you can afford.” I keep my supplies for a long time, so it makes no sense for me to buy poor quality. I have the first ruler I ever bought and still use it. She talks about using different types of fabrics, such as linen and mentions madras plaids, vintage bed linens and shirting cottons. I think this approach is encouraging, because she is giving permission to use what people have on hand to those who need it. Also, quiltmakers were told for a long time that sheets were too tightly woven to use successfully. This ‘rule’ isn’t even mentioned. She warns that different fabrics may take some extra work, but I like the tone of trying things out with which pervades the book. I used a Japanese fabric that was thicker and more loosely woven than quilting cotton and lived to tell the tale, so Hartman’s advice is sound. She has good example photos of fabrics she is discussing.

The author includes organizing tips as well as quiltmaking basics (pg.17). Often, the value of organizing your projects is overlooked. Hartman uses organizer cards and labels. Organizing can often be a critical piece of the quiltmaking process and I don’t remember another book that talks about it. I didn’t quite understand her process, but think it is similar to my Post-it note method.

She has an interesting way of hanging small quilts. Ms. Hartman shows a quilt with corner triangles as a hanging method rather than a sleeve. She says that this method works for smaller pieces (pg.19). She also talks about piecing the back, which is something I also don’t remember seeing in many other books.

The author includes some information on color. In it, she reviews a variety of color wheel concepts. There are a couple of paragraphs on each concept, such as the definition of a monochromatic color scheme. This section is like candy, because it is so well illustrated. The fabrics and colors she selected to illustrate her concepts are fantastic! Another addition is a short discussion of negative space, e.g. background. Again, I don’t remember other books even mentioning negative space. I could look at these pages for a long time.

I thought it was interesting that her idea of dots is completely at odds with Harriet Hargrave in the book Quilter’s Academy Vol. 1–Freshman Year: A SkillBuilding Course in Quiltmaking where she said “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)” Elizabeth Hartman says “…but don’t discount the importance of basics, such as dots, stripes, smaller floras, and other small- and medium scale prints. (pg.24)” This might be the ‘modern quilter’ flash in the pan talking, but I think the dichotomy illustrates how individual fabric selection is to each quiltmaker and the importance of finding your style.

Speaking of fabric, Ms. Hartman uses such appealing fabrics throughout the book, even for the most mundane of tasks, such as how to rotary cut (not mundane, I know, for those who are learning to rotary cut!), that I want to run upstairs and pull out some fabric and practice rotary cutting.

This book has a little of everything to get someone started. A new quiltmaker could really get started using this book, with only a little bit of additional help from Quilty. She talks about quilting the quilt sandwich and points out that it is better to avoid stitching in the ditch, because it looks bad if you miss it. This is so true!

The basics section covers 44 pages of a 127 page book, then she gets on to the projects. Right before the project section starts, Elizabeth Hartman writes one of the most important elements in the whole book, which is “…and get you thinking about how to make your quilting projects more uniquely you. (pg.44)”

Most of the projects cover 4-6 pages of instructions. The projects are not difficult for an experienced quiltmaker, but they are also not boring and show good use of a variety of fabrics. Ms. Hartman shows the back as well as alternate color ideas in fabric, not computer generated, for each project. She also does not rehash concepts she has already written about, but refers readers back to previous pages for the information. The projects section also has tips, tricks and new concepts. In The Small Plates pattern, pg.56-61, she describes fussy cutting. In Batch of Brownies, pg.62-69, she talks about the idea of resting places for the eye, which can be used in other projects as well.

Hartman doesn’t always explain her fabric choices. While you might have gotten too much of that in Jane Brocket‘s The Gentle Art of Quiltmaking, I find it useful to understand why an author selected certain fabrics and what they were trying to convey. It helps me learn and improve my own choices.

At the end, Elizabeth Hartman has a page of resources, but the book contains no index. I think it would benefit from an index as a tool for those who wanted to refer to certain sections.

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