Book Review: The Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt

This review has been on my To Do List for a long time. I know  the Farmer’s Wife project is no longer the rage in the quilt community, but I think it is an interesting book, and well worth your time.

The Farmer's Wife Sampler Quilt: 55 Letters and the 111 Blocks they InspiredThe Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt: 55 Letters and the 111 Blocks they Inspired by Laurie Aaron Hird

I like all block dictionaries. I like them because I can always find a new block and each new block starts me on a fun creative adventure. The Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt: 55 Letters and the 111 Blocks they Inspired is no exception and it includes letters! I love letters even reading other people’s letters!

The introduction is called The Changing American Culture of the 1920s and discusses “a time of political and technological changes.” It is an interesting and tantalizing way to begin a quilt book, especially for someone who enjoys quilt history. This page mentions the Farmer’s Wife magazine, a source of some of the quilt block patterns mentioned in Jinny Beyer’s The Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. I commend Krause Publications for allowing Laurie Aaron Hird to include it.

The Changing American Culture of the 1920s is followed by a page called 1922 Farmer’s Wife Contest. I have read quite a bit on quilt history, but don’t remember this contest being mentioned, probably because it was not a quilt contest. It was a contest asking for people’s opinions about being a farmer’s wife. The interesting part is that the organizers asked women to “talk it over with your husband, your children and your friends. Consider not only financial side of the question, but the moral and physical viewpoint and the things that make for real happiness.” The way I read this is that the organizers, and I am not looking at the complete list of directions and rules, assume that their readership is smart and their opinions worth knowing. I love that!

The responses are summarized VERY briefly on page 12 and then the author launches into “How to Use this Book” which is followed by the letters and the quilt blocks.

The first few sections are short, interesting and well worth taking a few minutes to read. The response letters are concentrated in the middle section of the book followed by some minimal piecing directions in the back.

This book includes a CD, but I don’t know what is included as mine is broken so I can’t look at it. (Nota bene: It broke after I got it; the book didn’t come with a broken CD).In the introduction the author says she includes “larger versions of the quilt assembly instructions” and “…you can print templates from the CD-ROM that accompanies” the book. (pg.13)

The author describes the respondents to the contest as “articulate, optimistic and visionary…” (pg.12). After reading a few of the letters, I have to agree, even though I know they were putting their best foot forward in order to win the not insubstantial prize money.

I do have a few problems with this book. The idea is that you make these blocks with templates. The author made her quilt by hand piecing all the blocks. I really have no problem with templates or hand piecing. You all know this is true after reading about my adventures with the Flowering Snowball. The problem is the crazy way I have heard of people using templates to cut pieces for this project (which has taken hold in the Modern Quilt community). I heard and seen quiltmakers make templates and then rotary cut around a thin piece of paper and a bit of template plastic. I am scared of my rotary cutter as it is. This sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

The basic problem I see is that there are no rotary cutting instructions (though you can buy an EQ6 or EQ7 CD with all the patterns on it and print the rotary cutting instructions). I am not against templates or hand piecing. I understand the need to slow down, quilt more slowly, take your time. However, in this day and age, I think it is important to include rotary cutting instructions, because almost everyone cuts with a rotary cutter. Quiltmakers just do not use scissors to cut out pieces very often anymore.

There are also no line drawings of the blocks. I think this is a problem, especially for beginners. People need to be able to see the pieces without the colors or fabrics the author chooses. Fabrics can interfere with seeing the shape of the pieces or how the pieces fit together. While the maker may want that after a block is pieced, it is important to make that choice. Yes, the reader could look up the line drawings in Jinny Beyer‘s book, but why not just have a small line drawing available with the color pictures of the blocks? Cost probably.

I am not that fond of the fabrics used and would love to see an alternate color way included in the book. It can be done in EQ7 (with the add-on CD) pretty easily, but it would have been a nice bonus.

I like the idea of this book and think it is an easy and interesting way to dip your toe into quilt history. I would like to make this quilt, but with more Jaye-like colors – lots of pinks and turquoise, I think. 😉

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