Book Review: Material Obsessions

Material Obsession: Modern Quilts with Traditional RootsMaterial Obsession: Modern Quilts with Traditional Roots by Kathy Doughty
Material Obsession is one of the first books written by Kathy Doughty. This one is co-authored by Sarah Fielke and has a foreword by Kaffe Fassett. Great credentials!

The cover quilt is a good start as the quilt depicted is inspirational and VERY appealing. It is hard not to like the dotted background and Dresden blocks.

Kaffe Fassett’s foreword is very complimentary, as expected. It acknowledges the “much less-than-inspiring work that take up wall space in shops and exhibitions” (pg.6). I find it refreshing that he acknowledges that not all quilts are stellar (though, FYI, I do believe all quilts are worth making). He compares the high quality of the work shown at the shop to other work he sees in work of “teaching, lecturing and judging” (pg.6). Whether true or not, I tend to believe Kaffe Fassett’s assessment of the shop and work displayed there.

Essentially, this is a project book. Twenty-three projects are on offer (pg.14-168) followed by Quilting Basics (pg.174-196), a glossary (pg.200) – Yay!, an index (pg.202) – Yay!, sources for supplies (pg.203), about the authors (pg.204) and acknowledgements (pg.206). From the amount of pages, you can see that this is a substantial work.

Another premise of my quiltmaking is written in the Introduction (pg.10-12). “Material Obsession came to be as a reflection of our times. Our quilts reflect a lifestyle that is moving quickly and changing every day. Quilts were once a part of a slower-moving era, one of frugal use of leftovers and recycled fabrics”… “Quilters today are free to indulge in a huge range of color, shape, and texture”… “And they quilt for love, for enjoyment, and creativity rather than for necessity” (pg.10). this information reflects the changes in quiltmaking. Most of us do not quilt because we need to keep our families and friends warm. I appreciate the acknowledgement of that fact.

The Introduction segues smoothly from the changes in quiltmaking to the Material Obsession way of making a quilt. In this part of the Introduction the authors suggest choosing an inspiration fabric (pg.11), a fabric that sings to you. I have always heard of this fabric called a feature fabric or focus fabric and Christopher Tomlinson referred to this as a hero fabric in the lecture I attended at QuiltCon. The authors use ‘inspiration fabric’ as their term and do not use the other terms mentioned in their text.

Doughty and Fielke write words that are critical to me when I am teaching “If the fabrics look good to you, if you like them, then you have the beginnings of success” (pg.11). It is important to follow your heart and use fabrics that sing to you. If you are using fabrics you think you should use because they are traditional or part of a line or ‘modern’, but you don’t like them, you have made the first step towards an uninspiring project. Use fabrics you love!

The rest of the intro talks about using fabric and color, what makes a pattern, contrast (pg.11), how to vet a pile of fabrics, using digital images (pg.12) and inspiration. One thing that stands out in this commentary is the time taken to select the fabrics. I am guilty of grabbing fabrics just so I can get to the piecing. The time taken to carefully select fabrics is described by the authors as valuable because it makes a better quilt. The Introduction is helpful, inspirational and upbeat.

After the brief Introduction, the projects start. The first several quilts are not difficult at all – basically squares and triangles (Avalon-pg.16, Gypsy Squares-pg.20, Candy Store-pg.24, Corner Store-pg.30, Cowboy Baby-pg.38, Goodnight Sweet prints-pg.44).

Each pattern has a designation from easy to advanced. These designations make it easy for a beginner to work through the projects in order and improve skills. Complexity in the easy patterns comes from the careful use of fabric. This is a great technique for making simple quilts look complicated.

Patterns repeatedly suggest using 100% cotton (example pg.53) and testing for colors that might run (example pg.44). these are both good practices, though using non-cotton fabric is not a deal killer. I have seen gorgeous quilts using velvet and silk. I wouldn’t recommend starting your quilting life with these, but use the fabric that makes your heart sing!

The first intermediate pattern is called Snuggling Letters (pg.56-61). It includes a Peaky and Spike unit. The pattern includes templates for that unit, but also recommends purchasing a special ruler. The units seem to be 3.5″, which means you also might be able to use the Accuquilt die for easier cutting, though that is not mentioned. Sizzix has similar die. Check unit sizes in the patterns before purchasing dies or rulers.

The first picture in each pattern, in all of the patterns is a lifestyle shot, which doesn’t show much of the quilt. Each quilt is also shown in a straight on format photo towards the end of each pattern.

The advanced quilts are truly advanced as opposed to fake advanced. Girlfriends Galore (pg.104-111) includes a Lone Star with multiple on point borders. The bias aspect is enough for me to toss it into the advanced pile.

Probably my favorite quilt project of the whole book is the cover quilt, Dotty for Dresden (pg.120-128). The dots that stand out in this quilt are immediately appealing. I also like the larger than normal center circles. The selection of fabrics does not scream an era – the fabrics are clearly contemporary, but also timeless, in a way. I like quilts that won’t look dated in 10 years.

The patterns do fall into the trap of giving cutting directions based on the fabric (example pg.122) rather than using the location (e.g. background) of the pieces. This can be confusing for makers who aren’t using the same fabric.

I also like the uniqueness of the Three-Ring Circus hexagon quilt (pg.128-133). The colors of the The Big Pineapple (pg.134-139) are appealing , but I also like that the quilt is actually the classic Pineapple pattern.

Each pattern has a short essay on the inspiration behind each quilt (example, pg.140). These sections are too short to be very satisfying to me. I love hearing about people’s inspiration.

The patterns are not boring and I was pleased to see a Nosegay pattern included (pg.162-167). The use of fabrics in the various quilts is quite varied and also not boring. Excellent use of stripes, and dots and large prints can be found throughout the book.

I wish they had more examples of pattern quilts in different fabrics, different examples of quilts in different colorways. I’d like to see which of these designs work with a two color quilt color selection.

As is usual with many quilt books, this one has a section on quilting basics. This section is a little more robust than others I have seen. Parts of a quilt (pg.176) are described as are different types of batting (pg.176). Points are illustrated by referring back to quilt patterns.

I don’t remember seeing fabric grain discussed in other books, but Doughty and Fielke write about it in some detail on page 177. Preparing fabric such as the benefits of pre-washing and running colors merit a sidebar (pg.177). A section on choosing thread, equipment and rotary cutter safety (pg.178-179) are well written. After a part on accessories, which includes template plastic, pins and scissors (pg.180), the authors write about cutting fabric and measuring (pg.182-183). Rotary cutting shapes is also covered (pg. 183-187). Because of all of the applique, cutting shapes by hand and fussy cutting are thoroughly discussed as well (pg.188). Various applique methods are explained alongside piecing (pg.189-190). Laying out a quilt in a straight set and on point precede adding borders (pg.191). The book does not include the technique of measuring the quilt three times and averaging to get the size of the borders. Look that up elsewhere. Layering and basting are covered and illustrated with quilts using bright colors (pg.192-193). Quilting is covered in two pages (pg.194-195), which I always find amazing, and binding is covered in one. The binding information comes with useful illustrations (pg.196-197).

My librarian heart is warmed when looking at the glossary (pg.200-201). It is excellent! Terms such as ‘ease’, ‘chain piecing’ and ‘weft’ are included. The authors get additional bonus points for including an index (pg.202-203). The source of supplies (pg.203) is a good place to start, though the list may become dated and won’t include newer, more up to date tools and supplies.

I love the bios (pg.204-205). They give me insight into the authors.

Abrams books are fabulous. They are large, lush and gorgeous. This book is no exception. I love the colors, the many photos and all of the different fabrics shown. The drawings give the overall book a friendly feel. The combination of hand and machine techniques offer options for all different types and skill levels of makers.

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