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Books to Buy: The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook

Many moons ago I wrote book reviews as a part of my job. No matter what, we had to find something nice to say about the book and encourage folks to buy it, but the truth is I never liked that. I love getting advance copies of books and getting the time to peruse them, but I don’t like having to recommend a book when I wouldn’t actually do so in real life.

These days I don’t work for any publications or marketing avenues, so I get to tell you the truth about my opinion on sewing/quilting books. I’ve decided I will only share with you the books to buy, so I’m kicking it off with one of my favorite authors: Thomas Knauer’s The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook: 91 Modern Art-Inspired Designs and Exercises.

Years ago, I spied Thomas Knauer at Quilt Market sporting a shoulder tote made with his new-at-the-time Pear Tree collection with Andover Fabrics. It’s still one of my favorites and so is Thomas. He is talented, opinionated, understanding and generous. What you see is what you get with Thomas and, for that, I adore him. And did I mention how smart he is? Well, he is and incredibly so. Best of all, he’s more than happy to share that with you and he does so brilliantly in his latest book.

The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook came out from Storey Publishing last year and my admiration has only grown over the months of reading it, exploring the concepts and putting the workbook to use. I’ve read over it on planes, taken it to bed to draw out shapes, sat at cafes with it and colored. It’s become a favorite, indeed, because it’s for quilters like me.

I came into the quilting world from the craft side. I’ve long been a maker and I love being able to create useful and pretty things, but I do not have an art background and most of the fancy art-world lexicon goes right over my head. I feel reticent to share my designs with the world, unable to blather on about them with any sort of intelligence. That’s where  The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook comes into play.

Thomas divided the book up into seven different sections focusing on different aspects of modern art: Space, Balance, Chance & Intuition, Simplicity, The Grid, The Geometric Environment, and Repetition & Iteration.  Then he walks your through each, gently explaining with clear examples what he’s talking about with each. {Read his take on it here.}

It is awesome.

Each section dives into the topic, then shares examples of art and quilts that show off that aspect. But that’s not it, he then gives you the opportunity to put it to use and for me this is really the kicker. I can read about art. I understand about balance and negative space and how things are laid out on a grid, etc., etc. Except when it comes down to it, I don’t know how to take that and make it into a purposeful quilt design. The whole point of the book, it seems to me, is to help the reader do just that.

In short, I think it’s a magical book and you should totally buy it.

For a bit more info, let me share with you what I did. First, I read the entire book cover to cover on a flight home. Then I went and made copies of the different design and coloring pages. I’m one of those, yes. Then I started with the first section: Space.

Thomas talks about the idea of filling space and using space, then tells us how Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse all worked with this idea of space in their varied styles of art. He includes pictures and explanations and at the end of reading it, you just feel like you had a mini art history lesson. I kinda love it.

Then I decided to jump in and just do it. I started with the easier part: coloring. (There are seven coloring exercises and five design exercises in this section.) The Stutter Step exercise says to “[d]evelop a color system that repeated, but with an offset (that is, the shapes that are repeated are int eh same color one row up and two columns over). Play with creating a color system that is not strictly horizontal or vertical to produce a secondary visual rhythm.”

Then I picked six fabrics that would work well together, I thought and just randomly used them in place of the colors I’d used on the page. They are 2 1/2″ tall with 5″ wide bases, just in case you wondered.

Then I set to arranging them in strips, then sewing strips together until I got this lovely thing:

I have no idea what I’ll do with it, but that wasn’t the point of this exercise. It was to explore the use of color and rhythm and an offset repetition. And I’m happy with it. I like the way it jogs over. I like how it made me try to make my points match. I like how it shifts and moves.

Now onto one of the design exercises and see what that teaches me. When you get the book, let me know and we can work on one together!

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Modern Quilt Perspectives {book review}


It’s finally here, the book that Thomas told me he would someday write way back when we first met at Quilt Market. Houston in 2011, right, Thomas?

I’d already fallen for his first collection, Pear Tree, and its lovely muted colors (the same just-off hues that would sucker me into every TK collection).  We’d talked online thanks to my work for FabShop News magazine and I was both awed and honored when he went out of his way to talk to me in the wide aisles of Market. He told me his ideas for a book and I knew this guy was different.

Spend five minutes talking to Thomas and you’ll be awed by his vast knowledge and ability to pull info, facts and connections seemingly out of thin air. I like to think the guy is a genius. He chalks it up to a lot of schooling. I’ll agree to something in the middle.

Thomas’ skill at drawing connections and thinking beyond the “Isn’t that pretty?” that infiltrates the fabric world continues to amaze and inspire me. And it is in that unique way that Modern Quilt Perspectives unfolds.

Essays. Quilt patterns. Sidebars of wisdom. It’s a remarkable book and I can’t recommend it enough.

In particular I want to share about the Excess quilt. No, I didn’t have anything to do with it (though I did make an ‘I’ for the Identity quilt!).  It’s just one that symbolizes all that this book does.

Here, take a look:

Lovely, right? It is an incredibly long quilt (13 feet, in fact!) and when I was flipping through the book for the first time, it caught my eye with its size and the preponderance of reds and dashes of green and blue. It’s scrappy the way scrappy ought to be, I thought.

It wasn’t until I stopped to actually read the accompanying essay, that I understood its importance as a piece of art, an unspoken message.

And that’s something that Thomas never  forgets or looks past. Quilts are art. They can be powerful, awe-inspiring, meditative and breathtaking. This quilt took my breath away.

In Excess, there are 1,600 of those little 2-1/2″ blocks. It’s not a random number, something picked out of the air or decided on when the quilt got to the right size. No, that number was chosen for a reason.

Every year, approximately 1,600 women and men are killed in acts of domestic violence in the United States, victimized by their partners and spouses. … Excess is a memorial to this overwhelming reality, a visualization of the forest of loss. Each of the 1,600 squares in the quilt represents a death, with each red or orange stripe a woman killed, and each blue or green one a man.

Now go look at that quilt again and meditate on those numbers, that issue.

Then go read how Lisa quilted it with the text from the United States’ Violence Against Women Act.

This is what makes Modern Quilt Perspectives more than just a quilting book. There is substance and depth and meaning, so much meaning, to all of it. Thank you, Thomas, for reminding me (us?) of the import of it all.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .


I decided I  would make the pattern myself (this is a quilting book after all), though not in the numbers that Excess originally calls for. Just a few dozen in my favorite greys. I haven’t decided how big I’ll make it, or quite what I’ll do with it when I have pieced it together. But I can tell you that the quilts in Modern Quilt Perspectives are not only powerful art, but that they are well-written patterns as well.


So get to it–go get the book, read it, learn from it and venture onward. I can promise you this: it will change the way you look at quilts and the messages they can send.

Thank you, Thomas, for an amazing book, jaw-dropping quilts and for being you.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

A giveaway! I almost forgot. Tell me what issue/message you’d quilt about if you could. Personally, I’m pondering ways to put the struggles and joys of solo parenting into fabric form. Let me know if you have any ideas. Comments will close on Monday 4/7 at midnight. Winner announced 4/9.

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Thank you, Thomas.

peartreeI first heard of Thomas Knauer back in 2011 when he was releasing his first line with Andover. It was a lovely collection called “Pear Tree” and I remember seeing him in Houston at Quilt Market carrying a bag he had made out of this lovely large-scale partridge-in-a-pear-tree print. I was too shy to say anything, but seeing the fabric in-person sealed the deal.

I was sold on his designs.

The colors are what really get me and I wish I had the art background to explain what it is that makes them so appealing to me. The yellows aren’t bright yellow, the oranges are just slightly different than one would expect and the greens make me swoon. I adore his use of simplicity and repetition while not making the fabrics basic and boring. I bought bits of Pear Tree and Savanna Bop, and Thesaurus has been on my t0-buy list since he posted that he was doing a word-themed fabric.

Not only is Thomas a wonderful fabric designer, he also does quilt patterns and does an astounding job at it. And not only that, he is one of the most honest people you’ll meet. So when he promised he’d send me fabric to make clothes for the Tam Ky orphans, I knew he would.

And on Monday, he did.

20130501-071806.jpgStacked on my couch it measured 39 inches high, more fabric than I could have imagined he would send. I was, and am still, awed.

So now I am planning a sewing day at Modern Domestic and hopefully one or two more. There’s no way I can do this alone, I need my sewing and quilting friends more than ever. [Portland peeps–I’m looking at you!] But I cannot wait. I am already planning which fabric for shorts, which for dresses and pulling others to make coverlets for the beds.

Thank you, Thomas, for your support and generosity. I owe you one.