Saturday, November 10, 2007

Book Review: The Uncommon Quilter

By now, most art quilters are familiar with the concept of journal quilts -- making small quilts in regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly) to try new techniques and reflect one's current experience in fiber art.

Well, Jeanne Williamson is the artist who really got this journal quilt ball rolling. It was Jeanne's process of making a quilt a week that inspired Karey Bresnahan to launch the Journal Quilt Project at Quilt Festival in Houston years ago. (And by the way, Jeanne's blog is on the Artful Quilters Blog Ring!) And since then, through their inspiration, so many quilters have learned the benefits of pushing oneself creatively through regular, small quilt pieces.

Jeanne Williamson's creativity in journal quilts is on display in her new book The Uncommon Quilter. In it, Jeanne shows how to make miniature art quilts using a variety of quilt techniques and an assortment of unusual materials. She addresses how to set up a template for yourself to make regular repetition easier, and features a bunch of unusual materials for fun experimenting -- plastic bags, plastic netting, paper scraps, and the like.

The book is organized by showing specific instructions for 52 different projects. While the projects are interesting and it's useful to see how Jeanne creates these pieces, for me the exciting part about this book is the creativity it inspires. I don't think I'm going to rush out and starting making quilts with the plastic mesh my onions came in or the left-over adhesive bits from stickers... But I will be looking at the things around me a bit differently, wondering whether they'd serve as inspiration for a small fiber art piece. To see how Jeanne finds inspiration in every day objects, shapes, and textures is quite instructive.

One thing about this book that I really like is that there are full-page, clear illustrations of the journal quilts. You can see great detail of every piece. The other aspect of this book I appreciate is that the quilts in here are fast, achievable journal quilts. For the most part, they are simple concepts and abstract images. They're not the result of weeks' worth of work-- I like the reminder that artistic exploration can be fast and fun and worth it in and of itself. These are not grand art, and they're not the heavily layered, painted, beaded, and hand-stitched journal quilts that are showing in magazines and looking more and more alike all the time. I'm drawn toward strong and simple graphics (I just love the cover of this book) so maybe the clean-ness of the example projects suits my aesthetic more than it would someone who likes more realistic or traditional imagery. Still, I like how the examples in this book focus on straight-forward design, composition, and the fun of seeing what can be done with new materials.

If you're an experienced art quilter, you might want to check this book out as a way to jump-start your thinking conceptually about what new ideas and materials to explore. If you're just starting to explore art quilting, this book will walk you through the processes Jeanne uses and get you playing with art quilts right away.

I bought a copy of this to give to my friend Pat for her birthday, knowing that Pat is great at making fun and clever small quilts, and thinking that she'd be inspired by the different ideas in this book. It was quite a hit!

Actually, now that I think of it, this book would be a great self-challenge source. Flip it open to any page, and make a journal quilt using the technique shown or inspired by the project on that page.

Ready? Set? .....


  1. I got to review it too. I think her concept of art quilts is brilliant and so easy and quick to make up too.

  2. Thanks for the review - I put it on My Christmas list a few days ago and I'm glad now. If hubby does not buy it I will in January. Ok. On boxing day :)