My favourite quilting resource books…don’t judge that book by its cover

After showing pictures and writing about how I made the quilt for Olive,  I thought I’d write a piece about which quilt reference books I turn to all the time.  They’re the quilting books I’d take if I ended up on that island in  Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs (in the program you can only take one book, but I’m greedy and would need these four for sure)…..I’m hoping there would be a supply of fabric and chocolate.


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First up is “Patchwork” by the Grand Dame of patchwork and quilting Averil Colby.  This is the one quilting book I really wouldn’t want to be without.  It is incredibly informative, it covers a good and thorough history of patchwork and although the illustrations inside are mostly black and white (and are often drawn)  it still manages to be inspiring.  This is a book more about patchwork rather than quilting. It covers a lot of the basics about good, simple design of the patchwork. If you are at all interested in making a quilt by hand then I’d really suggest a look at this book.  My own copy is very precious to me because my dad bought it for me.  The book was written in the fifties but in my opinion, what Mrs Coleby wrote then  is still as important today.


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Another golden oldie (first written in 1949) is “The Standard Book of Quilt Making and Collecting” by Marguerite Ickis.  All the illustrations inside are black and white, but it has very clear and precise instructions for how to make a whole range of patchwork tops.  It is a little more dated than the Averil Colby book but again is full of practical instructions and advice.  There is a nice selection of different blocks towards the back of the book, along with some good quilt care and advice.

What I like about these older books is that the quilts that are in them have not been sewn with a whole heap of equipment, just a few basic items.  Although quilting has long been thought of as a thrifty hobby, it often can become very expensive.  A lot of the more modern equipment does only need to be purchased the once so things like rotary cutters, plastic rulers etc can be put on birthday present wish lists, but I think it’s nice to go back to basics every once in a while.


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And here is the new love of my life…check out this bad boy…. “5,500 Quilt Block Designs” by Maggie Malone.  Now who would have thought that there were that many quilt block designs in the world?  Actually they are the patchwork block designs rather than the quilting, but anyway…this book is absolutely flipping fantastic.  I first saw it at my local library and pretty much fell head over heels in love.  Inside there are patterns for thousands of patchwork block patterns, and I’ve been using this as a resource for my Dear Jane inspired quilt.  Some of the blocks are of course very similar to each other, but it shows how a block can alter in appearance just with changing corner squares into triangles for example.   A couple of on-line reviews for this book complained that it doesn’t explain how you put the blocks together and while I appreciate that for beginners this could be a problem, for anyone who has done a couple of hours of patchwork then this shouldn’t be beyond them.

This is such an amazing book, it really can be used in so many ways, from making a quilt with just one block repeated time and time again, to choosing blocks for a traditional sampler quilt.  There is a great section on hexagons so if you want to paper piece a hexagon quilt there are loads of variations here so your quilt would really stand out from the rest.  The book is divided into sections of how many patches a block has (or can be divided into) and this really does help in placing blocks together.  I could talk about how brilliant this book is (being a hefty tome it can even be used to help keep “bingo wings” at bay) check it out form your local library.

I had to order my copy second hand on-line and it wasn’t cheap however it ended up being a birthday present from my mum so now I have fantastic quilt reference books from both my mum and dad.


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Lastly but by no means least (how could any collection of quilting books not include one by  the doyenne of quilting) “The Essential Quilter” by Barbara Chainey.  The quilting really does take centre stage in this book, which personally I think seems to get overlooked with a lot of the modern quilt books.  I know each to their own, and it is all personal preference but if you would like to learn how to make a quilt just that little bit more special then have a read of this lady.  There are some lovely clear instructions on how to hand quilt and some fantastic advice on designing your quilting (not the patchwork).  Some of the quilts photographed do look a bit dated due to fabrics used (we’re talking the nineties here!!) but the advice, techniques and know-how is as relevant as today.

I’ve got a whole shelf full of other quilting books and many of them are very very good, but these are the four that I turn to time and time again, for good, practical advice that is explained thoroughly and thoughtfully these ladies will not let you down.

I know a lovely lady that had some “art classes” not so long ago, and the first lesson or so covered  what I would call basic art exercises (the sort of thing you do the first few weeks of any foundation art course) looking at primary and secondary colours, changing their tones with grey, trying out different media…charcoal, chalks etc… and then she stopped because I think she thought she was going to be taught, straight in, how to “paint a picture” without learning any of the basics that support the know-how in painting that picture.  For me the above quilt books are full of examples that support making a quilt that is going to hold up over time.  Good design principles, thoughtful planning etc.  They may not, at first look, seem the most glamorous and exciting quilting books (I know a couple certainly won’t be the most colourful)  but the writing and advice given are going to be some of the very best.


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