Sunday, June 10, 2007

Quilters piece together soul-touching book

By Judith Farrell, The Daily News

“American Patchwork: True Stories from Quilters” edited by Sonja Hakala, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, 217 pages, $23.95.

There is no better remedy for the soul than this collection of 67 stories contributed by quilters nationwide and edited by Sonja Hakala, who has a knack for nurturing her readers.

Pop culture would have us believe that no one quilts, no one crochets, no one knits. Seldom do publishers consider handmade crafts like these to be relative to the new millennium.

So it is with great pleasure that I share this collection with readers.

In the introduction, Hakala adds a bit of history, “The origins of quilting in America lie more in the region of legend than truth.”

She also captures in few words those incentives that motivate quilters: “…quilting can be an act of will, of self-expression and of love. Quilting keeps the hand and mind busy so that the heart can heal when there’s trouble.”

Each short narrative addresses a unique view of quilting. One woman delivers handmade quilts to the children’s ward of local hospitals as part of Project Linus. One woman’s story about a Fabric Connection project matches quilters with others like them south of the boarder.

One woman relates a story from the past. She and her husband were stationed in Germany. The Post Exchange had a limited supply of cotton fabric; her husband, in “full battle rattle,” crossed the East German border to get her a variety of prints and solids.

In another account, Laurel tells readers that she purchased a quilt shop rather than see it go out of business. A couple of male writers explain that, although they are novices, the creative nature of quilting attracts them to the craft.

A humorous story by Becky Sunderman is a guide to finding places to hide a quilter’s stash. Between the mattress and box springs, in the freezer marked “beef brains,” in the trunk of the car, in empty luggage are all ideal hiding places. Evidently, the desire to create a quilt leads to overstocking.

A reader can’t help but notice the names of the authors of the brief anecdotes — once common, are no longer splashed about at family gatherings. There are dozens of similar names; to be fair, a few more modern names dot the collection, but the classic names add credibility to the collection.

The stories are informative — all about things that matter to quilters and those wannabes. The Crazy Quilt, Nine Patch and the Log Cabin seem to be the easiest patterns to duplicate. Quilters can hand sew, machine sew or tie a quilt — whichever they prefer. The scrappie and sampler are the most versatile.

The narratives drop names that seem to matter a great deal. The Vermont Quilt Festival offers workshops to quilters. The Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery displays quilts from improvisationalists like Nancy Crow.

Lynn Heath “started quilting because quilts don’t talk back.” I truly believe that that is why anyone enjoys a hobby or craft.

Judith Farrell, a high school teacher, lives in League City.

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