Seong Eun Lee "Blinding Wave" (detail)

SDA Book Club: “Why We Quilt” reviewed by Faith Hagenhofer

This month’s addition to the SDA Book Club is “Why We Quilt” by our recurring reviewer, Faith Hagenhofer. “Why We Quilt” “showcases a stunning collection of quilts from a wide range of contemporary makers, accompanied by their testimonials about what inspires and imbues their craft with meaning.”

“Why We Quilt : Contemporary Makers Speak Out. The Power of Art, Activism, Community, and Creativity” by Thomas Knauer, reviewed by Faith Hagenhofer

This is a tidy little, small “c” coffee table book, in which Thomas Knauer has collected gorgeous images of quilts and some short statements by the quiltmakers themselves. He has added historical information about quilt making to underscore  an assumption that the practices and objects are foundational to an American story, and glossary information for non-quilters including a few basic patterns, but not instructions. His intermittent commentary acknowledges the awesomeness of simple handmaking and the objects that result.

As Debbie Grifka is quoted as saying “I understand the long line of women who loved sewing and took the opportunity to make something essential into something beautiful that reflected their own personalities, thoughts, and feelings about the world around them”.  We might think the skills to be limited to those with lineage teaching, but Grifka continues “I grew up without any extended family in my life, so working in fabric connects me to those I never knew”. While some of the makers come from formal design educations, as many  are entirely self-taught, and the rest benefitted from a relative’s teaching.  Others speak of portability, slowness, making something larger than the sum of its parts, warmth, and story-telling. 

The title nods directly to the reasons given by quiltmakers in this collection:  they are making objects that come from their own creativity, while nodding to all the history and traditions both they and user/viewers bring to the quilts in their lives.  Like makers of all kinds, they act on and feel like part of something larger, a connected community of makers connecting through their made things. We (and I count myself in here) make quilts for both lofty and grounded reasons, usually manifest in the same quilt. All our makings, these quilts notwithstanding, speak to both our condition and our situations in the wider world; as makers our opinions and reactions show up visually. 

Knauer’s may be among the most political of the collection, and he says of his own work “my quilts are still materially comfortable, but they are emotionally fraught…I think of (them) as archiving the things that should never be forgotten” , objects of multi-layered meaning. As to this particular choice of medium Chawne Kimber says “quilting is about comfort, glory and honor of craftsmanship… when this becomes irrelevant in our society, we have much bigger problems to address.”

Faith Hagenhoferis a fiber artist, shepherd, retired librarian, and has been involved with Surface Design Association for more than a dozen years. She serves as the South Puget Sound (Washington, US) SDA contact.

  • Publisher: Storey Books (buy it here)
  • Date: October 2019
  • ISBN:9781635860337

If you’ve read this book, leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Do you have a recommendation for a recent fiber-related book you think should be included in SDA’s Book Club? Email SDA’s Managing Editor, Lauren Sinner, to let her know!

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