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Tuesday, June 17, 2008


A Fat, Full Thing

The Quilter’s Catalogue: A Comprehensive Resource Guide
By Meg Cox
Workman Publishing, 2008
Paperbound: 598 pages
Retail Price: $18.95

In her acknowledgments to this book, author Meg Cox starts by thanking her publisher, Workman Publishing of New York, for turning down her proposal for the book, twice. Their resistance, and her consequent persistence in improving the scope and quality of The Quilter's Catalogue, made it, as she says, “the fat, full thing” that it is. At nearly 600 pages, it is probably the biggest quilt book you’re ever going to find. You’re unlikely to find one more comprehensive or enthusiastic, either. There appears to be no quilt-related subject too obscure, no technique too arcane, no quilt tool too specialized for Meg’s voracious appetite.

As you have probably already gathered, this book departs significantly from the standard model quilt book. It is not primarily about technique or projects (though some are included, about which more later), and it is not a full-color book of instructions on how to make a quilt sandwich. Meg’s purpose is broader – nothing less than to create the comprehensive encyclopedia of quilting available. She wants to create a resource guide for the initiated and uninitiated alike, to the vast, complex universe that quilting has become.

Meg’s background is as a journalist (a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal), but she knows that quilters like it personal, so the book begins with what all quilters want to share, her personal quilting history. After recounting her family quilting tradition, she tells the story of finishing a complex appliqué quilt her mother left partly completed at her death. The quilt was being made for Meg’s niece, and though the technique was beyond her skill at the time, Meg promised to complete it (it took five years). After this personal introduction, which establishes her credentials as a quilter, Meg then takes us all for a roller-coaster ride. She debunks six quilt myths (beginning with “Like jazz, quilting is an American invention”) and gives us a fascinating survey of “Who Quilts Today and Why.” Along the way we get to meet a varied cast that includes the Gees Bend quilters, Calvin Cooledge, and Celia Eddy, among a gazillion others.

So what aspect of the craft are you interested in? Quilting and computers? Internet resources for quilters? Building a fabric stash? Using photos in your quilts? Fabric dying? No matter what your interest, Meg not only has it covered, but provides a wealth of further resources. One might think, with all the information now available on the internet, that a book of this type would be hard-pressed to add anything to the conversation. But what this book provides is an organizing intelligence, a sorting service, and a tour guide of the quilting galaxy.

I said at the beginning that The Quilter’s Catalogue departs from the standard model of quilting books, which are mostly about projects and techniques. But despite being crowded with factoids, tips, and encouraging words, the book makes room for twelve charming projects. My favorite is the Fruit Tart Pincushion, based on a design by Ami Simms, and which looks for all the world like a piece of finely shaped pastry. The instructions for this and the other projects are very detailed, and accompanied by great diagrams, templates, and technical tips. Although most of the book is printed in two colors to keep the cost reasonable, there is a full-color section covering the twelve projects.

On the back cover of The Quilter's Catalogue is a banner that says "The Bee-All and End-All." That's an excellent description of the most comprehensive quilting resource you're likely to find. And which can all be yours for less than twenty bucks.

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