The Best Book You’ll Read This Summer

design, fabric, inspiration, quilting, sewing

May 1. Today’s the day that you’ll finally be able to read Rachel May’s epic 400-page book An American Quilt. Do yourself a favor and suggest this book for your book group or quilting bee because it’s the perfect read to discuss with quilters and bibliophiles alike.

The breadth and details in this book are as fascinating as the true story that forms the skeleton of the book. May delves into the history and background of not only an unfinished quilt made from fabrics from the 1830s but also the household of the couple who made it. It’s a tangled web indeed that spans from New England to the Caribbean as well as the historical backdrop of both white and slave family life during the era, the slave trade, trade routes between the agrarian south and the industrialized north and everyday details of 19th century life.

An American Quilt is a work of creative non-fiction, which is not a genre I’ve explored before so it’s worth explaining if it’s unfamiliar to you as well. May uses a bountiful supply of letters, photos, ephemera, the quilt itself and historical records from New England to the Caribbean to piece together the story with painstaking detail. Overlaid on the story of the quilt, however, is May’s own story as she takes us along as she pieces it all together. She describes her own journey of finding parts of the story and how she imagines the characters must have felt or interacted. Weaving together the facts she discovers, May also suggests possible context when she doesn’t have documentation to make the story more coherent.

May’s device of taking us on her journey to research the story of the quilt makes An American Quilt an intimate read. You’re there in the room as she delicately handles the quilt and reads the words “Seaman,” “Barbados,” and “casks” on the papers used for piecing the quilt. You go with her to Charleston where she combs through the files of the Historical Society to find more information of the characters we meet in the story. You sip coffee with her in Havana as she searches for information on the slaves she’s researching. For me, this is what brings so much life to An American Quilt. There are two parallel stories unfolding as you read. May also takes you on occasional “field trips” to give the reader historical context on how fabric was dyed at the time, how Rhode Island and Charleston, South Carolina became so closely linked in trade, what medicine was like for slaves, how rum production was linked to the slave trade and how the legal system treated slaves for example.

Reading An American Quilt reframes the way many of us will see historical quilts moving forward as not just the quaint product of the maker but as also having an additional complex backstory of the lives, culture and commerce that were part of the production of the cloth and the making of the quilt itself.

 

 

Black and White and Read All Over

design, fabric, quilting, sewing

In the past few years, nearly every fabric designer — including us —  has come out with a black and white fabric line. Now the Smithsonian has published a fascinating article on the history of black and white fabric in the US. Who knew that black and white fabrics came into vogue as a result of President Woodrow Wilson’s marriage coinciding with the start of World War I, which created a dye shortage in the US? It’s a fascinating read and shows us once again that the cultural and geo-political history of fabric is full of surprises.

Where You’ll Find Us

design, fabric, general crafts, quilting

Most days we’re in our studio or office in the historic village of Oak Park, Illinois, which borders Chicago. Thanks to social media, however, we get to connect every day with people around the world through this blog, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. Here’s how we use each of them:

Craft Nectar

We use this blog to share longer-format ideas, free patterns, topics in the quilting and craft worlds and projects or designers whose work we think you’d find inspiring. We post here when we have news or a new project to share and it shows up on our Facebook page as well. Weeks has a personal blog Yes, It’s My Real Name, where she writes about topics unrelated to quilting.

Facebook

We post information about special sales, pictures from shows and in-progress quilt shots on the Modern Quilt Studio Facebook page. If you only want to follow us in one place, this is the site where we can easily link to Pinterest and Instagram. We also have occasional giveaways or online offers on this page.

Many people send Facebook requests to our personal Facebook pages. Facebook limits the number of people we can have as friends on our personal pages but doesn’t limit the number of people who can follow our business page. In addition, we use our personal pages for non-work-related posts (family news, thoughts about current events, pictures of our foster pets, etc.) Most people who send friend requests to our personal Facebook pages often don’t realize that they are personal pages and are looking for quilting posts so we encourage them to like our business page to find posts that will be of interest to them.

Instagram

We use Instagram for pretty pictures, sometimes shots we’ve featured in our publication Modern Quilts Illustrated or others we’ve taken while we’re on the road. Sometimes they are related to our work and sometimes they are just beautiful images from our garden. We post images that we hope will inspire you to see design differently. And occasionally we can’t resist sharing a cute picture of one of our foster pets. We generally post daily on Instagram, linking all shots from Instagram to the Modern Quilt Studio Facebook page. You’ll find us on Instagram as Modern Quilt Studio.

Pinterest

Our Pinterest posts are divided onto boards by various topics. We show our fabric, patterns, and ideas that we hope will inspire you to take on a new project. Posts may include a quilting detail so you can see a thread color or a pattern that you might want to try. Other posts show how we organize our tools or store fabric. Our goal on Pinterest is to help you see possibilities and fearlessly try something new. Typically we post several times a week a variety of posts to different boards. We link our Pinterest posts to the Modern Quilt Facebook page as well. You’ll find us on Pinterest as Modern Quilt Studio.

ModernQuiltStudio.com

Want to windowshop or actually shop at 2am when you can’t sleep? Our webstore is always open! If you don’t see something you’re looking for, it means it’s out of stock or we don’t carry it as our system is constantly updating inventory. Fabrics and kits sell out quickly so if you put something in your cart last month, it may not still be there. As always, shipping to US addresses is FREE! If you mis-cut a piece or want backing options for a quilt in progress, feel free to call us at (708) 445-1817. Nancy, our wonderful and knowledgeable studio manager, will take good care of you if we’re not available.

If you’re interested in hiring us for lectures or workshops, you’ll find our Booking FAQs a helpful read before you email or call us. Descriptions of our lectures and workshops are here. Please email booking requests to sales@modernquiltstudio.com. We’re fully booked through January 2017 but are taking requests for 2017-18 now.