Nonfiction November Week 3: The Quilt Expert

November feels like it’s getting away from me, but that’s okay because it just means we’re ready for week three of Nonfiction November. Here’s the prompt we’re working with this week brought to us by Veronica at The Thousand Book Project:

Week 3 (November 15-19) Be The Expert/ Ask the Expert/ Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

When I started thinking about this week, my mind kept going back to this previous year. Like so many other people during the pandemic, I found myself branching out and trying new things—anything to shake up the monotony of staying home week after week. While I never went as far as making my own bread, there was a point where it felt like I had a new hobby every week. Cross stitching. Bird watching. Painting. Playing with clay.

By the time I began researching making stained glass, I realized I probably needed to slow down and really consider what I wanted before shelling out a bunch of money on equipment.

But for now, there’s one more I want to attempt for the end of the year: quilting. Though I only have limited sewing knowledge thanks to my mother and grandmother, I’ve always loved quilts. They’re works of art, yet they’re practical and, as a craft, have a rich history that marries these two ideas, particularly here in the United States.

However, before I set out to piece a carpenter star or log cabin, I’ve been doing what I usually do: turning to books. With so much lore, technique, and analysis available, I want to take my time to know what I’m doing and why before I jump in.

So while I wouldn’t say I’m a quilting expert by any stretch, here’s a collection of books that have definitely deepened my appreciation for the art—and which have the potential to aid in making me an expert … just as soon as I get my needles moving.


The American Quilt: A History of Cloth and Comfort 1750-1950 by Roderick Kiracofe and Mary Elizabeth Johnson

Kiracofe and Johnson provide a fascinating look at the history of the American quilt, showcasing not only its evolution but also its impact and the lives of the individuals who developed it. They also provide an in-depth view of how quilts become products of the eras they’re constructed.


Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon by Janneken Smucker

Amish quilts have become some of the most sought after in the industry, purchased by tourists and even those who will never set foot in these communities. However, that hasn’t always been the case. Here, Smucker explores this complicated consumer history and attempts to uncover just what makes a quilt Amish.


How to Stitch an American Dream: A Story of Family, Faith and the Power of Giving by Jenny Doan

Talking to quilters, there are few companies that get as much of a reaction as Missouri Star Quilt Company. Starting as a small shop and gradually expanding, it’s now the world’s largest supplier of pre-cut quilting fabrics. The reason for its success? Well, most quilters would say it’s owner Jenny Doan herself. In this memoir, she gives a good look at the work that goes into all those stitches.


Stitching Stolen Lives: Amplifying Voices, Empowering Youth & Building Empathy Through Quilts by Sara Trail and Teresa Duryea Wong

The Social Justice Sewing Academy Remembrance Project was designed as a way to remember those who’ve died because of social injustice. Here, their quilt blocks—crafted by young adult students balancing expression and protest—are showcased along with contextual information. It’s a reminder of how powerful quilting and art can be.


Once Upon a Quilt: A Scrapbook of Quilting Past and Present edited by Margret Aldrich

One of the best ways to learn about a hobby is to hear from those who have been immersed in it for a while. In this anthology, Aldrich has collected a series of stories, anecdotes, and other short nonfiction pieces from quilters who share their love for this artform.


Quilts in the Attic: Uncovering the Hidden Stories of the Quilts We Love by Karen Musgrave

Many quilters quilt with the intention of their work being passed down generationally or otherwise gifted. However, things don’t always work out that way. Here, Musgrave looks at the social history of thirty quilts—some found in attics, others purchased at flea markets, others almost lost—all of them beautiful pieces that just needed unearthing and rediscovering.


The Quilt’s of Gee’s Bend by William Arnett, Jane Livingston, Alvia Wardlaw, and John Beardsley

There are few quilts spoken about in the United States with as much awe as those from the people of Gee’s Bend. Each of them breathtaking, these quilts are an artform that’s so deeply ingrained in the community that it’s practically synonymous with it. For the images alone, this book is worth reading, but the stories it showcases provide a fascinating overview of these stunning creations.


Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle by Clare Hunter

While this book is not entirely focused on quilting, Hunter does mention quilts in her exploration of sewing. From the Bayeux Tapestry to the AIDS Memorial Quilt, Hunter looks at sewing as a way of impacting history and responding to it. At the same time, she expertly blends in her own experiences to create a wonderfully unique book about crafting.


Why We Quilt: Contemporary Makers Speak Out about the Power of Art, Activism, Community, and Creativity by Thomas Knauer

While the history of quilting is important, it’s impossible to become an expert without understanding what’s going on with quilting today. Here, Knauer shines light on contemporary quilters, focusing not just on their projects by what draws them to the craft and how they’ve influenced it through their work.


The month might be over half finished, but there’s still time to participate in Nonfiction November. If you’re interested, head over to The Thousand Book Project and link your post—and check out all the other amazing posts for this week!

You can also participate on Instagram with events being hosted by Jaymi @theocbookgirl. Just use #nonfictionbookparty

11 Comments

  1. I like to think about the way that human stories can be woven together with these humble objects and how they also can be things of beauty. Nice topic!

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  2. That’s such a coincidence because I posted about embroidery for my Week 3 . I used to do quite a lot of it years back including quilting. It seems to me that quilting has made it into the 21st century in a way that other embroidery related crafts haven’t but I may be wrong about that. Many thanks for your post and for hosting week 4. I also feel November is escaping.

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  3. Beautiful post celebrating an important part of our history. I love fiber arts and am blessed to have received quilts made by both my mother and mother-in-law. (Your lockdown forays into hobbies makes me smile at all your varied interests. And of course you have to start by reading and researching! The lockdown affected all of us in so many ways–and still does.)

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  4. This is an excellent list of books about quilting. While not non-fiction, the Elm Creek Quilts series by Jennifer Chiaverini is a great look at how quilts can change lives and possibly even history.

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  5. Oh I LOVE this topic! A friend in NYC got into quilting in the last few years and hers are just gorgeous. She’s found such unique fabric prints too, and put together color and pattern combinations that I would never in a million years have thought of and yet they look amazing. The storytelling element of it takes it to another level as a pastime. Good luck with beginning on this journey! I’ve seen how fulfilling it can be 🙂

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