review sewing

Books to Buy: The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook

Many moons ago I wrote book reviews as a part of my job. No matter what, we had to find something nice to say about the book and encourage folks to buy it, but the truth is I never liked that. I love getting advance copies of books and getting the time to peruse them, but I don’t like having to recommend a book when I wouldn’t actually do so in real life.

These days I don’t work for any publications or marketing avenues, so I get to tell you the truth about my opinion on sewing/quilting books. I’ve decided I will only share with you the books to buy, so I’m kicking it off with one of my favorite authors: Thomas Knauer’s The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook: 91 Modern Art-Inspired Designs and Exercises.

Years ago, I spied Thomas Knauer at Quilt Market sporting a shoulder tote made with his new-at-the-time Pear Tree collection with Andover Fabrics. It’s still one of my favorites and so is Thomas. He is talented, opinionated, understanding and generous. What you see is what you get with Thomas and, for that, I adore him. And did I mention how smart he is? Well, he is and incredibly so. Best of all, he’s more than happy to share that with you and he does so brilliantly in his latest book.

The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook came out from Storey Publishing last year and my admiration has only grown over the months of reading it, exploring the concepts and putting the workbook to use. I’ve read over it on planes, taken it to bed to draw out shapes, sat at cafes with it and colored. It’s become a favorite, indeed, because it’s for quilters like me.

I came into the quilting world from the craft side. I’ve long been a maker and I love being able to create useful and pretty things, but I do not have an art background and most of the fancy art-world lexicon goes right over my head. I feel reticent to share my designs with the world, unable to blather on about them with any sort of intelligence. That’s where  The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook comes into play.

Thomas divided the book up into seven different sections focusing on different aspects of modern art: Space, Balance, Chance & Intuition, Simplicity, The Grid, The Geometric Environment, and Repetition & Iteration.  Then he walks your through each, gently explaining with clear examples what he’s talking about with each. {Read his take on it here.}

It is awesome.

Each section dives into the topic, then shares examples of art and quilts that show off that aspect. But that’s not it, he then gives you the opportunity to put it to use and for me this is really the kicker. I can read about art. I understand about balance and negative space and how things are laid out on a grid, etc., etc. Except when it comes down to it, I don’t know how to take that and make it into a purposeful quilt design. The whole point of the book, it seems to me, is to help the reader do just that.

In short, I think it’s a magical book and you should totally buy it.

For a bit more info, let me share with you what I did. First, I read the entire book cover to cover on a flight home. Then I went and made copies of the different design and coloring pages. I’m one of those, yes. Then I started with the first section: Space.

Thomas talks about the idea of filling space and using space, then tells us how Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse all worked with this idea of space in their varied styles of art. He includes pictures and explanations and at the end of reading it, you just feel like you had a mini art history lesson. I kinda love it.

Then I decided to jump in and just do it. I started with the easier part: coloring. (There are seven coloring exercises and five design exercises in this section.) The Stutter Step exercise says to “[d]evelop a color system that repeated, but with an offset (that is, the shapes that are repeated are int eh same color one row up and two columns over). Play with creating a color system that is not strictly horizontal or vertical to produce a secondary visual rhythm.”


Then I picked six fabrics that would work well together, I thought and just randomly used them in place of the colors I’d used on the page. They are 2 1/2″ tall with 5″ wide bases, just in case you wondered.

Then I set to arranging them in strips, then sewing strips together until I got this lovely thing:

I have no idea what I’ll do with it, but that wasn’t the point of this exercise. It was to explore the use of color and rhythm and an offset repetition. And I’m happy with it. I like the way it jogs over. I like how it made me try to make my points match. I like how it shifts and moves.

Now onto one of the design exercises and see what that teaches me. When you get the book, let me know and we can work on one together!