03 December, 2010


Let's talk books.

I've reviewed a few books here and plan to review a lot more in the coming months. Before I go any further I wanted to bring up a conversation here.

There was a comment on last week's post by Weeks Ringle, one of the authors of The Modern Quilt Workshop, among others. Her comment led to a series of emails between she and I about the writing in quilt books.

I'm a fan of good writing. Just like I'm a fan of a cup of strong tea, colour, and the Edmonton Oilers. I also enjoy entertaining writing, or a piece that challenges or motivates me. While I've only read a couple dozen or so quilt books in my time I can say that it isn't always the writing that attracts me to the book.

Too often, a quilt book is a section outlining the concepts of the book - what makes this book different from all the rest of the books out there - followed by a basics quilting section. After that it is a bunch of patterns. The vast majority of books are glorified packages of patterns.

To be clear, I don't actually see anything wrong with that. I don't own many of this type of book, but they serve a purpose and can be quite motivating. What makes a book buyable and frequently browsed - to me - will be the good writing.

If I flip through a book and the patterns are interesting or exciting to me the first thing I do is read the Introduction. Bad or boring writing usually causes me to set the book down. I'll probably take a mental note of what I liked from the patterns and file it away for later inspiration. If the writing is engaging or grabs me with a challenging concept I am far more likely to take the book.

Of course, I'm also a sucker for pretty and clean layouts.

This leads me to what Weeks Ringle and I were chatting about - what is the appropriate level of personality in a book? The visuals, aside from the quilts themselves, are a strong part of the personality of the author. Compare Simplify with Camille Roskelly with The Practical Guide to Patchwork by Elizabeth Hartman, for example. Same publisher, same book format. But visually they are very different.

The writing is also part of the personality. And making the writing personal is about more than adding a whole pile of exclamation points or silly jokes. Being able to write in a voice that sounds like you when you are talking doesn't come to everyone. More importantly, being able to do so well and still be engaging is a big challenge. Even if you can do it well, it is hard to be great at it all the time.

In a book that is outlining specific concepts or technical design information, is there a place for personality? That was the question Weeks and I were debating. Or it is better to be succinct and specific?

This, of course also leads to the inherent links between blogging and books. Are they separate? Should they be? If you blog and write a book, how much of one should make it to the other - marketing aside?

I'm going to turn it back to you now. You've read the questions above. You've probably read a million books on your own. What are your thoughts? Oh, one more question. What is your experience as a quilter and what type of books do you like to read?


Joyce said...

I read quite a few blogs by authors and I think the two are pretty much intertwined. The blog seems to be a testing place for the book. I see nothing wrong with that.
I have a LOT of quilting books but my favorites are always technique rather than pattern. My favorite book is Collaborative Quilting by Marston and Moran . Some, like those by Kaffe Fasset, are simply eye candy and I don't need the words or patterns. The wonderful photography is enough.

Katie said...

For me it is a combination of visuals and writing. The first things that draw me to a book are the pictures and the layout. Do I want to LIVE in the place that this book creates? Do these pages paint a better version of how I'd like to create? If the answer is yes, I'll likley buy the book (latest example is last minute patch work...LOVE!)

However (and that is a big however) bad, boring writing is such a turn off. I have to say, the last Kaffe book I read had horrible captions and that was mostly the only text in the book. It felt as if the publisher asked for captions at the last minute, and he scrawled out a few lines while waiting for an airplane. That's really dissapointing to me.

I love it when authors describe their inspiration and how they thought up the pattern/construction technique.

Jennifer said...

I love to write and I love to quilt so good writing is important to me if I am going to buy {or even read} a quilting book.

Most books do not contain quilts that I wouldn't be able to do without the pattern so I am more interested in the writing at this point. I like personality in the writing because I think it shows the author's passion behind the quilting. If it's cold or boring, I'm typically not crazy about the book.

As for blogging and a book; I would hope that a book would contain new content instead of feeling like it was pulled from blog pages. I purchased a book a few years ago that a well known blogger wrote {not a quilter}. I was so disappointed because the book was nothing more tha a reprint of the blog. I felt like I completely wasted my money.

Great topic!

Jennifer :)

Rossie said...

I like arguments. In the academic sense. I want people to have a point of view, not to say "oh, every choice is great" over and over. By all means, be kind and encouraging, but if you think a certain kind of quilting is ugly, come out and say it and then explain your proclamation.

Look up "nice" in an etymological dictionary: it means ignorant. Yep, I don't like "nice" in my books.

~Michelle~ said...

I agree with Joyce's comments... I'm probably more about the eye candy, then I want clear & concise directions if I'm actually going to make something...but I like some of the personality to pop up in sidebars, etc.

BTW - I imagine that you blog write exactly how you speak aloud...

Pamela said...

I think that the personality of the writing definitely matters to me if I am going to invest in a book. But another important aspect of writing is the clarity of the instructions - and unfortunately that isn't always apparent until you are in the midst of doing a project. I work in a quilt shop and one aspect of my job is the "translation" of some of these instructions - not always an easy task!

Tara said...

I haven't read a ton of quilting books, but those I have I usually find boring. I'm inclined to flip through the books for inspiration and move on. I do hate when patterns haven't been tested. Weekend sewing is not a quilting book, but I have issues with every pattern I've made--be it typos, layouts that aren't really possible with quantities specified. This is my biggest pet peeve, no one double checking the work!

I think as a blogger, your voice needs to come through. If you have any sort of following, then those that buy your book will want to hear you through the writing.

Victoria said...

Beautiful photos of innovative quilts always draw me in. To keep my attention though, I like a story. I want to know the why, over the how. The inspiration instead of the step-by-step. I want to feel emotion: from the writer, and from my reaction to the writer, (and of course the quilted work has to speak to me as well). That's why I have always gravitated more to books that tell the story of women quilters, (such as "The Quilters: Women and Domestic Art : An Oral History") over books that tell how to make a quilt.

Trudi said...

It's the visuals that draw me in, the clear and concise instruction, the gets the hook and the great wrting, with personality, explaination of whys and wherefores, useful tips and hints the writer found helped them, and sometimes the personal annecdote that finally reels me in the keep net! I love it when I find a book that speaks to me in the authors voice. What a great post you have written.

Esch House Quilts said...

What a wonderful conversation!

Rebekah said...

When it comes to craft books, I'm all about the photography first, then the graphic design, then the writing.

If the book is not laid out well and uses a font that I hate, I probably won't buy it or read it even if it has gorgeous product photos (my graphic design background wins every time).

I'm more likely to "read" a craft book it if has fun notes in the sidebars and I never read introductions.

momto2wasd said...

Good writing is not a requirement for a good quilt book for me. However, if it's really poorly written it will be hard to follow and the instructions will probably be bad, too. Good pictures are a must. They don't have to be artsy but good, clear pictures.
I like books that are pretty and also ones that are practical. I like having personality in the book. If there is no personality, it feels dry and more like a collection of patterns. Which is sometimes okay if they are really great patterns.
I'm pretty wishy washy I guess!

pinkbrain said...

Ok, so I recently discovered your blog. I haven't actually made a quilt yet, but I think I might just start. I can't say what quilt book I like but I can speak from my own experience.

During my studies in art therapy there was much debate over the topic of voice in writing. In traditional academic writing, the voice of the author is decidedly absent. In writing our theses in a milieu that is not purely academic we were divided. Some classes mates ignored their own voice in their writing, while others immersed themselves in it. I felt that I could not properly describe the client/therapist relationships without my voice in my writing.

All this to say, I prefer books where authors use their voice. It makes things much more interesting!

Katherine said...

It's the visuals that initially hook me, but if the writing is cryptic or the instructions are weak, I will walk away from the book. That doesn't mean that I want pages and pages of instruction. Succint is fine, as long as it's clear.

My favourite quilting books combine great and inspiring visuals (love when they show different versions of the same pattern - like in Modern Quilt Workshop), combined with clear instructions and even the story behind the design. It's always interesting to find out about the author through the projects - from their inspiration or struggles with a project right down to "tricks of the trade" which will enrich my understanding of the process and make me feel connected with the author.

Great topic, Cheryl! I enjoy your capacity to start discussions the way you do.

Kristen said...

I need the pictures to draw me in. If I see something that I'm interested in I will go on the read (more likely to skim) over what is there and move on. But mostly I like to look through quilt books for visual inspiration.

I would say that I am an intermediate quilter. I don't usually use a pattern b/c I like being able to change it up if I'm not loving how something is coming out. Plus beautiful as traditional quilts are I think contemporary quilts have a more fun feeling to them.

Jess said...

I own very few quilting books, & I rarely use patterns. I have my own "standard" quilt sizes, & my own way of making quilts, so for me it's all about visual inspiration (photos or drawings) & graphic design. I can certainly overlook bad writing for good visuals. As far as blogs & books, I always just assumed that there were limitations & changes implemented by the publishers. The formats are so different, it seems that it would be hard to bring the same energy to a book. I also try not to judge, because there are a lot more cooks in the kitchen as far as a book is concerned.

I own five quilting books - (1) big fat book of pictures of antique quilts, (2) book of pictures of Amish quilts, (3) Modern Quilt Workshop, (4) Denyse Schmidt's book (I was so excited to get it, & so sad to see that it was full of patterns), and (5) Cut Loose Quilts by Jan Mullen. Cut Loose Quilts is the first quilt book I ever bought. I still really like it, because it's all about a technique rather than patterns.

Lately I've actually been feeling a little tired of getting quilt inspiration from other quilts... So I started searching Flickr for architectural pictures for quilting inspiration, & I am hooked!

Urban Patchwork

LT said...

For the question on whether there's a place for personality in concept or technical books. All I can think of is my favorite recipe books. For comparison - The good 'ol Better Homes & Garden Cookbook. It's fine, but has NO personality. Then there's books like Alton Brown's Food + Heat = Cooking or the Cook's Illustrated series. Both of those have personality and because of that I believe they convey the concepts and techniques better. So yes there is a place and I think it's a necessary one - it makes the learning process more enjoyable for the reader.

Thanks for the discussion!

Tonya Ricucci said...

I love words and books so I want my quilt books to be good reads. My favorite of all time is Gwen Marston's Liberated Quiltmaking. No patterns or projects, just an inspirational friend talking about techniques and showing great quilts. I mostly buy books of antique quilts because they aren't so formulaic as "pattern" books.

Kat said...

As a technical writer, all the dull and boring stuff ie computer program manuals, how to’s ..., there was room to put personality into some of these manuals; just had to remember who the end user was.
The technical or otherwise books that are more interesting/useful to me are ones that have good illustrations and explain why the author did what they did. It spurs ideas.

snore stop said...

I love books.I love it when authors describe their inspiration and how they thought up the pattern/construction technique.enjoying your time!

Dianne said...

The visual presentation is what draws me in. The voice of the author is what keeps me interested enough to buy the book. I am not interested in someones life story but I am interested in their development as a quilter/artist. What inspires them, what paths did they travel down as they created their unique way of doing things. I want to see quilts that have been made using the technique but prefer to see several made by the author and a few made by others rather than page after page of quilts from classes. Inspiration, eye candy and an enjoyable read are the holy trinity of books quilting or otherwise. Thanks for posing the questions I am enjoying the responses!

amandajean said...

i think i may be in the minority here, as i really like to read quilt books. i love good layout and design and of course i love looking at the quilts themselves, but good text is important to me. i like a good story behind a quilt. reading a good quilt book is almost like having a good quilt conversation with a friend. yes, voice is important, too. i think we talked about this before...i used to read quilt books cover to cover before i started reading blogs. i miss it.

Nicole said...

Definitely think the writing takes precedence - as personally I believe that the actual techniques, barring technological advances, are fairly limited (traditional) just applied with a modern flair (or pure tradition. What gets me is similar to the blogs people write...a sense of personality, without being personal per se. As well the story that is inherent in the book, such as history of the quilts, what the traditional technique might mean, or what the modern artists thinks or means, or was challenging, when they created the quilt, and how did they get there? As I don't do applique or anything like that the pattern is really instructions....same thing with cookbooks - tell me a story, I rarely purchase the how to make 1000 dishes with chicken type of cookbook chock full of recipes with little to no character.....

Rene' said...

Great discussion Cheryl. I read quilt books from cover to cover like a novel, so the writing to me is important. Of course, the visuals are what first grab my attention. Many times I will not use the patterns of quilts in a book, but rather enjoy the inspiration behind a particular quilt or the wonderful photography such as what you will find in a Kaffe Fasset book. I'm not sure that I've bought a book by a blogger (or I didn't know at the time they were a blogger) so can't really speak to that issue. I do own The Modern Quilt Workshop and really love it. I am waiting for their newest book to arrive.

Shasta said...

I have to admit that the pictures catch my attention first. If I like the style of the quilts and the style (visual personality) of the author, then I am probably interested. I buy books for the patterns - it is more practical that way. But I want the whys and wherefores of the pattern. How did they decide that color combo went together? Why did they use this method instead of the other? Were they icky places that have to be muddled through? If they could do it over, would they do it the same way? They have made the quilt, surely they have learned something useful that can be helpful to me even if I don't make that particular pattern.