Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fabric Shopping with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects to Help You: ¥ Make Successful Choices ¥ Build Your Confidence ¥ Add to Your Fabric StashFabric Shopping with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects to Help You: ¥ Make Successful Choices ¥ Build Your Confidence ¥ Add to Your Fabric Stash by Alex Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fabric Shopping with Alex Anderson is out of print at this point but you can still purchase it through Amazon (and its network of independent booksellers). I got it for 50 cents plus shipping a few months ago. It was not only worth the 50 cents, it would've been well worth the original list price had I bought it when new.

I'm not one to buy a book simply because it's written by a celebrity quiltmaker, but I do quite routinely check out Alex Anderson's books when they first come out to see if it's a topic I'd want. Her books are very high quality--very well written, clear instructions, nice patterns that are mostly fairly simple in construction but attractive and more complex-looking in completion. Any of her books would be excellent additions to a beginner's bookshelf. Even as an intermediate quilter, I will occasionally go back to her books for a refresher course or simply design inspiration.

Fabric Shopping is as much a book on color, value, print, and design as it is on how to purchase fabric. As the coverleaf states, the book has "Seven projects to help you: Make successful choices; build your confidence; add to your fabric stash." I can hear you laughing now--does a quilter really need help adding to her fabric stash? Isn't that something we all excell at? What the statement should have said more specifically is "add to your fabric stash intelligently." We're all great at buying the pretty, pretty fabric that catches our eye. But when we look at our stash as a totality, how usable is it? This book will help you build a stash that is well-thought out, filled not only with attractive focus fabrics or a few collections, but would have enough background fabrics, blenders, and other fabric for "supporting roles" that you'd have a much better shot at making an entire quilt from what you already own.

Additionally, in her introduction, Anderson relates this story: "One day in a class while attending San Francisco State University I decided to voice my strong personal likes and dislikes of certain colors. The teacher, Marika Contompasis, who could make color magic from a bag of ugly wool yarn, stopped the class and said, 'To say you hate a color tells me you are ignorant of its use.' I felt pretty embarrassed and have never looked at color the same since that day." First, I like that she's willing to tell a story about her own embarrassment. Second, that's exactly right. I might have favorite colors and color combinations as well as those colors I naturally turn away from, but all colors can be beautiful and perfect in just the right way. Fabric Shopping helps you think through the fabrics you already own and how to continue to build your stash in a way that will make all colors available to you for beautiful design.

The chapters are:

--"Shopping Sense," which talks about how fabrics are organized in a quilt shop, deciding which fabrics you need and how much--including a description of the different categories of fabrics including tone-on-tone, novelty, and so forth (although she breaks them into different categories than I've heard others use but I do like her descriptions), and fabric quality.

--"The Three Rules," which includes value, character of print, and color families, plus a discussion of the color wheel. (Before you get itchy about the word "rules" and start thinking quilt police, she doesn't give specific guidelines as to what you should and shouldn't do so much as things to keep in mind as you're going about your stash building.)

--"Fabric Groups," a discussion of things such as holiday fabrics, monochromatic fabrics, neutral fabrics, solids, focus fabrics, "personality" fabrics (her term for a group that includes novelties), and scrap fabrics.

--"Care, Storage, Design Wall," where she addresses briefly the pre-wash-or-not argument, storage tips, and ideas for creating a design wall. This is by no means an exhaustive discussion of any of these items--the entire chapter is two pages with a ton of white space. But it gives you some ideas that you could then follow up with your own research later if you so chose.

--"General Instructions," which is the usual general quiltmaking instructions included in most pattern books. However, since this book is aimed specifically at beginners, she does cover such things as pinning, seam ripping, sets, pressing directionally, and basting for either hand or machine quilting, and so forth.

One of my fave things about Alex Anderson's books is that, even though she is clearly a "celebrity quilter," she comes at her books with humility. She often references that there isn't a single way to do things, then goes on to present how she does it with no judgment whatsoever. To whit: "I like to pin. As host of 'Simply Quilts,' I discovered that half the quilting world runs the other direction at the mention of pinning. But I find my results to be much more pleasing when I take the time to pin," (p. 23), then she goes on to describe her pinning process. Rather than stating unequivocally "you must pin," as some quilt books are wont to do, she's basically saying that some do, some don't, she prefers to herself. Great! Now I feel free to either do it or not do it as I so choose rather than feeling scolded or shamed into the sense that if I don't pin I'm somehow being lazy or rebellious.

Just as a point of interest, sometimes I pin, sometimes I don't. Depends on the situation. Thanks, Alex, for making me feel like that's OK!

To me, the seven quilt projects presented in the book are almost beside the point, although they're all quite nice. I haven't made any of them, although I do enjoy the patterns. They're not overly simplistic but they're also all within reach of a beginner. They have a lot of pieces but they don't require advanced techniques--just paying attention. But the point is the use of color and different types of fabric, so from that perspective I find looking at the images of the completed quilts very useful from a design inspiration standpoint. Each one shows the block units presented in different colorways (not the entire quilt) so you can see how it takes on a different feel. Her books always have extremely clear instructions with good images throughout. I'm a particular fan of the "Snail's Trail Variation" in nuetrals, but then I also have her book Neutral Essentials (which I'll also review at a later date) and am very much looking forward to making a neutral quilt myself. She's definitely sold me on that concept.

If you aren't sure whether your stash makes sense or are looking for more education on different types of fabric and the use of color in design, this book is a fantastic one to take the effort to track down. Sadly, again, it is out of print but still available in some venues.

Fabric Shopping with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects to Help You: ¥ Make Successful Choices ¥ Build Your Confidence ¥ Add to Your Fabric Stash

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