Saturday, May 7, 2011

Neutral Essentials with Alex Anderson: 7 Quilt Projects o 3 Keys to Fabric Confidence o Fat-Quarter FriendlyNeutral Essentials with Alex Anderson: 7 Quilt Projects o 3 Keys to Fabric Confidence o Fat-Quarter Friendly by Alex Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Neutral Essentials with Alex Anderson is one of my favorite quiltmaking books in my library, partly because at the time it was the only book specifically focused on quilts using neutrals that I'd seen published at the time. (After having done a quick Google just now, there seems to be only one other book currently available and that's on Japanese blocks done in neutrals, but there also seems to be a book about to be published by Martingale Press by Pat Wys, entitled Spotlight on Neutrals.) I love neutral quilts. I find them soothing and energizing at the same time. But there's definitely a knack to making one that really showcases the neutrals and the design at the same time, and Neutral Essentials gives fantastic guidance as to how to do that.

In the Introduction, Alex Anderson describes how she came to make her first neutral quilt and fell in love with the genre. She also describes the process of creating the quilts and designs used in the book--she gathered a group of other "extraordinary quilters....for a day at [her] house and swapped ideas and fabrics, and then each quilter put her personal spin on a quilt made with neutral fabrics." The quilters then each went off to do their own thing and Anderson didn't really know what the final outcome would be until the quilts were delivered back to her. My first thought when reading this paragraph was, "how great that she was willing to relinquish some of the control of her book to others!" Then my second thought was, "What a hoot that would've been!" and wishing I'd been a fly on the wall in her living room that day!

The book then moves into a chapter entitled "Working with Neutrals," which offers a pretty comprehensive look at what constitutes a neutral, then lists "three keys to success" in working with this group of fabrics: color, value, and character of print. Eight pages devoted to the exploration of neutrals really made me look at my stash with a very different eye. After reading this book, I've been much more conscientious about staying on the lookout for really great neutrals, and a wide variety of them. They truly are more than simply a background fabric. (The chapter also includes a section entitled "Permission to Stretch" to offer some options to those who aren't ready to give up color entirely.)

The chapter closes with sections entitled, "Building and caring for a neutral collection," and "choosing and implementing a design," each with really useful guidelines for helping you set neutrals to their best advantage in a quilt.

There are seven projects in the book that represent piecing and applique, traditional and more contemporary designs. The projects in this book are universally gorgeous--there isn't a single one of them I wouldn't love to make at some point. My only very slight quibble is that every one of the projects is rated as "confident beginner," but they represent varied level of difficulty. I can understand the editors wanting to make anyone feel as if they could make any of these patterns, but at some point skill level ratings become meaningless if applied across the board. Might I just suggest that a couple of the patterns might have been more appopriately rated as "intermediate," or "very confident beginner?"

The book concludes with the standard basic quiltmaking instructions, but the section concludes with a couple of paragraphs specific to neutral quilts, "Quilting your neutral quilt." In this part, Anderson makes a couple of points about considerations that need to be made when planning your quilting here because neutral quilts behave differently visually than other quilts do. This is something I probably wouldn't have thought about on my own without her giving me fair warning.

If you love neutral quilts and are contemplating making one, or if you made one and aren't thrilled with the results but aren't quite sure why, this is definitely a book you should pick up. Even if I never get around to making one of the projects in the book, I already regard and use neutrals differently than I did before just having read it. It's also just gorgeous eye-candy--I keep pulling it off my shelf just to thumb through it again and again. Beautiful stuff.Neutral Essentials with Alex Anderson: 7 Quilt Projects o 3 Keys to Fabric Confidence o Fat-Quarter Friendly

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