I recently had the pleasure of reading Katherine Bell’s inspiring new book, Quilting for Peace: Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time. Published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang, it is part quilting how-to book, part galvanizing guide to creative charitable work. Nearly every page features a moving story, either of the generous artists who have founded these charitable groups, or the positive impact that a quilt had on an individual or community’s life. In our fast-paced 21st century world, making a quilt for someone is a profound act. Quilts fulfill an age-old need to provide warmth, but they do much more than just that. They show their recipients that they are loved.
I highly recommend Quilting for Peace to any crafter, whether you are an avid quilter or a would-be quilter. The instructions are clear, the photos are beautiful, and there are patterns for every skill level. And the stories of these grass roots organizations making a difference with needles and thread will motivate you to start crafting for your favorite cause.
Pick up your copy of Quilting for Peace at your local bookstore or online:
A few copies of Quilting for Peace will be available for random giveaway in the next month, so check out the STC Craft/Melanie Falick website: http://www.melaniefalickbooks.com/
Katherine was kind enough to speak to me about her book. Read my questions and her thoughtful answers below.
How did you find out about the quilting groups profiled in the book?
I found out about almost all of them online. Quilters have been going online to find each other almost since the beginning of the Internet, so nearly all the groups I profiled have websites. Some, like the Heartstrings Quilt Project (http://heartstringsquiltproject.com/), organize themselves almost entirely online. One exception is the Sunshine Circle, a quilting group in rural Iowa that started in 1912. Most of the women in the group now are at least second-generation, and they’re in their seventies and eighties. I lived in Iowa for a couple of years, and while I was there the University of Iowa Press published a book about Iowa quilts by Jacqueline Andre Schmeal. It’s gorgeous, one of my very favorite quilting books. There’s a chapter in it about the Sunshine Circle and I called Jacqueline and asked if she could put me in touch with them.
For me, the pleasure of crafting is amplified when it’s done in a group. In addition to the charitable nature of the groups profiled in your book, they all share the draw of community – be it an online community of fellow crafters encouraging each other, as with the HeartStrings project, or a community of neighbors, as with the Sunshine Circle. Do you think that quilting is inherently community-oriented?
Well, a lot of the history of quilting in America is certainly collaborative. Hand-piecing and hand-stitching a quilt could take hundreds of hours, so neighbors would get together to finish each others’ quilts. And though there’s something meditative about spending time by yourself at your sewing machine, it’s nowhere as satisfying as working together with friends on a project.
One of the things I love about hosting Crafternoons is the intergenerational aspect of the gatherings. Did you find that the quilting groups had diverse age groups? Did you meet many teenagers or children who were avid quilters? If so, who introduced them to quilting?
Some of the larger organizations like Quilts for Kids and Newborns in Need have really diverse volunteers, but the close-knit groups I encountered tended to have members of similar ages. I did meet a few extremely dedicated and creative young quilters, like Casey Ehrlich, a high-school student in Massachusetts who started Blanket the Globe, a quilt project to inspire kids to think about global warming.
Your book is so thorough – it seems to cover every charitable quilting group out there. Were there any small quilting groups that you heard about but were unable to profile in the group?
Oh, there were lots. I had to cut a few essays at the last minute. I’m planning on writing about those groups on my blog at quiltingforpeace.com.
One of the things I love most about pieced quilts is the “waste not, want not” philosophy that they embrace. Do you think that the frugal, eco-friendly nature of quilting is part of what makes it so popular?
I’m sure that’s one reason for its recent comeback. Like the trend toward local, artisanal, organic foods, it’s a reaction to everything being mass-marketed and chemically treated and disposable. I think it’s also a reaction to how virtual our lives have become. When you’ve spent all day on the computer, it’s incredibly satisfying to create something as tactile and individual as a quilt.
My mother taught me nearly every crafting technique I know. Who taught you how to quilt, and what is your favorite type of quilt to make?
My mom taught me to piece and tie my first quilt. After that, I’ve mostly learned on my own, with the help of a Singer paperback about machine quilting from the eighties. I love to make pretty simple old-fashioned quilts that include a lot of different fabrics. I always fall for housetop quilts and sawtooth stars.