Book Review: “Listen To Your Quilt” by Barbara Persing

May 30, 2012 at 8:48 pm Leave a comment

Silly Ronan

“Time for book club!”

Our guild program for April was a presentation by professional longarm quilter Barbara Persing and her sister, quilt shop owner Mary Hoover. Together, they are the designers behind the quilt pattern company Fourth and Sixth Designs (so named because they are the fourth and sixth in birth order in their family.) I enjoyed their trunk show of quilts and the affectionate banter between the sisters. However, the most valuable piece of information I took home was that Barbara had a book coming out just a few weeks hence, about choosing quilting designs and threads for your quilts. Since this is probably the single biggest current issue in my quilting, I anxiously anticipated its release.

Listen To Your QuiltImagine my pleasant surprise when Dan got it for me for our anniversary last week! At first I thought he’d been super-stealthy Observant Guy and had noticed the advertising card I’d picked up at the meeting and had placed on my studio whiteboard, but it turns out I’d added it to my Amazon Wish List so I wouldn’t forget about it, and he’d just found it there. Still, the result was the same.

Studio Corkboard

I can’t think why he didn’t notice it there. (Sadly, this is not a staged photo.)

And it’s just as good as I’d hoped! Barbara starts by giving an overview of her “Four Questions” that should be asked before planning the quilting for any quilt. This isn’t a new strategy; Kim Brunner and Debby Brown each suggested a form of this approach during their lectures at Quilting with Machines, as do several of my favorite machine quilting books (more on them later.) Barbara Persing has managed to set herself apart by streamlining the discussion into an easily accessible system that any quilter can apply to any quilt. As a big fan of systems, I was hooked.

Basically, what she and all these other knowledgeable quilters are saying is that the secret behind choosing appropriate and complementary quilting designs for any given quilt is to identify what kind of quilt it is and how it will be used. There’s no point in doing gorgeous heirloom “bump-back” feathers on a busy print Turning Twenty quilt you’ve made for your nephew to take to college. (As Mark Lipinski famously said when he spoke to the Letort guild a few years back, “It’s just going to get covered in beer and DNA.”) Likewise, if you’ve taken the time to needle-turn applique a Baltimore album quilt, you probably don’t want to stitch a pantograph over it all.

Back detail, "The Sampler" by Barbara Persing

Back detail, “The Sampler” by Barbara Persing. I took this (with the help of the white glove angel) at Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza 2009, when it won for Best Machine Workmanship.

The latter 2/3 of the book is really a peek inside Barbara’s thought process as she quilts nearly 30 different quilts in four different categories:  Child/Youth, Traditional, Contemporary, and Art Quilts. (She acknowledges the arbitrary and incomplete nature of these categories, but you have to start somewhere.) Each quilt has at least one page devoted to it with a 1/4-page photograph of the entire quilt, and inset closeups to show quilting detail. At the bottom of each page, she takes us through the way she answered her own questions for that particular quilt, from the larger generalities of degree and style of quilting, to the specific design chosen and thread used. I particularly enjoyed the attention she pays to thread choice, which has been a bugbear of my quilting lately and doesn’t usually get much press.

“Listen To Your Quilt” is in many ways the player that was up till now missing from my dream team lineup of machine quilting books. With only 70 pages to work with, the author doesn’t dwell at length on the subject of selecting quilting designs to complement particular design elements in the quilt top; she simply mentions that shapes from a fabric print can be mimicked or echoed , or that she used wave-like quilting on a blue quilt. I would recommend that anyone who is looking for a more comprehensive discussion of the process of designing the individual elements of the quilting should see “A Fine Line” by Melody Crust and Heather Waldron Tewell, which is twice as long and really explores this topic in depth, but doesn’t offer such a structured, practical blueprint. In “Machine Quilting Solutions,” author Christine Maraccini provides less variety of sample quilt pictures but more specific “how-to” diagrams of three different levels or intensities of quilting designs for each of the tops depicted. I would finish out the essential book shelf with “Quilting Makes The Quilt” by Lee Cleland, in which the author accomplished the Herculean task of quilting FIVE different versions each of TWELVE quilt top designs (yes, that’s a total of 60 quilts!) so that we could see just how much the quilting design choice can influence the final result. With these four books in my arsenal, I feel properly educated to choose the quilting for any quilt I might make.

The machine quilting portion of my library.

The machine quilting portion of my library.

Some prospective readers who quilt on domestic machines may be concerned that this book is intended for longarm quilters. I can reassure you that this book is all about planning, not technique; the only mention of longarms is in her biography. If anything, the fact that she is quilting customer quilts, of which she has no input in the design, makes her approach even more relatable for me. I am not yet to the point in my quilting where I am designing my tops with the quilting in mind, as Ricky Tims and various other renowned quilters recommend. I am reacting to my own quilt tops much like a professional quilter who is seeing a customer’s quilt for the first time. While this is a mindset I’m trying to change, it made this book more applicable for me for the time being.

What “Listen To Your Quilt” does not do is teach how to machine quilt, and this was absolutely fine with me:  that information is abundantly available from other sources. While there are some simple freehand, free-motion designs depicted on the last few pages, there are plenty of other collections of quilting designs available. What is usually missing from the books that tell you how to machine quilt, or provide you with designs of what to machine quilt, is an explanation of why you should (or shouldn’t) machine quilt a given design on a given top. “Listen To Your Quilt” is an excellent fulfillment of an underserved area of quilting education, and would make a useful addition to most quilters’ libraries.


Entry filed under: Quilt Guild, Review. Tags: , .

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