There’s nothing like spending a lazy summer afternoon with a good book. I’ll never forget reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula on a hot and hazy day, but still getting goosebumps on my arms. Or becoming so engrossed in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants while on a beach in Puerto Rico that I ended up with a blistering sunburn because I couldn’t tear myself away from the book long enough to reapply sunscreen. Then there’s the entire summer I spent reading everything by Dostoyevsky that I could get my hands on and subsequently viewing my own life through the lens of a complex Russian drama. Clearly, books are a vivid and compelling pastime, and no one knows this better than the members of The Quilter’s Eye Book Club in Albany, Oregon. In addition to their common love of reading, these 13 women have a passion for quilting and translating the written word into fiber art. Every few months, the group selects a book to read, discuss, and use as inspiration for a quilt. Here, one of their members, Sharon Wall, discusses this unique reading group and how they explore that intersection between the printed page and stitched fabric.
What made you decide to combine a book club and a quilt group?
My friend, Marilyn Hill, has been following several similar groups and wanted to start one locally. She asked a few of her friends to meet at the local quilt shop, The Quilt Loft, and we were hooked. We love to read and we love quilts.
Where all of your members already quilters or did some of you learn how to stitch in order to join the group? How did you all meet and collaborate?
Everyone in our group was already a quilter, some very traditionalist, some technicians, and some more artsy. We were and are at various stages of skill levels but we decided that did not matter. If you love to read and have a desire to create a quilt, that was good enough. So far, not everyone has created a quilt— some ladies just like to be a part of this great group since we are a lot of fun.
Since this group started, I have read a lot more books and have viewed quilting in a much broader light. My non-traditional quilt skills have expanded and I know that many of the other ladies have stepped outside of their comfort zones and are creating amazing pieces of work.
The original group all had one common denominator, which was Marilyn. We were all friends with her and now friends with each other. Some of us have recruited our own friends, which has brought the group total to 13. We don’t plan to grow any larger, as our meeting location has limited space and we want to keep the group manageable.
What kind of guidelines do you give for creating the quilts based on books? Are their size, material, or theme restrictions?
Our process is to first agree on the book selection, read and discuss the book, and then produce individual “quilted book reports.” Sharing of preliminary drawings and project ideas happens a month after the book discussion. It usually takes another four months to complete the quilt. Technique and size (so far, everything ranging from placemat to king size) are determined by each quilter.
When designing a quilt based on a book, some of us may create a piece that tells the whole story in just one quilt, where someone else may take a small piece of the story and focus on one element. It takes all of quilts displayed together to tell the whole story.
Do you find yourself thinking about art quilt imagery as you read now? I know I would!
Yes, I now read most books with a “quilter’s eye.” However, some books just don’t lend themselves to quilting material, and once I determine that a book is not conducive to a quilt, I can read it without taking mental notes for quilt ideas.
What types of books are particularly inspirational for quilt making and/or result in the most successful work?
Any books that give detailed imagery of location and events are the best. The books we have read so far are Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Sandra Dallas’ Tallgrass, Fannie Flagg’s Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
Our current book is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The final projects are due to be completed in July. The hardest part of this selection is that there is a lot of commercialism related to the book, so designing an original piece is a lot more challenging. But most of this group is up to the challenge.
Quilt Images (from top to bottom)
- “Can’t Wait,” by Donna James (based on Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, by Fannie Flagg)
- “Elizabeth’s World,” by Marilyn Hill (based on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows)
- “Isola,” by Sharon Wall (based on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows)
- “Water for Elephants,” by Marilyn Hill (based on Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen)