Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review: America's Printed Fabrics

Cover image: Barbara Brackman's "America's Printed Fabrics".

Next up: America's Printed Fabrics, 1770-1890 by Barbara Brackman.

This book is divided into four broad chronological sections: 1770-1820, 1820-1840, 1840-1865, and 1865-1890.  Each section starts out with a short (2-3 page) history lesson--primarily focused on textile production and decoration--and illustrated with the expected period illustrations, photographs and textile samples.  Next up, there's brief (half to one page) descriptions of popular motif or style categories; each of these has two pages of fabric examples accompanying--one of original textiles and one of reproductions.  A page on a popular quilt design/layout from the era follows (medallions, stripes, etc), and then one to three reproduction quilting projects, with the appropriate templates and step-by-step instructions.

The main strength of this books are its beautiful pictures and accessibility.  I like that the sample textiles are given in large pieces: the smallest images are about 1 1/4" x 3" (unfortunately, this means you get as few as four examples for the larger chintz and toile prints, but closer to a dozen on the smaller designs).  The inclusion of reproduction prints opposite the originals makes for an interesting presentation.  The arrangement of technology-->examples-->project makes it easy to immerse oneself in the visual aesthetic of the period and to plan for a reproduction or historically-inspired quilt.

The limitations of the book, in my opinion, largely relate to the wide date ranges.  As someone whose activities fall mostly into a single section (1840-1865), I'm left wanting for some nuance--what makes a quilt, or even a given print, say "1860" versus "1840".  I suppose this is rather a specific concern; a reproduction quilt for 1860, after all, might include fabrics 'stylish' ten or twenty years before, but a dress for 1860 needs to avoid blatantly 1850- or 1840-style fabric.  Likewise, a quilt for 1840 needs to avoid the obviously later fabric.  That being said, it's more a difference of priority than a fault in the book.

Of all of Ms. Brackman's books, I think this one is coming up as my second favorite.  Between it and Quilts From the Civil War, you should be in a very strong position to make accurate reproductions of 19th century quilts.

Stars: 4.5-5
Accuracy: Lots of period images, both of fabrics and whole quilts.  The projects are taken from reproduction quilts of each era, which usually cite a specific original quilt as inspiration.
Difficulty: Beginner and up.  A short tutorial at the end explains basic quilt techniques, but you may get more out of this book if you already have some familiarity with quilting.
Strongest Impression: A nice reference for nineteenth century fabrics, though not the most specific one.  Gives a lot of good information for getting started in reproduction or historically-inspired quilting. Would also be enjoyable for a quilter looking for 'old' new ideas to add to his or her repertoire.

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