Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: Facts & Fabrications

Cover of Barbara Brackman's "Facts & Fabrications: Unraveling the History of Quilts and Slavery"
Barbara Brackman's Facts & Fabrications: Unraveling the History of Quilts & Slavery.

Facts & Fabrications is very similar in design and aim to Civil War Sampler; both books use evocatively-named quilt blocks to introduce historic persons and events. The stories are a bit longer in this book (having only 20 blocks to cover instead of 50), with all the primary sources and beautiful quilt pictures one expects from Ms. Brackman's books.  Instead of focusing on women's stories, this book focuses on the experiences of slaves--as the thematic element is quilting, many of persons featured or quoted are women with a connection to the 'peculiar institution': slaves, escaped slaves, freed slaves, plantation owners, abolitionists, and so forth.  As in Civil War Sampler, the blocks featured are not necessarily appropriate to the 1860s and so should not be used for reenactments (though there is a pretty picture of an original Jacob's Ladder quilt dated to the period).

The first two chapters set up the historical context for quilts associated with slavery; the author offers a basic explanation of historic documentation (to the end that 'underground railroad signal quilts' make for good stories, but do not have supporting primary sources), and gives information from period diaries and memoirs about of slaves making quilts.  The included "Poetic License" to make your own quilts as meaningful and symbolic as you like--without assuming Victorian quilters necessarily used the same symbols--is a cute addition.

The projects start in Chapter 3, with a sampler several different setting options which use the featured blocks.  Chapter 4, which accounts for over 2/3 of the book, actually gives the twenty different blocks with their stories.  For each, there are 1-3 pages of history, a page of block construction information, and (where appropriate) a page of templates.  Some of the blocks have additional projects associated with them, such as a fun pieced/applique combination built around 5 "Jacob's Ladder" blocks, or an interesting combination top which alternates "North Star" and "Catch Me If You Can" blocks for beautiful visual effect.  Each block is also rated for difficulty--beginning, moderate or skilled--to help the reader to select projects suitable to their level of experience and comfort.  The beginning blocks exclusively feature squares and rectangles joined with straight seams; the skilled blocks have trickier requirements such as Y-seams.

Chapter 5 offers activities and advice for teaching children through quilts, including sample discussion questions and a child's project based on the "Underground Railroad" block.

Where Facts & Fabrications really stands out from Ms. Brackman's other books is the quantity of example projects and the educational focus.  You get to see several different quilts made up with the given blocks.  The final chapter offers some good advice and project ideas for working with children using quilts as a teaching tool.  It could be a valuable resource for teachers, camp directors, or scout leaders looking to introduce children to history through quilting.  

Stars: 4 Stars
Accuracy: Well-documented stories; most blocks are post-Civil War and not suitable for reenacting.
Difficulty: Easy and Up.  It is mentioned several times that this is a history book rather than a technique book, so additional titles are recommended for the novice quilter looking for extra help.
Strongest Impression: As with Civil War Sampler, this is a fun project book which teaches history through quilting and offers fun projects for history-minded quilters.  The blocks themselves are not all appropriate for reenacting purposes, but the stories offer good starting points for one's own research and the projects are beautiful.

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