Basting, Bingeing, and Books

A while ago Kerry at Love Those Hands At Home mentioned in a post that she had tried this quilt-basting method from Sharon Schamber.

The main idea is that you roll the quilt top around one board, and the backing around another, layer them with the batting, and baste a section at a time.  It certainly beats my previous method of trying to lay everything out on the floor, and pin like crazy.  (There are lots of similar videos out there, and also ones that use dowel rods or pool noodles.) 

I tried it first on a baby quilt —

Placed for basting.

And, to be sure the extra effort of hand-stitching would actually pay off in easier quilting, I proceeded through machine-quilting that little quilt.  For me, it was worth it — the thread-basting made all the layers stay together securely, plus I didn’t have the extra weight and obstruction of safety pins to deal with as I guided the quilt through my domestic sewing machine.

So then, since I already had the folding tables set up, I went on and basted two twin-size quilts and one more baby quilt.  I found the process very peaceful, and I loved stacking up quilt tops, all stabilized and ready to go to the machine.  If I hadn’t run out of batting, I would be basting still.

While I was doing all this stitching, I treated myself to hours of podcasts.  I started out with three episodes of Just Wanna Quilt, beginning with the episode featuring Melanie McNeil of Catbird Quilt Studio.  I loved hearing all the various topics they delved into within a short period.

Then I switched over to What Should I Read Next? podcast by Anne Bogel, and that really made the basting hours fly by.  I have listened to the first 31 episodes.  So, doing the math, 34 episodes of about 45 minutes each equals about 26 hours of basting/listening time.  I would say a baby quilt took about 4 hours to baste, and a twin size took about 9 hours.  I felt like I was at a quilting retreat, surrounded by intelligent people chatting, while I accomplished this basic task.

So the format of the What Should I Read Next? podcast is that Anne asks her guest to name 3 books he or she loves, 1 book they hate, what they are reading now, and whether there is any change they would like to make in their reading habits.  And then Anne makes 3 recommendations.

I found myself cheering when one of my favorites got mentioned, scowling when a book I dislike got recommended, and scribbling lots of notes on what to read next.  And then of course, plotting what books I would mention on a textile-focused episode!

Textile books fall into so many categories — techniques, patterns, historical studies, museum catalogues, to name a few.  I am going to adapt Anne’s format and name three favorites, but since I am not actually on a podcast with time limitations, I am going to stretch it and include four different book categories:

Textile Books I Love


  • The Milliner’s Secret by Natalie Meg Evans — a woman uses her fashion skills to survive in WWII Nazi-occupied Paris.  I reviewed it here.  I see she has written two more novels and I look forward to reading those too.
  • Imperial Purple by Gillian Bradshaw — in the fifth century AD, a talented weaver and slave of the Roman empire is ordered to weave a purple cloak.  She quickly comes to fear that it is meant for a usurper and not the current emperor, Theodosius.  Trying to thread her way through palace intrigue and assure safety for her family, Demetrius winds up in the household of Theodosius and his powerful sister Pulcheria.  I first read this book back in the 1980s and I loved the way it brought this era to life.  On re-reading a few years ago, I thought the plot was a little too simplistic, but it is still a good read.  The dyeing and weaving techniques mentioned in the book seem accurate, explained clearly enough to communicate to non-weavers, but not slowing down the pace of the novel.
  • Turn Homeward, Hannalee by Patricia Beatty.  This young adult novel is not about textiles so much as it is about real events occurring to textile workers during the Civil War.  A 12-year-old girl from Roswell, Georgia works in the local textile mill where cloth for Confederate uniforms is made.  When their town falls into Union hands, these poor, illiterate workers are considered to be actively treasonous.  Their mill is burned and the workers are shipped north to Louisville, Kentucky, where they are dispersed to work in the mills there, or to work as servants.  Although the main character is fictional, the events actually happened, with about 400 women, children, and old men being shipped off, most never to return.  Beatty uses actual historic detail and advertisements to plot the action.  This book was published in 1984, but reading it now, you can’t help but focus on the tragic parallels with the detained families and children of today.

Narrative Non-fiction

  • Théâtre de la Mode by Edmonde Charles-Roux — I don’t think you have to love fashion to enjoy this story of artists working together, to create something beautiful out of the ruins of WWII.  I also think the different angles and creative effects of the photographs could give artists and photographers fresh inspiration.  I wrote about this book here.
  • The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish by Linda Przybyszewski.  This book is a special favorite because of its chatty tone.  It’s like sitting down for a good gossip with a friend who values style over trendiness.  You can find a summary and excerpts here.
  • Bayeux Tapestry: The Story of a Masterpiece, by Carola Hicks — the Bayeux tapestry is a textile that documents the Norman invasion of England in 1066.  This book theorizes who commissioned and created it, and traces who has owned it, or tried to steal it, throughout the centuries.  Again, I don’t think you have to love textiles to be interested in this strand of history. More about this book can be found here.

Coffee Table Books — Costume

  • Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century.  This is from the Kyoto Costume Institute, and it has huge full-color photos of actual costumes and their details, fabrics, and stitching, along with art reproductions showing the fashions as they were worn.
  • Hollywood Sketchbook: A Century of Costume Illustration by Deborah Nadoolman Landis — fun and inspiring, a real mental escape.  I wrote about it here.  She has written at least seven other books I would love to get too.
  • 20,000 Years of Fashion by François Boucher — I own about a dozen fashion survey books, and from those, this one has the most authoritative and comprehensive blend of pictures and information.

Coffee Table Books — Textiles

  • Textiles: The Art of Mankind by Mary Schoeser.  This is the ultimate book about the glories of textiles.  It is so complex that it took me six posts to write about it, starting here.
  • Textile Designs by Susan Meller and Joost Elffers.  The lengthy subtitle says it all “Two hundred years of European and American patterns for printed fabrics organized by motif, color, layout, and period; 1823 illustrations in full color.”  I found this book in a library shortly after it was published in 1991, and checked it out repeatedly.  Last year I finally found a used copy I could afford.  Some new editions are out, and there are digital copies too.
  • The Structure of Weaving by Ann Sutton.  Printed textiles are only part of the textile design story; woven structures offer inspiration too.  This is the book that helped me look beyond individual pattern drafts, to grasp how the scale, texture, and color of various fibers can interact with weave structures to create endless possibilities.

Okay, now on to —

Textile Books I Hate

I have not found a non-fiction book on textiles that I hate.  Some weird ones, that I should write about sometime. 

With fiction, I understand that the author needs to move the plot along and may not care if their textile information is inaccurate.  But if it is extremely inaccurate, I will give up on it.  The one book I remember clearly (except for its title) was a self-published novel, set in the Byzantine Empire.  The main character was named Rachel and she wanted more than anything to weave for the emperor, but when she was selected for that job, she willfully wove 6 bedspreads that each had a letter of her name in dead center, calling attention to herself.  That was the point at which I would have thrown the book across the room, except for the fact that it was on my Kindle.  I don’t remember the year the novel was set in, but let’s say horizontal looms that been invented — it still would have taken weeks to weave these bedspreads, a supervisor would have noticed her design changes immediately, and since the language she would have been speaking is Greek, she would not used the 6 letters of the English “Rachel”.  All that blatant lack of research did not bode well for the rest of the novel.

What I Am Reading Now

This past Christmas I treated myself to a limited edition book called Textilia Linnaeana: Global 18th Century Textile Traditions and Trade, by Viveka Hansen.  It is about young men, students of the naturalist Carl Linnaeus, who made voyages of discovery to more than 50 countries, and the raw materials and textile techniques they documented.   The 17 travelers highlighted ventured to all the continents, and wrote on everything from eiderdown collecting to tapa cloth, seamen’s clothing to church textiles.  It is illustrated with period maps and sketches, textile samples and botanical drawings.  It is a lovely book to dip into, a little at a time.

Viveka Hansen also has a phenomenal blog at Textilis, where she writes about similar topics, including tapestry panels, child labor, feathers in costume, upholstery fabrics in the 1700s, and so much more.  Everything that fascinates me!

What I Would Like to Be Different in My Reading Habits

I would like to read and study more about textile and costume traditions beyond those of Europe and North America.  I have been slowly adding to book collection with books on Oriental carpets, and traditional textiles of Central Asia and Indonesia, but I need to sit down and read them.  I would also like to read more about the textiles of Africa, China, and Japan.


At this point in her podcast, Anne Bogel gives a little analysis, the characteristics she sees that the reader is looking for.  I think to me she would say, “I see that you have lots of books of inspiration, not any on specific techniques; and that you like books where people find strength and community by sharing the creative process.”

And then I would agree, and she would give me some recommendations.  But since she sticks to books for the general public, I will have to ask all of you instead.  I hope you find a book you like in my lists, and I hope you can suggest good textile books to me!