Quilters are good people to know. They stitch in response to everything from weddings and births to war, loss and crisis. In good times and bad, quilters step up and do their part.
It’s my pleasure today to welcome Katherine Bell, a talented writer and fellow quilter, to a blog chat about her new book “Quilting for Peace: Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time.” In her book, Bell, 35, of Somerville, Mass., honors the charitable legacy of quilters and documents the efforts of individuals and groups who regularly quilt to make a difference. Okay, let’s get to that Q&A…
In your book, “Quilting for Peace: Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time,” you document the inspiring stories of 25 individuals and organizations committed to making the word better through quilting. It must of been challenging to whittle down the list to 25, how did you decided who to profile?
It was so hard! I tried to cover the widest range of quilting efforts I could. When several groups overlapped in their missions or the way they approached them, I chose the one with the most compelling story. I wish I could have fit more in.
What was your inspiration for the book?
I was inspired by an exhibition at the New England Quilt Museum about nineteenth-century political quilts, which reminded me of the first time I saw the AIDS quilt, as well as a newspaper clipping my mom sent me about the Sleeping Bag Project, a grassroots organization that makes sleeping bags for homeless people. And when I saw the book “Knitting for Peace,” I knew that Quilting for Peace should exist as well.
What is your hope for readers of “Quilting for Peace?” What kind of an impact do you want this book to make? Are you aiming to get more people quilting?
I would love to get more people quilting! Especially young people. I want crafters to see how easy it is to quilt – how it doesn’t matter if all your corners and seams are perfect; in fact imperfections give quilts character and make them more beautiful. And most of all I want to inspire people to do small things to change their communities and the world.
The book contains 15 quilt projects for readers to try at home. Do you have a favorite?
I love the pink string quilt — string quilting, where you sew scraps to a muslin foundation, is so satisfying. The grocery bags are super-easy and fun to make. And I love the sawtooth star quilt, too.
What was the most inspiring part of researching this book? The most surprising? How has the experience of writing this book changed you?
Talking to quilters, who are almost without exception such generous, resilient, resourceful people. They’re great problem solvers. I really want to live up to their examples.
As a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop who has been published in Best American Short Stories, how did you end up writing a non-fiction book about quilting? Do you write a lot of nonfiction? Which type of writing to you prefer?
I wrote a novel I couldn’t find a publisher for, and I was having trouble extracting myself from the world of that book and launching into creating another. I needed a bit of a break from fiction, so I jumped at the opportunity to write this book. A lot of the work that went into it was designing and making the quilts, which was a lot of fun. I love writing fiction and I’m excited to get back to it, but I do want to write more nonfiction as well. I’m fascinated by history and material culture.
Do you write full-time, or do you fit it in around a day job? What do you do for a living?
I’m an editor at Harvard Business Review.
Please share a little bit about your craft history. How long have you been quilting? Who taught you? Do you belong to a bee?
My mom taught me the basics of piecing and tying quilts eight or nine years ago, so that I could make a baby quilt for a friend. I don’t belong to a quilting group, but every once in a while a friend comes to visit and we spend a whole weekend quilting.
My rotary cutter and cutting mat are essential to my quilting. What are your favorite tools?
I really love my quilting ruler. It’s such a simple improvement over an ordinary ruler but it makes all the difference in the world. I also have a love affair with both of my sewing machines. I inherited an old Singer Featherweight from my grandmother; I learned to sew on that machine and used it for years. A couple of years ago I got a new Bernina, the simplest one you can buy, and I love it in a completely different way. It’s a perfect machine. Somehow it was a surprise to find out how much the technology had improved in sixty years!
What inspires your quilting? Do you work from patterns, or design your own?
I spend a lot of time looking at quilts in books – the Gee’s Bend quilts, quilts by Japanese artist Yoshiko Jinzenji, antique quilts. I almost never follow specific quilt patterns, but I usually rely on pretty simple, traditional shapes and designs.
Quilters often fall into two camps: those who press their seams open and those who press them to closed, which camp are you in?
Do you have a special quilt in your life that someone made for you, or one that you rescued from Goodwill? Please share your favorite quilt story if you have one.
The first time I made up a quilt design, it was solid eight-inch squares alternating with eight-inch squares made up of a variety of different sized squares and rectangles, and I used mostly 1930s reproduction fabric. That Christmas, my mom gave me a quilt made by my great-grandmother made partly out of 1930s flour sacks. She’d found in a chest at my grandmother’s house. It was almost exactly the same pattern! The only difference was that she hadn’t improvised at all in the pieced squares – each one follows the same pattern. The colors and fabrics are incredibly similar, too.
Do you do other crafts? Please share your other craft interests.
I’ve done quite a bit of letterpress printing and bookbinding. I knitted for a long time but never could finish anything so recently gave all of my yarn and knitting supplies to my mom. I bake a lot and consider that a craft. And I really want to learn to design and make clothes.
What’s next? Can we expect more craft books from you?
I want to go back to writing fiction. I’d love to write another craft book again too.
Thank you for your time and wonderful contribution to the craft book world!