Ten Favorite Quilting Books….and Why

A comment from Jeana’s Journal asks:

OH MY I feel the same way about my quilt book library.

The best investment I ever made is my books. I started collecting about 8 years ago but have bought a lot used from Amazon. As soon as someone mentions a book I go looking for it! So can you tell us your 10 favorite books????

Dear Kathie: After considerable thought I have come up with a list for you. Some of these books are sentimental favorites because they are the early ones I read and from which I caught the enthusiasm that has fueled my passion about quiltmaking these many years. So here they are, in no particular order:


1- Two books, Patchwork Patterns and The Quilter’s Album of Blocks & Borders, by Jinny Beyer, are listed here because I feel they are companion books that together make an amazing whole. When I started quilting in the late 1970’s very few patterns, or even books on quiltmaking, existed. Upon deciding to make a quilt, a quiltmaker must be able to envision her completed quilt and draft her own patterns.

When Jinny Beyer published Patchwork Patterns in 1979, it opened up vast possibilities for patchwork pattern drafting and design basics. Jinny’s clear and logical directions for pattern drafting takes one from basic four patches to complex mariners compass designs. It is still a basic textbook all quiltmakers should have.

In 1980 Jinny Beyer logically followed her first book with The Quilter’s Album of Blocks & Borders. Over 750 patchwork patterns (for ideas of how to use her pattern drafting instructions) are included along with many pages of pieced border pattern ideas. This book a virtual gold mine of patchwork ideas.


2- Baltimore Album Quilts. Dena Katzenberg of the Baltimore Museum of Art put together a landmark exhibit of Baltimore album quilts in 1981. This book is a catalog of that exhibit.

Until then, patchwork had been the primary focus of contemporary quiltmakers. With this exhibit Ms. Katzenburg brought our gaze upon the possibilities in applique quiltmaking.

My purchase of this catalog in 1984 (from the Museum for $19.00) was the beginning of my career as an applique quiltmaker and designer. As you can see from the cover, this book has been much read, loved, and used—sadly, thus decreasing it’s monetary value. It was my bedtime reading for several months until I decided that since there were no patterns to make gorgeous applique quilts, my best efforts would be better than making no applique quilt at all.

The designs I drew in imitation of this style became my first published book, Reflections of Baltimore (1989).


3- The Quilt Engagement Calendar Treasury by Cyril I. Nelson and Carter Houck, is a summary of many lovely antique quilt discovered in the early resurgence of quiltmaking in the late twentieth century.

Beginning in 1975 Mr. Nelson published an annual quilt engagement calendar. The desk-sized, week-at-a-glance calendar featured a full page photo of a different antique quilt for each week.

For those of us hungry to see antique quilts, this yearly purchase was a must! I collected all of the calendars as they were released from 1980 until the last was published in 2001. (I may be mistaken on the last year, but it is the last calendar I found.)

The Quilt Engagement Calendar Treasury is a collection of “some of the best quilts illustrated in the calendar” from the years 1975 to 1982. It is a visual feast of valuable antique quilts that have long since disappeared into private collections


4- Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them by Ruth E. Finley, first published in 1929, is a treat.

My copy is a 1981 reproduction of this gem of a book and so well used that the pages had begun to fall out so I have a comb binding put on it to preserve the book intact. With all black and white photos, it is not great as a picture book, but Mrs. Finley’s folksy writing style is worth the read. Actually, I learned a great deal from Mrs. Finley and she was a valuable source for me when learning about the history of red and green applique quilts.

Her writing style is definitely not politically correct, but her opinion about the quilts she describes is very clear. Here is one very entertaining passage as she describes an early Pennsylvania German quilt:

“Only a soul in desperate need of nervous outlet could have conceived and executed, for instance, the ‘Full Blown Tulip’, a quilt of Pennsylvania Dutch origin. It is a perfect accomplishment from a needlework standpoint yet hideous. The ‘tulip’ block is composed of eight arrow-shaped patches of brilliant purplish red; the four leaf-shaped patches inside the circle are of the same color; the eight petal-shaped patches inserted between the red arrows are a sickly lemon yellow. The center of each tulip is made of the material used for setting the blocks together—homespun of the most terrifying shade of brownish green, beyond question the accident of a private dyepot. The inner saw-tooth border is of the red used in the blocks. The whole is surrounded by a second border, fourteen inches wide, of dazzling bright orange. This green-red-lemon-orange combination is enough to set a blind man’s teeth on edge. And yet as an example of needlecraft the quilt is a triumph…..”

Old Patchwork Quilts is an entertaining dialog about quiltmaking in the early twentieth century and provides a nice view into the thinking of quiltmakers during that time.


5. State quilt documenting project books are my next favorite. It is far too difficult to highlight only one of the dozens of these books that have been published by the individual state document committees.

They are all amazing picture books of antique quilts from early nineteenth century quilts through to the present day. In years to come these books will be the only record of many of the quilts they portray, making them all ever more valuable as the years advance.


6. Forget Me Not: A Gallery of Friendship and Album Quilts by Jane Bentley Kolter, 1985. This lovely book with both color and black and white photos of album quilts is a great reference book for those interested in album quilts.

With clear writing and many photo illustrations Ms. Kolter describes a type of quilt that includes both piecing and applique memorials made by and for a population that was on the move in the mid-nineteenth century. This book has received little recognition, but I believe it is a staple in tracing the history of nineteenth century quiltmaking.


7- Quilts In America by Patsy and Myron Orlofsky, 1974 and 1992. Mr. And Mrs. Orlofsky were researching quilts during a time when most of us were oblivious to the beauty, history, and discovery available through this fascinating medium.

Their approximately 368 page volume was, and still is, an excellent and comprehensive guide to the history of early quiltmaking in America. If I have a question, I can usually find a great answer there.


8- Calico & Chintz Antique Quilts From the Collection of Patricia S. Smith, 1997. This amazing book is a catalog from a 1997 quilt exhibit held at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum.

Beginning with exquisite color photos of very early nineteenth century quilts (with close-ups of the gorgeous fabrics in them) to a clear and thorough description of quilts from the first quarter of the nineteenth century, this book is amazing.

This book came available just as I was beginning to learn about nineteenth century fabrics. It was exactly what I needed when I needed it. It may be my favorite “picture book” of old quilts.


9- The American Quilt, A History of Cloth and Comfort 1750-1950, by Roderick Kiracofe. 1993. Here is another excellent quilt picture book along with excellent, readable, and understandable text about the history of quiltmaking.

It is outstanding in it’s clarity and presentation of information with an added excellent feature of a visual time-line that traces and illustrates trends and styles of quiltmaking through the decades. This book is an excellent resource.


10- Aunt Jane of Kentucky, Eliza Calvert Hall, 1907, reprinted 1974, 1984. This book is not exactly a quilt book, it is an entertaining book that conveys a good deal of common sense wisdom with stories of a fictional character’s lifetime remembrances. It was originally written as separate stories which appeared in various publications between 1898 and 1904.

The chapter titled, “Aunt Jane’s Album”, is about quiltmaking. Through her quilts Aunt Jane describes how making quilts relates to everyday life. Here is one of my favorite passages from the chapter:

“Did you ever think, child,” she said, presently, “how much piecin’ a quilt’s like livin’ a life? And as for sermons, why they ain’t no better sermon to me than a patchwork quilt, and the doctrines is right there a heap plainer’n they are in the catechism……..You see, you start out with jest so much caliker; you don’t go the store and pick it out and buy it, but the neighbors will give you a piece here and a piece there, and you’ll have a piece left every time you cut out a dress, and you take just what happens to come. And that’s like predestination. But when it comes to the cuttin’ out, why, you’re free to choose your own pattern. You can give the same kind o’ pieces to two persons, and one’ll make a ‘nine-patch’ and one’ll make a ‘wild-goose chase,’ and there’ll be two quilts made out o’ the same kind o’ pieces, and jest as different as they can be. And that is jest the way with livin’. The Lord sends us the pieces, but we can cut ‘em out and put ‘em together pretty much to suit ourselves, and there’s a heap more in the cuttin’ out and the sewin’ than there is in the caliker……”

So, there you have it, a long list of ten favorite quilt books.



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