Following traditions by doing things the way they have always been done is important in human societies. Traditions connect us to our past, and help us understand the ways in which we belong to our corner of the world today. But it is equally human to want to change things a bit, or maybe a lot, to satisfy the creativity we’re all born with; but many somehow lose much of it in the process of modern education.
The art of traditional quilt making was to enjoy an incredible surge in popularity as the 1976 American Bicentennnial approached; but that process had not yet begun when teenager Kathy Loomis found in the early ’60s that no one around her could show her how to make the quilt she wanted. Without benefit of all the guild groups, classes, books, magazines and videos that underpin this popular textile art today, she just had to work it out for herself. Since that beginning she has continued making quilts without patterns or directions, and her experience of hundreds of quilts made over about five decades imbues every piece of information, tip and diagram in the book while assuring the reader that he/she can do this too, and it’s fun.
In “Pattern-Free Quilts: Riffs on the Rail Fence Block” Kathy Loomis’ enthusiasm for a free-spirited creative process sets the scene for an inspiring and very practical book on how to produce your own personally designed quilt projects, large and small: “Although I love the technical aspects of making quilts, I think the best part is the chance to make something that is mine alone, planning and designing each quilt to be exactly what I want. I want to share that sense of freedom and creativity with you.”
With the simple classic rail fence block design and using clear logically arranged text and diagrams in each chapter, you will understand how to use the block as a master plan, and how you can then devise infinite variations. Levels of experience and sewing ability are taken into account where they might matter along the way, and the reader is taken through deciding on the blocks or units for the quilt, how to choose colours and select fabrics, the importance of sketching out possibilities, introducing elements of complexity, and the importance of the overall master plan. You’ll learn about the design wall or improvised pin board you’ll need to view your quilt vertically to consider changes to the composition as it develops before you sew it up. There’s great stuff in every chapter, but I was really taken with the wealth of good advice on the nuts and bolts of putting your design together in Chapter 7 ’Making Your Pattern-Free Quilt’. Here you’ll be introduced to the benefits of using Kathy’s stack, slice and swap process, several things to not worry about and why, plus how to work out your assembly line and keep track of it all. The book concludes with some prompts to get you thinking about your next project, and a gallery of quilts made using variations on this simple but versatile block.
All the diagrams and most of the gallery examples feature straight cut lines and seams, which has a certain logic, since the traditional quilt maker branching out will be accustomed to using quilters’ rules, triangles, squares, rotary cutter and mat. From here, though, it’s only a short step to totally freehand cutting without using rulers or templates of any kind; and considering the extent to which such methods have become a modern tradition, it surprised me that no reference to the basics of this technique was included, beyond saying “if you’re an accomplished sewist the rails can even be curved.” (p15) These skills are not at all demanding and I recommend they be included in any future edition. But for people cutting and piecing totally freehand perhaps it goes without saying that the book’s concepts apply equally to how we work, too.
If you’re ready to approach designing your own quilts, I totally recommend using this book as a manual to get you started – and you can purchase it here. Before long, Kathy Loomis’ ideas will have you enjoying satisfaction from producing personally designed quilt projects of any size, for any purpose.