Thursday, April 20, 2017

Throwback Thursday: My First Book

Three years ago this month, I began working on my first book. It was a bilingual coffee table book, "New York Beauty, Quilts from the Volckening Collection" over 300 pages, published by Quiltmania in France.

Shelly Zegart wrote the Foreword, and I wrote everything else and did all the photography. April turned out to be photography month. Originally, I planned to use the photos I had already done, but one day I was working on redoing a photo, and the ambient light was just perfect.

"Before" photo - not bad, but wait 'til you see the "After"
(click image to zoom in)
As soon as I saw the before and after, I realized I needed to redo all the photos. It was a dreadful realization considering the amount of work and the tight deadline, but I felt energized and optimistic about stepping up my game. I think it may have been Quiltmania's only book working with a photographer who was not part of their staff.

"After" photo - the quilt looks much more like this shot
(click image to zoom in)
It was very important to capture the texture from all the great quilting, no easy task when working with white and light colored surfaces. There was a two-hour window suitable for shooting photos each day, and 70 quilts to shoot and edit in the month.

All the photos were done by the end of April. In May, I wrote most of the text, so the bulk of my content was completed in a two-month period. It was a surprisingly condensed culminating experience after collecting and studying the quilts for a quarter century.

Quiltmania did all of the design, layout and translation, and less than one year after I worked on my contributions, the book was out. It was such a whirlwind, I still have to pinch myself.

The book is about a group of 70 quilts in my collection, all sharing common motifs related to the complex New York Beauty pattern. This motif first appeared in American patchwork quilts in the middle 19th century, before the Civil War.

During the last 25 years, the motif became quite popular, and it was easier to do with the introduction of foundation piecing. The history was a little cloudy, though. There were romantic ideas floating around, largely representing a provincial point of view. I had to do a lot of vetting. Soon, everything was crystal clear.

Being able to handle the quilts in person was most helpful. They answered a lot of my questions. I collected them over a 25 year period, originally because I loved the design but later because I felt they would tell us something. They told us a lot. As I went about my work, I listened to the quilts more than I listened to anyone or anything else. It was the right thing to do. Thankfully, the quilts were very clear communicators, even though they often spoke softly.

I know a lot of people who aren't necessarily into quilts, but they love this book. Most people love quilts, they just don't spend a lot of time thinking about them. My book views quilts in kind of a different way; by collecting examples of a shared motif made all over the United States over more than 150 years, and letting the pieces of the puzzle fall in to place. "New York Beauty, Quilts from the Volckening Collection" is available from the Quiltmania USA website. For more details, click here


  1. Beautiful quilts. My (Stark) county library doesn't have that book yet. It didn't come up in Search Ohio either. It's on my "to do" list.

  2. Very interesting... and I think your photography show the quilts the way they really look in real and all the detailed photos of blocks as well as quilting designs are very instructive and inspiring.