Quill and Quire

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Classic Quilts

by Ruth McKendry

Ruth McKendry is a well-known textile expert and author of Quilts and Other Bedcoverings. Her personal collection of more than 300 quilts was acquired by the National Museum of Civilization in the late 1970s.

Classic Quilts, McKendry’s latest offering, documents primarily the history of 19th-century Ontario quilts and their makers. In such a book, one might expect some insights into the care and conservation of quilts. Instead, there are brief general instructions and helpful hints for making patchwork and appliqué quilts and quilting them. Patterns and instructions are included for three quilts featured in the book. These take up 14 pages but are not included in the table of contents or the index. This is an unfortunate omission for a “history” book.

Classic Quilts is easy to read and offers many interesting anecdotes about, and insights into, the lives of the quiltmakers. Many traditional quilt patterns, both patchwork and appliqué, have fascinating stories and myths about their origins. McKendry has explored this aspect of quilt history in depth and reminds the 20th-century quiltmaker that there is much more to making a quilt than just sewing the fabric.

The visuals in any quilt book must be high quality if they are to inspire the next generation of quilters to carry on the tradition. The photographs should be crisp and clear to reveal the texture of the quilting stitches. The quality and clarity of the colour and black and white photos in this book are, at best, inconsistent.

Canada, not just Ontario, has a wealth of quilt history that needs to be documented and preserved for the quiltmakers and historians of tomorrow. Classic Quilts is a welcome addition to the small but (I hope) growing library of Canadian quilt history books that will preserve both the quilts and the lives of the women who made them.