How to Make an American Quilt – Whitney Otto (1991)

Book Quilt AmI just loved this short read. I hadn’t read it for years, and was curious if the reread would be as good. Would it hold up? Why yes, Virginia, it did, and with the experience of older age comes a different reading.

The book is from the PoV of an adult granddaughter who is visiting her grandma one summer just before she (the granddaughter) gets married. As they while away the long hot days in this small Northern California town, there are lots of observations drawn about people and life through the quilting bee that meets regularly at the grandma’s house.

The book is structured with alternate chapters, one chapter being more or less straight narrative about one of the women friends and their relationships, and then the next chapter being a “how to” quilt instructive chapter, but with a lot more to it. The how-to chapters progress from how to start making a quilt to how to store one at the end, and mirror the growth of a relationship, regardless of whether that is a familial one or one that is more romantic in nature. It’s really well done – subtle and understated.

As others have previously noted, the book structure is a patchwork pattern that echoes the regularity of a more traditional quilt pattern, and although it’s probably been done before, this was done very well. Finn Bennett-Dodd, the visiting granddaughter, is one of the quilting bee that summer, and as the heat of the sun is repeated every day that endless summer, so are the stories of the circle of friends – the wrenching heartbreak, the stitching together of friendship, and (you know I can’t resist the ongoing metaphor) the tapestry of life.

This is a quick summery read, but not without its depth. One of the characters loves swimming and diving and that is similar to how this reading experience was for me – you jump up off the diving platform and then you sink in the story as you’re engulfed into the water, not coming up until it’s the end and you have to breathe.

For a slightly different take on quilts (this time more of a fiber art take), check out these quilts (and the fascinating backstory) of the quilters of Gees Bend, a small African-American hamlet in Alabama whose innovative quilt designs have been displayed at prestigious venues and various art places around the world. (Article from Smithsonian magazine.)

1 thought on “How to Make an American Quilt – Whitney Otto (1991)

  1. Pingback: Suggested Summer Reading…. (Part One) | Just One More Page…

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