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Book and Software Review: Karen K. Stone Quilts 

Rob Holland

I am pretty jaded about quilts. I am exposed to them so much at the shows small and large that we attend each year, it takes something really special to impress me. So many Sues, such a profusion of Baltimores! But for me every once in a while a quilter comes along who not only blows me away when I first see her quilts, but continues to reward deeper study and longer exposure. Jane Sassaman does that for me, as does Yvonnne Porcella. And now I’ve encountered another quilter whose rich, complex, colorful work has captivated me, Karen K. Stone. 

In a new book (Karen K. Stone Quilts, published by Electric Quilt Company, 128 pages plus patterns, retail $29.95) and on an Electric Quilt 5 compatible CD of projects and palettes, Karen Stone’s work is lavishly showcased in the context of her life in Dallas, Texas. With this book, under the editorial guidance of Penny McMorris, Electric Quilt has shown once again that it is on a par with the very best quilt book publishers in the world. It’s not “just another software company,” which shouldn’t be surprising given Penny’s long involvement in and pioneering advocacy of art quilts. 

What makes Karen Stone’s quilts so compelling is their color and complexity. There are a variety of influences – southwestern/Mexican primarily, but also appliqué motifs – which interplay with complex traditional quilt designs such as the New York beauty and the Lone Star, to make something entirely original. What’s more, Karen’s fabric imagination is uncanny in its ability to mix very traditional calico-type prints and paisleys with bolder plain and large-print fabrics to make a unique blend. Typically Karen’s quilts are very busy, with lots of interplay among curved lines, triangles and other polygons, and straight lines, but they are always harmonious. Despite a very large fabric palette, the last word you would ever apply to them is “scrappy.” 

Like many accomplished artists, Stone has a sense of humor about her work and approaches it in a very practical, no-nonsense way. For example, when asked about the quilting part of the process, she replies “I prefer making quilts with really busy patchwork. I’m confident that I can piece well, but I’m not confident that I can quilt beautifully in wide-open spaces. (Wide-open spaces make me real nervous. I’m an urban girl. . . .)” Likewise, when asked about embellishment, Stone says “I have to laugh at this question a little – seems to me if the quilt is calling out for something, then things have gone a little less well than expected, and in this case, embellishment would be an attempt to salvage the effort. And using embellishment or any means available to make a less than satisfying piece work better is a valiant pursuit. (My brother’s expression ‘lipstick on a pig’ comes to mind).” 

The book is organized as a lengthy dialogue about quilting, an interview with the Qs and As clearly labeled, which gives Stone plenty of room to ramble about her aesthetics and technique. Interestingly, despite the wild creativity of her designs, Stone uses a very traditional technique – foundation piecing – for much of her piecing. The complexity of the designs, and the tight tolerances for accurate sewing, make this very precise method ideal for her work. Stone talks at length in the book about how she came to use the technique, and what is has meant to her work. She also has words of encouragement for beginning quilters, urging them not to be intimidated by the many choices they now have in how they approach their quilting. 

The first 47 pages of the book are devoted to this profile of Stone, with lavish photography, and the remainder, as is common with quilt books, is devoted to providing detailed instructions for making 13 of Karen’s quilts. And what magnificent quilts they are! From Mississippi to Mexico, these are eye-popping designs, but despite their complexity the instructions and illustrations are clear and detailed. Plenty of templates or foundation patterns are supplied, and the whole is illustrated in lush color printing. Just the titles of these quilts make them sound enticing: “Rattlesnake,” “Delirious,” “Yard Birds Surrounding the Cat.” And the best designs are the two saved for last, “Cinco de Mayo” and “Mississippi Wheel of Fortune.” 

The design overall of the book is charming and varied. Stone’s quilts are displayed in her home, in her garden, and on the backs of life-size statues of cattle crossing a real stream in a downtown Dallas Park. One of the quilts is held up by Stone’s two daughters on a public street, reminiscent of the way so many home-made quilts are held up for display and a picture.  



For those who like their quilts in digital form, there is a great bonus in the companion CD (sold separately). If you are an Electric Quilt 5 user, you can import the project files and unique fabric palettes that go with Karen’s quilts. These can be used to replicate Stone’s designs, or to add pizzazz to your own quilts. You can print out templates or foundation patterns, estimate fabric requirements, and change fabrics and colors to achieve a different look.  

Karen K. Stone Quilts, along with its companion CD, is the best one-two punch of a product to come out of EQ since Dear Jane appeared a couple of years ago. It makes a great gift, to yourself or the quilter on your gift list.

The Karen K. Stone Quilts book and companion CD are available in our store. Or get both for one low price!

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