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  • The Sublime Heritage of Martha Mood Volume II – Book Review

    I have been quilting first on a hobby level and then professionally since the early 1970’s and why I’d never heard of Martha Mood before is beyond me. Her work is phenomenal. This is the second volume in a two volume set; the first volume is more a biography about her and her career. While I should probably pick that one up as well at some point, I really wanted this book, the one  with the gallery, eye-candy of her spectacular work. The photographs in this large format book are numerous and beautifully reproduced, she was quite prolific so there is a lot to see. The copy I saw in a friend’s possession had a lovely printed hard cover featuring a close up of one of the mural style pieces she made; though there was no image on the listing I found for the book on Amazon, I was delighted to find my copy had the same cover when it arrived.

    I was introduced to this book (and some other lovely ones on embroidery) by a friend that I spent a lovely evening with last fall. I was in Tillamook Oregon where I had been teaching some hand embroidery and hand applique classes at the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center. I was staying at  a friend’s home for a few days and one evening another friend who had been in the embroidery class came by and brought some books she thought I might enjoy looking through. One look at the cover and I knew I had to have this.

     

    The book cover shows a fine example of Martha's unique style
    The book cover shows a fine example of Martha’s unique style

     

    Martha was an applique artist who made marvelous fabric tapestries. Most of the work presented in the book is from the 1960’s, the designs are very lyrical express a free spirit. On a certain level, I find her work reminiscent of the art of Charley Harper, she certainly was a contemporary of his even if she worked in a different medium.

    Martha used a wide variety of types of fabrics in her work, many appear to be decorator fabrics and she used a lot of hand stitching/embroidery to add exquisite detail to her work. Her work reminds me of some of my own early work when I felt no hesitance at incorporating whatever fabric caught my fancy with no regard as to fiber content; I also loved to enhance my applique with hand embroidery and perhaps this book will give me the courage to explore this again.

    The pieces she made were largely appliqué, some rendered skillfully by hand with turned edges, some rendered in a primitive raw edge technique. There is no reference to whether she used fusible webs in the raw edged work but given most of the pieces shown are dated from early to late 1960’s, I know the choices of fusible webs were very limited back then (if available at all). The raw edged work does not appear to be fused though; there is a ‘look’ to fused appliqué that I find particularly unpleasant and even the softer webs do not allow the fabric to form true to its nature.

     

    a close look at Martha's raw edge applique, this amount of hand embroidery would have been very difficult on fused fabric
    a close look at Martha’s raw edge applique, this amount of hand embroidery would have been very difficult on fused fabric

     

    Due to the large format of the book and the resulting large photos, it is possible to really appreciate the workmanship and the texture of the materials shown in the pieces selected for this book, I think it is a ‘must have’ for any quilter who is interested in pictorial style quilting and appliqué. I found a used copy on Amazon for a very reasonable price, interestingly, my copy is a bit of a collector’s item in my opinion as a stamp on the front faceplate page indicates it was withdrawn from the Smithsonian Institution Library on May 12, 1983, that in itself makes it an interesting addition to my personal library.