Category Archives: Book reviews

Text and Textile. A perfect combination.

Lao-Tai Textiles by Patricia Cheesman

The Textiles of Xam Nuea and Muang Phuan by Patricia Cheesman
Published by Studio Naenna Co Ltd, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
ISBN: 974-272-915-8

Lao-Tai Textile book coverPatricia Cheesman has spent the past 30 years conducting in-depth research on Lao and Thai textiles. She is the author of several books and articles on the subject and has contributed to many international exhibitions.

Born in Singapore and educated in the UK, Patricia lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand where she teaches at the Chiang Mai University in the Thai Art Department. She works with the Weavers for the Environment Group and owns the Studio Naenna Textile Gallery where she conducts workshops in natural dyes and design.


The book measures 210mm x 285mm, is bound in soft cover and has 297 pages.

This book contains everything I expect from a good textile book:

  • Maps to put the information into geographical context
  • Lao-Tai Textile book pages 3Loads of photographs. A few in black-and-white but mainly colour photographs which include detail shots of the textiles and designs, photos of the local people wearing, making and caring for the textiles, as well as lovely story pictures – photos of the community in which these textiles are made, loved and used.
  • Diagrams and sketches showing the construction of some of the garments as well as some of the weaving equipment.

All in all, this book is comprehensively illustrated and contains valuable visual documentation of the Lao-Tai textiles.

“My deepest thanks go to all the weavers, villagers and shamans who have patiently answered my enquiries, received me in their homes and guided me in my search for information.”

This opening sentence sets the tone of the whole book. Patricia shares her vast knowledge of the textiles, the history, and the people of this remote part of the world, with a tangible measure of respect, gratitude and humility. It is obvious that she not only loves her subject, but that she has an affinity for the whole culture and lifestyle surrounding it.

Lao-Tai Textile book pages 2The book starts with the author’s acknowledgements and background notes on how her research was conducted, how she set the parameters for the book, and how the fact that she grew up in Asia and is fluent in the Lao language informed her research. Maps showing the current and historical ‘lay of the land’ further aids the reader to understand the subject matter.

The first three chapters of the book looks at the geographical and historical setting of the Lao-Tai culture as well as how these factors influenced the different classifications of textiles in the region.

Lao-Tai Textile book pages 1Chapter 4 gives background information about the Lao-Tai culture. The different gender roles, religious ceremonies, wedding and burial ceremonies, as well as the role of local food and architecture can be seen to influence the different textile designs.

Chapter 5 to 7 give detail insights into the different garments worn by both men and women of the different clans. These chapters are beautifully illustrated with photos and diagrams.

Lao-Tai Textile book pages 8Both the Shamanic and Buddhist religions had a great influence in the design and use of textiles and Chapter 8 goes into great detail describing and illustrating each piece of textile used during religious ceremonies.

Household textiles holds a special appeal for me and Chapter 9’s descriptions of the pillows, blankets, curtains and other household items used by the Lao-Tai people, must be my favourite part of the book.

Lao-Tai Textile book pages 10Chapter 10 is all about technique, showing detailed photos of the dyeing and weaving processes used by the artisans. It also shows how both silk and cotton are cultivated and prepared for dyeing and weaving. I love how the background colour of these pages add to the lush feel of the natural dyes.

Lao Tai Textile book pages 12Chapter 11 describes the different symbols, designs and motifs depicted in the textiles. Again beautifully illustrated with detail photographs.

The book concludes with three Appendixes explaining the intricacies of the Lao-Tai languages. Essential information in understanding the names and descriptions of the different textiles.

Lao-Tai Textile book pages 9This is a beautiful book with loads of photos. It shows the textiles from a technical point of view as well as a cultural point of view. It puts the textile in the context of its origin. The place, the people and the history. But that is not all. This is not just a look-book – it is a read-book. It is beautiful and you can keep it on your coffee table, but when you go to bed, take it with you and actually read it. It is rich in information and beautifully written. It is obvious that Patricia loves her subject matter. Both the textiles and the community form which it comes.

If you love textiles, books, travel, culture and beautiful pictures – this is your kind of book.

Order your copy today.
Read more about my visit to Studio Naenna




12 Projects Inspired by 20th-Century Art from Art Nouveau to Punk & Pop
by Kathreen Ricketson

If you are looking for a book containing quilt patterns and templates to copy, this is not the one. As the title suggests, this one is brave. And new. It makes you look at quilts with fresh eyes.

Kathreen Ricketson needs no introduction. She is the well known and well loved Australian crafter and blogger behind, the creative force behind Action Pack magazine for kids, and author of books like Whip Up Mini Quilts and Little Bits Quilting Bee. Kathreen sadly passed away on May 15, 2013 while fulfilling a lifelong dream of travelling around Australia with her husband and kids.

FORMAT & LAYOUT: The book measures 205 x 254mm and consists of 160 pages, bound in soft cover.

The book is filled with glorious colour photos, depicting her gorgeous family surrounded by her quilts. The sketches and illustrations were done by her husband Rob. These heart warming photos not only illustrate and accompany her quilt designs, but give us an insight into her personality and way of life. For her, work and family were all one holistic way of life and not something to be put into different boxes.

Brave New Quilts IndexCONTENT:
Although the book contains 12 projects, it does not give detailed instructions to copy. It rather inspires the reader to use their own judgement and helps them to gain confidence in their own choice of colours and pattern.

The book starts by explaining basic design principles like space, proportion, pattern and texture, line and shape, balance and symmetry, and colour.

The next chapter builds on these basics by explaining colour theory, identifying different types, textures, prints and sources of fabric, and suggesting different design tools like mood boards and visual journals.

Brave New Quilts  FamilyThe 12 projects are divided into four categories (Use of Line; Colour; Motif; and Text), which are then further divided into three projects each. Each project is inspired by a different art style, like Bauhaus, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Punk and Pop Art, and combined with a method of quilt creating. With each project Kathreen explains the thought process behind her design and then give a few ideas and encouragements to the reader to do their own thing, and experiment.

Brave New Quilts ToolsThe book is concluded by a few chapters dealing with tools, assembling and finishing methods, and tips on storing, washing and above all, using your quilts. Right on character, Kathreen adds a long list of links to websites, blogs, tutorials and other online recourses to supplement the mountain of advice, inspiration and information already included in this book.

Brave New Quilts AssemblyCONCLUSION:
As far as quilt books go, this one belongs right up there in top spot. The book is written for people who has a basic knowledge of sewing and who might have some experience with quilting. It is not a beginners book and if you are someone who needs step-by-step instructions, this will probably not satisfy you. But if you are ready to take a leap into the unknown, to experiment and try your own thing, but lack the confidence or design knowledge, this is for you.

If you have been a follower of Kathreen’s blog, magazine or other books, and want something to celebrate her life and work, this is a fitting tribute. Not only to her amazing talent as a designer and writer, but also as a person, mother and wife.

You can follow Stash Books’ Legacy Tour for Brave New Quilts here

Indigo by Catherine McKinley



I have always been fascinated by Indigo cloth. But what fascinates me even more than the actual fabric in shades and patterns of blue, varying from clear sky to thunder clouds, is the mistique and aura surrounding anything to do with Indigo. Why does it have such a power to intrigue and mesmirize?

I have seen quite a few books on Indigo, describing the methods, techniques and patterns associated with Indigo. From Japan, through India and the Middle East to Africa and on to the Carribean. They all have beautiful photos and diagrams but none of them touched me on an emotional level the way this book has.

Catherine’s way with words is as mesmirizing as the dye itself. I picked a few of my favourite passages from the book to share with you:

And when you die-o! Cloth will go to your grave with you – we take our finest to the afterlife. But cloth itself never dies. Your children inherit it and keep you near to them. When you die, they will open your cloth box and see how you have lived! Every wedding, every birth, those who die, church occasions, new presidents, festivals, anniversaries, customary rites – each one has a cloth and your cloth will tell your story. (p41-42)

Cloth is the portage, the vehicle for the spirit on the irreversible, unsettling march from birth to the grave. (p96)

You know, there truly is life inside indigo. You have to learn a respect for that life. It depends on faith. The interaction with the dye pot is like an interaction with faith. It took me many years to understand and master this. You have a relationship with that life. These organisms – I know all their needs. I need to hear them to know what they need and then they can give me all the beautiful things that I need. You interact with the dye pot with an ultimate trust and pure heart. With indigo, I feel like someone who is honest. I feel no conflict in myself, just completeness, and I am far away from everything of the world. As much as I care for them, they adopt me. (p213-214)

Catherine McKinley

Catherine McKinley

She manages to combine things I love – Africa, cloth, words, travel – in an evocative tale of searching and discovering. Not just the story of Indigo but also her own story and how the two are entwined. Not the same, but not seperate either.

I loved reading this book. I learned so much. About cloth and its place in Africa’s history. About being a woman in Africa. And I was reminded of how cloth is one of the few constants in our life. It covers us at birth, keeps us warm and protected through life, and shrouds us in death.

INDIGO – In search of the colour that seduced the world
by Catherine McKinley
published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781408812204

Craft Fiction


I write stories, but I don’t write fiction. Everybody and everything has a story and I’m always trying to find the story behind the facts when I write an article, an interview or a blog post.

A while ago I was toying with the idea of writing a real story. A fictional story. But what will I write about? I always thought a story has to come to you; you can’t chase it or make it up. You have to wait for it. Once the storyline or plot or main character has revealed itself to you, you can then go on and find the rest of the story.

I thought about using my normal milieu of craft and needlework as a setting and write some Craft Fiction. You know, a story about a group of stitching ladies solving a murder in between knitting a sweater and finishing their next cross-stitch. Nothing too ‘out there’…

To kick things off I decided to do some research into the topic. Are there any craft fiction about? Would anybody read it? Would anybody sell it? And more importantly, would anybody publish it? What I found is quite astounding. There’s heaps of craft fiction out there! I promptly set off to the library to lay my hands on some. I took two books home to read.

The first one, by Monica Ferris, is called Knitting Bones, and is book eleven in a 16-book series called Needlecraft Mysteries. Some other titles in the series are Crewel World, Framed in Lace, Hanging by a Thread and Cutwork. Did you have any idea that needlework terms could sound so menacing? These books centre on an amateur detective called Betsy Devonshire, who owns and runs a needlework shop called Crewel World. When Betsy is not busy with knitting or embroidery, she solves murders and other mysteries.

As I did not start at the beginning of the series, it took me a while to get into the book and familiar with all the characters. I normally like mystery/detective stories, but I have to admit that this is not one of my favourites. The story and plotline is quite good, but I got the feeling that the whole needlework theme is a bit forced. It goes into lengthy explanations of knitting patterns and embroidery designs, which really does not add anything to the story.

I will probably read one more book in the series, just to see if my first impressions are correct, but I don’t think I will work my way through all 16 books.


The second book I read is called The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. The book centers on Georgia Walker and her daughter Dakota, who (you guessed it) owns a yarn shop in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The Friday Night Knitting Club is a group of yarn shop regulars who get together on a Friday evening to … ah… knit. This is not a mystery novel and there are no murders to solve. It is actually a great book about human relationships, love and friendship. It is not a genre I usually read, but I really enjoyed the book. I think it is well written, with great characters and the references to yarn, knitting and needlework fitted in quite naturally.

The book is the first in a series of three books, but it stands on its own very well and feels like a complete story.


Other Craft Fiction authors I discovered but have not read yet are:

Anne Canadeo
Maggie Sefton
Barbara Bretton
Terri DuLong
Gil McNeil
Debbie Macomber
Anne Bartlett
Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Beth Pattillo
Sally Goldenbaum
Ann Hood
Mary Kruger
Claire La Zebnik
Nicole R Dickson
Elizabeth Lenhard
Linda Roghaar
Betty Hechtman
Kathy Gleason

Do you read Craft Fiction? Who is your favourite author?