Book Review:

Quilting with Manhole Covers:
A Treasure Trove of Unique Designs from the Streets of Japan

By Shirley MacGregor
The Carriage Trade Press, 1999
Paperbound, 136 pages

Available from Planet Patchwork

This is a book that would never have been produced without the single-minded dedication (not to say obsession) of an individual with an idea she would not let die. The result is one of the most unusual, beautiful, and quirky quilt books you will find anywhere.

Jogging early in the morning in the streets of Zushi, Japan, Shirley MacGregor made the remarkable discovery that Japanese manhole covers are graced with decorative designs that bespeak great care and local pride. Ranging from the whimsical to the delicate, the designs find their inspiration in the characteristics of the communities in which they were created. There are mountains and valleys, flowers and fish, leaves, birds, and squid, all rendered in the confined space of cast iron circles and used to mark the entrances to Japan's utility underground.

A long-time quilter, Shirley quickly made the imaginative leap to these manhole covers as inspiration for quilts, and she herself made one (entitled "Treasures Underfoot") using two of the designs. The quilt won a first place in the 1997 Pacific International Quilt Festival. She undertook to document the beauties of these manhole covers, and beyond that to demonstrate how naturally and beautifully they are translated into the quilter's art.

"Quilting With Manhole Covers" is the result of that undertaking, containing color photos of dozens of manhole covers and the quilts they inspired in artists on both sides of the Pacific. Organized geographically, the book is also a travel guide to the many towns and counties in Japan, providing windows into such little-known places as Tajiri town, which portrays smiling onions on its manholes, and Fujino town, which chose a delicate rendering of the wisteria. The manhole cover of each of the communities is explained and rendered in both color and black and white, and the companion quilt is presented along with comments from the artist. Some of the quilts are relatively close copies of the manhole covers, while others take imaginative liberties with the designs. All are unusual and some are breathtaking.

While this is not a "how to" book on making manhole quilts, MacGregor has accommodated quilters who might want to give it a try by providing clear line drawings of each of the manhole cover designs. These could easily be blown up and used as the basis for a quilt of your own.

This book is self-published by Shirley and her husband, and the design and production show the same great care as is lavished on the manhole covers. The photography and layout are superb, and the quality of the materials and the printing are very high.

If you're looking for something not only different, but very different, get yourself a copy of this book. It will add a new dimension to your quilting life (and make you look more closely at your seemingly mundane surroundings!)

(c) Copyright 1995-2012 by The Virtual Quilt Company. All rights reserved.


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