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
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.
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
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
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!)