Quilt Design Coloring Workbook: The Backstory…

Just over a year ago I received a message from Kate, my literary agent. (Yes, I have a lit agent because I try my best to hide from the actual nuts and bolts of contracts). She asked if I would be interested in doing a quilt coloring book. I thought it over for a moment and answered, “Sure. What are the details?” Kate gave me a call and shared the details and asked me to write something up to send along to Storey Publishing. My eyes lit up because I knew the people at Storey were true book people, like me, and I set about to pull my ideas together. Before I got very far I realized that what I wanted to do was more than just a coloring book; there were so many words to be written, ideas to play with, background to be explored. Surely by now you know how my complicated little brain works, right?

And then another message came. The publisher and editorial director had seen me speak at the first QuiltCon and wondered if I could work some of those ideas in. I’m not sure if she quite knew what she was doing by unleashing the aforementioned little brain of mine, but over the next few hours I went to work and filled half a notebook with possibilities, and The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook was born, or at least conceived.


For me coloring occupies two overlapping spaces: play and thought. When someone sits down to color something it taps into the wonderful impulse of childhood, to take an outline and bring it to life, to fill its spaces with color and transform it into something magical. That is the essence of what I wanted to tap into in supplying quilts to color; each of my designs were developed to provide nearly infinite possibilities, spaces to play with novel color approaches that would emerge through playing with the designs. Each color added would be a choice, a small decision, but one that need not be labored over, as we quilters tend to do when selecting fabrics. I realized that in coloring these quilts quilters, quilt lovers, and really everybody would be liberated to set aside the fear of mistakes and see design as I see it: an exploration, an evolving process that emerges in the doing rather than something that must somehow be fully formed before beginning. For me design and play are inseparable, and I was just presented with an opportunity to share that belief with the world.

Thus the essence of The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook emerged as something I feel is both simple and profound: What does our play mean? What do the intuitive choices we make lead to? Perhaps I have been influence by watching my kids play, seeing how much their play follows the ways they are grappling with new ways of understanding the world. My daughter who is on the autism spectrum always tends to play-acting, borrowing characters and roles from stories and pulling them out into her real world. In taking on those various roles she can try out how different characters might react to the world and find answers and solutions that fit her best, that make sense for her own self. Her intuition tells her that there is something safe in wearing those personas as she tries to figure things out. Her younger brother, on the other hand, is a builder, constructing structures and apparatus out of anything and everything; he is seeing how things fit together or don’t just as he is making sense of how he fits into the family, with his peers, and in the world at large. Obviously they aren’t thinking about all of this, but that is the nature of play; in uninhibited exploration we figure out what is itching away at our brains. It is an essential way of figuring things out.

That is what The Quilt Design Coloring Book is for me: a playground for exploring quilts. What started as a coloring book grew layers; coloring the 49 quilts is the starting point that leads to 42 design experiments that offer chances to play with various prompts for designing your own quilts to color. All of these experiments are then related to some of the essential concepts in modern art, with introductions for each of the seven sections that explore why certain visual approaches emerged during the 20th century, offering examples from the permanent collection at MoMA illustrating the stories behind modern art.

From color play ideas and possibilities emerge, through design play an individual voice takes form, in relating that voice to a wider aesthetic history understanding of what might be said. With The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook I hope to tap into the impulse that has brought adult coloring books to the foreground and transform that into a tool for quilters to exercise their creative muscles. And, of course, play…

Coloring Exercise titled Moving Target from The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook as colored by Katherine (my wife).

Coloring Exercise titled Moving Target from The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook as colored by Katherine (my wife).

So, there it is in a nutshell. Well, sort of; there is so much more I could and probably should say. I went deep in the well for this one before spending countless hours that The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook didn’t get bogged down in the esoteric minutiae that so occupy my mind, hopefully threading the proverbial needle and getting the balance of concept, design, and fun just right.

I cannot thank everyone at Storey enough for coming along for this ride and bringing this book to life. And since I apparently cannot restrain my academic side at the moment, I’ll just leave you with the kind words of Carolyn Ducey and Latifah Saafir…

“Wow! This is a great tool for quilt makers and artists — and those of us who love to play with color, pattern, and design. I can’t wait to get my colored pencils out!”
— Carolyn Ducey, curator of collections, International Quilt Study Center & Museum

“Brilliant in its approach and execution. Thomas Knauer forces us to think deliberately about design, but in a way that is easy and natural. At once intriguing and inspiring, stimulating and relaxing, this is much more than just a coloring book.”
— Latifah Saafir, Latifah Saafir Studios and co-founder of the Modern Quilt Guild

More later,

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