TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Book Review: Twelve by Twelve

Twelve women, twelve themes, twelve quilts each, all twelve inches by twelve inches.  So many twelves that a new identity is formed: A Twelve.  A what?  A Twelve.

The first blog post shows up on September 4, 2007, outlining an invitation to participate in a challenge where a theme is explored and then revealed in a small quilt every two months.  Diane Perin Hock, the brainchild behind this exercise, invited other women whom she had been following or gotten to know via their blogs.  Quilt challenges are nothing new:  many online groups and quilt guilds use this exercise to encourage participants to push their normal boundaries by exploring themes or concepts they might not normally work on.  In fact, challenges are often incorporated into quilt shows around the United States, issued by the large companies that might sponsor the show (fabric, thread, batting, and other supply companies).  The new thing here is that these twelve women documented their process beautifully and stuck with it for several years, creating a fascinating record of their thoughts, techniques, and growing affection for each other.

The above quilt is Terri Stegmiller's quilt for their Community theme, her tribute to their group.  Several of the participants have never met each other as they live in distant places: eight spread around in the United States, two in Australia, one in the United Kingdom and one in Belgium.  As the challenge progressed, the process of exploring their themes, challenges and thoughts, fused their group into a deep bond, so much so that they refer to themselves as a "twelve".  "When I became a twelve....", "As a Twelve, I think....", and similar statements are peppered throughout the book.

Each Twelve selected one theme and challenged the others to interpret it.  Some evoked obvious images while others focused on broad concepts:  Dandelion, Chocolate, Community, Water, Illumination, Shelter, Mathematics, Chairs, Window, Identity, Passion, Twelve.  They used their blog to brainstorm about what these words could mean, what images they could refer to, posting pictures, sharing stories, and bandying back and forth ideas that could inform their pieces.  Then they went to work.  One of things I really enjoyed about this group was not only their geographic diversity, but also their differences in age and experience.  Some have had extensive experience in the fiber art world while others are still kind of wet behind the ears.  Their techniques and life experiences are very different from each other.  All of this led to a wide range of interpretations.  Their exchanges also led each Twelve to experiment in new ways. And, because of the blog and of working on the book, their introspection on their growth changed over time, informing new work in a fresh way.

Here are some of my favorites, which also illustrate the range of interpretation of the themes and of techniques used:

Passion & Pain by Terry

Chairs by Helen

Pop Art Identity by Gerrie

Each of these quilts comes with its unique story and process.  It was interesting to see that although in most cases the Twelves interpreted their themes in completely different ways, every now and then there would be a couple of similar takes worked out uniquely.  Three of the Twelves used finger prints as their image for identity.  In other cases, interpretations were literal or abstract, obvious or kind of tricky.

The book is beautifully laid out, an art piece in itself.  It is substantial, with 176 pages chock full of images and text.  There are many tips on techniques along with feedback on each Twelve's process.  As I read through it, I thought about how this process could work well for any group, even mixing media, just so the guidelines were understood by the rest of the participants.  Because this one chose to use a common size as the guideline, 12x12 inches, the results are cohesive and can be displayed as a unit.  The Twelves are currently working on their second series, Colorplay, using color as the theme, making their work even more united when seen as a whole.  I can only hope that this will lead to a second book as well.

One of the reasons both the book and the blog work so well is that all twelve of these women have been able to document their work in a professional way using language clearly to expose their ideas.  I feel like "Take Good Photos" is a mantra I have been chanting to other fiber artists and textile businesses in my own work within my communities.  Developing this skill is essential, especially if the only contact one has with others is through this virtual connection.  Using good sentence structure and language well also makes the process accessible to others who seek to learn from it.  The book emphasizes that the important part of this for the Twelves has been the process, the ability to share, and not necessarily the end result.  Of course, we all like to end up with work that we can be proud of, but as all of them expressed, life does not always allow for the time necessary to complete a project within the deadlines.  Ideas, however, percolate, transform, inform and become incorporated in future work.

The final theme of the series, Twelve, is the most interesting to me.  Several paid tribute to the end of the series and their relationship to each other, while others explored the number 12 in a personal way.  The pieces all show maturity and a greater comfort level with the dimensions and designs.  The three below were all very interesting in their symbolism, but I show them here to give an example of how different the techniques used affect the mood and execution of an idea.

Seven Houses Five Trees by Deborah

12 Months by Kristin

Twelve Women by Karen

Two of the Twelves are members of TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List;  Gerrie Congdon and Terri Stegmiller.  In fact, Gerrie joined TAFA early on, when it was still a baby.  When Twelve by Twelve was published, I was told that the authors would like me to have a copy and would I please review it.  Ha!  I was so honored and thrilled!  A TAFA perk!  I didn't want to review the book without reading it carefully first.  I finally finished it and can say that I highly recommend it to both art quilters and anyone interested in creating community.  

I have had the pleasure of welcoming new members to TAFA, reviewing their work and seeing what they are doing.  Over and over again I feel so humbled about the wonderful process that is happening all around the world through the textile and fiber art communities, along with other craft and fine art traditions.  But, there is something very special that seems to be a common thread among those who work with fabric, thread, or other fiber materials.  Perhaps these techniques help develop patience and empathy, all knowing how the process makes up the whole.  Whatever the case, I know that I love being a part of it and can only give kudos to all of the Twelves for the impact they are having on their peers and followers.  This is a wonderful group and if you have not read the book or seen their blog, I encourage you to do so now.  And, check out their individual blogs while you are at it!



  1. I've been wondering about this book -- now I obviously need to have it! Thanks for the detailed, specific and thoughtful book review, Rachel!

  2. I really enjoyed it and could see myself going through such an exercise someday. I have never paid much attention to challenges or competitions, but can understand the process part and the motivation to get things done by a certain deadline. Maybe you'll start something, too, eh, Susan?


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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