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Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Aloha Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

I have a minor little obsession with fiction that has a "craft" theme of some kind, so of course I have read Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek books, which center around a fictional quilt camp in Pennsylvania. The books are decently written and well-researched, although to be honest it's the kind of fiction I generally would not be too interested in if it were not for the quilting connection. While most of the books are set in the present, Chiaverini has written several taking place before, during, and after the Civil War. And while good for her for her depiction of slavery and racism and the abolitionist movement, I generally don't enjoy reading those books, because it is too depressing.*

So I was excited that the most recent one, The Aloha Quilt, was set in modern times. Unfortunately, it centers around Bonnie, a character I never found that interesting and who is pretty insufferable here. She goes to Hawai'i for several months to help a friend set up an inn and quilt camp, but also to get away from her awful, soon-to-be-ex-husband. And that was a major flaw in this book -- in the first book Craig appeared, he was a decent, if flawed, man who was deeply contrite over his almost-affair. In the next book, he was a conniving jerk who tried to hide assets in preparation for a divorce. In this book, he is an irrational, controlling, violent lunatic, who apparently never once behaved like a decent man (and so what does that say about Bonnie, that she chose to marry him anyway?). People do occasionally point out he is not a bad guy, but that is hardly credible given how cartoonishly evil Chiaverini has him behaving. I know that in real life some people do behave this way during a divorce, and that the adversarial legal system brings out the worst in divorcing parties (a rant for another day), but that does not make for interesting reading. Especially when Bonnie is such a whiny doormat about it.

Moreover, she is ridiculously judgmental of her friends. When Craig threatens to claim half of Bonnie's ownership in the quilt camp and her friends act quickly to help her sell her share to another member, so that the camp cannot be touched by him and she can continue to work there, Bonnie instead complains about how betrayed she was because her friends did not allow Craig to destroy the camp in a show of loyalty to her. Really. And when another friend admits to a long-ago infidelity, Bonnie completely overreacts, supposedly because it reminds her of Craig's actions (except he never actually cheated on her until long after their separation and her refusal to have anything to do with him again). In short, Bonnie was kind of a pill.

On the other hand, I learned quite a bit about Hawai'i (I so want to go) and Hawai'ian quilting, and it inspired me to try some Hawai'ian appliqué myself. I have a breadfruit pattern from a magazine, but I decided to try my hand at designing my own, a Hibiscus pattern (common in Hawai'i, but also in Puerto Rico; my mom had some in her garden). I folded a 15 inch square piece of freezer paper into eighths (as if I were cutting a snowflake) and drew a design of half a flower and half a leaf:
I then cut it out, but apparently not carefully -- I guess the folds were not precise enough, because one portion ended up too thin. I'm not sure how I want to proceed; the traditional method says to cut out the drawn eighth and pin it it to fabric folded and ironed in eighths and cut around the shape to create the applique. However, I'm afraid I'll make the same mistake, and the inner folds will be cut too narrowly, especially because my pattern is quite a bit smaller than traditional (no way am I attempting a bed quilt). The alternative is to iron the whole paper pattern onto fabric (brightly colored batiks, by the way), which would work because it is freezer paper and it would allow me to correct mistakes and be more careful cutting, but it would also take a tediously long time to cut it out, and I am not a patient person. I have to think about this.

*I had the same problem with Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, an excellent book that had me cringing throughout the first half, because yes I get it many early comic book writers were Jewish and of course a story like Superman kicking Hilter's ass is the ultimate wish-fulfillment and yet the worst supervillain could never compete with real, actual evil in the world, et cetera et cetera et cetera, but stories involving the Holocaust NEVER END WELL, and I don't want to read fiction that makes me want to curl up in a corner and cry, no matter how good it is.

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