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January 29, 2005

The Coverlet Book by Helene Bress
Reviewed by Laurie Coolidge

The Coverlet Book by Helene Bress (Flower Valley Press, 2003) $165.00

Helene Bress is a weaver who has written several other books on weaving before writing The Coverlet Book. She has been fascinated by coverlets and has spent over 20 years collecting the information that she has incorporated into this book. She tried to get into the mind of the early coverlet weavers and explain it to us in easily understood language.

This book only deals with non-jacquard coverlets. Some of the weave structures covered include Monk’s Belt, overshot, double weave and summer and winter. Each chapter consists of a generalized overview of the weave structure and then moves into
the technicalities. For those who are not technically oriented, there
is a gallery of coverlets at the end of each chapter.

The book is well documented.  Helene Bress used only original
source material consisting on the coverlets themselves, early linens, 18th and 19th century drafts, weavers’ personal notebooks and printed pattern books.

I believe this book will be a major contribution to the understanding of North American coverlets in the tradition of Keep Me Warm
One Night
(Burnham) and Of Coverlets (Wilson).

Oak Park Journal editor notes The books are about 14 pounds, perhaps the weight of a King sized bed spread in the wash (not yet dried).  The books are a fine collection of research and hard work,
put together well and suited for those with an interest in either the
construction of coverlets (bedspreads) or a nice historical review
to the past in American fabric designs. 

Warmth, beauty, and art: our early American hand-woven coverlets have it all. And, each one is unique and interesting.

Here is a fascinating study - all based on original research from primary sources: from the coverlets themselves, the early draft books and collections of early individual drafts. The author, an intensely curious weaver, explores all the facets of each coverlet, each of their many structures and variations and then, with gusto, passes this information along to the reader in a readable, meaningful and interesting way.

These volumes are filled with photographs, many in color, some in black and white, and many with close-ups. There are draw downs of each coverlet. Charts, fascinating facsimiles of early drafts and explanations galore fill the pages. The author incorporates these photos, draw downs, facsimiles and charts to make complex concepts easy to understand.

A chapter is set aside for each weave system and its variations: Overshot, Twill in its many forms, Turned Twill, Double Weave, Summer and Winter, Star and Diamond, and some miscellaneous weaves. For each of these chapters there’s an overview of the coverlets analyzed followed by a detailed discussion and explanation of its structure Then there’s a gallery featuring a wide range of coverlets, a draw down and photograph of each plus an off-the-cuff description of it and a box containing its vital statistics. Always, there are anomalies and they’re discussed with great delight. How do you read early drafts? What do they look like when woven? What can we learn from them? All this is explained and shown. Many of these patterns are extraordinary!

There’s a chapter devoted to the motifs found on the coverlets, with charts showing the progression of each motif from its simplest to most complex form. If you’re a pine tree admirer, look in the Trees and Churches chapter for a host of trees, their origins and how to weave them. Ever wonder how patterning evolved? Possibly the way explored in the Evolution of Patterning chapter, a just-for-fun chapter with room for serious thought

There’s so much more. From the casual coverlet lover or collector to the serious weaver each will find much to learn, much to add to his or her repertoire —and so much to enjoy.

Perhaps the best thing about the book is the author herself She writes as if she is speaking to you as a friend. You get the feeling that she is right there with you as you are going through the book - explaining, clarifying, just holding your hand making sure that everything is crystal clear.