Everyday Use


A quilt a made to celebrate the wedding of my young friends Carie and Ben.

I have a friend who doesn’t make quilts for gifts because she fears they won’t get used.

Who wouldn’t use a quilt, I wonder? But I suppose for some people quilts are such rare and valuable things that actually using them seems like sacrilege. When quilts get used, they get dirty. Sometimes they get torn, sometimes the dog chews holes in them. It just seems wrong to treat a quilt as something other than a work of art.

Of course if you’re a quilter and your quilt gets stained or torn, you make another one. In fact, you probably have half a dozen stored in the linen closet.

It’s a long-running debate: are quilts artifacts or are they blankets?

This brings us to today’s quilt story: Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” which appears in her collection Love and Trouble, but is also available online (I’ve included a link below). “Everyday Use” tells the story of an unnamed woman and her two young adult daughters, Maggie and Dee. The mother and Maggie still live at home—home being a three-room house with a tin roof and a dirt yard—while prodigal daughter Dee has gone off to college and the larger world. Her return home for a visit is the story’s triggering event.

Dee has come home to ask for things she once turned up her nose at, including a handmade butter churn and two quilts stored in a trunk. What she’d once seen as old-fashioned, she now declares priceless parts of her African-American heritage. But her mother insists the quilts are to go with Maggie when she marries, news that infuriates Dee.

“Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!” she complains. “She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.”

As far as Dee’s concerned, these quilts should be hung on the wall and admired (she plans to display the butter churn as an art object as well). As far as her mother is concerned, you wear a quilt out and then you make another one. Quilts are made to be used. That’s the whole point.

I give people quilts all the time, and I hope they’re used. But then like the mother in “Everyday Use,” I’m a quilter. If you wear out my quilt, I’ll make you another.


To read “Everyday Use” online, go here:


Here is a wonderful interview Alice Walker gave about quilts to the writer/photographer Roland Freeman. Well worth your time!


Loving Books, and Quilts

meeting-of-the-geese-quiltThe most common question I’m asked as a writer is “Where do you get your ideas?” The answer is: my life, my childhood, stories people tell me about their lives and childhoods (be careful what you reveal about yourself to a writer!), newspaper articles, observations I make while wandering through my day … as Nora Ephron liked to say, everything is copy.

But sometimes the idea for a book doesn’t come from a memory or a news story. Sometimes I write the book I want to read.

Now, I like to read all sorts of books, but sometimes what I really want to read is a book that’s about women and families and houses and friendship. Call it domestic fiction or women’s fiction or cozy fiction. What I’m looking for is a book that’s realistic, funny, well-written, with characters I like (even the unlikeable ones). A book I can sink into and enjoy, that engages me without making me work too hard as a reader. A book that’s best read in front of a fire or out on the screen porch.

And of course I like a book with a few good quilts in it.

If you look at the Quilter’s Bookshelf, you’ll find that there tons of quilt novels out there, more than you might have guessed. Personally, I’m a big fan of Marie Bostwick’s books and think more quilters should know about the marvelous Sandra Dallas. I think we’re all familiar with that lively group of quilters in Jennifer Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilters series.

Reading these writers made me want to write my own quilt story. I wanted to write about trying to find community when you’re middle-aged and new to town (it’s hard!), about balancing out motherhood and the creative life, and I wanted to write about quilts. When I wrote Birds in the Air, I had an audience of quilters in mind, readers who know what a half-square triangle is and who understand the joy of Show & Tell. While I hope all sorts of people can enjoy Birds in the Air, my dream audience is made up of quilters who love quilts and love making quilts as much as I do.

I wrote the book I wanted to read, and I hope you’ll want to read it, too.

The purpose of this blog is to tell you about what I’m reading and what’s inspiring me, and to share some true quilt stories, too. While you’re here, I hope you’ll sign up for my bi-weekly newsletter for more updates from my writing and quilting life (and maybe a recipe or two!).

Thanks for stopping by. More soon!

Birds in the Air

Read a Sample Chapter from Birds in the Air!

From Frances O’Roark Dowell — bestselling author of Dovey Coe, The Secret Language of Girls, Trouble the Water and other “beloved books for tweens and teenagers” (New York Times Sunday Book Review) — comes Birds in the Air, Dowell’s first novel for adults.

“A truly enjoyable read! Quilters will relive their own first patchwork steps along with Emma as she searches for her place in a new community. Non-quilters will experience vicariously Emma’s discovery of the power of quilts to connect, heal, and restore the soul.” –Marianne Fons

In the tradition of Marie Bostwick and Jennifer Chiaverini, Dowell combines her deep connection to the quilting life and her love of storytelling to create a novel about the abiding friendships that bind together a community of women who share a passion for making quilts.

Buy at Amazon
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When Emma Byrd moves into the house of her dreams in the small mountain community of Sweet Anne’s Gap, she knows that making friends may prove to be her biggest challenge. Her husband loves his new job and her kids are finding their way at school. But Emma — no natural when it comes to talking to strangers — will have to try a little harder, especially after the sweet, white-haired neighbor she first visits slams the door in her face.

Luckily, a few of the quilters of Sweet Anne’s Gap adopt Emma and she soon finds herself organizing the quilt show for the town’s centennial celebration. But not everyone is happy to see the job go to an outsider, especially one who has befriended an outcast pursuing her own last best chance at redemption.

With Birds in the Air, Frances O’Roark Dowell (winner of the Edgar Award, the William Allen White Award and the Christopher Medal) has created a warm, funny novel about fitting in, falling out and mending frayed relationships one stitch at a time.

What a delightful book! … As I read, I was transported out of my chair and into the town of Sweet Anne’s Gap and the lives of the quilters that I can understand so well.”  –Annie Smith

Birds in the Air is a great book and quilt block — it’s as unusual as liking the book and the movie! It was such a pleasurable read. I cared about the characters and what happened to them. I enjoyed revisiting what it is like to be a brand new quilter.” –Kathy Mathews, ChicagoNow

A Quilting Q&A with Author Frances O’Roark Dowell

  • Why did you decide to write about quilters? There’s a rule of thumb for writers: Write the books you want to read. I’m so happy whenever writers like Jennifer Chivavirini, Marie Bostwick and Sandra Dallas come out with new quilting novels–I wish more quilters wrote books! So it makes sense that if I love reading books about quilting, I should write one.
  • What draws you to quilting? I’ve always loved quilts. For many years I was convinced that I’d never be able to make a quilt (I’m math phobic, for one thing), and when I finally realized I could, quilting became my new passion. I recently interviewed novelist Marie Bostwick for my blog and asked her why she made quilts. Her answer: Because I can’t paint. I totally got it. Making quilts satisfies my artist soul (the one that can’t paint, alas).
  • How are quilting and writing similar; in what ways do they differ? With both quilting and writing, I revise a lot. I find this especially true now that I’m designing more of my own quilts. I mess up a lot in both endeavors, but find that sometimes my failures lead to good, unexpected places. Neither books nor quilts always end up being exactly what you intended them to be — for better and for worse. One thing that’s different about making quilts is that you’re constantly in motion, going from the cutting board to the sewing machine to the ironing board and back again. It’s great to move while I’m making something instead of just sitting in front of a computer.
  • How did the “Off-Kilter Quilt” podcast come about? I’d been making quilts for a few years when I discovered quilting podcasts. For the most part, these podcasts were homey and conversational, and I loved listening to the hosts talk about their projects and guild meetings, and hearing about the books they were reading and what they were having for dinner. For me, starting a podcast was like joining an ongoing conversation with other podcasters, which then became an ongoing conversation with my listeners, who leave comments, send me emails, and sometimes even come through town and have a cup of coffee with me. It’s a really wonderful, supportive community.

See what readers have been saying about Birds in the Air

“It is a wonderfully written novel with characters that I continue to think about long after I finished it. I found the characters charming and the plot intriguing–I’d love to move in right next door to Emma in Sweet Anne’s Gap.”

“I’m not a quilter but I enjoyed this tale of friendships and small town life… I’d like to see more from Dowell, as she has a nice touch.”

“As an elementary school librarian, I have read and enjoyed Dowell’s children’s book and was eager to read her first foray into adult fiction. So it should be no surprise that this awarding winning queen of exploring the ins and outs of friendships and not fitting in for the tween reader would see fertile ground for exploring the same themes in an adult book.”

“This was a wonderfully warm, exceptionally well-written novel and I couldn’t believe it when I noted I was almost finished with it.”

“I read it in one day, finding plenty of reasons not to do any of the housework (other than laundry) so that I could finish it.”

“Captivating story for those who love and appreciate how the art of quilting weaves people and lives together like a good novel does.”

“Quilting, quilt shows, writing, friendships, fitting in . . . throw in a bit of mystery. What more could a avid reading woman ask for?!”

“I love quilting but rarely read quilting fiction. This book was a happy exception.”

“It’s not the quilting that gets one hooked – it’s the quilters and their stories that keep us engaged.”

“I enjoyed this book by a new author (to me anyway) and hope she makes it the first of a series.”

“The author brings past quilting history and highlights how it functions in a community both in the past and in current times.”

“I really commend Francis for moving outside the square – of her writing genre – she certainly has shown she can write adult novels as well as children’s.”

“I tucked up under a quilt by the fire and spent many enjoyable hours with this book.”

“I would recommend this book to quilters and crafters of all sorts, as it examines the dynamics of how we get along with others as we meander down creative paths.”

“Put this on your Must Read list.”

“I can so identity with Emma, Angie, and even Christine. Keep them coming, Frances.”

“As a quilter it was fun to read a book written by someone who understands the social ties and sense of community we quilters have with each other.”

“I love how Frances uses quilt-isms throughout the book!”

“Dowell was able to get my mind into that town and its drama easily enough for me to lose track of time.”

“Enjoyable read that starts out deceptively simple and then starts to layer on the plot and draws you in even more.”

“Quilters would definitely enjoy this story, but so would the uninitiated, because it’s really about a woman finding her “people.””

“Frances … created a smart story where the characters see like real people.”

“I found myself smiling along reading about Emma’s journey as a new quilter.”

“I enjoyed being transported to Sweet Anne’s Gap, NC.”

Such an enjoyable read!

Delightful. A great mystery with history and drama thrown in.

I hope to see more books for adults from Mrs. Dowell soon.

“Loved the story hope there are more to come”

It is a great read and hard to put down”

“Great slice of life story involving small town America, new beginnings, and quilts.”

“It was great. Love the characters and the quilting.”

“The characters are fascinating, alive, and wonderfully believable.”

Birds in the Air was a pleasure to read, beginning to end”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Frances O’Roark Dowell’s first novel for adults is the quilting novel Birds in the Air, which Marianne Fons called “a truly enjoyable read” about “the power of quilts to connect, heal, and restore the soul.” To younger readers, Frances is known as the bestselling and critically acclaimed author of Dovey Coe, which won the Edgar Award and the William Allen White Award; Where I’d Like to Be; The Secret Language of Girls and its sequels The Kind of Friends We Used to Be and The Sound of Your Voice, Only Really Far Away; Chicken Boy; Shooting the Moon, which was awarded the Christopher Medal; the Phineas L. MacGuire series; Falling In; the critically acclaimed The Second Life of Abigail Walker; Anybody Shining; Ten Miles Past Normal; and most recently, Trouble the Water. She lives with her husband and two sons in Durham, North Carolina. Learn more online at FrancesDowell.com and OffKilterQuilt.com.

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