Book Review: Unconventional & Unexpected

A variety of new quilt-related books have recently come my way. One of the most interesting titles in a long while, and one of my favorites ever, is Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950–2000 by Roderick Kiracofe.

roderick1 Book Review: Unconventional & Unexpected

I’ve had it for several months already because each time I start to write about it, I don’t know where to begin.

I love everything about it.

These quilts are unexpected. They’re what you might think of as a little “off.” Some of them are wonky and wild.

 Book Review: Unconventional & Unexpected

Circles, c. 1950–1970, Found in Alabama. Cotton, quilted with purple thread. 71″ x 62″. From Unconventional & Unexpected by Roderick Kiracofe.

But they’re quilts made by real people who seemed to be concerned only with making a quilt. They weren’t thinking “Does this purple go with this green?” or “Are these borders too narrow?” They were just making a quilt with the materials they had.

 Book Review: Unconventional & Unexpected

Sunburst, variation, c. 1950–2000. Found in Hartford, Connecticut. Satin, appliqued crochet rose in center, tied. 84″ x 75″.

In Kiracofe’s own words, “The book includes 150 extraordinary, eccentric, and soulful quilts from my personal collection that feel refreshingly modern. In a much freer, more casual and utilitarian aesthetic than their traditionally patterned counterparts, these quilts still demonstrate their place in modern and contemporary art in America.”

 Book Review: Unconventional & Unexpected

String quilt from Unconventional & Unexpected by Roderick Kiracofe

In addition to dozens of large color photos of the quilts, the book includes essays by many well-known experts including curators, historians and artists. Some of the essays are academic and some are written from the heart—there’s a nice variety.

 Book Review: Unconventional & Unexpected

Schoolhouse/House, c. 1940–1960, Possibly made in the Appalachian area of Virginia. Cotton, 81″ x 64″. Ex. coll. Ardis and Robert James.

I especially love the idea that these were quilts “below the radar.” That’s how I hope my quilts will be viewed some day. They aren’t going to win any prizes, but hopefully they’ll win somebody’s heart.

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From the book jacket:

Roderick Kiracofe is the author of a variety of books on quilts, including The American Quilt, originally published in 1993 and now considered a classic. In 1983, he co-founded The Quilt Digest, an annual publication that brought together the antique and contemporary quilt worlds for the first time. He has been actively involved in the creation of some of this country’s most important private and corporate quilt collections, including those of Bank of America and Levi Strauss & Co. As a curator and art collector, Kiracofe has mounted exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad, lectured, and consulted with museums. He was also instrumental in the creation of the renowned Oakland (CA) Arts District and serves on the board of Oakland Art Murmur. Visit his website at

About Diane Harris

I'm an editor for Quiltmaker magazine in Golden, Colorado, USA. For six years, I wrote pattern instructions, product reviews and how-to articles. Then I spent four years as QM's Interactive Editor, working to generate much of our online content. Now I'm back to patterns and how-tos, which is a great fit for me. I still love writing about quilt-related topics for Quilty Pleasures, and I always have my finger on the pulse of the quilting world. I teach a variety of quilt classes and give guild programs, too. Reach me by email:
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3 Responses to Book Review: Unconventional & Unexpected

  1. Nann says:

    My copy arrived on Saturday! I am saving it as a reward for completing my other reading “homework.”

  2. LOVE, Love, love everything about Roderick Kiracofe’s new book, Unconvetional and Unexpected. It reminds me so much of my grandmother’s quilts when I was growing up, in Texas. I ‘m so excited to see others enjoying these type of quilts, also. Good to know that I’m not alone and my grandmother would be so proud!!!! Thanks for the review…I’m definitely doing a save of it. I enjoyed it tremendously.

  3. Julierose says:

    Oh thanks for your review! I have been looking at this book on Amazon and it is in my Wish List. It looks fascinating. I love hearing and/or reading about motivations behind the finished quilts. And seeing “make do” quilts. Hugs, Julierose

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