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Mary Ann Gwinn , McClatchy Newspapers, Published September 25 2010

Dare to be square, new quilting book advises

There’s something a bit Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde about Boo Davis.

In person, the award-winning graphic designer appears to be sweetness personified, with a ready smile, a peaches-and-cream complexion and a perpetual twinkle in her eye.

But even during Davis’ awkward teen years, she harbored a flaming passion for heavy metal – “Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Metallica,” she writes in her new book “Dare to Be Square Quilting: A Block-by-Block Guide to Making Patchwork and Quilts” (Potter Craft, $21.99). As a grown-up, Davis’ “heavy metal quilts,” which can be viewed at www.quiltsryche.com, include slogans not suitable for publication in a family newspaper.

So how did a heavy-metal-loving, cutting-edge graphic designer start quilting in the first place?

The history: Davis, a former Seattle Times news artist who now works as art director for The Seattle Weekly, has been a quilt nut since she was a Tacoma, Wash., teenager, when she wrapped up in her grandmother’s pink-and-green yarn-tied quilt as she cranked up the headbanging music.

“Hours flew by as I pondered fabric choices, delighted in color tensions, and considered the love behind every misaligned seam and crooked stitch,” she reminisces in her book.

Even as a journalism major at elite Northwestern University, Davis pieced quilts. After graduation, as she worked day jobs, she kept creating quilts. She dreamed of making her avocation work as a business model.

Her work attracted the attention of an agent, who shopped the heavy-metal quilt idea around to the craft publishers. No one bit: “People said it was hilarious and terrific, but we probably couldn’t sell more than three of these,” she recalls. “People who publish expensive craft books want their money back.”

So Davis wrestled with what she wanted to accomplish with a quilting book – minus the Metallica influence. She wanted to share her passion for design with simple blocks and strips, the easiest shapes to cut and piece with: “I love working within design constraints, it actually frees me to be more creative,” she says. “In all my quilt work, I work with squares and rectangles. ... It’s like computer graphic design. It’s a thrill to get an image across in the simplest way possible.”

“Dare to Be Square” doesn’t have any heavy-metal quilts, but it fulfills Davis’ mission of presenting quilts with “heart, humor and graphic boldness,” and it’s easily the most understandable how-to quilt book this would-be practitioner of the quilting craft has ever read.

“I made it my mission to break it down – things like which directions to press your seams and why,” Davis explains. Her background in informational graphics comes through; instructions, charts and how-to photos are crystal-clear.

Davis, prone to outbursts of split-personality ambivalence, has described the book as “sickeningly cute.” The designs are indeed cute, but not sickening; the combination of bold color combinations and relatively simple graphic designs calls to mind some of quilting’s folk masters, the quilters of Gee’s Bend, Ala.

Having survived the birth of one book, Davis is actually considering another.

“Now that I have this baby, I’m getting ideas for different designs,” she says. “I could call it ‘Dare to Be Squarer’... the truth is, I love cute as much as the next girl.”

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