Behind The Story: Anna Grossnickle Hines on PIECES: A YEAR IN POEMS and QUILT

PIECES: A YEAR IN POEMS & QUILTS by Anna Grossnickle Hines (Greenwillow, 2001). Poetry fans and quilt lovers simply must own and will treasure this book, crafted in glorious and loving detail. Opening the cover is like sinking into an exhibit and reading, all in one. Of particular note is a two-and-a-half page spread, The Story Behind the Quilts, which offers an insider’s look behind the scenes at Anna and the family tradition that inspired her. Ages 4-up. This interview was conducted via email in 2001. Visit author-illustrator Anna Grossnickle Hines.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

Since PIECES is a collection of poems there have been many inspirations, mostly simple moments of awakening to some image, sense, or idea of the natural world, coupled with the fun of putting those images and ideas into playful words. I was inspired to write poetry by reading poetry, especially poems written for children. The poems were written over many years.

About 1995, I realized I had enough for a collection. I set them aside until I could come up with the right idea for the illustrations. I wanted something special, something that would hopefully, keep the book in print for more than a year or two.

The idea sparked when I saw what my mother and others were doing with quilts, particularly those dealing with nature themes. I began to wonder if I could make illustration sized quilts for the poems.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I created the quilt to illustrate “Good Heavens” in 1996, and made sketches of others which I took to Susan Hirschman at Greenwillow Books. She said the quilt and designs were beautiful, but would be far too much work for a poetry book.

I persisted however, making five more quilts in the next couple of years, in between other projects. When I took them back to Susan she said, “I still think you are crazy, but I want to publish the book.”

It took me eight months to complete the other thirteen interior quilts.

During the years that I was working on this project I shopped for fabric at every opportunity, from New Hampshire to California, to Alaska. A few of the poems were rejected, and I wrote new ones to round out the seasons.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

Since I had made only a few bed quilts when my children were very young, with large pieces and very little quilting, I had a lot to learn to be able to create such intricate designs on a small scale. I experimented and made many calls and trips to my mother for advice and instruction.

Working that small meant that I needed to be very precise and often had to take out and redo seams three and four times.

But it was very exciting to see each piece take shape. No matter how detailed the patterns are drawn, the quilts don’t come to life until they are done in the wonderful fabrics.