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The Story Behind...
Winter Lights
A Season in Poems and Quilts

This book has been a very long time in the making. The seed of the idea to write a book celebrating the lights of winter came to me when my daughter Sarah shared her experience of her very long, very dark winter in Sweden as an exchange student in 1986-87. While reading holiday stories in the early nineties I was struck by what a good thing it is to have a diversity of winter celebrations in this country. The seed began to grow. Unfortunately, the results of my efforts were too didactic, as is often the case when one starts with a big idea rather than an incident. I tried first a story, and then one long poem, but as one editor said, my "words , while well intentioned, did not ring of emotional truth".

I put the idea aside and worked on more successful projects for several years, including PIECES: A YEAR IN POEMS AND QUILTS. As I made the quilted illustrations for PIECES I began to notice quilts which seemed to glow with light. I wondered if I might be able to make such quilts. Then I began to wonder if, instead of one long poem about light in winter, I could write individual poems about the holidays and other lights that glow in the dark time of year. Poems that might be illustrated with glowing quilts. The idea had come to life again.

In 2000 the first group of poems I submitted was rejected. As Virginia Duncan said, "You have hit a very high note with PIECES, and your next book should be at least as high if not higher." At that point I was focusing mostly on the holidays and she suggested I expand my thinking to include other lights that we enjoy in the dark season of the year. I agreed, accepted the challenge and went back to writing. A year later, my new collection was accepted, as was WHISTLING, the story written by my friend Elizabeth Partridge. Since my vision for the WHISTLING quilts was much more developed at that point, I chose to do that book first. I finished those quilts in March 2002. WINTER LIGHTS was now my top work priority.

I had some ideas in my head of the quilts for many of poems, but it would take a lot of time and experimenting to clarify those ideas and figure out how to construct the quilts. For other poems I was clueless, but trusted that ideas would come. I began working on some of the designs on my computer. To do this meant learning a lot more about how to use PhotoShop. I spent many hours on designs that either I or the editors ended up rejecting.

More about holidays celebrated in Winter Lights

Winter Lights Activity Guide by HarperCollins

Featured Quilter in Maria Michaels Designs Newsletter, November 2005, includes photos of the Winter Lights Quilts on exhibit in Santa Clarita


Whistling cover
From the book:

During the dark months, we turn to light for comfort and to lift our spirits: a dancing candle flame, a cozy fire, a beaming flashlight. Even natural lights have a special quality in winter: the morning sun glinting on icicles, early sunsets, stars glittering in the cold, moonlight on fresh snowfall. But perhaps most heartwarming of all are the lights we use in winter celebrations.

Thousands of years ago, people didn't understand how the rotation of the earth and its orbit around the sun caused the winter months to grow darker and colder. They feared the sun would disappear altogether. In many cultures, people celebrated midwinter solstice rituals to encourage the return of the sun and its life-giving light. Such rituals were celebrated on every continent and usually involved feasting, merrymaking, gift giving, and decorating with evergreens as symbols of sustained life. They centered around fire and light of some sort, including Yule logs, bonfires, lighted trees, candles, and fireworks.

Many of our winter celebrations today incorporate these same symbols. In Scandinavian traditions, winter holidays begin with Santa Lucia's Feast Day, when eldest daughters appear in candlelit crowns. Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, is celebrated with eight days of candle lighting. The evergreen Christmas tree is well-lit to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and faralitos, paper bag lanterns, symbolically light the path for Mary and Joseph in much of the southwestern United States. Chinese New Year celebrations include fireworks to frighten off bad spirits, including Nian, the monster who threatens at the end of the old year. Kwanzaa celebrates the rich heritage, abilities, and hopes of African Americans with seven days of candle lighting.

© Anna Grossnickle Hines 2005 from Winter Lights

I worked on the designs through April, May and June and at the end of July submitted a dummy with 10 designs and some notes.

In August I spread my fabrics on the floor of my studio and began choosing which I would use for my first two quilts.

It would be another two years before I finished all fifteen quilts. By then I had spent hundreds of hours in front of the computer screen, made several dozen trips to fabric shops, ripped out and resewn more seams than I want to remember, and used almost eleven and half miles of thread. Would I do it again? Well...probably, and I'm certainly glad I did it once!

Clicking on the quilt names or images below will take you to pages which tell about the design and construction of each quilt.

All images and text © Anna Grossnickle Hines 2005

The Solstice Quilt

The solstice has long been celebrated as a time of rebirth and renewal, often with great bonfires. This is the first quilt I started, but not the first I finished. It is a twisted log cabin design made with 650 triangular blocks, each of which is 1 3/8 inches on a side and made with thirteen smaller triangles.

About Solstice

The Lucia Quilt

Lucia wearing her crown of candles brings the light to begin the winter holidays on December 13 in Scandinavian countries. The quilt is made using a bargello technique.

About Santa Lucia.

The Nian Quilt

Nian means year in Chinese. Nian is also the name of a great monster said to come on the eve of the new year. Fireworks, bright lights and the color red frighten him away. This quilt is another made with the bargello technique.

About Chinese New Year

The Christmas Tree Quilt

Decorated evergreen trees go back to times long before Christmas, but have become an important part of the Christmas tradition. The happy quilt is made with strip piecing.

This quilt was accepted and shown at the Road to California Quilt Show, January 2006.

About Christmas Trees

The Aurora Borealis Quilt

The movement of the Northern Lights is suggested by using the bargello technique.
The Protest Quilt

The young sledder is not ready for the day to end. This quilt is done in appliqué, using one Mickey Lawler's Skydyes™ fabrics for the sunset sky.

The Moonlight Quilt

Again I've used a Skydyes™ fabric in this appliquéd quilt in which the moon paints shadows on the snow.

The Lights Out Quilt

Who has not at one time or another enjoyed the secret pleasure of reading with a flashlight under the covers? This quilt is a variation of the twisted log cabin using a hexagon.
The Hanukkah Quilt

The menorah, Star of David and a driedl are created with strip piecing .

About Hanukkah
The Kwanzaa Quilt

The key to making this quilt about Kwanzaa was finding the African fabrics. The quilt is pieced in wide and narrow strips with the figures appliquéd on top.

About Kwanzaa
Shout Harambee!
(another Kwanzaa poem)

The Holiday Magic Quilt

Paper-pieced windows and wide strip piecing in bright colors on black and intense blues give the feel of a street sparkling with holiday lights.

The Candle Quilt

The glow from a single candle flickers and makes a bright spot in the darkness. This quilt is done with twisted triangles and parallelograms .
The Fireplace Quilt

Bright flames dance on glowing red logs. This quilt is paired in the book with the candle and also made with twisted triangles and parallelograms.

This quilt was accepted and shown at the Road to California Quilt Show, January 2006.
The Farolito Quilt

Farolitos are paper lanterns used in the southwestern United States to light the way for Joseph and Mary on Christmas Eve. I created my path of farolitos with strip piecing.

This quilt was accepted and shown at the Road to California Quilt Show, January 2006.

About Farolitos

The Icicle Quilt

This poem and it's quilt was inspired by the icicles that had formed along the eaves overnight, glistening as they began to melt in the morning sunlight. The quilt is done with the same triangle block as the Solstice quilt and has the same number of pieces. The special challenge here was to make the light change from dark to sunlight.
The End

Threads were everywhere as I worked on these quilts. Finding them on himself after giving me a hug, my husband said they were "contagious". It do think that, along with the snippets of bright fabric, they make very attractive trash.

Reviews for Winter Lights
Winter Lights Activity Guide from HarperCollins:
PDF Download
About the Winter Lights Holidays
Quilting Glossary and a Bit of History
Quilts, Dolls, and Books
Quilts in the Classroom
Quilter's Page
Book Page
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