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Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers' Journey from Slave to Artist

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  213 ratings  ·  62 reviews
Harriet Powers learned to sew and quilt as a young slave girl on a Georgia plantation. She lived through the Civil War and Reconstruction, and eventually owned a cotton farm with her family, all the while relying on her skills with the needle to clothe and feed her children.
Later she began making pictorial quilts, using each square to illustrate Bible stories and local
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published October 13th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers (first published February 1st 2015)
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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 ·  213 ratings  ·  62 reviews

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A picture book bio about Harriet Powers who was born into slavery, but is remembered for her story quilts which now hang in art museums in Washington D.C. and Boston.

I like the way this book is formatted: text and artwork which often contained a seam-like border are pieced together as the fabric in Harriet's quilts were. Back matter consists of an author's note, a photo of Powers, bibliography, and explanations panel by panel of Harriet's story quilts.

Gouache and digital artwork.

Highly recommen
Harriet Powers’ quilts were beautiful expressions of herself and the stories she knew.

Artwork: 5 stars. I love, absolutely LOVE Vanessa Newton’s illustrations!Gorgeous, vibrant, whimsical and full of life.

Story: The author’s writing felt slightly flat to me, and almost a little too nice when talking about the conditions Harriet lived in. I did, however, appreciate learning about a talented woman and artist. 3 stars.

3.5 stars.
Ms. Yingling
Oct 26, 2015 rated it liked it
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

This picture book starts out with end papers that show Harriet Powers' applique quilt, which is an excellent example of African-American folk art from the 1800s. The story of her beginnings as a slave on a Georgia plantation is augmented by historical tidbits, which are "patched" onto the illustrations so that they look like the words appear on pieces of fabric sewn to the page. There is a lot of information on the life of a slave, as well as on the impo
Rachel Watkins
Mar 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Harriet Powers was born on a plantation in Clarke County, Georgia, and lived through the Civil War and Reconstruction. SEWING STORIES tells the story of Harriet and her picture quilts. This lovely picture book is a beautiful introduction to an important American artist whose works now hang in the Smithsonian and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Mary Ann
I feel quite conflicted by this book. I really like the topic, but am not quite sure it conveys enough about how hard times were for Harriet--both in her early life as a slave and later when she had to sell her beloved quilts. In the best case, this book could lead to interesting discussions with kids about the author's and artist's choices.
Nov 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wow-books
Sewing Stories is an amazing story of how Harriet Powers a child born into slavery watched and learned the trade of all the women on her plantation in Athens Georgia. It is an excellent example of how women and men of slavery would keep their stories and traditions alive through non-traditional modalities. Harriet learns to quilt through watching the older women, and eventually learns to preform the skill herself, and eventually creates masterpieces. After the the slaves were freed it describes ...more
Nov 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Harriet Powers was born into slavery, but her artistic skills were a natural talent. Her mother was one of several slave women that did seamstress work for their master. Yet, they were occasionally allowed to work on their own projects and held quilting bees. Their products were quilts that told detailed stories.
Harriet’s lifespan covered the American Civil War, which freed her and her husband from bondage. Better off than many when the war ended, they were able to buy a few acres of land and
Kris Dersch
I would put this in the based on a true story category rather than the picture book biography category because while the basic facts of her life are true there just isn't enough known about her to really do a full biography so a lot of this is based on a combination of the facts of her life and what is known about slavery in Georgia in this era. The back matter hints at this but I wish it was made more explicit.
I really like this story, I think it balances story arc and information well and sinc
Trina M.
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alex Haven
Used for assignment 1

This book provides readers with an insight into the lives of African Americans during the time of slavery, and explains some of the roles they had at this time. Harriet was a skilled maker, who eventually began to quilt and create beautiful masterpieces. She began to sell her quilts to gain money during the hard times. The imagery on each page is representative of the artistic skill and unique appeal in the hand made quilts and designs.

This story is a good reflection that
This picture book biography of the textile artist Harriet Powers, born into slavery in the 1830s, does an exceptional job of telling the story of Powers' life--from birth to death--without growing dull or wordy. The pacing is brisk, the language vivid and interesting, and realities of life for people who were enslaved is not skated over or elided. Additional notes, graphically rendered as scraps of fabric, offer up further factual/background information on each page, and can be read or skipped i ...more
Mar 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is an absolutely lovely book! It's very informative and walks the perfect line of having factual information while still being very engaging. This biographical story follows the life of Harriet Powers. Harriet was a remarkable woman who was born a slave, and over the course of her life became free and created quilts that are now in museums like the Smithsonian. In the back, there are photos of the two surviving quilts with descriptions of what each panel means, which is super cool to see. T ...more
The Reading Countess
I'm not sure which I enjoyed more: the illustrations, the informational blurbs tacked onto the biography or the biography itself.

The actual quilts Harriet sewed at the end of the book, along with her explanations taken down by the women who bought them (the cost of the artwork is glossed over, which makes me wonder...was a fair price paid for them?) make this tale of long ago come alive for the reader.
Mar 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book made me want to see Harriet Power's quilts in person. The description at the end of the vibrant colors of the quilts, now faded with age, and the artistry made me glad that there was a book highlighting Harriet's life and work. I wonder if children will understand the sacrifice and hardship of the time, but I think they will. My 5 year old emphasized with her heavily being separated and giving up something beautiful that she created.
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Simple story about the life of Harriet Powers, a slave who was eventually freed and created beautiful quilts that are on display today in two prestigious museums. There are pictures of them in the back of the book, but now I want to look them up and learn more.

Take opportunities to grow even in the hard times.
May 11, 2018 rated it did not like it
The off-to-the-side boxes provided lend some realism to the text, but the main text is very cheerful and the illustrations of the slaves are nearly always smiling. Really appreciated getting a good lock at Harriet Powers' quilting from the end pages, but find the depiction of slavery very much out of touch.
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
This beautiful book tells the story of Harriet Powers and her amazing quilts. More than that, it gives the reader a glimpse into the life of an enslaved person in Georgia and how the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery did not lead to prosperity for former enslaved persons as so often told.
Mar 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting book about a woman and a craft that is so enveloped in the African American Community. Interesting tidbits on the side of pages to help readers understand the times in which African Americans lived.
Feb 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must-read!

The illustrations in this book are amazing. We love Vanessa’s use of collage and drawing to make the story come to life. We also like the captions that give background information about the history of the time. ~by Ms. Emerson’s third grade class
Mary Berg
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great Read

Beautiful story of a woman with a hard life who made beautiful quilts. Would love to see the quilts someday
Jan 26, 2016 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brittanny Handiboe
Nov 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
During the time when African American slaves were forbidden to read or write, pictures were the key to recording the stories verbally told late into the night. Herbert takes the readers and listeners through the struggle of sewing out of slavery and into freedom with facts about Powers’ life and her importance as an artist in this picture book biography. The charmingly large amount of color, pattern, and digital collage in Brantley-Newton’s illustrations show the spirit of the patterned fabric, ...more
Although I was pleased to read a story about a woman who used what she had around her to make the world more beautiful, I wish there had been more to this account of Harriet Powers. This one tells Harriet's story while also including text boxes with factual information about life on the plantations. Born a slave in Georgia, Harriet learned how to sew from her mother and the other women on the plantation. Even after slaves were freed, times were tough, and Harriet put her sewing skills to work. W ...more
May 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Review originally posted on Children's Atheneum

Born in 1837, Harriet Powers was born a slave. She grew up to be a revered folk artist.

For some, art recognition doesn't come until someone is older though. Or dead. In 1886, Harriet exhibited her quilts for the first time at a cotton far in Georgia. A woman from the Lucy Cobb Institute (a local girl's school), saw Harriet's beautiful quilt and asked to purchase but Harriet wouldn't be parted with it. The two women did stay in touch though and when
Dec 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Picture book story of slave girl Harriet, freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, who raised a family and lived a hardscrabble cottonfarming life, but because she had grown up sewing applique since childhood, she was able to earn some money from making and selling "story quilts." An art teacher saw one of her quilts on display at the Cotton Fair, later bought it, and wrote down the stories told by the pictures on the cloth. It (and a second one) are now displayed in museums. Endpapers have actua ...more
Carrie Charley Brown
Sewing Stories follows Harriet Powers’ journey from child slave to adult quilting artist. The illustrations drew me in immediately, with tender facial expressions that reveal the innocence and dedication of Harriet’s family. A mixture of hand crafted and vintage fabric patterns boast a time honored feel. I connected emotionally with the main storyline, especially since Harriet’s family met their struggles with determination and love. Some of the side panel facts are listed as things that “may” h ...more
Wendy Greenley
Oct 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book reminds me of an excerpt of the Humans of New York, learning about a fascinating person who might not be well-known, and who certainly didn't set out to be well-known but nonetheless leaves a strong emotional connection with the reader.
Especially at election time, I hear a lot of people talking about what they think. For me, what a person does is often a better indication of their character. And this book is about a doer. Someone who needed to survive. Someone who found a way to make
The story of Harriet Powers is interesting and inspiring. There is a list of sources which includes one of my favorite historians - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich - and full descriptions of Harriet's quilts. The single existing photo of Harriet is also included.

As far as the text goes, it tells a gently frank story of a slave who lived to see her freedom, but who then had to struggle to overcome poverty. Sidebars add additional facts and some context, although the lens is so focused on Harriet that som
Nov 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: racially-diverse
I really like Vanessa Brantley-Newton's illustrations - colorful, cartoony-cute, and would be very appealing to younger kids. The story of Harriet Powers, a freed slave and quilting artist, is told in a matter-of-fact and accessible way even for younger children. There are some historical asides set off from the main story text in boxes that give further historical details that older kids might be interested in. These passages use more sophisticated vocab and a more formal tone that sets them ap ...more
Stacy Moll
Jun 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I wish there were more than 5 stars to give to this book. I love the story and the inset which explain what was going on at the time, are wonderful. This book will make a great addition to your home library as well as classroom libraries. I am always amazed by what people can do to overcome what life has thrown at them. This story should be a lesson to everyone that you can do what you want, it might not be the way you would have it, but to take what you have and make the best out of what you ha ...more
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