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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Patchwork 101


I used to make quilts. Baby quilts, lap quilts, king-sized ones, artsy wall hangings, color-coordinated-with-pillows-to-match ensembles. I loved choosing the patterns, the colors, the thrill of taking tiny pieces and crafting something new and beautiful.

Yesterday in my water aerobics class, it dawned on me that crafting a quilt is a lot like writing. Now I don’t know why this particular idea came to me just then, but it did.

What possible connection could quilting and writing have? Creativity? Producing something totally different than the raw materials you begin with? Both. But, aside from feeding my creative urges, I first had to have the desire, some itch that had to be scratched. I didn’t just one day sit at my sewing machine and decide to do patchwork. It came from somewhere. Perhaps my granny who made and gifted each of her granddaughters with Sunbonnet Sue quilts. I wasn’t a grandmother at the time I got the quilting bug—I was barely a mother, but maybe I could make a quilt. I let the idea bubble for a while. I went to the fabric store and ogled all the choices, flipped through instruction books, and wandered the aisle that had quilting tools—all manner of thimbles, threads, hoops, see-through gridded rulers, cutting tools with special mats to make precision shaped pieces that would fit together into a spectacular finished product. Yes, I can do this.

I bought fabric, a pattern book, and the supplies for a crib quilt—a kit if I remember correctly. As a novice, I needed to start small and learn the ropes before launching into a big project. The first quilt turned out pretty good, but before I had finished, I started having visions of the next quilt . . . and the next. Before long, I had become addicted to making great art. Okay, maybe not great, but decent, worthy of sharing with others. Warm, cuddly quilts that I was proud of.

I joined a quilt guild and attended religiously. At first, the more experienced members intimidated me with their parade of finished quilts. These lovely ladies, though, taught classes, shared new ideas, and best of all . . . the secrets of their success. We held a quilt show where judges came and awarded ribbons for various categories. We had monthly challenges, quilting retreats, and public service projects.

Does any of this sound a little like the world of writing? Wait. There’s more.

Quilts come in all genres I learned. The simple, yet bold Amish quilts where the art is in the stitches. Appliquéd quilts taken from the patterns of our forefathers. Crazy quilts with rich textures and flashes of gold feathery embroidery so beautiful to look at it hurt your eyes. All the patterns have names, too. Irish chain. Dresden plate. Wedding ring. Drunkard’s Path. Log Cabin. Texas Star. Mariner’s Compass. Imaginative. Descriptive. And every quilt tells its own story. Scraps from Easter dresses. Whole quilts made entirely of Grandpa’s neckties. Expressive art in its most humble and yet, magnificent form.

As I became immersed in the craft of quilting, I learned about contrasts, the dark and light of color, pitting them against each other, blending them to the focal point I wanted others to see. Color gives life to a quilt, just as characters dance off the written page. Lavender, like a wise mentor in a novel, gives depth to patchwork. A splash of yellow makes you smile the way a protagonist’s quirks tickle your funny bone. And like the clichés in our writing, a patch or two of brilliant orange goes a long way.

I must admit, not all my quilt projects made it. Some had corners that didn’t line up and had to be ripped apart for another go. Some were downright ugly and got pitched. Some seemed trite and no longer held my interest. They languish in the top of the guest room closet. Sadly, some of my writing fills the same closet, tucked in folders and boxes nearer the floor.

I didn’t start out writing a 900 page novel. I wrote short stories, vignettes, snippets. I studied the craft, hung out with other writers, and have been to some top-notch writing conferences. Along the way, a few editors have seen fit to publish my stories. I’m still learning, putting words on paper, and pursuing the elusive novel contract.


Three books on writing are at the top of my study list for November. Getting Into Character, Plot and Structure, and How to Write a Damn Good Mystery. I’m half through with the one on mystery writing, and already, my head dances with characters, situations, and dreams of piecing them together into a tapestry called a novel. A good one, I hope. I’m still in the brooding stage, choosing the right fabrics, playing with colors, envisioning the final product in a reader’s hands as she curls up on a favorite quilt and is swept away.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

2 comments:

Erica Vetsch said...

A beautiful analogy. And so true. Thank you!

The Koala Bear Writer said...

Loved your descriptions of quilting and writing - makes me want to get working on both!!! :) Very true lessons.