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A Patchwork Plot

July 17, 2015

My First QuiltOne of the things I enjoy almost as much as writing is quilting. There I am, a few years ago (no grey in my hair then), assembling the layers of my first full-size quilt.

There is more similarity between quilting and writing than one might think. Both involve a love of the components that go into the makeup of the finished product. I love words. I feel joy in the power they give me to translate ideas into stories to share with other lovers of words. I also love color. I’m fascinated by the way the mood of a color changes according to other colors near it. I enjoy playing with different shapes, curved or straight lines and the texture of fabric.

Choosing the fabric, the colors, and pattern of a quilt is very like choosing the attributes of a fictional character. Combining dark and light shades is like working out the details of a storyline. Writing is almost completely intellectual; quilting is very tactile. When I’m working on a quilt, I’m compulsive Southwest Quiltabout it and resent anything that keeps me away from it. The same is true when I’m deeply involved in a writing project.

A book begins as a tangle of ideas with only the glint of a story shining through. A quilt begins as a mishmash of fabrics with colors and patterns that clash. Both the writer and the quilter begin by examining their components, testing different ways of combining them, seeking an arrangement that will blend the conflicting parts into a harmonious whole. Both as a writer and a quilter, I find this part of the process pure pleasure.

Ah, but the next part – no fun at all. About halfway through a book, I invariably hit a wall. I’m besieged by doubt. Can I turn this idea into a story that readers will actually enjoy? Will they understand what I’m trying to say? Is the idea big enough for a whole book? Are my characters distinctive and yet universal? Will readers believe in them? At the root of all these niggling doubts is the real question, the twofold biggie: Am I really a writer? Can I finish this book?

Somewhere in the process of making a quilt, I wonder why I ever thought these colors worked together. Is this pattern too complicated for my skills? Will I be able to get all of the angles right, the points nice and sharp, the corners square? Will my patience last long enough to see it through? Will I finish this Sean's Bug Jar Quiltquilt? One of the things that pulls me through the doubt is the anticipation of sharing my creation. A favorite of mine is the bugjar quilt I made for my grandson, Sean’s, fifth birthday. It seemed perfect for the little boy he was.

When I finish a book, I feel an enormous sense of pride, but following that initial high, there’s a letdown. The ideas that have consumed my thoughts (and sometimes my dreams) are ready to stand on their own. It’s time to let them go. I need to explore new ideas – write another book. The same is true when I finish a quilt. I am delighted to be finished with it, but before long, my fingers itch to be engaged. I David's Cat Quiltneed to begin anew, but … can I do it again?

Of course I can – at least in part because my two obsessions feed each other.

One last quilt: one that I made for David, the son I told you about in my last post.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. vicki permalink
    July 17, 2015 10:09 AM

    I’m speechless because your quilts are magnificent. And the bug jar one…delightful. I believe the crafting helps in stimulating the crafting in one’s head. I needlepoint and many a time, I’ve worked on books while doing so. Congratulations on your work.

    • July 17, 2015 10:16 AM

      Thank you so much, Vicki. I agree that different creative projects feed one another. When I’m stuck, working in a different medium seems to stimulate my brain and the problem will work itself out. Thanks for taking time to comment too.

  2. July 17, 2015 11:01 AM

    Gorgeous quilts, Sandra. Great insight, too, on how the writing craft compares to other artistic crafts. I enjoyed reading!

    • July 17, 2015 12:44 PM

      Thanks for stopping by, Cheryl, and for your good words. I do believe that everything we do contributes in some way to everything else.

  3. Grace Topping permalink
    July 17, 2015 3:03 PM

    With all of the books you’ve already written, if you have doubts whether you can write another one, I guess it must be a normal feeling for writers. I thought I was alone in wondering if I could do it again.

    Love the bug jar quilt. It reminds me of the times my sisters and I would punch holes in the tops of my mother’s canning jars and catch lightening bugs–only about 50 years ago!

    • July 17, 2015 3:22 PM

      That feeling of wondering if you can do it again is indeed normal for writers, Grace – at least every writer I’ve ever talked to. Thanks for the good words about the quilts. My brothers and I caught lightening bugs and put them in jars too. We always let ours go before we went to bed. I included a scene with Jennie Connors’s kids catching lightening bugs in my last book.

  4. July 17, 2015 3:15 PM

    Amen to the comparison. Doesn’t everyone see it that way? Exquisite quilts, by the way.

    • July 17, 2015 3:23 PM

      Thanks, Judith. I guess everyone sees it that way. I don’t know. Some people may be more focused than I am (wouldn’t be hard).

  5. mezuniga permalink
    July 17, 2015 5:40 PM

    I absolutely adore quilts, Sandy, and my grandmother bequeathed some beautiful ones to me. I love your words that whether it’s quilt-making, writing or another creative endeavor — what pulls us through the doubt is “the anticipation of sharing our creation.” Lovely post.

    • July 17, 2015 9:15 PM

      I bet the quilts from your grandmother are beautiful. I’m assuming they’re from your TN grandmother. Some of the most beautiful designs I’ve seen come from that area, inspired no doubt by the way nature arranges colors and shapes. Thanks for your good words, Marielena.

  6. July 17, 2015 7:50 PM

    From one quilter to another, the comparison between quilting and writing is clear. I think I plan a quilt in the same way that a novel is a patchwork of ideas, emotions and purpose. I make the same comparison with gardening but, since I don’t currently have a garden, I use my quilting as an opportunity to release my brain into the realm of wandering through ideas while my hands and eyes are occupied. Gorgeous patchwork, Sandy!

    • July 17, 2015 9:10 PM

      Thanks so much, Leigh. I’m not surprised that you’re a quilter too. We seem to enjoy many things in common.

  7. July 19, 2015 12:57 PM

    I am a writer who quilts or maybe I’m a quilter who writes. They work together in my head and world. I enjoyed reading you comparison of the middle of the project–the doubts, the impulse to bag it and start something new. My thoughts exactly!

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