This week I was supposed to spend two days at a county quilt show that I faithfully attend every year (this is what I promised my quilter friends, anyway.) Then my daughter got the flu, my guy got stuck working late every night, my puppy sitter bailed on me, and NY decided to send me a RUSH!!-marked copy job. I was able to make it to the show for about an hour today, and I might get an hour tomorrow. Maybe. If no one throws up or works overtime or needs me to think up new and exciting ways to convince a casual browser that they simply must buy this freaking book.
Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could just put that on the back of novels? HEY, BUY MY FREAKING BOOK.
But onto talking about writing them instead of selling them. Since I can’t be with my quilter friends today, you guys can fill in. While I write, I’ll show you some of the photos I took at the quilt show while I was running through it this morning.
Most writers don’t quilt, so they don’t realize that writing stories is just like making quilts. (Go ahead, laugh. My quilter friends do, too.)
Consider the similarities:
A quilt is made one piece at a time, just as a story is written one page at a time. Like stories, all quilts have a beginning (preparing and cutting the fabric), middle (piecing, batting and binding) and end (quilting it all together.)
Quilts are usually made according to an established pattern or technique (just as stories are written in some type of category or genre.) Sometimes quilts are combinations of patterns (like cross-genre stories) or are made with a newly-designed original pattern (like ground-breaker stories.) Sometimes quilts are so, um, unusual that we don’t know what the heck to call them — and who hasn’t run into a story like that?
Making a quilt can be an extremely time-intensive project for which the maker gets little or no respect until they sell their quilts, win awards for them, or become known as a famous quilt maker. If you don’t and your finished quilts start piling up around the house, your family starts asking why you keep making them. Sound familiar?
Quilts are sewn together with continuous threads that have the same purpose as running threads of stories and, like a plot, follow a specific design. Some of these quilting patterns can be amazingly intricate, and some are beautifully simple. Some quilts are just loosely tied together with strategically-placed knotted threads. But no matter how it’s quilted, if there’s a break in the thread, or you leave some part of the quilt unsewn, you end up with a visible bulge or sag in the material.
The middle of a story is often the most challenging to write because often it’s not as exciting as the beginning or the end. The batting, which is the middle of a quilt, is definitely not as beautiful as the top or the backing. However, if it’s made of poor quality material, or it’s lumpy, or it shrinks, or it doesn’t support the piece, it can ruin the entire quilt. Just as a lousy middle can collapse a story.
The best quilters stay on top of what the latest trends are in their art. They can also recognize a knock-off quilt a mile away, and are just as hostile as writers when their patterns and styles are lifted by other quilters. You think RWA members get nasty with each other? Try watching two quilters square off over a copycat quilt. These women are armed with tote bags filled with razor-sharp scissors, razor-sharp rotary cutters, or they carry at least a packet of sharp needles in their pocket. We know how to use them, too, so never mess with a quilter.
Like story structure, quilt binding is very straightforward: a continuous strip of bias fabric that is sewn around the entire piece, and holds all the parts of the quilt together as well as gives it a cohesive, completed look. Although some trendy quilters disdain binding, to me no binding = unfinished. A story that has no structure = bunch of words thrown together.
Quilters play with color, texture and composition in the same way writers play with setting, characters and plot — and quilters are just as obsessive about quality, values, originality and every other little nit-picky detail that writers are. If we really don’t like something, we have been known to throw out an entire piece and start over from scratch (okay, we save the fabric. But still.)
If you make an error with your quilt’s seams (like any element of a story), you have to undo them and start over. You can try to cover up your mistakes with some quick repair work, but it usually shows.
Some quilts are made to be hung on the wall and admired from a distance, but to me the best quilts — like great stories — are the kind you can snuggle up with on a cold night.