A Pile of Precious Pages and a Quilt

My First Quilting Adventure

I never start small. A few years ago the allure of mixing colours and shapes and my sewing skills drew me to make a quilt. For our king size bed. Do you know how big that is?

Big. Very big. Especially when it came to the precise cutting of each tiny piece of fabric and then sewing them together with exact seam allowances so that when you put the squares all together they actually fit.

Kind of like crafting a novel.

I started big there, too. Oh, I had written all my life–cookbooks, family memoirs for my kids, loving letters on special occasions, and even a few short stories. But novels were my reading passion, the form I knew the most about, and so I started writing about Loyalists caught in the American Revolution.

I should have learned from my quilt-making, assembling all the pieces first, and made an outline, gradually filling it in until I knew exactly where the project was headed and could envision the finished book. I planned each quilt square, figured how many of each type I would need, and sewed them up. Then I laid them out on the floor and planned just how they would fit together best. I had a vision and I worked to make it come true. With my first novel, I researched the period, established the history timeline, came up with characters and basically started writing.

Bad. Very bad. And yet the writing was not bad. In places it was pretty good. But the plot lacked organization.

With my quilt I planned all the layers: quilt top which took the most time and effort, the type of batting to give it warmth, and the underside. Not for me a plain white backing. I wanted depth and colour. Sound like a good book?

I wanted a lovely lining.

Have you ever tried to rip out the tiny stitches of a quilt? To look at a hundred and forty-four squares you sewed together on the wrong side? Well, don’t. Now I know why so many people abandon their first novel and just start again on a new project, putting all their new knowledge to work on something fresh and exciting.
For me, just as I ended up with a lovely finished project with my quilt, I will get my book straightened out and be able to put up a lovely picture of it here. For now, here’s what I have.

A pile of precious pages

What lessons have you learned on your writing journey? Or your life journey? Kindly leave a comment and join in the discussion.

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23 thoughts on “A Pile of Precious Pages and a Quilt

  1. Very interesting post, Elaine. I’m the polar opposite. I write like I live, straight ahead, one day (page) at a time. It works for me. Maybe that’s a secondary lesson here … not to go against the grain of your personality when you write, to go about it in a way that’s comfortable. Then again, maybe I’m just out to lunch. πŸ™‚

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  2. We sound so much alike, no wonder I connected with you. I, too, get much satisfaction from piecing quilts. I, too, took on a full-sized quilt as a first project…a complicated pattern called Chinese Puzzle. Have never seen it shared anywhere else since.
    That was over 40 years ago and I still have the quilt. Some of the pieces were made from flannel and those have rubbed away, leaving shreds. But I still get much pleasure out of my accomplishing this daunting task.

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    • I think sometimes I should make a list of all the daunting tasks I have undertaken and completed. For those days when I feel so unable to do anything. Nothing like a shot in the arm, eh, Gay? Your quilt sounds lovely. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. I’m one of those writers who seldom sets out too much detail when I begin a novel. I know the general theme, might even know the ending, but it is the tiny pieces of the puzzel that fall into place as I go.
    I have even been known to start out with just a title and figure out the rest after I’ve started writing.
    Would not be a good way to build a quilt!

    Ron Hore

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  4. There’s such truth in your analogy, Elaine. Books are patchwork quilts. You could almost judge whether a person has the staying power to see a manuscript to the end by their ability to finish a king-sized quilt. You obviously have what it takes!

    Did you take your squares from fabrics you’d used before, like children’s clothes, or were they all new? Just like we draw from life to weave into our stories.

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    • Although I had a quilt made from scraps of my childhood dresses by my lovely grandmother, for this one, I used all new fabric, purchased especially to go together. thanks for your analogy, Sharon, although sometimes I wonder if I really do have the staying power. I’m sure all writers feel that way at times. I just do a little each day and piece together my work, making it as pretty as I can. Thanks for your comment, as always!

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  5. What a gorgeous quilt, and a wonderful analogy!
    My writing journey is a little different from what I expected it would be like. My first draft was really quite messy, more like collecting the pieces of fabric that I wanted to make my quilt out of, and deciding on the pattern–very loose but very fun.
    Now that I’m doing my revision, it feels so much more like quilting, because the pieces I chose must now become the quilt that is my story.

    Not that I’ve ever done anything remotely like quilting, but seeing how lovely yours turned out makes me want to give it a shot!

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  6. I’m a firm proponent of outlining, largely because my mind spins out a story so fast (which is not to say I’m a fast writer, because I’m not – at all) and with so many usable seeds of dialogue and description, if I didn’t take notes, I would forget it all.
    When I was first starting out, I used to not want to write ahead, somehow feeling I was cheapening the story if I didn’t focus on where in the plot I was now and allow it to emerge organically in the moment. This, I thought, was what it meant to be creative. But I lost so many good ideas that way,ultimately ending up with stories I either couldn’t finish or never managed to become more than the sum of their parts with no unifying theme.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that laying down all those quilt squares upfront – which might seem really boring and rigid – is, for me, the true path to creativity and emergence.
    (Your quilt is lovely, btw. I used to have a roommate who quilted, so I’ve seen firsthand how much work it is!)

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    • Very interesting and useful information about your writing process, Janna. I especially like what you said about your ideas getting lost if you followed someone’s idea of sticking with the moment until it was perfect. I’ve lost so many ideas just because I didn’t write them when they flashed into my head. Just as ideas can come like lightning bolts, they can also leave that fast. I’ve learned to jot down a note or two to remind me.

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  7. Beautiful quilt. Life lessons… I’ve learned life is too short to focus on the unimportant stuff. I’ve also learned love is worth the risk and I never again want to be with a man in my life who is not nice to me(I don’t mean pampering with worldly good nice…just nice.).

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    • Your words have that unmistakable truth of someone who has experienced enough to know what she wants. Finding a partner who values you for who you are is the rainbow’s end, isn’t it? I treasure mine more than gold, that’s for sure.
      Thanks for your lovely words, Sabrina!

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  8. Love your post, Elaine, and the quilt. I once designed a quilt – fantail doves and dogwood. It would have to all be appliqued, but I could never decide on a suitable colour scheme. I still have the pattern pieces. And that’s where some of my writing is, too, although most is much more finished than the non-existant quilt. I’m not one for making an outline. It doesn’t seem to work for me. My novel, which I started many years ago and finished a couple of years ago, was initially written by hand. Those were the days of DOS and WordPerfect 5.1. It went through great transitions and revisions before it was finished and now it sits in a folder. I really should do something about trying to get it published.

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    • That quilt sounds amazing but the applique would take forever. I wonder when you’ll have time to do it. πŸ™‚ And writing by hand just sounds so impossible for me, although, of course, people did it. Just not so many as write now. I think the playing field has drastically changed since word processing was invented, don’t you? And now, about publishing that novel. Get to it and good luck on your journey.

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      • Thanks Elaine. I can’t imagine writing by hand any more either. For one thing I would never be able to read what I wrote! I have enough trouble doing that with a short note. πŸ™‚ I have some editing corrections to do yet then I plan to send a query to a publisher. The only time I submitted it, it was rejected, so that’s one less rejection before being published.

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