Thursday, January 20, 2011

Quilting a Novel

I recently had a conversation with Jonene Ficklin after we both read a blog post at The Scribblers Cove entitled, Piecing Together A Story. Jonene recalled how foreign quilting had been for her, how overwhelming it was to face a room full of experienced quilting in-laws, and how self conscious she'd been with her unpracticed hand.

I couldn't help smiling as I thought back to my youth. I grew up in a family with a rich quilting heritage. My mother quilted. My grandmother quilted. We probably quilted back to Adam.

For my wedding present my grandma hand-pieced a quilt out of scraps she'd gathered over the years--slices of my mother's baby clothes, dresses my grandmother wore--parts of her life really. The pattern came from her head and years of practice. My mom put the quilt up in our front room, and the gathering began.

Grandma put her last stitches in my quilt. My younger sisters put their first. Neighbors stopped by to add their part. Even my dad and brothers stabbed needle and thread through the fabric for me with clumsy love.

My stitches are mingled with my family's and friends' old and young. Some of the stitches are even and straight, marching across the colorful fabric like disciplined soldiers. Others are as crooked as my grandmother's fingers had become. Some are as fat as baby cheeks. They all tell a story. One I treasure.

As I stroke the fabric and run my fingers along the beautiful designs, I not only see the flowers and patches of color making up the overall picture, I see the faces of these women (and my dad and brothers) who took the time to sit, sew, and visit as I entered a new world.

If writing really is like quilting as the post at The Scribblers Cove suggests, and I very much think it is, what role do the quilters play? They aren't the author. They didn't create the design. My grandma gathered every piece of fabric and sewed the quilt together. She arranged the pattern and provided the materials. She chose the plot, the setting, and the characters. Her hands created the quilt, but it wasn't done yet.

Here is a pic of an infant quilt of mine. It's really just the idea of a quilt. A bunch of pretty thoughts waiting to be drafted into a whole.

Here is a pic of an older one I'm working on. It looks like a quilt, but it's not. It is just the quilt top--all the pretty colors and the design.

It's a novel about to become a real book. But it has rough edges.

And it's missing something--the team of quilters who would finish it. The critiquers, the editors, the support staff. It lacks the polishing that comes with each new stitch and backing and batting and binding and such.

Could my grandma have finished my quilt on her own? Yes, but it would have taken much, much longer, and it would lack the richness of all those varied stitches that mean so much to me. So, as a writer I suggest we all embrace the work and effort of all those critiquers, editors, beta readers, and revisions. They transform your quilt top into a treasure.

Are you quilting today?

Leisha Maw


The Stanley's said...

Beautiful analogy Leisha.

Jonene Ficklin said...

Great blog, Leisha! I love the heritage and stories locked in your quilts, and the way you tie it into writing. Thank heavens for all the 'quilters' out there!

LeishaMaw said...

Anita, thanks so much. :)

Jonene, quilters of both books and blankets are indeed the best of the best. :)

L.T. Elliot said...

I never saw it in this light before but it completely makes sense. I love how you "tied" it all together because when I imagine all the stitches my novel will have, it makes me teary to think that if it becomes something, it did so because so many people cared.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

What a wonderful story (and analogy!)! I can't imagine how precious a gift that quilt it. :)

The Huffies said...

Loved this post and I want to hear how it's going with the editor??

LeishaMaw said...

L.T., indeed. Thanks for the stitchen you've put in mine. :)

Susan, it is precious. Thanks. :)

Carol, I'm just waiting and writing while I wait. *Tries to be so very patient*

m. christine weber said...

Beautiful story and precious photos. Thanks for sharing. Things feel a little more homey in my day somehow. :-)

Suey said...

I wish I was... quilting that is. Can't seem to get back into that particular hobby.

LeishaMaw said...

M. Christine and Suey, thanks so much! :)

Carolyn V. said...

I love the analogy. I hope to do a little "quilting" today.


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