October 15th, 2007

Quilting and Writing and Just a Leetle Bit of Philosophy

Last weekend I went to my First Ever Auction, held by a local quilters guild. It was a dreary, drippy day—perfect for gawking at bright quilts.


I thought about writing a lot (natch!) while I was staring at the quilts. I was surprised to realize that some of the quilts I had most enjoyed close-up, when we strolled through to choose the ones we’d want to bid on, did not appeal to me when I viewed them from a distance, as they were unfurled onstage. Some quilts had gorgeous designs, but sparse quilting, and so they puffed and puckered in strange ways. Others were beautifully pieced and appliquéd, but the fabric used for the sashing was a color exhibited nowhere else on the quilt—just a random hue that made all the other squares look sour. From this I conclude that: just as the piecing and the quilting are equally important, so are the words and the sensibility of the story. I also conclude that you should not allow anything in your story that isn’t organic to it—you can’t just throw in a crazy character or an exciting turn of events because you feel like it; it has to belong there. (I also also conclude that I may have some type of attention disorder, as whenever I am doing one thing I am thinking about something else altogether.)


In other writing-related quilting (or quilting-related writing) thoughts:


Just as stereotypes evolved for a reason, so did sitcom tropes. Only one person in that church hall crammed with chairs scratched her temple while holding her bidding paddle. Only one person among more than 100 was asked if she was bidding, and that one person in terror squeaked out, “No! I was just scratching!” And yes, that one person was me. And yes, the quilter ladies sitting in our area of the church hall hooted and cackled like Jack Benny had just hauled out his violin. Good times.


Don’t write without purpose—and don’t bid if you don’t want the item on the block. A cute little watercolor wall quilt was about to go for the opening bid. (Twenty bucks!) I had admired it when I first saw it, but when I saw it again up onstage, I realized that I was so unexcited by the way the scene was divided into a traditionally-pieced bit and a watercolor bit. But twenty bucks! By the time the auctioneer saw my paddle, the bidding was up to $35, and that’s where it stopped. It’s all mine now.


There are stories everywhere. Everywhere, everywhere. Quilters know that every quilt tells a story, but sometimes you hear the story behind the fabric story. Out of all 110 quilts we looked at, only one really grabbed my heart. It couldn’t have been more Elisabeth-appropriate if it had had my name embroidered across it. So when it got down to a bidding war, I settled in for the long haul. It was down to me and some lady. The auctioneer was glancing from one to the other of us so fast that he gave my neck a crick. I didn’t even hold my paddle up when he looked at me—I just inclined my chin. (Yes, by that time, I was quite the auction professional.) And I won. (Very little can stand up to my inherent stubbornness. Consider yourself warned.) The quilter ladies around us erupted, and more than one clapped me on the shoulder and congratulated me for finally using my paddle appropriately. (This was not long after the scratching incident.)


At auction’s end, everyone stood up to go pay for their purchases. Before I could make my way to the pay station, I was stopped by a tiny little lady—the creator of my hard-won quilt. “I want to tell you about your quilt,” she said. She scarcely came up to my collarbone, and her voice was proportionately small.


“My husband died in February,” she said. The cloudy irises of her eyes swam in sudden tears. “And this is the first quilt I made after that. So it’s a very special quilt. And I’m so glad it’s going to you.” 

"Garden Lattice." If I were a better 
photographer you would better be 
able to appreciate this amazing 
work of gloriosity.


More than the omnipresence of stories, this incident makes me think how surprising life is. It’s hard. We’re so often buffeted about and knocked down. And we struggle back onto our feet and keep stumbling forward, blind in the dark of our own disappointment, or shock, or mourning. And after stumbling for a while, we find that our feet are moving smoother. That happiness is still available to us. That the sun still shines and we enjoy its warmth, that food still has rich flavor and we savor it, that creating something gives us purpose and pleasure. (And, okay, back to writing: that there are other markets we can submit to.)


And all that, my friends, is hanging on my wall. (Don’t be too jealous. Sewing is very big! There’s bound to be a guild holding an auction somewhere near you, too. Go for the bidding—stay for the stories.)


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