Sunday, November 13, 2011

Quilting vs Plotting

     A friend of mine quilts absolutely beautiful pieces. I am in awe of how she can design, plan and pull together such wonderful quilts. What look like bits of fabric all mismatched and odd sized confound me as they become a beautiful quilt.
     She in turn, seems amazed by what I do. She wonders at how bits of dialog and events all mismatched and oddly stacked in my head can become a mystery. She admits to enjoying mysteries but never figuring out ‘whodunnit’.
     My sixth Grace Marsden mystery, The Innkeeper: An Unregistered Death, has elements of the Underground Railroad in Illinois. Sue made this quilt for me after I told her about the book.

     The quilt features symbols used by abolitionists to guide freedom seekers to safety or to relay messages.
     Quilts would have one message/symbol stitched into the piece. This quilt shows four symbols. The four corners depict the Monkey Wrench (get ready to leave—gather tools you may need). Between the corners you’ll see Flying Geese (directional prompt—follow the spring migration--North). The left panel depicts Crossroads (advising a change in direction). The last panel is The Log Cabin (seek shelter or safe haven).
     Slaves were not allowed to learn to read or write. It was imperative that an oral and visual system of directions be created. It would be dangerous for any directions or safe house descriptions to be written down in case the papers were found by slave catchers.
     When Sue presented me with the quilt I gushed at her work telling her how in awe I was of her ability.
     She laughed and told me she felt the same about my writing.  How could I pull the threads of all those odd bits into a plot that led to a great ending?
     We insisted that the other had the greater talent and began to compare our processes and results. We compared the excitement that the glimmer of the idea for the project creates. How we let the idea steep in our minds as we go about our days. How we begin to ‘sketch out’ what’s been percolating in our heads.
     We search for the right ‘fabric’ and the best ‘layout’ for our vision. Mine become characters and plot; Sue’s become material and pattern. I layer my story with secondary characters and hold it together with multiple ‘threads’ of the storyline using a backdrop of place and description and history. Sue uses just the right amount of batting under her pieces to give the quilt substance and warmth. She’ll stitch in the ditch, securing her pieces with inconspicuous seams. She tries her best to avoid ‘bearding’ (tiny tuft of batting that pokes through the hole made by the needle). She finishes with an appropriate backing. I try to write the events seamlessly (no holes in the story) so as not to pull the reader out of the story. Along the way, we both encounter ‘difficult threads’ and have to use a different needle or plot point.
     We enjoyed sharing our process and finding so many similarities to our creative expressions.
     Has anyone else discovered the overlap or common process with different art forms?