Further Thoughts on Quilting and Writing

I’ve been struggling with writing this year (and indeed last year, and the year before), which is largely because I’ve been working in a hospital during a pandemic, so I’ve been constantly tired and stressed. But even when I’ve carved out enough time and energy to sit down and focus on my latest manuscript, getting each chapter finished has been a colossal effort.

Now, writing has never been easy for me (I’ve always given a hollow laugh whenever a reviewer has mentioned my “effortless prose”) but it seems to be getting more difficult. Shouldn’t it be plain sailing now that I’ve had five books published? Shouldn’t experience be useful? I’ve got everything for this novel-in-progress plotted on a spreadsheet. I know a lot about the characters. I have a reasonable vocabulary (and possess a thesaurus) and I understand how to construct a range of sentence types. I know what needs to happen on the page.

But I recently realised that I’ve been expecting each sentence, each paragraph, each chapter, to be close to perfect before I can move on to the next section. This is why I’ve re-written the first chapter seventeen times (in fairness to myself, it is now an excellent opening chapter). But no wonder everything’s progressing so slowly! It’s really not surprising that I dread sitting down at the computer and opening up the document.

I needed a mental re-set, so I put aside my writing and made a quilt. Usually the quilts I make have traditional geometric patterns, because this appeals to my nerdy maths brain:

Milky Way quilt

This latest quilt, though, is a Seaglass Quilt. I took an online course at Exhausted Octopus to learn the technique. It was a clear, useful course, but they don’t provide any pattern. The size, shape and placement of pieces are all improvised. Instead of traditional piecing and hand-quilting, there’s raw edge appliqué with fusible adhesive backing, and Free Motion Quilting, and facing rather than binding. The course even suggests basting WITH SAFETY PINS. This was all totally out of my quilting comfort zone.

But this quilt was so much fun to make! The course suggested making a small quilt first to try the techniques. I ignored this and made a big quilt to hang on my bedroom wall, so it did take about a week to finish, mostly because my very old sewing machine said ‘Nope!’ to Free Motion Quilting, so I used straight stitch around each of the 126 seaglass pieces. Some of the fused pieces fell off the background fabric before I’d gotten around to sewing them, so I pinned them back on, often in a slightly different position to where they were meant to go. At one point I decided I didn’t like the colour of a piece I’d already sewn so I sewed another piece directly on top. I just used whatever thread I had, sometimes to match the seaglass pieces, sometimes contrasting, depending on what I thought looked best at the time. The safety pin basting mostly worked but I did end up with some wrinkles in the middle:

Seaglass quilt closeup 1

But that was okay, because it looks like ripples in the sand around the pieces of seaglass. And the edges of the quilt aren’t perfectly straight, because some of my facing was a bit uneven, but that’s also okay. It’s organic and free-flowing. There are scraps of fabric that remind me fondly of past sewing projects.

Seaglass Quilt closeup 2

It’s colourful and cheerful and it makes me happy when I look at all of it, including the imperfections.

Seaglass quilt

There’s a lesson in there somewhere for perfectionist writers. Go with the flow. It won’t be perfect on the first draft, or the seventeenth draft, but a completed project will bring you satisfaction and possibly even joy.

You might also be interested in reading:

Five Ways In Which Writing a Novel Is Like Making A Quilt

6 thoughts on “Further Thoughts on Quilting and Writing”

  1. That quilt is absolutely beautiful, Michelle! What a glorious object, and with such wisdom stitched into it, too.

  2. I’ve been having the same issue when I try to write anything – I don’t think I’ll make a quilt, but I will take your advice! The quilt is gorgeous, by the way!

    1. Thanks, Jaye! Sometimes striving to achieve excellent results is a useful thing, but other times perfectionism just makes you freeze up and avoid doing anything at all. I’m definitely in the latter situation at the moment, but hopefully things will improve if I’m more forgiving of myself. Good luck with your writing.

  3. Wow, that quilt is stunning! I’m a maths nerdy geometric type quilter too, but that quilt is changing my mind.
    Keep writing!

    1. Thanks, Pip! It was much easier than a traditional quilt. I felt as though I was back in kindergarten as I sat there cutting out random shapes – it was lots of fun!

      Of course, now I’m looking at the leftover fabric scraps and thinking they’d make a nice traditional hand-quilted quilt, which would allow me to procrastinate about writing a bit longer …

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