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Irish Chain Quilt

One of the hobbies I enjoy is quilting. I’m not terribly skilled at it. More often than not my corners don’t match,  and I have only completed about three quilts. I have a lot more unfinished projects than finished, but nonetheless, it is a hobby I indulge in whenever I’m not gardening, writing, or blogging, and it’s one I enjoy a lot.

Once a year I attend Joy Quilters Mystery Day and start a mystery quilt. I’ve been doing this for several years now and have several unfinished quilt tops. The interesting part of the mystery quilt challenge, and most nerve-racking for me, is choosing my fabrics without any idea of what I’m making. Don’t misunderstand. I love fabric and have a big stash, but it’s rather eclectic. I always start fresh for the mystery quilt and purchase just little more than I think I’ll need, which is why my stash is eclectic.

The instructions tell me how much material to get; whether it should be light, dark, or medium values; big, or little patterns, or no pattern at all; what shape to cut the material into; and how big the finished quilt will be. Since there’s not always clear color information, I usually look for a piece of material with color combinations that I like and build my quilt around that. Beyond that, I’m flying blind. I don’t know what a single block will look like, much less the whole quilt.

At the Mystery Quilt session we get one clue at a time. Often the leaders will say, “Take one dark square and sew it to a light one, then sew your long, medium value rectangle to that.” Easy enough, I think. But as I work, and get distracted talking to my tablemates, I often find myself stitching the pieces together incorrectly. False starts. Mistakes. So I rip the square, sometimes many squares, apart and start over, triple checking myself each time I lay new pieces together. After a bit, I get in the rhythm, chain stitching pieces together without lifting my sewing machine foot or breaking the thread. The repetitive pattern of hold together, feed under the foot, and stitch makes my progress hum, and I do okay until the leader adds the next step.

During a pressing break, I’ll look around the room to see what everyone else is making, and I begin doubting my choices. Some ladies have chosen only two colors, but four different shades of each color. Their quilt tops look coordinated—and very pretty. Others might have twenty shades of blue, or browns or reds. They always look very striking and very planned out. The print I’ve chosen as my base looks good by itself and my other colors are complimentary, but when I have my twenty different fat quarter fabrics  cut up and stitched back together, I’m never sure I like what I’ve created. And if I don’t like it, I usually don’t finish the quilt.

When I write without a clear plan, by the seat of my pants, without any idea of what my scenes, chapters, or plot points are, or where the turning points happen, I feel like I’m making mystery books.  I struggle with sagging middles, false starts, the dreaded blank screen, and a book that’s either too short or too long. I’ve tried writing scenes out of sequence as the ideas came to me—it took seven years to write that book, and I’m still not sure I’m happy with the ending. I’ve done writing without knowing the skeletal structure of my plot, and I’ve written from very detailed outlines. The books that I’ve written the fastest, with the least revisions, are always the ones that I have a clear pattern for and a clear picture of. If I have any holes in my story (and there’s always some wiggle room in the best laid out plans, be it quilts or books), my characters, whom I know rather well, because I’ve taken the time to get to know them, usually fill the holes in for me. Knowing each part of my book supports the other and which section of the story to piece to another makes the job go swiftly, unlike my mystery quilts which get stalled after I lay out the first blocks and discover I don’t like what I’ve created.

All those unfinished mystery quilts, which I have laid so carefully into paper bags with their cutout pieces and instructions, are on my sewing bucket list. But I’ve lost interest in them, just like the books I blindly started.  I plan to get back to them someday—the quilts and the books—but for now, I’ll try to concentrate on the projects I can see clearly.  Maybe, if I can stay out of the fabric store, I won’t start anything new until I’m finished with the old projects.

Then, again … maybe not. I am, after all, a fabri-holic.  Just ask my husband.

How do you quilt your books together … by having a detailed pattern or by mystery quilting?