As the temperature dips and autumn makes way for winter, I often think of quilts as I snuggle into bed at night to read. I notice more and more novels with the word quilt in their title and the theme of quilting weaving its way through the story. I wrote one of those myself: Pennsylvania Patchwork.

Small quilt my aunt made out of vintage kimonos

In many ways writing a novel is like sewing a quilt, I’ve mused. An author must decide on the storyline. Sometimes the seeds of inspiration seem to spring to life out of nowhere, such as while I’m driving down the road. But occasionally plots and characters emerge from a newspaper article or an incident told by a family member. I’ve assumed a quilter must find inspiration either through a piece of fabric or from a quilt that catches their fancy. But even if the quilter tries to re-create that quilt, theirs will be different because each stitch is individual as is each word in a novel. I might have a favorite genre and author, but whatever I write will be unique.

I have often seen quilters wandering the aisles of fabric stores, breathing in the possibilities, much as I journal and walk with mini-recorder in hand pondering ideas. I respect quilters’ quest for perfectly spaced small stitches, yet know sometimes those precious stitches are taken out with a seam ripper and redone, much as we authors struggle with rewrites and edits. I rework whole chapters with vigor. In one manuscript, I deleted the first 60 pages!

A gift from Carol

But I don’t quilt so what do I know? I called Carol Whaley, a quilter friend. The moment I stated my first question her voice came to life. She agreed that writing a novel and piecing together a quilt have much in common. She considers herself “an artist in fabric.” She has a design wall: a flannel board where she rearranges squares of fabric. She keeps a notebook and collects pictures from magazines and advertisements. I do much the same thing with my writing; I maintain a notebook for each project with visuals such as a photo of a barn or a person with an interesting face, and a list of traits for each character.

When I remarked to Carol that my brain is incessantly tossing around notions, she agreed. “It’s always percolating in the back of my mind,” she said. She gets some of her best ideas in the middle of the night and I can certainly relate. She told me she experiences satisfaction at every step. “Just touching the fabric” is a pleasure.

Quilt made by Judy Bodmer

I mentioned we writers go to conferences, take workshops, and belong to critique groups. She said she also attends workshops. At the larger meetings there is a show-and-tell period before or after the speaker. In her smaller group everyone shows and tells. Members can admire, ask questions (How do these two colors look together?) and give suggestions. And she attends a retreat twice a year with over 90 people, with work spaces for about 40. Quilters exchange fabrics and ideas, and “UFOs”—unfinished objects—which made me chuckle. Most authors have a couple uncompleted projects or ideas they meant to or hope to start.

I recently heard author Daniel James Brown say in an interview, “It takes four or five years for me to write one of these books … When I’m working on a book, I’m thinking about it, if not writing it, seven days a week.” I can so relate! When I imagine the passion and dedication needed to design and stitch together a quilt, I am wowed. I admire quilters immensely!

Am I off base? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Should you wish to enter to win either a copy of Pennsylvania Patchwork or Leaving Lancaster also leave your email address so we can contact you.

Congratulations to Chris G, who won the Coffee/Tea Towel and a copy of either Pennsylvania Patchwork or Leaving Lancaster. I appreciate your many useful comments and suggestions, which I plan to use. I wish I had a prize for each of you!