I approached this endeavor the same way I approach a new novel—begin and see how it goes. Too impatient to calculate and graph out a design, I looked at pictures, scanned a few quilting books, disregarded their helpful suggestions for planning, and jumped right in. I rushed to the fabric store and bought armloads of gorgeous batik patterns. Did I calculate how much of each color I’d need? Of course not—that would have required planning. I’d just fly by the seat of my pants and hope I had enough of each fabric. And if I didn’t, I’d buy more.
With each of my novels so far, the initial idea has come from setting. After some mulling and thinking and walking, I find characters to inhabit my setting. After letting the idea simmer for a while, the vague outlines of a plot present itself and I begin writing. As with the quilt, I’m too impatient to plan first. I don’t create a detailed plot, but I do work sequentially, writing from beginning to end of a draft before beginning again.
Lack of planning was my downfall with the quilt. I cut the first lot of squares without leaving a seam allowance. Sigh. Oodles of fabric wasted. I had a general idea of how I wanted the quilt to look—a randomized pattern of different-sized squares—and decided to make it in five long strips that I would then sew together. A great idea—except that if I’d done the math first, I wouldn’t have had to sew an extra strip that was only half the width of the others. Sigh again.
My novel process is iterative—each draft brings me closer to a better understanding of my characters and their emotional needs. Often I head down a dead-end tunnel and have to discard days of writing, but it all serves to help me understand the story, the motivations of the characters, and their yearnings. The process with the quilt was iterative too. I sewed one strip, decided I liked it, and then made another, but with a different pattern of squares and a different selection of fabrics from the first. I headed down a few dead-ends—sewing strips and then finding too much of one color, or too many squares of one size, next to each other. So then the unpicking began!
Novels and quilts have deadlines. Eventually time runs out for novel revisions. I must accept that it will never be perfect, but that it’s ready for the world to see. Time’s running out for the quilt too—it’s needed for a wedding in May. There’s no wiggle room. Despite any imperfections I may want to fix, it will have to be ready by the deadline. Which means that, now that the piecing is finished, I have to figure out how I’m going to actually quilt the monster!