Thursday, December 4, 2008

The pains of getting basted...

As I've mentioned before, I frequently see parallels between one of my favorite hobbies, quilting, and the gargantuan task that is writing a novel. I was thinking about this the other day when I was doing my least favorite part of making a quilt: basting.

Basting is the onerous chore of taking the completed patchwork top of a quilt and a fabric backing, sandwiching batting between the two, and then pinning the whole thing together. If you don't do it right, it makes the quilting much harder: if there are bumps and bubbles riddling your quilt sandwich, you have to spend more time fiddling with the fabric instead of getting to the stitching. (It's especially crucial if you're machine quilting a piece, since it's so easy to stitch the bubbles into your quilt when you're sewing fast. Since I'm hand-quilting this particular piece, it's not as crucial, but it still helps to have a smooth sandwich.)

Although I have a tacking gun gadget that supposedly makes basting easier, it's never worked properly (I'm probably using it wrong), so I end up using safety pins instead. This requires a lot of annoying work, and always results in stuck fingers. Because I'm working on a king-sized quilt, basting is even more complicated. I have enough floor space to tape anything smaller to the floor, keeping the fabric stretched, but I can't do it with a king. So I ended up taping sections to my dining room table, and stretching as much of the rest as I could with one hand while sticking in pins with the other. It's not a pretty picture:

To give you a sense of scale: each of those squares is 4 x 4 inches. The pattern consists of 5 large blocks made of 25 squares each, and the quilt is 5 blocks long on each side. So overall the quilt measures 25 x 25 small squares; with the addition of a small border, it has a total size of 104" square. (That's 625 squares altogether, if you're counting.) So it required a lot of stretching, a lot of moving and retaping, and a lot of pinning. As you can probably tell from the expression on my face, I'm not having lots of fun.

At first, I thought maybe basting was a good parallel for outlining the plot of a novel. If you take the time to make a really exhaustive outline, it makes writing that first draft a lot easier. You know everything that's happening, and where the characters are headed. You don't have many bubbles, where you have to take out the stitching and smooth things out before rewriting—er, restitching.

The only problem with this parallel is that, unlike basting a quilt, making an outline for a novel isn't really essential. A lot of writers never use them. Although I've written three other novels that way, I'm currently working on one without an outline. Of course, the last three were plot-driven fantasies, and this one is a contemporary comedy that's more character-driven, so that could be the real difference. Another fault with the parallel is that I actually like outlining; it's a kind of brainstorming, so it's a creative process. Pinning a quilt is just busy work that requires close attention and precision.

So maybe a better writing parallel to basting would be the revising process. I know it needs to be done, but I don't enjoy it. I already did the fun parts of brainstorming (choosing the fabric), and writing the first draft (piecing the patchwork). It's hard work trying to figure out what needs to be cut or moved or changed, and it hurts my fingers. But it has to be done, or else I'll forever be trying to work out the bumps and bubbles from my writing. Luckily I have a critique group to help me with this task, and they're much more effective than my tacking gun gadget. I suppose that makes the rewriting a lot like quilting—sometimes painful, a lot of busywork, but showing visible rewards as you get closer and closer to the finish.

Of course, maybe the best metaphor for basting is the creating of quilting-writing metaphors for this blog. Perhaps I'm stretching things a bit, but I had to do something with my brain while I was stretched across half the dining room table, sticking pins into my fingers.

1 comment:

  1. And here I saw the title and thought you were talking turkey.