Think Before You Start; Plan Before You Play
In my professional life, I teach Business Writing workshops. We start with a planning process, then talk about clear, concise, active language, and then get down to the nitty-gritties like grammar, punctuation, and proofreading. I have recently come to see some parallels between making quilts and writing. Stay with me for a minute here, and I’ll tell you what I mean.
The writing planning process is, essentially, the part where you think before you write. Think about your reader, about who you’re writing to and what they care about. Think about why you are writing. Think about what you want to say. Then think about what information to include, what to leave out, and how to organize it all to meet the needs of your reader. If you spend a few minutes thinking about your reader and working to articulate your main point, your writing will be more efficient and effective, and you’ll get the results that you want.
Do you see where I'm going with this? When you’re making a quilt as a gift (or as a commission), many of the same planning steps/questions apply. Often, we don’t consciously think about these questions. Sometimes, though, if we’re stuck or struggling, they can be helpful as a starting point.
Especially when you are making something for a specific person, thinking about these types of questions can help you make sure your gift or commission is well received. The answers can help you choose fabrics, designs, shapes, sizes, and materials that will be appropriate.
Who are you making the quilt for?
Yourself? Someone else? Are they old? Young? Sick? Healthy? Celebrating? Mourning?
In my last post, for example, I wrote about the quilt I made for my son to take to college. He helped choose the colors, the size, and the backing material.
A bunch of years ago, I told my younger son I’d make him a quilt. I took him with me to the fabric store and let him pick out a selection of his favorites. Perhaps I could have helped him curate his selection a bit more, but, oh well. I knew he wanted it to be big enough to cuddle in, so that helped me determine the size. And, as I have mentioned before, my family likes fuzzy backings, so my son got to choose the back as well.
The resulting quilt is wild, but kind of like a time capsule of what he was like at the time. He liked it, so I felt like I had achieved my goal.
Why are you making it for that person? How will it be used?
Is it a gift? A commission? A fundraiser? A skill-building exercise? Is it art for a wall? Warmth for a baby? Covering for a bed? Memories of a loved one?
For one project, I made a quilt for a first-grade teacher. This teacher had seen and helped with a variety of auction quilts over the years, but had never gotten to have one for himself. When the class parents were talking about an end-of-year gift for him, I offered to make a quilt. I knew he liked to garden, and I knew he liked the quilts we had made for auctions, so I decided to have the kids collaborate on a garden-themed quilt for him.
It was such fun to think about him and the joy he brought to the kids as I sewed it together. At the same time, I wished I had more information about how he might use a quilt. Would he want to put it on a bed? Hang it on a wall? Hide it in a box? Knowing how he might use it would have made me much more comfortable in choosing a size, shape, design, and even materials and construction.
What is the quilt meant to communicate?
I love you! I miss you! Get well! Congratulations!
Here is a detail from the quilt I made for my best "forever friend." It was the first time I had actually spelled out the message of the quilt right in the piecing. My friend loved it because she knew it had been made just for her.
I sent these ladies to some other friends as part of a gift exchange. As I wrote in the letter that accompanied them, “Your ‘sisters in support’ may be scattered across the country, but they/we remain part of a virtual brigade meant to bring you smiles all year long.”
Why was I sending a virtual brigade across the country? Those who are the stocking fillers at Christmas are often those whose own stockings remain flat. To address this problem, a friend of mine started an online group called the Flat Stocking Brigade, or FSB, so that we could bring each other a little light and joy during the holiday season. Sometimes we had a secret Santa-type of exchange, in which we were each assigned another member of the group, and other times we each sent a small gift to each participant, so that together we made each others’ stockings full.
One year I wanted to use my quilty skills to make gifts for the Brigade, but I didn’t know what to send. I did know whatever I made would have to be small (to be manageable and mail-able). I also knew my “audience” was a group of supportive women all over the country. Inspired by Fern Royce’s Marching Ladies quilt, I eventually made and sent out these ladies (each about 10” x 12”). I kept one for myself, and she hangs, contentedly, on the wall next to my sewing machine.
Planning steps and questions aren’t useful for every kind of quilting OR every kind of writing. Business writing differs from poetry just as t-shirt quilt commissions differ from improv mini-quilts. Planning can be useful, though, especially when you’re looking for a way to start.
What are you planning to make next?