The Sewing Guide to Character Development

November 18, 2019

As a fiber artist – whether for art quilts or garments – I let the fabric tell me what pattern to use. I realized I also use the same technique when I’m creating characters. Like the titles of my two favorite sewing books suggest, I repurpose people and mix and match traits to create the characters I need. Treating the plot as if it were fabric, I adapt the material at hand (ie, my friends and family) to suit the needs of my art. There are a couple of advantages to this, the first being if I blend traits well enough no character of mine will be recognizable as a real person. Just because I think I am using the best parts of folks I know in my characters doesn’t mean the actual people will agree, or like the way I’ve portrayed them. I love all the people in my life, and wouldn’t hurt their feelings for anything, not even the possibility of being on The New York Times best-seller list. The second advantage is no one I know has ever fought shape-shifting aliens invading Earth disguised as bolts of beige fabric, or gone to another planet to stop a civil war, or tried to lure a renegade alien soldier with spumoni ice cream. Using bits and pieces of the life stories of people around me turns out to be the ideal way for me to begin developing my characters. Then, like my quilts, the piece takes over and tells me where it wants to go. What is your ideal method of character development?

Luck and wisdom!

Embroidery, or Picking Up Stitches

November 13, 2019

My crazy quilt pile called to me this week, so I consolidated the stack and picked up some blocks. The floral block above is done enough. I’ll put more stitching on it when I put the top together, but it needs some context before I can decide what I want to do.

The block above was easy, as I had always intended to use an outline stitch for the koi. I set the block aside because I discovered I didn’t have enough blue embroidery floss to finish the design. Luckily, a delicate peach floss caught my eye while I could still adapt the color scheme.

This block needs more work, but will also need context before I know what to do with it. I’m calling it done for the moment, because I’m pretty sure I could cover the entire thing with stitching and still not be happy with it.

One thing I am happy with is my decision not to save all the last bits of floss. Instead, I’m going to fill a scrap of Aida cloth with blocks of color. You can see the beginning above. I may put beads on it as well. We’ll see what the project tells me to do.

The thread in the box is the part of my collection I could get my hands on. I know I have more floss and specialty threads somewhere, but they’re playing a real good game of hide and seek with me. This is why cleaning my sewing room has been a grand adventure for such a long time. I really have no idea what I’ll find when I finally get to the last pile.

Luck and wisdom!

Sharing and Self-Promotion

November 11, 2019

Forgot to take a picture of us at the boutique, so here’s one of my book covers

I rented a booth at a holiday boutique to sell my books. Knowing that I can promote other people’s products much better than I can my own, I invited two friends who write in basically the same genre to share my table. To my great delight, the scheme worked. We all sold books, and we all had a great time. To me, the moving target that is self-promotion is easier to vector in on with friends. It seemed that even the shoppers who didn’t buy our books spent more time listening to our pitch when there were three of us at the table. You might think bringing in competition would hurt my chances of making a sale, but it didn’t work out that way. Next time you’re planning a book event, consider helping another author and see how it helps you.

Luck and wisdom!

PS – Shameless self-promotion alert, you can buy The Chenille Ultimatum here.

Repurposing and My New Purse

November 6, 2019

I have been searching for the perfect purse most of my life. I’ve gone through quite a few that were wonderful, but when they wore out I couldn’t find a good replacement. I made my own purse once, with pockets and zippers and sides that stood up, but it was more trouble than I wanted to experience again. Just as I was despairing that the problem was insoluble, my Halloween handbag gave me the answer. It is square, which makes it easier to arrange zippered pouches inside. Why bother trying to make a bunch of interior pockets fit easily, or wrestle with thick stablizers, when I can repurpose my considerable collection of pouches?

A few years ago, I made a bunch of zippered pouches as gifts. Not all of them were suitable to give away, but I kept them for my own use. I have also received many lovely zippered pouches as gifts from friends and family. Not all of them were put into service immediately, and I’ve always felt bad about that. Now I have a use for more of them, so I’m happy (one more item on the annual “Things I’m Thankful For” list for the Thanksgiving discussion).

I made a few alterations to the pattern (The Bellinzona Cube by Pixeladies, although I couldn’t find a link to it on their homepage). Aside from enlarging it a smidge, I added pockets to all four sides. I also added a sewn-in strap with a clip for my keys to one pocket, and made one taller and narrower to corral my pens.

The best news is the pattern went together well, even with the changes I made. Now I will be able to experiment as my handbag needs evolve – and never again be forced to buy something that is almost but not quite right.

Luck and wisdom!

What Is Forward?

November 4, 2019

Although I write fiction, I mostly read nonfiction. The latest book – that I found at the library, the best invention ever – is Joseph LeDoux‘s The Deep History of Ourselves: The Four-Billion-Year Story of How We Got Conscious Brains. Without weighing in on LeDoux’s theory, I will share one tidbit that may inspire a poem, a quilt, and/or a character. LeDoux writes, “What is forward? Forward is a direction that emerges from the shape of a bilateral body.”

So, forward is where I’m looking.

Okay, that’s simplistic to the point of inaccuracy, but still there are creative possibilities in those two sentences. Quilters who make double-sided pieces know what I mean. When both sides are beautiful, which is the front? I’m not sure where my pondering will take me, but I have given myself permission to explore. After all, if I don’t like the view I can always change direction and still be going forward.

Luck and wisdom!

Trick or Treat at My House

October 30, 2019

Waiting to put out the Halloween candy

Halloween is my second favorite holiday (the first being Ground Hog Day). I love the costumes, the candy, the idea that you can roam the neighborhood well into the night and people will smile at you. I don’t care how old my visitors are – if you come in costume to my house on Halloween, you will get candy and a compliment on your creativity.

Luck and wisdom – and Happy Halloween!

Watching the World Change

October 28, 2019

When I was a kid, I would watch for gray winter skies and wonder if school would be closed for a snow day. The kids in my part of the world watch for gray autumn skies and wonder if school will be closed for a fire day. Even if the fire spares your town here, your area might be under mandatory evacuation, the power may be cut off or the air quality may be too hazardous to go outside. I’m watching the world change in real time and in ways I never imagined.

Since there is nothing I can do about the fires, I’m spending my non-worrying time figuring out how to use these changes to expand my writing. Perhaps I’ll try a bit of historical fiction, as I think I have a better grasp of the dread an ancient Kievan peasant might have felt looking at the growing cloud on the eastern horizon, wondering if it were a storm or the khan’s cavalry invading the land.

Luck and wisdom!

The Great Wall of Quilt Tops

October 23, 2019

So the good news is I bought some nice batting on sale and decided to rough cut the batt for the four small quilts I need to finish. The bad news is I have more than four tops in the stack. This I did not know. I really thought there were only four in the stack, but there might be six. It’s hard to tell, because the tops get squeezed together. Looking at the layers is like touring a coal mine. I’m certain if I leave those tops unquilted much longer they’ll be compressed into diamonds. This is especially true if I continue to put the batting and tops together on top of the pile.


Here is the view from my sewing machine at the moment. I have a better understanding of what the soldiers who fought in the trenches of France during World War I must have felt. The good news is these quilts are small – and I have a deadline.


The better news is I cleared out the floor of the sewing room closet for the first time in years. I’m hoping I can keep it clear for a little longer, but just this week an item I thought was going away needs to be stored for a little longer. It is on the ironing board right now, but it can’t live there and I have no place else to put it but in the closet. On the floor. The once clean floor. Ah, well.

Luck and wisdom!

My Vision, My Opinion, My Fiction

October 21, 2019

I ran across two notions about vision and opinion this week – “no self-respecting animal moves before it looks” (Kay Hogan) and “whenever you go someplace, you not only see the environment, but you develop an opinion about it” (Camille Minichino). The first comes from a teacher of The Alexander Technique, a method to retrain the body into healthier posture and movement. The second is from a prolific writer and teacher who was explaining how to give the reader more information while building suspense. Since I’m not the kind of writer who wants to explore dysfunctional characters, I am delighted to have these comments in my toolbox. I like both my heroines and villains to be rational, sensible, and ultimately concerned with the common good. The idea of moving from what you think you see to what actually exists is more interesting to me than trying to fight ultimate evil. Either/or situations usually lead to never-ending conflict, while trying to be of the most benefit to the most people holds the promise of cooperation. While I tell my friends it is a very good thing indeed that I am not Queen of the Universe because the bloodbath would be appalling, I don’t really want to wreak havoc. Violence only produces resentment, resistance, and another round of purges. Cooperation requires hard work to find common ground, which promotes understanding, which can lead to compassion. That’s where hope lies. So, while I will use the first impressions of my protagonist to give the reader information, I’m think in order to make the character change, learn, and grow I will focus on expanding her vision and modifying her opinion.

Luck and wisdom!

A Turning Point That Wasn’t

October 16, 2019

Last year at a memoir-writing workshop I wrote an outline of turning points in my life. This past week I was reminded of a career path I didn’t take and how grateful I am for that. When I graduated from college, I considered applying to the State Department. My father – a long-time civil servant – sorta kinda maybe talked me out of it. I found a different job, didn’t like it, moved to another city, married, moved across country, and discovered quilting. The brilliant career I dreamed of never materialized, but I’ve made art, contributed to my community, and even co-authored a series of sci fi novels (shameless self-promotion, you can buy the latest one here). Not too shabby, all things considered.

Whenever I wonder about the life I might have had, I remember 1979 and the hostage crisis in Tehran. Bruce Laingen (pictured above) was stationed there, the highest-ranking diplomat among the 52 U.S. Embassy workers held in Iran for 444 days. He was also a graduate of my alma mater, Saint Olaf College. In my imagination, I could see myself getting sent to Iran for my first posting, maybe even meeting Laingen at an embassy function and mentioning that I too was an Ole grad. Then the revolution would come, and I would be running for my life. That’s when I breathe a prayer of thankfulness for my (relatively) calm and peaceful existence.

Laingen died recently at age 96. He grew up on a Minnesota farm, interrupted his education to serve his country in World War II, then returned to complete his degree before continuing his service in government. The Iranian hostage crisis brought him to the world’s attention, and he responded with dignity, calm, and presence. He earned every bit of respect due him. I am very grateful to Laingen for showing America at its best.

Luck and wisdom!