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  • Diane Telgen

The pains of getting basted

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. And since I’m making two quilts to have ready for a family event at Thanksgiving, I’m sewing REALLY FAST.)

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 large quilt (queen-sized), basting is even more complicated. I have to tape the backing to the floor, keeping the fabric stretched, and smooth the top layers out with one hand while sticking in pins with the other. It’s not a pretty picture:

Of course one should always color coordinate with a quilt you’re basting

To give you a sense of scale: the biggest of those blocks is 10 x 10 inches. There are 11 rows of 9 blocks each, and with the borders the total adds up to 102 x 88 inches. So it required a lot of stretching, a lot of moving and taping, and a lot of pinning. All while trying to keep my trick knee from locking up while I sat and scooted around the floor. NOT FUN.

So what does this have to do with writing a novel?

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 one. Although I’ve written a couple of novels with outlines, I’ve also tried pantsing my way through a story. (The outlined stories were plot-driven fantasies, while the pantsed ones were contemporary works that were 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. We know it needs to be done, but we don’t always enjoy it. We’ve already done the fun parts of brainstorming (choosing the fabric) and writing the first draft (piecing the patchwork, seeing the pattern come together). Revising is hard work: trying to figure out what needs to be cut or moved or changed, and it hurts sometimes! But it has to be done, or else you’ll forever be trying to work out the bumps and bubbles from your writing. Luckily you can hire one of the Angel Editors to help you with this task, and they’re much more effective than my tacking gun gadget. I suppose that makes [1]revision a lot like basting and quilting—sometimes painful, a lot of busywork, but showing visible rewards as you get closer and closer to the finish.

Diane is an avid crafter who knits, crochets, and quilts when she’s not busy writing and editing.

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