12 November 2007


This is an excerpt of something, I'm not sure what. It started out just as this part alone, with some other stuff, then I edited it down and made it part of something else that I didn't really like. So now here it is again, all by itself. I like it, but I'm not sure what to make of it.

The gentle whir of the machine relaxes me, puts me into a sort of trance. Each tiny stitch intrigues me as it moves trough cotton, wool, silk, to grab another thread, and then back through again. Silk, wool, cotton. If done properly, you shouldn't see the knots. They lie in the in-between, nestled in layers of cloth, hidden away so that the only thing I see is perfectly even stitches, floating over the top. To see knots would mean a problem with the tension.

My knots struggle to stay in the in-between. Sometimes they float to the surface and I am amateurish, foolish. A child's attempt at art that only a mother could love. If even her. Sometimes my knots slip way down to the opposite side - overcompensation, still too much tension.

My hands guide tea-colored muslin over the throat plate, under the presser foot. Fine thread - red, for contrast - pierces cotton, polyester, and cotton again. Just a practice run, but the knots pop up to the top after the first stitch. Top thread must be too tight. Clip the threads, adjust the tension, try again. The needle bobs and the machine whirs gently and I take care not to push or pull the fabric through. After an inch or two, I still see the knots pulling up to the top. Clip the threads, adjust the tension, start again.

I didn't seem to have the talent for quilting like the other women in my family. My mother and grandmother are both adept at the craft, and my younger sister is honing her own skills. I admire their quilts, the intricate piecework of fiery oranges and greens, florals and stripes, muted blues and sepia tones. Silks and satins kissed luxe cottons, joined by cotton-wrapped polyester threads, quilted in complex sunbursts and zigzags. Each stitch as long as the one before and the one to follow, each knot resting within the middle layer of polyester batting. They rarely had to adjust their tension.

I smile when I see even red stitches on the surface of my practice quilt block, without any knots. I snip the two threads to inspect the stitches up close. They're beautiful, small, flawless.

Stitch. Stitch. Stitch.

I turn the block over to the other side, and I feel childish. Not only had the knots been pulled down to the bottom, but thread had been caught and bunched up in several spots like tiny birds' nests. I had overcompensated, made the top thread too loose so it didn't provide any resistance against the bobbin thread. Exasperation cramps my fingers as I adjust the tension once again.

As a little girl, I would sit on the sewing room floor while my mother cut and sewed, cut and sewed. Snips of thread would collect on my homemade dresses and in my honey-blond hair as I played with the fabric scraps. Rich velvets and brocades, soft brushed cotton, sheer tulles and meshes. My favorite of all was monkscloth. It was a plain cotton fabric, with a regular weave, four by four. Four threads over four, under four, over again. Predictable, but gorgeous in its simplicity. I would scotch-tape odd scraps together - when I was eight my mother taught me my first hand stitches - and wear the pieces on my head, or pinned to my clothes.

I was beautiful then, angelic. I draped white lace over my head, pranced down an imaginary aisle; I wrapped myself in floral prints, leaned over the yardstick, and pretended I was an old lady. I was my mother's rag doll. That's what she called me after she saw how fascinated I was by the fabric scraps. Come on my little rag doll. Help me cut out the pieces and you can have what's left. That always brought me to my feet, skipping every other step on the way downstairs.

I ease off the pedal, the machine slowing, stopping. The quilt block was nearly full, covered in poor quality stitching. Looking at my last attempt, I can still see knots pulling up to the top. Almost there. As a last resort, I pull out the bobbin and bobbin case. My mother would kill me if she came in, so I quickly grab the tiny screwdriver and adjust the bobbin tension slightly. Ever so slightly.

I never saw my mother adjust the bobbin tension. You should be able to fix any tension problem by adjusting the top thread, she always told me. You shouldn't have to touch the bobbin at all. I adjusted my bobbin all the time when I tried to quilt anything. I could never get the tension right. Clip the threads, adjust the tension, start again. It's my mantra.

05 November 2007

A Stumbling Block

I'm thinking of submitting to a particular magazine, but the issue they're currently reading for is a themed issue. They want pieces about or inspired by the trials of adolescence. No brilliant ideas have struck me yet, so I'm doing a little freewriting here on the blog. Maybe something will come to me.

Let's see, adolescence. I think it kind of sucked. Maybe my vision is too narrow, I don't know, but when I hear adolescence I automatically flash back to my middle school days. That was absolutely the worst time for me. I didn't know who I was, where I belonged, who I wanted to be. I was awkward. Yeah, yeah, "Everyone is awkward at that age," you say. But I'm not so sure. I bet you knew some people - the popular people, usually - who seemed to have it all together at every age. Or maybe they were just better at pretending than the rest of us.

Angst is a tricky subject for writing. If you do it wrong, it just seems so overdone and typical. Not the kind of writing I want. Same goes for teenage puppy love, which is another obvious topic for writing about adolescence. There has to be something else I can do. Teen struggles with parents' divorce. Still seems a bit common, as one of my old professors would say. Instead of the usual teen trying to grow up too fast, maybe it could be Teen fights against puberty. Ha ha! That sounds funny. Maybe a little Peter Pan-ish. But could be interesting..... but still doesn't really strike a vibe with me.

Oh well. I'll keep on trying.

02 November 2007

Why Do Writers Write?

Patricia Hampl says that she writes in order to find out what she knows. Which makes some sense to me. Sometimes when I write, I found out things about myself that I either didn't know or hadn't formed a definite opinion about. But I think a lot of what I write comes out just because I have an overactive imagination. Something someone says or does, a moment I experience, or something I see will trigger a reaction in my brain and I start imagining scenes and storylines.

I often wonder why other writers write. Do they also have overactive imaginations; do stories grip them and refuse to let go until they're recorded on paper? Or do they write because it's something the desire to do, and so they work at it. Are there writers who couldn't care one way or another, but write because they've discovered they're good at it?

People like Steven King, my personal favorite Dean Koontz, or any other well-known author.... I wonder how they got started, how they got their big break, and if writing is more business or pleasure for them. It's pleasure for me, but if I can turn it into business, that would be great too! I guess maybe it's kind of like when actors take on certain roles because it sells/pays, but prefer other, more artsy/indie kinds of roles.

I guess I'm really wondering if all writers feel the same need to write that I do. For some reason, when my mind/imagination wanders, I feel compelled to capture and develop the resulting ideas on paper. A lot of times I don't even worry about whether it's publishable/marketable, or if it could become anything more than what it is at that moment (although I'm trying to focus more on that so I can get something published.) A lot of times I'm content to write down what's popped into my head and leave it at that; just the sheer act of capturing it somewhere permanent, so I can revisit it whenever I want, is almost satisfaction enough.