“When I quit concerning myself with projects and turned my attention to process, my work really took off,” explained internationally acclaimed fiber artist Sandy German in a talk about the work shown in a local exhibition. Sandy leads a group of quilters who meet weekly in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. to explore quiltmaking as a vehicle for personal growth and creative expression.
“Sandy gives us a theme to work on, and when we come back with our finished pieces, no two are alike.” said one group member. "We celebrate the differences in our work."
“This group is a marvelous place to learn. I’ve never been told I did something wrong. Everyone looks at my work as an expression of who I am and what I have to say, not as a piece of sewing that has to be perfect in every detail. It’s supportive and exciting,” said another.
As group members briefly discussed their experiences with quilting, the group, and the pieces they each had on display, Sandy’s comments formed a thread weaving the program together. Several times she emphasized the need to take time to be aware of the message of a piece of work. “It’s not always what you think it should be. Sometimes you are surprised.” Herein lies the element of self-discovery and personal growth. She and group members continually returned to the concept of process above project.
As I listened to the program, I was struck by the similarities between the processes of quilting and writing. Serious life writers discover that the process of writing, of listening to the message of each piece, is the source of inspiration, self-discovery, and personal growth. In a very real sense, piecing memories together to comprise a meaningful memoir is much like piecing fabric together to form a quilt. Both quilter and writer face the challenge of selecting, discarding, snipping, and arranging to form a meaningful unit from a universe of possible components. Like Sandy, many of us have discovered that when we switch our focus to process rather than simply cranking out predetermined projects, our writing becomes deeper, more meaningful, and more eloquent.
Whether you quilt or write — or dabble in oils — it’s okay to make messes, to experiment, to let the story inherent in the work bubble forth of its own accord. Be willing to be fresh and surprised by your results. Forget about forming a coherent story and just write, for the pure joy of it, and for the satisfaction of seeing your words, your meaningful thoughts, on the page. Eventually those madcap scribblings will form themselves into a more eloquent story than you would likely ever have imagined. Your writing voice will take on more resonant tones.
While you are at it, you’ll also do well to find a writing group much like Sandy’s quilting group for support, appreciation, and a general sense of writing community. If you can’t find one, start your own!
Write now: find some paper and write for twelve minutes on the topic “What I would write about just for fun and adventure without worrying about producing a finished story.” Or, “This is the most important thing I want future generations to know about me.”