Saturday, May 24, 2008

Other Than Writing

Of all the creative people I've met, writers are the ones who most often do creative things outside their own art. It's not uncommon for a fiction writer to also be an artist, crafter, musician, dressmaker, poet, weaver, sculptor, potter, etc. Very often these non-writing activities are on the hobby level -- writing consumes a lot of our spare time -- but a few writers end up having two creative careers.

For the last twenty years, quilts have been my private passion. I make them, restore them, study them and collect them. I often collaborate with other quilters and fabric artists on joint projects. I have two going at the moment that are turning out to be a lot of fun; one is with another author.

Quilts are also a nice side business. For a time I moonlighted as a quilt buyer for a friend who is an antique dealer, and recently I was offered a full-time job as a quilting teacher (and you'll never know how close I came to accepting that one.) It is nice to have something to fall back on, something you enjoy that no one else can mess with or spoil for you. That alone makes up for a lot of what happens during a career in Publishing.

As arts go, quilting isn't very complicated. Most people regard a quilt as an ordinary household item. It's made out of two layers of fabric and a center filling of fiber batting that are sandwiched, pinned and sewn together. Its purpose is to cover a sleeping person and keep them warm. Women often make them by hand for baby shower and wedding gifts, sometimes getting together in sewing groups known as quilting bees. Pretty, practical, and humble, that's about all you can say about the quilt. You can buy one at your local department store (imported from countries overseas that pay women in sweatshops about ten cents an hour to sew them) for as little as $19.95.

At the same time, quilting is an art with a very rich and diverse history. We know from tomb objects in Egypt that quilts may have been made and used as far back as 3,400 B.C. The oldest preserved quilt in existence is The Guicciardini quilt, made sometime during the 14th century in Sicily and, according to The Bent Needle at Force Majeure Farm'a blog, is currently undergoing restoration at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. As for how much they're worth, I think the world record is still held by a Civil War era pictorial quilt that Sotheby's auctioned off in 1991 for $264,000.00. Not bad for a humble bed covering.

I hang quilts around my house like artwork because to me, they are. Here's the one on display in my living room right now (click on image for larger view):

Corn and beans quilt

Having a creative outlet isn't a requirement, but it helps. When I need to blow off some steam, or think about a problem story, or just not think at all, I regularly go to my quilting table. My sewing machine never crashes on me. Fabric does not vanish on me (unless I didn't buy enough.) My running threads all make sense and usually are simple to untangle. The end result may never make it to a store the way my books do, but when I'm cold, it keeps me warm.

What sort of creative outlets do you have (or would you like to have)? How do they help you cope with what life throws at you?


  1. Anonymous11:55 AM

    I took up quilting in February when I was depressed; I love how the fabrics work together and just, oh. But then I got REALLY into my latest novel, and I work 20-30 hours a week, so... quilting = hobby, writing, as you say = not a hobby, so I stopped quilting until I finish the book AND SUBMIT IT. See, I'm finally going to submit a NOVEL and if I take the time off to quilt, which is just a hobby, I sort of panic that I'm not going to make it through to submit, which is such a huge step in a writer's life. Little workaholic me. I say it's more of a carrot-stick thing, that I'll chicken out of submitting if I take too long to finish the novel, and quilting = timesuck in that regard. :)

  2. Poetry and Tarot are my creative outlets.

    I can write a poem in the voice of a character which helps me get inside their heads a bit more. I can use the rhythm of the words to knock writer's block on its rear.

    Tarot gives me another venue for writing. I can break down an individual card or a suit. It lets me release tension when I can't get a plot to twist the way I like or my story is sucking so bad I wouldn't read it to my parrot.

  3. I do chainmail. The act of linking ring after ring is somehow zombifyingly meditative.

    I also started flailing around learning calligraphy. I'm digging that.

    But I get fidgety if I don't have pliers and rings around, and I even took them on my trip. ( the side benefit is, it's my only source of income now, and that's a perk.)

    I think without the pliers and rings, I'd probably just gnaw my arms off with stress.

  4. Anonymous12:10 PM

    Glass fusing and stained glass. I started playing with it as research for a story, and now find it totally absorbing. I love the color, the texture and the light coming through from behind. I even like the occasional scratch. It's very visual and tactile at the same time.

  5. Your quilt buyer gig sounds like a quilter's dream. And maybe you can do the full-time quilting teacher job later on.

    My Prozac is Paint Shop Pro. I've been hooked on it for several years. I love creating interesting images for hours on end.

  6. I remember my grandmother making quilts. She had a nearly-antique Singer sewing machine, and she'd collect the scraps left by the regional fabric factory at her nearby community dump.
    They were absolutely beautiful, and made for sound sleep on cold nights.

    I tinker with drawing and painting. Maybe I just like creating my own worlds there too.

  7. Anonymous12:58 PM

    Very pretty quilt!

    I'm a writer and a portrait artist.

    Recently I've started trying my hand at quilting. I'm trying to turn fabric/old blankets/old comforters into small quilts for a Dachshund Rescue. I figure I can get the supplies for nearly nothing and they need blankets, so why not? They don't have to be perfect and I don't think I could sew a beautiful one anyway. LOL.

    You're right about the diversification. I find that drawing, painting or hands on art help with my written descriptions.


  8. Anonymous1:23 PM

    I'm a belly dancer. I started about six years ago, and in addition to the continuing classes, I'm now in a troupe that performs around the SC Upstate and the Charlotte Metro area.

    Dance does wonders for those frustrating "what comes next" moments in my writing. I'll put on music and dance for a while, and suddenly everything is clear again.

  9. I enjoy photography -- all types from digital to the traditional darkroom work -- and it helps feed my muse when the words won't come. Being in my darkroom is so soothing and meditative -- and watching the images appear is a beautiful thing.

    Sometimes I dabble in something called polaroid transfer, which is a photographic process that turns polaroids into painting-like images. It's very difficult to do, but the resulting images are nothing sort of stunning.

    I also enjoy digital photography as well.

    I used to teach photo classes at my local college. That was rewarding and fun.

    Erin K.

  10. I restyle clothes--mostly for my daughter. She calls it funkifying. I pick up things at the thrift store and make them into something she can wear, like a jean jacket with leopard print sleeves and green fake fur collar. Or jeans with red cordoroy legs and gold fringe. (They look better than they sound. I swear.)

  11. I'm not a writer, other than my humble blog, but I do enjoy piecing quilt tops. Quilting itself, per se, I haven't quite got the hang of yet. I've sent out my completed tops so far to have a pro machine quilt them, but I'm hoping to do the next one myself.

    I especially love traditional geometric quilts where any give block design turns into something else entirely depending on how you block it and where you put the contrasting colors.

    I love this quilt blog:

    She's enormously talented.

  12. I'm into counted thread embroidery. Cross-stitch is the most well-known, but canvas, tapestry, hardanger and blackwork, not to mention all those specialty stitches used in samplers, are also considered counted thread embroidery.

    I keep meaning to get into quilting, especially I like the geometries, but I've so many cross-stitch projects and patterns lying around, it's probably going to be a long time before I actually get there.

  13. I wish I had another creative outlet. But I know my obsessive personality. If I took up something else I'd spend all my time doing that instead of writing.

  14. My blogging is my creative outlet. I have no ambitions to write a book, but I do enjoy writing for my blog.

    My husband and I just bought a new quilt for our bedroom. I love it. I've given them for gifts and am always wondering and thinking of the person who made them as I touch, fold and care for mine. It's not just fabric.

  15. Anonymous6:02 PM

    I've just started my journey into quilting. I'm a artist and writer, and thought I'd try this by making a little quilt for my new granddaughter. It gives me pause and respect for those who have mastered it.

  16. Sewing and jewelry making. As many pointed out, I find the fact that your mind "unplug"/disconnect somehow refreshing. It helps relieving stress or gives more focus and clarity, working effectively as a form of meditation technique. At least, it does for me. And I can come up with just the right clothes for me, my daughter, or a nice pendant/necklace/brooch/whatever for a gift. Saves money, plus, I can always make the extra penny on the side.

  17. i pretend to be an amateur photographer-sometimes I'm even half good.

    And ...uh... scrapbooks. Ya see, I take these great pictures and the house can only hold so many frames.

    And plain albums don't do them justice. It's weird though-I go thru phases when I'll scrapbook like mad and then I won't do it again for months or longer. It's been about a year since I last bothered with it.

    But I do love photography.

  18. Anonymous7:19 PM

    I'm what most call a crafter - started doing stained glass until it became too expensive, then got into ceramics. Did that until garage roof collapsed and killed the kiln (can't afford to replace it). These were actually a business for over 20 years. Minor profit but lots of fun.

    What sort of creative outlets do you have (or would you like to have)? How do they help you cope with what life throws at you?

    So what do I do? I talk to a friend online and read. Mainly read.

  19. I like planting flowers. I also like watercolors, charcoal drawings, playing my flute, singing, writing songs, poetry. Don't have much time for anything beyond writing, kids, and keeping everybody clean and fed right now, but I like the pure creativity of other outlets. It doesn't have to be for anybody else, and it can help me work out ideas.

  20. Tania, I'm a chailmail person too :)

    I make lots of jewelry out of mail, bead weaving and strung beads. I knit, crochet and, yes, quilt. I also make cross-stitch, tat and make stained glass.

    I suffer from an incurable disease - interested in everything!

    I need to have busy hands to think well.

  21. You are making me DROOL with material lust. I used to sew a lot, but the kiddos came and the house got smaller. It's all packed up, but I can't wait to break it out. In the meantime I paint and have been making ATCs (artist trading cards).

    I also used to make pottery and I really want to make my own dishes but that's in a few years.

  22. I'm an artist. I usually paint wildlife or landscapes, but recently I've started dipping into fantasy art.

  23. I agree. I find sometimes I have to stop myself from doing the "other art" and focus back on writing. In fact, I had to make a decision to put the altered books, mixed media journaling, ATC's on the back burner so I could work on my writing.

    However, writing has taken a back seat to sewing a noble's outfit for my daughter and the Reniassance Faire group she is with and packing to move.

    Once, the move is over (end of June hopefully) it will be full on with the writing.....and a little dabbling in paints.

  24. Anonymous12:42 PM

    Does martial arts count? I train some Filipino martial arts and love it. I used to dance, some 15 years ago and I have never forgiven myself for giving that up. The martial arts training has the same type connection between creativity and body awareness, balance, strength and such.

    Oh, and I used to make knives. Haven't in a while, though, so I think it's time to pick it up again :)

  25. I crochet, and, to a lesser extent, knit. For sometime now I've been buying random clothes at thrift stores with a really cool design or material or pattern but that I can't necessarily wear with plans to alter them or turn them into something else, but I haven't yet acted on it. Right now I'm just collector with a lot of ideas floated around.

  26. I sew, crochet, paint (oils), cook, and am learning to knit (well, I was, before I started attempting to write a novel). The writing is still a hobby to me also (Maybe I am really a writer who does software engineering as a "hobby"...).

    Having small kids has really frustrated my creative efforts--my sewing stuff resides in the spare bedroom next to my (very light-sleeping) 3-year old daughter's I can't sew while she's sleeping, and she is far too curious and hands-on for me to safely sew while she's awake. Her younger brother requires constant active supervision (at 14 months he's a bit of a terror already), so crocheting or knitting, or anything involving my hands is out of the question while he's awake.

    Writing lets me be creative, quietly, after bedtime. It doesn't make a mess. It's easy to put my supplies away to get them away from little hands, and to get everything back out again quickly. And I can do it in a coffee shop or a library if I can sneak away for an hour (I think most places would object if I brought in my sewing machine...) :) Plus, while I'm at work, my brain can work out plots and conversations and have the words ready for those short sessions at the keyboard. It's much harder to "mentally" sew or paint.


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