Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cardinal Rules

My sisters Audrey and Laura are both skilled at sewing. I am happy to do potholders, but they make lap throws, quilts, dolls, miniatures, handbags--enough to fill one wing of an art gallery.

Recently Audrey was part of a quilter's challenge that started with one square that she made--the cardinal. She passed that square to another quilter who made one border. That quilter passed the square to another quilter who made another border and returned it to Audrey. Then Audrey generously gave the square to me to hang in our home.

I loved the cardinal, with its red energy, almost ready to fly off the wall and out the window. But all those borders seemed too much, too much extra, that hid the red bird with its beautiful feathers. And those little cardinals in the corners seemed as if they'd flown in off another piece, too round and "cute," to be pal-ing around with my dignified bird. Audrey and I discussed--and agreed that less was better, that the piece would be more beautiful without that last border (though the quilter who added it no doubt worked long and skillfully on the appliqued chain and matching birds).

As I looked at the various versions of this piece, I thought of how much this sewing is like writing, revising, sometimes we just have too much, too much embellishment, that gets in the way of the story we want to tell. And though the writing may be beautiful and skilled, it just may not fit with the particular story we're working on. Then, hard as it is, it's time to get out the scissors, cut off the extra, and store it away for another time.

I have to learn this with every new piece. In my excitement about a story I tell too much, too much that may be peripheral, one extra border, four extra birds. Some times it takes time, some times it takes a friend, another pair of eyes, to tell me to revise, to cut out, cut off.

Thanks for the reminder Audrey, and for the beautiful cardinal.


  1. And I wonder what the cardinal would have looked like with the second border (without the rounded cardinals); and without the first border. Does that make sense? Wonderful visual for revision. Sometimes young writers need that too.

  2. That would have been another way to revise, wouldn't it. And it might have been nice. As with writing, there are lots of possibilities, we just can't use them all in one piece.