In 2014, I championed this book by Anesa Miller and because of my love of stitching she kindly wrote this piece that links in with the needlework her main character does in the book.
Stitching Up A Story
Thank you, Karen, for hosting me on your blog today. Since I happen to know that needlework is one of your interests, I’ll share some “musings” on that topic and how it turns up in fiction. But wait, all you readers of the masculine persuasion—don’t flee too soon! This is NOT just a sewing bee (nor a “stitch and b*tch”session, as one local group used to call such gatherings). I’ll try to bring a bit of symbolism to bear and delve down to deeper meanings. So give us a chance!
When the sirens of fiction first began calling, infecting my mind with the addictive urge to spin yarns and weave words into story, I developed a few rituals for getting started, as many writers do. First, it seemed essentialto sharpen half a dozen pencils to a needle-like point. (Yes, it was that long ago.) Then, yesterday’s pages had to align neatly on the kitchen table—the same multi-purpose workspace where I sometimes set up my mother’s old sewing machine. And finally, I would rest my eyes on the seam-straight lines of the yellow legal pad where the new day’s work would appear.
Ariadne thread soon began leading me onward as plot events unfolded in my mind and characters’ desires became tangled in knots of conflict and possible resolution…
I think you get my point: since the days of Homer (if not before), storytelling has enjoyed a special relationship with textiles and needlework. It seems to share intrinsic connections with spinning, weaving, quilting, patching, and, of course, embroidery. There’s also a good deal of cutting. Nips, tucks, and expert tailoring are required to shape a final garment that readers are willing to try on for size.
Other writers may deem painting a better parallel, since we often speak of well-drawn character. Or even theatre, since we must set the scene. But for me, sewing-related metaphors are essential to the craft of fiction. Why should this be? It may be tied to my heritage. I’m descended from two generations of distinguished seamstresses. Mother and Gran carved out time for the handwork they loved from a routine of more basic household chores. Where they produced special items for loved ones to wear, I have fashioned a cloak of invisibility—the veil of story that lets me both express my inner life and hide behind artifice.
My grandmother was born in the wilds of an Arkansas forest in 1899. Her widowed mother supported the family as cook ata small college, an occupation that kept body and soul together but provided few luxuries. At age 18, when Gran posed for the photo here, she chose a blouse she’d made for herself, complete with hand-embroidered decoration.
Although mass-produced goods became widely available over my mother’s lifetime, she, too, learned the skillsof making and ornamenting her own clothing. After all, when she was a girl inthe Great Depression, most people wore garments refashioned from flour and feedsacks! Mills packaged grain products in printed calico for this very purpose.
My mother’s early death in the 1970s became my first encounter with the pains of grief. She had made many lovely outfits for me that I failed to appreciate as a teenager dealing with loss. But when I eventually sorted out her sewing cupboard, a remarkable find came to light —
These are a few of the quilt squares my mother embroidered as a young bride. Was the baby quilt meant for my brother and then, when it still wasn’t finished, for me—baby of the family? Sadly, it was never assembled for either of us…but if I am blessed with a grandchild, which is beginning to look like a possibility, then the next generation will be the lucky recipient of a coverlet started by my mother some 50 years ago.
What other art, craft, hobby, or occupation could hold richer meaning for me than needlework?
As my writing progressed from stacks of legal pads into the Computer Age, my novel, Our Orbit, went through many drafts. Butone motif remained constant throughout all the revisions. When I decided that Deanne Fletcher, the character of the foster mother, should run a home-based business, she immediately became a dressmaker. In principle, Deanne might have sold cosmetics, herbal remedies, jams, or other handicrafts, but those prospects never really entered my mind.
Because, for me, nothing says “Mom” like a woman making clothes by hand. I even managed to do a bit myself back in the day, before writing took up all myspare time!
Many thanks, once again, for sharing your website with me, Karen. I would love to hear from your readers and hear what they think. My social media links are below, and of course, there’s a contact page at my website as well as room for comments on my blog.
BIO: Anesa Miller is a recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council. She studied writing at Kenyon College and the University of Idaho. Her work has been published in The Kenyon Review, The California Quarterly, the Southern Humanities Review, and others. Her debut novel, Our Orbit, releases from Booktrope of Seattle in June 2015. Anesa currently divides her time between Ohio and the Pacific Northwest.
OO Blurb: Nine-year-old Miriam Winslow never wore new clothes, never had a haircut, and believes that sinners must repent with dramatic displays of remorse, or harm will come to their loved ones. Now thrust into foster care, Miriam must adapt to a secular lifestyle while struggling to keep in touch with her past. Foster parents Rick and Deanne Fletcher quickly come to love their “new little girl.” Soon they meet the rest of Miriam’s family. Uncle Dan believes he was abducted by aliens. Sister Rachelle, just out of juvenile detention, harbors painful secrets. Brother Josh is outraged that the Fletchers disrespect Christian teachings. He vows to take Miriam out of their home and put a stop to meddling in his family’s way of life.
Now a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Best Regional Fiction, Our Orbit captures the tension between modernity and tradition in the Appalachian corner of southern Ohio. “A literary novel that reads at the pace of a thriller.”
You can always find Anesa at: