I think it started when Ben’s story came to me. I knew he was in trouble and as I wrote about him, I came to understand and sympathize with how he felt – a cruel father, a distant mother, alone in the world at sixteen. That’s when I imagined Laurie MacBride; I wanted her to represent generosity, acceptance, comfort, nurturing. And in my mind, quilts and quilting are tangible things that I associate with those character qualities. So I made Laurie MacBride a quilter and as my mind goes, one thing led to another and soon she owned an entire, wonderful quilt shop with gorgeous fabric and lovely hand made things, kits and classes, quilters who gather things to give to the needy and with a drive-through window for those women whose kids have to pee or whose children start screaming every time they stop by a fabric store. Did I mention the cafe in the back for those of us who need time to think about our decisions over a fragrant cappuccino?
So as I was writing, the idea of quilts kept coming into the narrative… a quilt around Ben’s shoulders while he’s waiting for his father’s broken arm to be set… a quilt on the cot in Tom’s office where Ben hides…quilts symbolizing the idea that people heal through creativity and on and on so that I began to find traditional quilt block names for the names of the chapters. It worked so well because the traditional quilt block names are imaginative and symbolic and so they readily stood for and helped define what I hoped the meaning of the chapter to be.
Then the book was published with Laurie MacBride’s store, Eight Hands Around in the middle of the community described. Cottonseed Glory, my model quilt store in Annapolis, offered to sell the book and Robin, one of the friends I met there who also is a member of the Annapolis Quilt Guild asked if I’d like to sell the book at the annual Annapolis Quilt Show–Quilts by the Bay. When I agreed — with enthusiasm, she added, “Just bring a colorful quilt to draw everyone’s attention.”
That got me. You see other friends had been saying something similar. ”Make a quilt of the traditional blocks you used in the chapter titles,” was something I heard again and again. And it was something I had always wanted to do. I started planning, but got stuck quickly. That’s when Albie and Sue and Cheryl at Cottonseed Glory said, “Don’t use a white or cream background for the quilt, use the color of the book’s cover.” And suddenly, I could see the entire thing. I knew that I should use the colors prominent in the narrative …the yellow of candlelight and sunlight, so important to the ambiance and meaning…green blue representing the brackish waters described… a color for the sky and the earth, and lots of orange to recall those important, favorite boxers of Joe’s– the orange ones with the jaunty Santas on them.
As I sewed, I changed the traditional blocks to reflect the story. The Solomon’s Puzzle block (also called, ironically Drunkard’s Path) was changed to show the x-shaped intersection where a crucial accident takes place and where the novel’s secret is discovered. The Eight Hands Around Block has a circle in the middle rather than the traditional star; to me this shows the resolution of the plot. And finally the block for Chapter Six.
Chapter Six’s title, Little Low Heaven, was taken from “Spring,” a poem I love by Gerard Manley Hopkins. In it he describes a thrush’s egg as “little low heaven.” I can see how an egg, blue and perfectly shaped, represents heaven with life held carefully in it. But in Annapolis, we had another ‘little low heaven’ or at least it seemed so to me. As I drove down King George Street on my way to work, I would gaze up into the dome of the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel. There in the morning seemed a shaded sky bright with stars. At night, on my way home after the sky was dark, the indoor sky in the chapel dome was golden, its stars brighter still and so I began to look for that little low heaven that stood opposite to my world every day and I described it in Solomon’s Puzzle as a place where Ben finds sanctuary– a place that stands opposite to his world.
All that being said, when I was sewing the quilt, I had to make a block to represent that chapter. I tried to make it look like the Naval Academy chapel looking up.
Now the quilt is on display! You can see it at Cottonseed Glory in Annapolis and at Bears Paw in Towson. If you’re traveling around to stores during the Quilt Quest, stop by and say ‘hi’ or leave a note to say you saw the quilt! Patterns are available, too. And there’s more to the story to come…!