Monday, October 31, 2022

Another Day, Another Encyclopedic Baby Quilt!

 My peers' kids are having babies like mad! It's the best kind of epidemic! Here's the quilt I made for  friends' newest granddaughter, sweet Olive.

I call these my "Everything in the World" baby quilts. Child development experts encourage parents to talk to their babies - constantly. But after a while, with my own babies, I certainly ran out of subjects to discuss. How many times can you praise their dimples, burps, and poops? This quilt gives the parent conversation-prompts - specifically, 128 of them, cut into 4" squares, plus 17 colors of sashing.

I organize the squares thematically into 9-patches. Science-themed fabric went into this one: 

It's never too early to pressure your children into a career in the sciences! Here's one of the "interesting people/entities"-themed 9-patch. Yes, that's RGB in the middle.
Here's the OTHER "interesting entitites" 9-patch, featuring Pikachu in the middle, the original Star Trek cast to his right, etc.

Here's the music-themed 9-patch, featuring Elvis (upper right), Freddie Mercury (far right middle),  Mozart, and musical instruments Clearly fabric manufacturers need to make more fabric with female musicians.

Here are the dogs: 

Chased by the inevitable cats.

Want to see more "Everything in the World" baby quilts? Each is organized a little differently. Click on "Baby Quilts" in the word cloud on the right! 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Quilt is a Five-Letter Word: Quilting Lessons from Wordle, and Vice Versa

In the 1980s, before I started quilting, a cousin told me she was thinking about making a quilt.* [*Five letter words are highlighted at first mention in this article, to help prepare you for Wordle.]

I advised her against it  – I'd heard quilting was tedious: Use scissors to cut cereal boxes into squares, use pencils to trace around those onto fabric, then cut out hundreds of fabric squares (with the same scissors!), and sew them together, one by one.

That’s what I believed until 1991, when I made an impulse visit to a quilt show. It wasn't just the magnificent quilts – it was also the rotary cutters, mats, and acrylic cutting rulers. I realized my anti-quilting prejudice was wildly outdated.  I got hooked.

Same with Wordle. When the grids started appearing on my Facebook feed, I was judgy [Mirriam-Webster calls judgy “an adjective on the rise”! I haven't yet tried it in Wordle]. “Why are these things cluttering up my feed? I’ll never become one of those people!”

Eventually I decided to check it out  –  and got hooked. Today I am an unrepentant Wordle-grid Facebook-feed-clutterer. 

Along with “never say never (usually)” here are 12 more lessons that Wordle, a New York Times game that is all the rage on social media, can teach us about quilting, and vice versa. At the bottom are three crucial differences.

1. You can stare at both kinds of grids for a long time. Above and below are quilts  from my 2017 “Sophisticated Squares” series. The squares, of course, were cut out at lightening speed with a rotary cutting setup, but they took me a very long time to arrange. I now see they predicted the Wordle craze by a year (I didn’t start playing it until this year.) People who’ve never done Wordle or made a quilt may have no idea why these decisions take so long.

2. Cultivating underused abilities feels great. Until Wordle, I had no idea that I had such a broad knowledge of five-letter words. Answers seemly emerge from nowhere. And over time, you improve, which is very satisfying.

Similarly, the more quilts you make, the more you learn to cultivate your visual judgement. But in quilting, you can get a LOT better. (See differences at the end of this article.)

3. Both are an opportunity to speak kindly to yourself. When you’re off to a bad start, do you assume the worst? Instead, tell yourself, "Just because my first 2-5 guesses struck out doesn't mean I won't make it in 6.” Similarly, just because a quilt looks awful at an early stage doesn’t mean you won’t love it in the end. 

4. Ruling Things Out is Progress. Even when you make a bad guess, letters left behind  are more limited. And the empty grid squares tell you as much as full ones.

Same deal with quilts. Every arrangement you reject will get you closer to a better one. Plus, the concept of negative space: Every place you DON’T put something on a square is important, too!

5. Throw Everything at the Wall. In Wordle, I brainstorm aggressively and type everything in. Strange things appear: nonsense words; ethnic restaurant menu items (curry, chile, ramen, gyoza); pig latin; pharmaceutical names that are almost pig latin (exlax); plus loads of people and place names. 98% won’t work as a guess, but I stare at each to see if they trigger a similar, valid word.

For the game below, I typed in a slew of nonsense words. One of them, “womby” (which should be a word) made me think of “woody,” my third guess (which, I dimly recalled as sexual slang, so I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t work). That triggered “dowdy,” which describes my fashion sense, and that brought me to the answer, “howdy.” I would not have thought “howdy” would be valid when I started  I never wear cowboy apparel, have never lived in Texas, and I think of it as slang – but it worked! 

I can summarize all that action thusly: fun!

Similarly, with quilts, I try every arrangement I can imagine, no matter how unlikely and take a photo. Then I decide which is best. Every experienced quilter (and scientist, for that matter) knows that the accidents and tangents often turn out to be the best solution.

6. Something (Small) to Complain About, and Community to Share Your (Tiny) Feelings. Wordle can be SO unfair. Especially when there are too many solutions. It's a good day when the worst thing I have to kvetch about is that there are too many possible Wordle solutions, or too much fabric in my stash.

And it's so nice to have others – on Facebook, or in a quilt guild – who share my teeny little suffering, and applaud my teeny little victories. 

7. Going Public is a Mixed Bag. Moral support is a huge upside, but putting a quilt in a show or putting your Wordle grid on social media can  affect your creativity and motivation in ways that are negative, too. Knowing from the start that I might want to enter it in a show or put it on Facebook can make me work a little harder, but will also amp my anxiety a little and can make me take fewer risks.

8. Walk Away. Repeatedly. I am usually impatient to finish Wordle, which I do in the morning. The scrambled eggs may be burning, the plane may be boarding – but I want to keep going. 

However if I try to power my way through a stalemate with a purposely wrong word, I usually regret it. So I’ve trained myself to take breaks.

The longer the break, and the more I take, the more likely I am to solve it in fewer guesses. But there is a limit. With a brain freeze and a busy day, I might type in some wrong answers to break the jam. And yes, that path can very quickly lead to a strikeout.

Being creatively stuck on a quilt is so similar. Rushing a solution is something I will usually regret. Unless I’m working on a tight deadline, or have been stuck in the same place for weeks/months/years, THEN, yes, I just need to finish the darn thing!

My time limit for finishing a quilt is 30 years. (This one. The story is here). I probably don't have 30 more years, so I need to reduce that number as I age.

9. The Path More Taken is Safer (but Boring).  

I read an article that contended "raise" is the mathematically best first guess; the New York Times' Worldle Bot likes "crane." When I feel lazy and choose one of these, or another safer words (with common letters), it works out well – about half the time. It’s also boring.

So most days I start with a different word, choosing from whatever pops into my head. I try to use mostly common letters, but will go out on a limb with a “g”, “v” “w” or “c” word. This strategy, it seems to me, also works out nicely – about half the time.

In quilting, the equivalent safest solution is: Blue log cabin blocks. Americans love blue, and everyone loves making – or looking at – log cabin quilts. 

But if all quilters took the safest route, all quilts would be blue log cabins, which eventually would be less interesting.

10. The path less taken is way more thrilling, OR you get lost in the woods and eaten by wolves.

Sometimes in Wordle, the only solution I can think of is obscure, slang, or contains a double letter that, if I'm wrong, will be unlikely to give me much useful information But if it happens to be right or very close to right? What a rush!

Same with quilts. Boring building? Put a fish on it! It might be a win! (Or, it may make your quilt so bizarre that you have to take it off.)

In the Wordle graph at the start of this article, "rigor" the more predictable answer was wrong, and "vigor," with the rarer "v", was right. I thought of both at the same time, but went with the more common "r" first. In hindsight, I should have done the reverse! Except half the time, the "r" will be right! And – oh frabjous day! –I now have something to complain about which isn't really all that sad! If you’re a Wordle player, I know you’re feeling my pain! Thank you! And I assure you that I will feel your pain when this happens to you, which it will!

11. Khaki and fluorescent orange are the "qu" or “z” on a first guess in Wordle.  I virtually always regret using more than an inch of khaki or fluorescent orange in a quilt. I'm not fond of it in the fishy building above, and here’s an entire castle whose color I regret.

And here’s a khaki building that would be better with something brighter in its place. 

Similarly, if your first guess in Wordle is quilt, or zebra, you’ll be far more entertained in the short run, but in the longer run you’ll wish you’d started with something a bit more likely. But if, against all odds, “quilt” is correct, endorphins will rush to your brain, you will rightly enjoy lavish praise for your courage and luck, and many people will encourage you to buy a lottery ticket!

(There's only one fiber artist I know of who can make khaki and fluorescent orange sing, and that's Kaffe Fassett. Here's an example of both on one of his fabrics, with magnificent results, and there’s a reason he’s respected around the world as a color genius. I’m sure there are natural Wordle geniuses out there who can sense when to use obscure letters in early guesses.)

10. Both are visual. My career was in journalism. When I started quilting, it took me a long time to stop thinking about my quilts with just words, and start thinking visually. Wordle, by contrast, is, duh, much more about words and verbal memory, but I suspect that the visual element is also crucial. To repeat the example at the start of this article, if I stare at the letters “igor”, some visual part of my brain will hopefully help me retrieve “vigor” and “rigor.” I look forward to neuroscience studies, in which quilters are put into CT scanners and told to solve Wordle puzzles and/or design a quilt. I bet they light up some of the same areas.


I. In Wordle, You Can Sometimes Say Never. A plural noun that ends in "S”; a proper noun like a name; or a private anatomical part, will never be the answer. With quilts, this is not true See Kathy Nida’s brilliant, feminist quilts; she combines edgy reproductive imagery with words, for  powerful messages. Another brilliant wordsmith/artist is the incredible Susan Shie. (And there are many more, feel free to add your links in the comments.)

II. Wordle is finite I wish making a quilt was limited to six big decisions and one day. Hmm, that could be an interesting challenge –can you make a six-decision quilt in one day? It takes me 86 decisions to choose fabric, and 14 decisions just to figure out how to lay a piece out for rotary cutting!  

III. The big one: You can improve your quilting a lot more than your Wordle score. Random luck plays a much smaller role in quilting. Quilters who start as earnest beginners can move from adequate-to-great, to absolutely wonderful, in a relatively short period of time (sometimes in the same quilt!) Wordle players move from terrible to slightly less terrible, to overall slightly more likely to win with slightly fewer guesses. Most are still going to get occasional losses, and plenty of 5-6 word games, because of the luck factor.

Wishing you many wonderful successes and growth, and empathetic people to console you for any losses, whatever your endeavors!