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outdated.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
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
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.
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
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
In quilting, the
equivalent safest solution is: Blue log cabin
blocks. Americans love blue, and everyone loves making – or looking at – log
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.
DIFFERENT BETWEEN WORDLE AND QUILTING
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!