How “Silver Road to California” came to be
In the beginning there was a question: why don’t quilt mysteries come with a story?
A quilt mystery, of course, is a kind of quilt pattern that was invented by Judy Hopkins in the 1990s. Instead of having all the pieces and diagrams of the quilt at the beginning and moving toward a known final project, the quilter is given information a bit at a time: first the fabric colors, then the pieces to cut, then the assembly of the pieces. She doesn’t know what the quilt will look like until it’s finished.
This can be lots of fun in a workshop or guild setting with other people, but for those working at home from an pattern purchased online, the concept seemed uninteresting. It needs a story, I thought, something to keep a stitcher’s interest from week to week (or month to month) as the quilt takes shape.
This was during the summer of 2010, and I was thinking about creating a block of the month program for 2011. Why not combine the two? Do twelve blocks, each in quilt mystery fashion, and weave a story to tie them into a whole? Sounded like fun to me!
So… a journey? A diary quilt to record the travels? Maybe the quiltmaker is moving across America… a pioneer in a covered wagon? No. That’s too much a cliché. But the story does need to be a slow trip, something to give her time to make twelve blocks and keep a diary. It can’t be a coast-to-coast hop on a jet.
A train. Of course.
In my very first draft notes, my heroine/quiltmaker would travel by train to southern California in the early 1900s to join her husband-to-be, who owned a farm in the fertile valley near what is now Los Angeles. But as I worked with the idea, it became clear that I just didn’t know enough about that area or the time to write a credible story. I’ve never been to Los Angeles. My mental storehouse of details was empty, and it was important to me that the historical details be accurate.
More critically, I felt no enthusiasm for researching that time or place. It sounded charming when M F K Fisher wrote about it in The Art of Eating, but it wasn’t my time or place. No.
Still, we need to think in terms of cross-country journeys. I have been to San Francisco and love that place. In the early 1900s San Francisco was a thriving (if not terribly civilized) place. Colorful. There is a long written history to draw on for background, and I have vivid memories to help flesh out the details. Perfect.
Now — is there a train that goes across the country to San Francisco, a journey for us to share with our plucky needle-toting heroine?
Next: the search for the perfect train.
Your email address will only be used to send notifications of new posts. We’ll never share it with anyone. Unsubscribe at any time.