Tag Archives: Quilts & Quilting

The Making of a Cozy Mystery

I’m a cozy mystery author. When researching for my debut novel, A Vase of Mistaken Identity, I found a favorite cozy definition: “Cats, quilts, and not a lot of blood.” So clear, I understood the recipe right away. So clever, I can still remember it. But could I plot a mystery that included all the angles?

  1. CATS: According to the definition, I needed a cat for my story. But not just any ole momma cat, snoring on the sun-warmed carpet. I wanted an interesting animal. So I closed my eyes and sent out an inner casting call. Soon Betty padded into my brain and meowed a hello. Here was a freedom-loving calico with golden eyes and a crooked whisker. Perfect. She even had a habit of slipping through the smallest door opening, darting across the lawn, and springing over the fence onto the neighbor’s yard. Betty often chose to hang out with the wrong crowd – the strays next door. Last count – eleven mousers making mischief all over that dilapidated house. The bad habit got Betty into more than one scrape. Even so, my heroine, Thea James, adored her furry feline. In fact, I grew quite fond of Betty myself. And crossed “cats” off the list.

Betty Outdoors

  1. QUILTS: The Log Cabin quilt has always been my favorite pattern. Maybe it’s because the colors can be arranged in so many ways, yet the result is always gorgeous. Or maybe because it was the first quilt I ever made. Since I needed a quilt for my cozy mystery, I designed a small Log Cabin quilt for my rookie-quilter-heroine, Thea, to sew. I named it “Kitty in the Cabin.” As the book progressed, her work on the quilt did, too. My design featured a center block fashioned into the shape of a kitty’s head. I used a variation on a nine-patch to give it a little twist & some extra personality. Pictured is the prototype created by my cousin, Linda Gholson, quilter extraordinaire. She chose the 1930’s reproduction fabric & hand-quilted it with lovely details like French knot eyes, whiskers, & little fish stitched around the border. Quilts? Check.
  1. NOT A LOT OF BLOOD: This idea agreed with my Care Bear’s preference in books & movies. If blood had to be spilt, I didn’t want to be there when it happened. In a cozy mystery, the crime happens behind the curtain. Or, off stage. Then the reader doesn’t have to live through a nightmare-making, murder scene. In my story, the crime happened years ago, the body recently discovered by happenchance. Our heroine, a bit more clumsy than usual, stumbled smack into the mess. Poor Thea. But hurray for me! Now I could paste an imaginary, gold star by the last requirement for a proper cozy. All done.

Murder Off Stage

Then, I had only to write the book. The fun part. But perhaps you wonder about Thea’s first adventure in A Vase of Mistaken Identity? Here’s a teaser:

Thea James, antique dealer and budding amateur sleuth, discovers a list of names in a vintage vase. Curiosity prompts her to seek out the first name on the list. When she learns that the first woman lies in a coma after an accident and another has mysteriously disappeared, her inquisitiveness turns to fear – for Thea’s name is also on the list!

A Vase of Mistaken Identity

Can Thea find the murderer before he finds her?

Order your own copy of A Vase of Mistaken Identity! And enjoy….

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Craft Therapy: Quilting

Next to writing, quilting is my favorite pastime. I love plotting out the design, gathering the perfect fabric, and the actual seat-in-chair experience of sewing up a masterpiece. When it’s done, a quilt offers comfort, warmth, beauty, and even tells a story. Like writing, I find time spent quilting to be time that results in healing.

Recently, a friend showed me a quilt she’d hand-quilted over many months. Anne called the project her “Quilt Therapy.” Before she started the quilt, she’d struggled with a family member over something on which they could not agree. Anne believed she was in the right, but knew her attitude was wrong. So, she decided to pray about it and actively seek healing for their relationship. Through quilting.

Therapy Quilt - Anne McKinley who made the quilt

Anne & her lovely “Therapy Quilt.”

Anne took time to pray about the fabrics and the pattern for the quilt she would make. After cutting it out, she pieced the blocks together on her sewing machine, praying as she went. And not just any type of prayer, but prayers for the one with whom she disagreed. Soon, she started hand-quilting the top to the quilt back, praying all the while. As she worked the needle back and forth through the soft batting, the prayers soothed her spirit.

By the time Anne finished her quilt, God had changed her heart and stitched the torn relationship back together into something beautiful. More lovely than the quilt!

So many times I have experienced healing through the craft of writing. I know it works. Now, after seeing my friend’s stunning quilt, hand-stitched with prayer, I know that works, too. I wonder how many problems could be solved with only a bit of quilting therapy?

Therapy Quilt - Cathy Elliott

Sampler quilt, hand-stitched with prayer by Anne McKinley.

Epilogue: Anne just started another quilt. It’s crib-sized, with a pink, patchwork design for a wee one coming in the spring. When this baby arrives, she will be welcomed with a new quilt & lovingly wrapped in prayer.

Baby Feet

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Quilting Cousins

Recently, a stunning quilt top was handed off – from cousin Linda (in Prineville, OR) to cousin Gary (who played delivery guy) to cousin (me). Fingers fumbling, I opened the box, ready for a first glimpse. I unfolded it and caught my breath. Gorgeous! And what a treat to partner with Linda Gholson, quilter extraordinaire, in this part of my novel journey with Abingdon Press.

Tail in the Rail Quilt

“Tail in the Rail” Quilt

My upcoming “Quilts of Love” mystery, A Stitch in Crime, features Thea James stitching on this very quilt in her spare time. (Not that she has much of it. Too busy trying to figure out whodunit.)

I’ve named the quilt “Tail in the Rail” because the pattern consists of Fence Rail blocks, floral sashing, and Aunt Elena’s Nine Patch variation of a kitty-cat to represent Betty, the feisty calico in the story. It’s my own design, along with Linda’s artistic twist. Like in the book, the quilt fabric is all from the Smithsonian Collection, no longer available. This quilt is a treasure, indeed.

Though Thea hand-quilted the book’s rendition, mine will be sent to Stacy Boyd, a wonderful local quilter. With a long-arm quilting machine.

Quilt Backing & Top

Quilt Backing & Top

Between unfurling the thing and admiring it from this angle and that, I must now decide if the backing I bought is a good match.

Hmm. Too dark? Good enough?

Nope. “Good enough” isn’t good enough for this lovely quilt. Off to get new muslin….

"Tail in the Rail" Quilt

“Tail in the Rail” Quilt

NOTE: If you’d like to make this quilt, take heart. I hope to make the “Tail in the Rail” pattern available when A Stitch in Crime is released in January 2015. Stay tuned.

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