Monday, February 27, 2012

The Side Project

I'm nearing the finish line on my current WIP, A Bride Sews With Love in Needles, CA, just about 6K more words to go. (YAY!) One of the key plot threads of the story is the sewing of a Red Cross Signature Quilt to raise money for the World War 1 Red Cross effort.

Pictured above is the inspiration for the story, a WW1 Red Cross Signature Quilt found at the Dodge County, MN Historical Society (Which is housed in a haunted church...isn't that...eerily cool?) My daughter and I discovered the quilt one hot summer afternoon while touring the museum, and I just knew I had to include the making of one in a story someday.

As the story idea developed, I found myself wondering what it would be like to put together a quilt like this. So I jumped in, bought fabric, and am now in the process of creating my own Red Cross Signature Quilt. Last night, I finished piecing all the blocks. (Which is why I forgot to schedule a blog post! I was so deep into red and white fabric, it totally skipped my mind!)

The next step in the process is to embroider signatures onto the blocks. But whose names? I tussled with how to go about this for some time. Unfortunately, the Red Cross now makes it rather difficult for an individual to fund-raise for them, (You have to get approval, fill out forms, jump through hoops, etc.) so following in my heroine's footsteps and selling signature space to friends and acquaintances and then donating the $$ to the Red Cross was out. Then I thought to put names of military veterans. But how? Trot down to the local V.F.W. and scare up some names? Put out a call for folks who had vets in their families?

Then I had the idea of putting on the names of WW1 veterans from Olmsted County (where I live.) A sort of memorial quilt. Yeah, I could do that! Then, when the quilt was finished, I could donate it to the Olmsted County Historical Society. So I trotted out to the county museum and library to get a list of county WW1 vets.

Alas and alack, the state of affairs in the OCHS archives is dreadful. They do not have a roster of WW1 vets. I perused newspaper clippings from the time and some WW1 scrapbooks, but while the eligible draftees from OC were listed, (about 8K names!) nowhere could I find a list of men who actually served.

So I checked the National Archives. And they have a list. But it would cost me about $135 to get it. Sigh.

Slightly daunted, but not willing to give up the fight yet, I headed to the MN State Capitol, St. Paul. There, in the Minnesota State Historical Library, I searched in vain for a list of Olmsted County WW1 veterans.

I decided to widen my search a bit. What about Dodge County, our neighboring county where I first got the inspiration to write the story?

Blessings upon the individuals who, in 1919, published a small book (complete with pictures where they could obtain them) of all 389 Dodge County WW1 veterans! This book includes the 14 young men who died in the War and the 2 young women who served as Red Cross nurses.

So, I'm armed with my list at last.

Now to figure out how to get 389 names evenly spread over 56 quilt blocks...

Question for you: Have you ever had your heroine work on a particular task, then decided to try it for yourself to see what it was like? Perhaps made a recipe or a sewing or knitting or painting project?


  1. Erica! How amazing is that! I love the idea. It'll be such a blessing. Too cool.

    I tried to hotwire our van based on what my heroine did for a living--in the past. It did not go well and I made my husband a little miffed. Okay, a lot miffed but...

    Does that count? LOL

  2. What a cool project! And yes, more than once I have found myself taking interest in whatever interested my heroines....or was it the other way around?

  3. What an ambitious and admirable undertaking, Erica. I'm sure many will be blessed by your efforts.

  4. Beautiful and your color!

  5. What a beautiful project! Such a great memorial!

  6. Erica, what an absolutely amazing idea and labor of love!! Any historical society that receives your quilt will consider it a treasure. Wow! I've never undertaken such a project for writing purposes, but I don't think I could match this in a million years. So cool!

  7. Erica, what a beautiful heart you have. I love the parallel you're creating between life and fiction.

    In my current WIP, my character restores furniture--one of my new hobbies. We are working on our dressers together. :)

  8. So beautiful. I admire the sewing talent of others.

    My characters frequently dance and sing. Those are hobbies that I don't get to partake in often, so people in my stories get to play in my stead.