One evening as I was doomscrolling social media, I was distracted by a post about a new children’s picture book about a little ghost who was a quilt. Doom banished momentarily from my mind, I was delighted to discover the book is by New Brunswick novelist and quilt-book author Riel Nason. Beautifully illustrated by Byron Eggenscwhiler, it’s a coming-of-young-age ghost story about discovering that it’s okay, even great, to be different.
The little ghost who was a quilt’s family were all bedsheets. They could fly super fast and do all kinds of impressive ghost feats. But as we all know, a quilt possesses neither the lithe shimmer nor the relatively ethereal drape of a bedsheet. A quilt is bulky and heavy in comparison, and the little ghost couldn’t fly fast at all. It was clumsy, and to add its feeling of being out of place, it was indeed a patchwork quilt, not even a solid-coloured one. One Halloween night, though, the little ghost is mistaken for a blanket, and a grand adventure shows it that being different can open up a world of wonderful experiences.
I chatted with the author by email about the delightful Halloween tale she wrote, and about how quilting and writing tangle in her creative practice.
The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt
by Riel Nason
Illustrations by Byron Eggenscwhiler
Tundra Books, 2020
Kim Werker: You’ve written craft books and novels – why the turn to a picture book this time?
Riel Nason: I’ve always wanted to try writing a picture book if I could come up with an idea that I really loved.
You obviously enjoy Halloween and Halloween crafts. Which came first: the desire to write a ghost story or the desire to write a story about a quilt? Or did it all come together at once?
This idea came together with both ghost and quilt at the same time. As soon as I thought of the concept I was intrigued and I really believed it could be a great book — if I could come up with a story to go with the idea. That is of course the tricky part. But I often include quilting or quilters in my books. In my middle grade novel Waiting Under Water that was released earlier this year, one of the main characters is a quilter and the 12-year-old narrator of the story works on a quilt throughout the book.
What was it like to collaborate with an illustrator to bring your story to life?
It was wonderful. I could not be more thrilled with the way the book came together.
Tell me the tale of how you became a quilter – whom did you learn from, where, and what led you to love it?
I am self-taught other than learning to sew waaaaay back in Home Ec in Grade 9. I made my first quilt for my daughter when she was a toddler. Then I made one for my son. Then another one just for fun. Then another. Then another. And I haven’t stopped… I’ve been quilting now for 11 years.
Do you have a favourite quilt?
I have a favourite series of quilts. I made 10 quilts in a collection called “A Quarter Inch Scream” that have been exhibited a few times. The quilts combine selvage quilting and Halloween and feature fun plays-on-words like “Night of the Living Thread” and “Jack Sew Lantern.”
The little ghost who was a quilt grows to love being different through its experience being brave. Do you experience this tension when writing or quilting or both – the tension between being safe and working within the bounds you perceive and being brave by surrendering to the discomfort of trying new things?
I think the best way to speak to this is that I always think that I am going to wreck something when I start it. I’ll get this idea and get excited and be able to envision the finished thing (quilt, project, story, etc.) in my head but then realise that I have to actually be able to make/do it.
What was it like to marry these two creative pursuits, writing and quilting, one tactile and one not? Did it feel natural or was it a challenge to put a quilt on the page and words to the quilt?
I think being a quilter allowed me to understand better what a character who was an actual quilt would be like. Ha, ha. The Little Ghost Who Was A Quilt doesn’t just look different than his lightweight sheet friends, he is fundamentally different due to his make-up. For example, he is heavier and can’t fly as well. That is what plays most into the story.
Your description of the little ghost’s smile made me smile: that its smile was three squares wide. Do you see quilts differently after having personified (ghostified?) them? Do you catch glimpses of smiles or eyes peeking out?
It’s actually funny you mention this as I have made quilts with eyes peeking out. Halloween quilts that is. The “Night of The Living Thread” quilt mentioned above has eyes in a lot of the blocks staring out from between the selvage strips.
What are you working on now?
I am jotting ideas down for a new picture book and another middle grade novel. I am also sewing several small Christmas table runners for gifts.