This week's story, A Stitch in Time, took a fantasy turn with an old woman and a mystical cloth that provides otherworldly entertainment for a royal court.
Suggestions for writing prompts are always welcome! Otherwise, prompts are chosen in random ways. This week's prompt came from a hole in my sweater.
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 11 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is A Stitch in Time
Thanks for joining me for another bit of fiction. As usual, I’ve chosen a writing prompt and used it to draft a short story, with no planning and very little editing. And now I’m ready to share that story with you.
I came up with today’s prompt when I noticed a snagged hole in my sweater and thought of the expression “a stitch in time saves nine.” It’s not an expression I typically say, but sometimes those old adages just come to mind.
And here’s the story in prompted:
A Stitch in Time
The old woman sat beside her grown daughter, a length of black velvet draped across her lap and a golden needle flashing between her deft fingers. This velvet fabric was unlike any other fabric in the realm. It had been woven by elves in the ancient Minilamian Wood, presented to Queen Nateur II, and passed down through 27 generations of Karahnaray royalty.
Its rich ebony was sprinkled through with the finest touch of diamond dust, creating a sheen that reflected light in muted glimmers. When one observed the fabric from a distance, it appeared to have a subtle pattern of swirls and eddies. Deep blue on dark black with elusive greens and pinks that only appeared when the fabric was turned slowly against a direct light.
Yet, this darkness was a deception.
When one sat close enough to pass the fabric beneath his or her hands, images emerged from the field of mottled, shimmering darkness. On first pass, these images were bright orbs. Some stitched in vibrant blues or greens. Others textured with rustic reds, oranges, or yellows. Many orbs were adorned with a cluster of small adjacent dots of color, while some were bisected by finely stitched rings.
Those lucky enough to closely examine this legendary fabric responded with giddy delight during their first encounter. For as the fabric passed through their hands, the images shifted before their very eyes. As one selected an object, say a yellow-striped orb that had been the size of a thumbnail, it would grow with each turn of the fabric, expanding until it filled the visible surface, revealing intricate textures woven by mystical fingers. As one continued to turn the cloth, the image of whichever orb had been selected might shift into closer focus still, revealing a landscape of dusty rock, frozen lakes, or windswept terrain.
By far, the favorite orbs were those that expanded to reveal hidden civilizations. Clusters of tiny creatures posed against various natural or created structures, interacting with each other, or depicting fascinating scenes.
Depending on the position of the fabric, careful turning of the cloth might reveal a scattering of families frolicking on a sunny beach, a lone adventurer scaling a rugged mountain, or a crowd of people and strange vehicles milling past towers of metal and glass.
There were endless wonders within the cloth. Those who were most adept in its handling could uncover cozy scenes of lovers settled before glowing hearths, lovely babes asleep in their cribs, or exotic animals hunting prey through endless savannahs. Stories were written and songs were sung about the charming, romantic, or frightening scenes found by those skilled at turning the cloth.
Just as the ownership of this magnificent fabric had been passed down through generations of royalty, so too had its care been passed down through a family of tapestry-skilled mystics. The old woman had begun to learn the secrets of the cloth when she was a small child and, in time, had passed the secrets of her skills to her own daughter.
Today, they would focus their attention on a much-loved, blue-and-green orb. As this was a favorite attraction of the royal family, the hidden scenes within this particular orb were prone to additional wear.
“Shall we begin with a seaside town or the complications of a city?” the daughter asked her mother, gently draping the fabric across her lap and balancing her own needle in the crook of two fingers.
“Ah, I would love a visit to the sea,” the old woman sighed, “though there are many cities that are more in need of our attention.”
Mending the magic cloth was an arduous endeavor, half-skill and half-intuition. The miniscule scenes never emerged the same way twice, yet over time, people and objects began to take on a ragged appearance. As these forms began to show signs of tatters, the scenes they depicted became gradually more tragic. Conversely, those with well-tended forms were apt to display scenes of joy and celebration.
Generally, the royal family and their distinguished guests were amused by both the tragic and celebratory scenes. In fact, some in the current family preferred the drama of the darker imagery and would implore the weavers to let some portions of fabric fall into disrepair, simply to see what emotional scenes may play out on future viewings.
This was a difficult request for the weavers. The family line charged with the care of the cloth had great compassion for all of the creatures within its mystical folds. The old woman in particular was loath to leave a single creature, structure, or natural element without prompt mending. Yet the care the cloth required was considerable and the old woman could not keep up with it as well as she would like. Simply seeking out which areas to mend was time-consuming, particularly as her energy and eyesight had begun to fade.
“When will your Edyth be joining our work?” the old woman asked her daughter pointedly.
“Mama,” the daughter sighed, “Edyth is far too young to hold a needle let alone begin to sew.”
“Hmmph,” the old woman grunted. She was cross that her daughter had waited so long to have a daughter of her own. When she had been a girl new to the cloth, she had stitched beside her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
“You were not so young when you had me,” the daughter chided, sensing the turn in her mother’s thoughts.
“That was not by choice,” the old woman rejoined, shutting out the painful memory of the daughters she had not been blessed to bear.
“I know, Mama,” the daughter replied softly, chastened into silence.
Yet she did not have to speak for the oft-repeated argument to echo between them.
Times were changing, the daughter had said on many occasions. Women did not have babes so young anymore, and those coming into the world now were less inclined to carry on with family obligations that had been sworn before they were ever born.
It was an appalling thought to the old woman. The idea that the tapestry-magic of her family—the honor of mending the great royal fabric—might not be a welcome continuation through future generations.
Truth be told, she was less concerned with the waning tradition of her family line and more heartsick at the thought of the tiny woven creatures that were going without timely care.
“They are only bits of thread and silk,” the daughter reminded absently.
“Yes, yes, I know,” the old woman agreed, quickly wiping a tear from her weathered cheek.
“You work too hard,” the daughter persisted. “You stay up mending into the night. You miss meals. You work your fingers to the bone. And for what? The amusement of the royal family and their honored guests?”
The old woman tensed at her daughter’s impertinent words.
“It is not for the royal family that I work so hard,” she responded stiffly.
The daughter sighed, looking at the scene they had uncovered in a densely populated city within the fabric. The buildings were frayed, the sky was washed out, and the tiny people were hunched in misery. She disliked these tragic scenes and preferred to let them fall to pieces as she stitched on scenic pastures or shaded forests.
The old woman held her needle above the fabric, her hand shaking as she considered where to begin today’s work. There was so much to be mended and she was only one woman.
I hope you enjoyed today’s story. I never know where a story prompt may lead me and not knowing is half the fun. If you have suggestions for future writing prompts, please let me know. Any simple word or phrase will do.
Remember, you can learn more about me and my books on my website, SusanQuilty.com. You can also find me on social media or support me through my Patreon page. Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]