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What’s Your Block?

29 Dec

I'm somewhere under this monstrous pile, sewing the joining seams on my Mom's quilt in 2009.

Making a Quilt for My BFF (Part Three)

In the past, the assembly of a quilt has been by far the most difficult for me. It seems easy enough in theory to join together the three layers: pieced top, backing and middle batting. But in practice, I’ve tried sprays and pins each time but ultimately been forced to manual basting–sewing loose lines–as the only effective way to prepare the layers for actual quilting.

Quilting connects us to women throughout the centuries before. Jen and I go way back, but not quite that far.

Additionally, for these final connecting seams, I’ve always selected patterns that allowed me to stitch in the ditch. (That means you simply sew the three layers together along your top seam lines.) While perfectly effective, this limits your joining pattern to simple squares and rectangles. The only alternative would be to hand-sew a decorative pattern one taut quilt hoop at a time, the way my Great Aunt Jo and women throughout the ages used to do.

I, however, have an irrational fear of this level of hand-sewing and the incredible additional work it must involve. I salute those who have done it this way, much as I admire women past and present who have been able to give birth naturally. Nevertheless, the process involved even to machine sew for this last phase in the past has proved traumatic enough to prevent me from enthusiastically taking on a new quilt. In short, assembly had become my block (pun intended), that is, until last fall.

After recently moving to a new city, while on a paint run to Sherwin Williams, I stumbled upon an unassuming quilt shop window. Something beckoned me to look inside. When I did, the first thing that caught my eye was a giant machine humming busily in one quadrant of the store. I instantly recognized its purpose and nearly shrieked at the nearest shop employee, “You can assemble quilts!” I was so excited at this discovery that I resolved to make my dear friend Jennifer a quilt in that very moment.

Call me lazy. Maybe this IS a big cheat. But back to the birth analogy, I had two C-sections; does that make me less of a mother? And while I happened to breast-feed, if it hadn’t worked out, would I have starved my child? No, of course not. If I had needed to bottle-feed, whether by choice or necessity, that would have been okay, too. What’s important is ensuring your baby gets the nutrition and sustenance it needs, right?

The completed quilt top!

Creative babies are no different. The important thing is to keep them alive. Might a modern Michelangelo have used computers to assist his Sistine Chapel paintings? Verily!

Nevertheless, my personal guilt was not alleviated until I learned of the long queue of quilts awaiting their turn at the long-arm Gammill Statler quilting machine. Not to stereotype, but I’m pretty sure most of them were put there by far more veteran quilters– women (and some men!) who were savvy enough to utilize the latest technology while freeing up significant chunks of their time and creative energies.

The finished quilt should be ready in 6 weeks.

When I ventured back to Cornerstone Quilt Shop, the girls there (as their emails are signed) reminded me of Designing Women, interspersed at their stations in the shop. To get a photo, I had to explain how I had been blogging about the process. One beautiful white-bobbed sewer looked up from her machine, seeming amused. “Welcome to the club,” her warm smile said.

“You’ve done well,” the lovely woman who was walking me through arrangements reassured. After picking out the joining thread and stitching pattern, I asked my helper’s name (partly to be sure in whose hands I was leaving my baby). “Jenny.” The name of my lifelong friend, the quilt’s soon-to-be recipient.

So it is that the quilter’s hoop has come full circle. This final, painful phase has been turned over to experienced midwives. And I now need only wait for our shared baby to be fully delivered.

See also Who’s Your Fire Escape? (Part One) and Pieces of Us (Part Two).

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Pieces of Us

21 Dec

Making a Quilt for My BFF (Part Two)

My 17th birthday. Jen shared in my excitement over my OWN cordless phone.

Selection, cutting, piecing and assembly. These are the four main phases in the fabrication of a quilt. Or a friendship. Over the long course of each, great care (and luck) with the first two phases affect the rest.

These pairs of strips were cut to form the smallest "stair" blocks of the pattern.

I’m always reassured when I still love my chosen fabrics throughout and beyond the tedious process of working with them. Some become favorites, like the most cherished characteristics of a longtime friend. Others serve to bring harmony and balance–in color, pattern and scale. I like a mix of each.

For this quilt, my fabric selection included red as base (and backing). This is the primary color of both the elementary/middle and high schools to which my friend Jennifer and I attended together, which despite such extended exposure, remains the dominant hue in both of our home interior color schemes. The shimmered gold sun fabric was an exciting find, which I opted to employ as the “stairs” in the pattern. It reminds me of our coinciding faith in a saving God, who has always been and remains our ultimate shared fire escape.

A quilter's tools: rotary mat, cutter and edged ruler.

Precise cutting is critical. As I plodded through this repetitive phase with my handy-dandy quilting tools, the numbered inches on my rotary mat took me back to well-grooved positions in the timeline of my and Jen’s lives.

  • 2: We, the inseparable pair in high school. Two siblings in each of our families. Our marriages. We each have two kids.
  • 6-1/2: The age we first knew each other. Carvel ice cream parties. Our well-loved first-grade teacher, Miss Highland.
  • 12-1/2: Middle school drama. Bible confirmation. Our well-loved eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Marsh, who taught us both how to write.
  • 18-1/2: College roomies first semester. Jen made me a neat-freak. We part ways to attend different schools.
  • 26: Jen has her first son, and I become a godmother. We’ll switch roles two years later.

The piecing stage takes the longest, although in my opinion, it’s the easiest. If you’ve cut right, sewing pieces together is pretty straightforward. If you watch this video, you’ll get the picture of how it goes. And goes.

Iron out the wrinkles and lay seams flat as you go along.

Right sides together, always.

As with any sewing, most everything in a quilt happens behind the seams. The pretty fronts that the world sees are placed together, face to face, and pinned at intervals along straight edges.

So, too, of a deep friendship. The real action takes place over hundreds of points of connection–those humorous, awkward, painful, inspiring stories behind the stories–conversations and confidences known only to you.

Preparing for the final seam, joining together the two sides.

For ease of sewing my 10 pieced columns, I decided to first attach the lengths within the two groups of five before combining the resulting two big pieces. I realized, in doing so, one more eloquent attribute of this pattern. The quilt can be divided in half, with the vertical patterns of the left repeating, though in opposite order, on the right.

I smiled again at the fortuitous symbolism. Jen and I: two halves of one enduring friendship.

Look for The Big Reveal next week in Part Three.

See also Who’s Your Fire Escape? (Part One).

Killing off my darlings

20 Dec

I don't know what this picture represents, but aside from the near-miss on the moon shot, I thought it was pretty cool.

I hesitated to put that title because I didn’t want FBI showing up at my door to make sure my family is still alive (they are, and as loud as they can be, I’m sure our neighbors can vouch for that). But it’s how I felt when I made what I consider pretty major changes to my manuscript.

I was hesitant, even resistant to the changes. But someone(s) finally took a hammer to my head (kidding, kind of) and convinced me to make the adjustments. I finally realized they were right. It took a lot of work, but it was worth it because the book is so much better because of those changes. In chapter 8 of Julia Cameron’s Walking in this World, the task is to perform an “exorcism” of the creative demon. She suggests throwing it over the gorge bridge or burning it. Too extreme for me. I decided just to cut them and stick the extra “babies,” those pieces I thought were necessary until I realized they weren’t, and pasted them into a document I’ve titled “pieces and parts.”

Of course, I won’t go back to those pieces and parts. They were cut for a reason. They lay in their virtual grave, to only be revived if needed for a reminder to myself or to others close to me that getting rid of those little darlings can be good.

Hard, but good.

 

Slow Down and Feel Strong – Week 8 Task

18 Dec

In this chapter of Julia Cameron’s book, Walking in This World, one task in particular spoke to me.  The title was: Slow Down and Feel Strong.  Even though my work is finally slowing down at year end, I still feel myself in a rush.   It’s almost like the end of a 100 yard dash, where you’ve crossed the finish line but the momentum keeps your body moving forward and you just have to keep moving your legs so you don’t fall flat on your face.  Actually, a better analogy would be a small child who, at the end of the day is exhausted, yet they get even more wound up and are literally running mindlessly in circles. Yes, that’s what I feel like at the moment.  So, if I’m truly to enjoy these holidays, I need to slow down. 

The task is to write down a list of 5 areas in your life where you feel a sense of haste and pressure.  Then, to determine if your urgency is misplaced or if you can reset your timeline, and ultimately to slow down, be more in control and not make yourself crazy!  Here is my list:

1.    Reading.  This one is odd.  And a little sad.  Reading is one of my very favorite activities.  I couldn’t wait until the end of the semester so I’d have time to read some books for pleasure.  But am I finding it pleasureable?  So-so at best.  Why?  Because I am literally racing through them.  Just let me get to the end so I can see what happens.  Oh, and check it off my list.   That’s the subliminal refrain I can hear if I slow down for just a moment.  I’m skimming, not savoring.  Ugh.  

This one I definitely need to change my timeline on.  And go back to enjoying reading.

2.   Home ‘refurbishment’.  I know why I’m feeling skitchy about this one.  Because we just finished a major project but there are other, smaller ancillary projects that spun off of it.  You know how it goes – you remodel your kitchen, then it’s obvious the living room needs painting.  And the dining room, and the den.  And then, oh, those window coverings could use a little perking up.  And on it goes.   And I just want it done because I’ll be hosting for the holidays and I want everything to be just right.  

Okay, if I’m being realistic, this is one I can change my timeline on, too.  The truth is, my guests will have a good time no matter what color my living room wall is.

3.   Holiday cards.  I usually like writing and sending holiday greetings.  But I’m rushing through it this year and to be honest, it’s not doing anything for my holiday spirit.  This one I can’t change the timeline on if I actually want people to receive their cards before Christmas.   I’ve already blown the beginning of Hannukah deadline, but I can still make it by the end of the 8 days.  

I could just say ‘forget it, I’ll make them New Year’s card instead’.  But I’m not going to.  This timeline stays.

4.   Eating.   Now, this one sounds really odd, but with everything else going on, I find the very last priority in my day is eating.  I sometimes literally forget to eat lunch or breakfast.  This has never, and I mean never, been my m.o.   Not only do I get painfully hungry and grumpy if I don’t eat often,  I truly love good food.   The thing that makes me such a picky eater is the same thing that makes me go all When Harry Met Sally over the perfect heirloom tomato salad or lemongrass risotto – I can taste every flavor x10.  But now?  I’ll realize among my working, painting, cleaning, making meals for everyone else, rushing to the store and drycleaners and so on that I never made time to eat.   And when I do eat, I just shovel it in.   But don’t worry about me.  I’m not wasting away.  I’ve actually gained 5 pounds in the last few months. 

This is a basic self-care issue.  I need to and I will slow down, make sure I eat, and enjoy my meals once again.

5.   This blog post.  I know, this one’s a little bit of a cheat.  But since it’s 5 minutes until midnight and I said I would get this out “today”, I have to make a choice. 

And, the choice is…no pushing back the time.  Finish it and hit ‘publish’.  And that’s what I’m going to do.

Who’s Your Fire Escape?

17 Dec

Making a Quilt for My BFF (Part One)

This month, the Chicks and I have been mulling over Chapter 8 of Julia Cameron’s Walking in This World. It’s all about what Julia calls Discernment, that is, learning to “name our true supporters more accurately.” The task: Make Something for Someone Else, Not to Be Somebody.

Jennifer and I have been having "Field Days" for as long as we've known each other.

In truth, I bought the material for a new quilt months ago and have wanted to make it for much longer. Maybe since I was in first grade. That’s when I first met my friend, Jennifer, although I wouldn’t know for another decade that we were destined to be BFFs.

For thirty years, Jennifer has been my fire escape. And I think I've been hers, too.

When I picked out the pattern for the quilt I wanted to make Jennifer, I saw the word fire and thought I might name it something like “The Flames of Friendship”. But when my tweenage daughter, who’s much more observant than I, looked at the pattern picture last week and said “Oh, I get it. The little squares are like stairs,” I looked more closely at the name: FIRE ESCAPE. Huh. I didn’t get that before. At any rate, I decided it was the perfect (what else?) metaphor for our friendship.

My 16th birthday at Medieval Times.

Although sharing so many similar experiences together at St. Mark’s Lutheran School in Hollywood, Florida (tragically closed just last year), we didn’t grow especially close until high school. I was the loud and outgoing one. She was the quiet and disciplined one. But as we faced the daunting perils of pre-adulthood, our differences became complements. Our strengths and weaknesses fit together, like well-cut pieces of fabric.

My last quilt, made with love in 2009, was for my mom.

This will be my fourth quilt. Wanting to give something special to my sister, niece and mom were my motivations before. My favorite part of making a quilt is the stream of brainless mental wanderings that occur over the hours of cutting, pinning, sewing and ironing. It’s impossible to put so much into a gift without thinking fondly of its future recipient.

Good friends meet equally, at right angles.

Right Angles: One of my ethereal epiphanies came as I was cutting. We all have so many people we call friends, don’t we? The onset of Facebook and other social media has further eroded the term, which used to be a step above mere acquaintance. Perhaps the litmus test is this: is your friendship cut at right angles? Some relationships just aren’t. One person gives more than the other, making them (wait for it)–obtuse.

Before I became one of the 4 Chicks, I was the "co-owner" of a cutting-edge fashion enterprise. We paid for these labels with babysitting money.

But the fundamental starting point of any quilt is right angles. Meeting equally at a point. Over and over and over. That’s the first step of a friendship, too. More about both to come.

See also: Pieces of Us (Part Two) and What’s Your Block? (Part Three).

Discernment Week 8 – Walking In This World by Julia Cameron

23 Nov

Discovering a Sense of Discernment

This week poses a challenge: Are we actually able to got the distance? To answer in the affirmative, we must learn to keep certain demons at bay, most notably success, “the unseen enemy”. The readings and tasks of this week aim at naming and declawing the creative monsters that lurk at higher altitudes. Anger is a frequent companion of this week’s explorations. As we unmask our villains, we often feel a sense of betrayal and grief. This is replaced by a sense of safety as we name our true supporters more
accurately.

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