Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What have I done for me lately?

I moved to Houston slightly more than 27 years ago, arriving at Intercontinental Airport on a mid-April night so humid that walking to the gate felt like being slapped with a warm, damp towel.

I had just survived the worst midwestern winter of my life. During one January week, the air temperature hovered around 31 BELOW for five days, and when it finally warmed up to 28 below, you could actually feel the difference. (Loosen that scarf! Shed those mittens!) With the windchill, it felt like 90 below most days. We didn't drive our cars that week because the engines would freeze up at stop lights. I didn't mind taking the bus to my office in downtown Rochester, Minnesota, but the night I (and many others) took the wrong route home (I promise: the bus was mislabeled; we couldn't all have been addled from actual brain freeze) and had to walk about 10 frigid blocks was enough to make me happy we would soon be coming to Houston, even though I had told my husband there were only two places in the US I didn't want to live: Gary, Indiana, and Houston, Texas.

I landed a job about a week after arriving here. A few weeks after I started -- say, mid-May -- I asked a co-worker when the "heat wave" would end.

I still don't know if she was serious or being facetious when she asked, "What's a heat wave?"

(On the other hand, there was the department's ditzy blond, who asked me if zero degrees actually felt colder than 32. I suggested she put her head in the refrigerator, then the freezer, and see if she could tell the difference.)

I bring up temperatures and weather because I think this spring's unseasonably hot weather has us all confused about what month it is. Several people I spoke with this week thought that July, not June, begins Friday, and I have to admit I confused two appointments -- one on the same day each of the next two months -- as being on the same day, period.

Friday will be the four-month anniversary of this blog. I thought that it would be a good time, then, to look back on what, if anything, I have accomplished toward my stash-busting goal.

Hmmm. A couple of table runners, the original Kona and batik quilt, a commissioned Hamsa quilt, four Freedom Place quilts, the beginnings of The Wild Things and the striped diamonds, the Kona and batik commission, a wallhanging with an embroidered bee motif ... what else? (I'm doing this from without looking, because jogging my memory is the only exercise I've gotten today.) So, theoretically, my stash should be shrinking. Sure, I was able to consolidate a lot of my colored fabrics, but they're now stuffed into a wicker basket as snug as I am into last season's jean. The biggest problem is that the Hamsa, Freedom Place and Kona/batik commission quilts all required great, glorious fabric purchases. Yes, I've incorporated stash fabrics into all of them, but I'm not making as much progress as I anticipated.

So unless the Mayan calendar predictions are correct, I'll be working on this goal to the end of 2013, not 2012. (You know, when I started this blog, I never specified by the end of WHICH year I wanted to have my stash depleted. My friends are apparently very trusting -- or naive -- souls.)

The good news is, I seem to have broken my ceaseless fabric shopping habit. I've learned to avoid sales and I don't even have that little nervous tic I used to get when I missed out on a bargain. Oh, sure, occasionally I still put something into my shopping cart at -- leaving it there triggers an email offering a 15 percent discount if I complete my transaction but I've resisted the lure.

Although I'll continue to work on the BK commission (do you want fries with that?), I'm going to try to knock out some projects that have a little bit quicker turnaround. Short of spraying Stash-Be-Gone in my fabric closet, it's what I have to do to whittle things down more rapidly.

Instead of sewing, I painted this little table, using a tutorial I found on Pinterest (of course):

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What would Winston do?

If you've been following this blog from the start, you know that my dad was a proud veteran of WWII. He told a lot of war stories, and at least some of them were true.  Among the historically accurate ones was the saga of bringing my cousins each a "little bell of San Michele" in lieu of the Italian baby he had promised.
Today, the daughter of one of my cousins sent me a photo of the bell my dad had given her mom, with a note explaining that she had taken it from her mother's jewelry box when she was little, but had not known the story until she'd read my post about it. My dad's legacy, she said, was alive. I was so happy to see it. I can just imagine him buying it, protecting it and ferrying it home.

This -- and Memorial Day -- got me thinking about WWII. Which got me thinking about Winston Churchill (and wondering who babies were said to look like before him). Which made me consider him saying, Never, never, never, never give up. Which brought me back to my striped diamond quilt.

(I'm reading a book about the brain and creativity -- "Imagine," by Jonah Lehrer -- and without getting into which little brain flaps lit up as that transpired, I am reassured to learn that the somewhat far-fetched connection between WWII and my striped diamond quilt actually reflects the workings of a sane, healthy brain. That should quiet you doubters at least momentarily.)

After posting the striped diamond patches here, I had put them away, sulking about my relative lack of talent. I was listening to NPR while working on The Wild Things and the batik/Kona commission (which I would refer to as BK, except it makes that creepy Burger King king pop into my certified fine mind) when Winston Churchill's name came up. (This kind of thing freaks me out: I'm thinking about Winston Churchill and they start talking about him on the radio. This is how I killed the composer Aaron Copland. I heard it was his 96th birthday and I thought, Wow, I didn't know he was still alive. Three days later: dead.)

Anyway, I had decided to apply the ol' Churchill pep talk to the striped diamond quilt and was just rearranging the pieces when the guest on a panel discussing the Mideast quoted Churchill as saying something to the effect that 'success is the ability to go from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.'

Don't give up, even if you fail, and do it cheerfully? Heck, that sounds like me (or a character from "Oklahoma!").

I had wondered here if I should just substitute solids for some of the striped fabrics, and decided to make a few samples. Then I thought about replacing a few more striped fabrics with prints. Finally, I narrowed the color palette. It's no longer a facsimile of the quilt I saw, but it's "me" and I'm a lot happier with it.

The first three photos show the layout.

This is how much I've sewn together. Matching those points is a time-consuming task, but the end product should reflect the effort.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Pattern for Chinese Puzzle available at
Like a Chinese Puzzle quilt, life works in mysterious, intersecting ways.

For example, a postal worker reviewing your passport application notices you're from Wisconsin and asks a question that inspires you to write an article that's published in a magazine with international reach that leads two friends -- one from elementary school and one from high school -- to reconnect with you. And one of them lives in the same sprawling city that you do.

That scenario has played out for me over the past couple of months. Apparently the elementary school pal -- one of my closest friends back then -- had been searching for me for a couple of years and was able to finally locate me because I included my maiden name in the publication. We've been carrying on a lively email correspondence ever since. The high school friend -- the undisputed genius of the Terror class of 1975 (yes, we were the Appleton West Terrors, a self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one) -- also recognized my maiden name and found me through our college alum association. We had so much fun catching up over lunch a few weeks ago.

One of the topics both friends and I have discussed, of course, is our teachers. My elementary school girlfriend and I were in the same class from 1st through 6th grades. We were part of an innovative program in which three grade levels were integrated under one teacher. We both still harbor a great affection for Mrs. Bastian (1st-3rd grade), and my friend, who earned her PhD and works for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says it was Mr. Miles (4th-6th) who influenced her toward a career in higher education.

My high school friend -- I want to call him a kid or a guy but I suppose he's more properly addressed as a man now, proving that time can do some crazy things to us -- doesn't share my feelings for our Spanish teacher, Mr. Meredith (you'll recall he referred to me as a high school age scholar; what's not to like?), but he did remember fondly that great Constitutional History class with Mr. Fanning. And he reminded me how cool our newspaper advisor, Mr. Mrotek, was, tooling around in his little Karman Ghia.

I think most everyone has a teacher that he or she will never forget. Among those most memorable teachers, I bet, is a friend of mine who retired today after a long career as an elementary school teacher. I haven't known this woman long, but I can tell she's the type of teacher adults look back on with gratitude.

One of the things she has shared with me is the term, Squaddling. Apparently one of her 5th graders used it to describe the way a penguin walks. Man, I think that kid is destined for literary greatness. I've appropriated Squaddling to mean puttering, but in a slightly purposeful way. I suppose it's in the same neighborhood as "Loafering," which writer Rick Bragg describes as "less active than piddling, more respectable than slacking off."

I Squaddled a fair amount in the sewing room today. Tried some provocative color combinations for The Wild Things, cut some diamonds out of florals to see if I liked them with the stripes. The jury is still out.

I'm sure it's scary to be retiring after a full and busy career, especially when you're younger than I am (but only by a few months). Heck, you have time for a whole 'nother career, if you want one.

But tonight, my friend, I want you to relax and enjoy yourself and not think about the future.

Except for how much fun and exciting Squaddling lies ahead.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Diamond mine

As I mentioned yesterday, I have been inspired by many quilters who post their projects on Pinterest. I've pinned some of mine as well, and it's gratifying when someone repins them. (Unless, of course, they're putting them on a board entitled Quilted Catastrophes or Say it Ain't Sew or something equally disparaging.) The most recent one to wow me featured Kaffe Fasset stripes cut into diamonds.

So today, after working on The Wild Things -- which is turning out so bright it may require the same type of eye protection needed for annular eclipses -- I started cutting diamonds. In order to get nice, consistent 60 degree diamonds, I use a tool called Diamond Cut, A Girl's Best Friend. (Did they need the A Girl's Best Friend tag? Probably not. But I have to give a pass to the poor copywriting schlub like me who came up with it.) Diamond Cut is from June Tailor and, if said copywriter is to be believed,  it allows you to cut 1" to 6" diamonds in 1/4" increments without measuring. Well, you do have to measure and cut a strip of fabric first -- 3" wide if you want 3" diamonds, and so on -- but it's just a simple, single cut after that, with no additional measuring.

I thought I was happy with this arrangement, so I started sewing, but I can see it's not right at all, and it's clear that I'm no Kathy Doughty. (She is probably grateful to be no Barb Adams.) I think the color is off, there are too many strips the same size ... hmmm. Of course, I'm working from fabric in my stash and she's apparently friends with Kaffe Fasset and had access to the best from his collection. And, I will NOT buy more stripes. You read it here first. I might throw in some solids and see if that helps.  I had intended to create a small quilt from the striped diamonds, then stretch it over a canvas, adding buttons, to give it an upholstered look. But without some serious rearranging, I think this is doomed.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Joy of Comparison

Several months ago I saw a pin on Pinterest that said, Comparison is the Thief of Joy. Feeling somewhat defeated by my inner voice that day, I liked and repinned the sentiment.

Then I got thinking: for the most part, comparison has played a positive role in my life. I found it has motivated me and made me more empathetic. Yes, some days it has landed like an anvil on my head, particularly when I think about all the writers who have accomplished what I wish I had (there's still time, right?), but for the most part, I think it's an interesting concept to turn on its ear.

With that in mind, I wrote an article suggesting that teaching children the attributes of comparison can help parents raise kids who have appropriate self-esteem, aren't afraid to try something new and care about others. I sent "The Joy of Comparison" to one local and one national publication, but I haven't heard from either. Probably because they know they are much better and smarter than I am. (Hah!)

It's likely I'm not using Pinterest to its full potential -- that being massive time-suck -- but I'm inspired by the quilts I posted there. It's not always easy to feel competent when you see some of the amazing fiber art that's being generated around the world, but if I'm to live up to my article, I will take away that what's important is to get new ideas. Progress, not perfection, is the goal.

For example, the other day I repinned this image from a pinner named Nancy Arseneault, who'd spotted it on the Waiting for the Muse blog. I found out it's by Australian quilter Kathy Doughty, of Material Obsessions.

Constructed of Kaffe Fasset fabrics, it resonated with me for two reasons.

First, I have a known weakness (no more addiction talk) to stripes. Remember this quilt? It's still available at, although someone at church mentioned she'd like to buy it.

Second, I like diamonds. This quilt is made of batiks that are joined to form stripes. It's available on my etsy, too.

If I put the two together, it's possible I'll get something like the wonderful Kathy Doughty quilt. Or at least, perhaps, a reasonable facsimile. In this case, comparison will have created a sincere form of flattery.

I've been working away on the Kona and batik commission. I have more than 60 of each of the two main blocks sewn, so the end of this portion of the quiltmaking is coming into sight. real. I've been arranging and rearranging blocks in my head (as opposed to on a design wall.) (Have you ever heard someone say she was thinking in her head? Now, I'm no neuroscience student, but even I know that's where thinking takes place. Although I do some of my best thinking in the shower. But I digress.) I am enjoying the process, but I'm really excited to get to the next step.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A weakness, not an addiction

The other day I had the sad duty of attending the memorial service for one of the nicest women I've ever known. She was a guiding light of our church and the kind of person in whose presence you always felt welcome and important. We had been in a sewing group together and she was a member of a committee I chaired, but mostly I knew her as someone with whom I could share a delicious story or slightly ribald joke. I am tremendously grateful that I knew her and that she was given 84 years among us.

Her eulogy exposed many startling facts. For instance, at 15, she did a part-time stint as the town phone operator and one of her responsibilities was to know at all times which bar the town's alcoholic doctor was frequenting, just in case someone was injured or went into labor. Her kind-hearted mother became pals with the local prostitute, and they would swap clothing -- and occasionally some mighty fancy trims festooned my friend's homemade outfits, the result of this unconventional relationship. When she lived in Milwaukee, my friend would attend the garment district's end-of-season sales, dragging home bolts of fabric so she could make her own childrens' wardrobes. Her daughter jokingly said she remembered wearing the same print, in different incarnations, for 15 years when she was young.

One thing that didn't surprise me is that my friend had a big stash of fabric in her sewing room, and that it had taken her and her two daughters four days to clear it out before she moved with her husband to a senior living complex several months ago. When the minister mentioned this, however, I felt a sudden urge to cry out: What did she do with it?!

It turns out much of it went to her then-next door neighbor, who also attends our church and provided the great description of G-d I've shared here before.

Now, what the heck is SHE going to do with it? Her sewing room is similarly packed to the rafters with fabric and every other kind of craft material. She's been known to part happily with stacks of upholstery fabric books she acquired from her daughter, who is an interior designer. Yet, like me, she must have found it difficult to say no to an offer of something she might use some time, some place, some how.

Well, what kind of a friend would I be if I didn't offer to take some off her hands? I have pillowcases and quilts to sew, and I could use yardage, right? Rationalization, thy name is Sewist.

And you know what, if you call it a weakness, not an addiction, it's a lot easier to take.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sweet dreams

There's something snoring in my room right now. I imagine it's one of two cats who snores -- one because he's old, the other because he's overweight. My husband has sleep apnea but refuses to use his CPAP machine, so he's been relegated to the guest room. Even still, he snores so loudly that we can hear him through the walls and closed doors. When we were all staying in a hotel room in Montreal, I asked my son to jiggle Dad to get him to stop snoring. I don't know what he thought jiggle meant (I suppose he was 6 or 7 at the time), but he put a spare pillow over Dad's face instead. I can't imagine too many circumstances where jiggle and smother mean the same thing, unless you're talking about Christina Aguilera's breasts.

I've always been a light sleeper and, as a result, I've been tired most of my life. You know how annoying it is when you go to work and and someone says, You look tired? I never heard that: for me, the odd comment  was more like, Boy, you look refreshed. I can count on one hand the number of sound night's sleeps I get in a year. I marvel at my son, who can fall asleep anywhere, in an instant. When he was little, he'd try to climb into his crib, but never attempted an escape. One page of our cruise scrapbook is dedicated to the various places onboard where he fell asleep. I caught him not too long ago asleep on the glider in the backyard, with the neighborhood stray cat asleep on his lap.

In honor of sleep, I made some pillowcases this weekend. One is for my daughter's cat, who apparently appropriates all of her pillows and is not-so-secretly plotting to overtake her entire bed. Another is for her because, before I started this stash-elimination mission, I found in the remnant pile at JoAnn Fabric some licensed fabric representing her grad school. I donated the rest to the Million Pillowcase Challenge.

Added to last year's donation, I've now made 25 pillowcases for charity. I do hope they'll bring someone sweet dreams.