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.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

That's funny, you don't look Latvian

I'm not particularly good at social networking.

I joined a business networking group and didn't get a lick of writing business from it, although it's where I found the photographer who did my son's graduation pictures and met the acupuncturist who worked on my lower back. Actually, I ran into him the other day at Petsmart. He greeted me first; I almost didn't recognize him wearing casual clothing and I was tempted to ask him how he recognized me with my pants pulled up, but I decided to respect boundaries this one time.

I do participate in a business networking site called LinkedIn, however. The other day I was updating my profile and LinkedIn suggested some possible contacts for me under the title People You May Know. Well, I didn't know the Morgan Stanley managing director they proposed, but his last name had more than a familiar ring to it -- it was the same as my maternal grandmother's. I never knew my mother's parents, who died before she was 25, but I did know some of Grandma's brothers and sisters, my great-aunts and uncles. However, when the last of that generation died, I thought all connections with the family were lost.

Still, what could it hurt to contact this man and ask if we could possibly be related? I thought about it for a day, then decided the risk of being considered a stalker was worth it.

Sure enough -- his grandfather was my beloved great-uncle Izzy. We're cousins. We've been in touch multiple times each day this week, and his sister emailed me, too. He sent me a family genealogy that indicates this branch originated in Latvia (I had thought it was Lithuania or Romania) and he shared a photo from the old country that pictures our mutual great-grandparents, Izzy as a 17-year-old rake, and my great-aunts Bertha, who I remember, and Celia, who I never knew.

Bertha, Celia, their sister, Rose (my Tante Rayzel) and my grandmother were all dressmakers and tailors. It's said that Celia could sew a man's suit when she was just 13. For the last week or so (before my LinkedIn "reunion" with my previously unknown cousin), I've been working on an article that includes my genetic predisposition to sewing, crediting these women as the source for what is more than a hobby to me -- an activity that has brought enormous joy and peace to my life. And here were two of them, at ages 15 and 22, before my very eyes.

Ferklempt much?

So, I've been continuing to work on the Wild Things. I had intended to do two units and make them into a simple wallhanging stretched over canvas -- just a little something to put on my etsy. However, I can't stop sewing them. I'm not sure what the final setting will be -- I may combine them with some New York Beauty variation blocks -- but this will be one colorful quilt!

The pattern doesn't show four units put together like this, but I love what happens in the center.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

You can't handle the truth?

When I was little, my mother told me never to lie to her because she'd always find out. Having all of the characteristics of a type A first child (even though I had an older half-sister, psychology says our age gap of 13 years made us both only children), I took that to be gospel. I can't recall ever lying to her or to my dad, although there may have been times when it would have been easier for him, my surviving parent, if I had glossed over some of my teenage escapades, mild though they were.

Although she seemed to me a truthful person, my mother wasn't beyond some self-delusion. When she stepped on the scale, for example, she would hold onto the towel bar "for support." The fact that the scale reading was five or ten pounds lighter as a result never seemed to register with her. (like mother, like daughter: I insist the nurse is standing on the scale with me when I'm weighed at the doctor's office.

I've been working on some new quilt blocks that I imagined would be good at scrap-eating. The pattern is from a book called Quilt Mavens Perfect Paper Piecing. I really enjoy paper piecing for its precision qualities, which allow me creative exploration I would never attempt otherwise. Remember "Elvis?" He/it was paper-pieced, and inspired by the same book.

(Because this quilt was started the day Maurice Sendak died, it will be called Wild Things. Seems appropriate.)

As I was pulling fabric out of my bins, where the contents are divided by color groups, I realized there was a lot more room in them. So much so, in fact, that I probably could combine the blues and greens with the reds, oranges and yellows, freeing up an entire bin. I told myself, you are doing an amazing job of sewing through your stash! You'll achieve your goal! Pretty soon you'll get to fabric shop again! (Wait. What?)

Except ... I have a 7-pound bag of scraps that will be cat bed stuffing. I have a new bin overflowing with pieces that are large enough to be sewn into something else -- in the old days, I would have crammed those pieces back into the color bins. Oh, and I remembered that I had removed from the bins anything that looked like yardage and put those pieces on one of the closet shelves, separating them for a day of pillowcase sewing.

In short, it was just an optimal illusion.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Ice carving for dummies

When I was in the hotel industry, I worked with a chef who was a master ice carver. His specialty was a huge, glorious swan, but he could render just about any figure in ice. Every week, he'd trot out a new example at our Sunday buffet in the Elizabethan Room, where it would be greeted with oohs and ahhs, then unceremoniously drip into an eventual puddle next to the roast beef carving station.

I thought about this chef on Saturday when I was at the used bookstore. I was looking for a royalty-free book of flower art that I can use as inspiration for appliques when I came across this title: "Practical Ice Carving."
In a world beset by poverty, war and famine, I can't think of anything LESS practical than ice carving.

I guess that's one thing I like about quilting: it combines beauty and practicality. Sure, a lot of what I sew is for show, but comfort and warmth are where quilts originated.

Here's the latest Freedom Place quilt, all done and waiting for me to get brave enough to ask for someone to quilt it.

Although I enjoyed trying this pattern, and I'm pleased with how this turned out, I plan to return to the other design for the remaining Freedom Place quilts.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mom always liked you best

I'm working on an essay that I'm planning to pitch to a couple of magazines about this amazing experience I had last summer when I picked cotton at Frogmore Plantation. Located near Ferriday, Louisiana, Frogmore is a working plantation where you can compare modern techniques with those of the slave and sharecropper eras. Thanks to its extensive archives, including handwritten journals, plantation logbooks and slave narratives, Frogmore brings vividly to life cotton’s harvest, slave culture and the plantation system.

I've already sold one article about how my visit to Frogmore changed my relationship with cotton, the material I primarily use. This new piece isn't so much about the plantation as it is about how moved I was to experience so intimately the lives of slaves. And, ultimately, it's about my connection with my mother, our creative lives and my first sewing machine. Like most things I write, it's not a straight line from the start to finish. You've noticed that, right?

So I've been thinking a lot about that first junior size machine and its increasingly sophisiticated successors. I love my current old-school New Home. I bought it, used, probably 15 years ago, and it was already old then; the manual is copyrighted 1976. And to say I "bought" it is actually misleading, although you're right -- it's not easy to sneak out of a store with a sewing machine under your sweater. (Are those your real bobbins?) Instead, my friend and I had intended to divide time on it, so we each paid for half. After it stayed at my house for a year and she never asked to use it, I bought out her share. Best interest-free deal I ever got.

For Christmas last year, my husband green-lighted my purchase of an embroidery machine. I've used it a number of times to embellish quilts or make feature blocks, but every time I have it on my sewing desk, I wonder if my old workhorse machine feels a twinge of jealousy. Maybe I've watched The Brave Little Toaster one time too many (more than one time certainly being too many), but I get a tug, a little sensation, that the New Home is afraid it's being replaced. No, I want to reassure it. Mom loves you, too.

Today I worked on two embroidery projects. First, I embroidered three of the same motif onto the cherry blossom quilt. This is a traditional sashiko pattern that I think enhances the overall Asian character of the piece. I'll stitch in the ditch the rest of the quilt.

There are a lot of good resources for embroidery designs on etsy and the web in general that let you download the designs immediately, which is great for people like me who can't stand to delay gratification and who are serial project-starters. Although I've purchased from several, I have two favorites: Embroitique and Urban Threads.

Urban Threads had a sale recently -- embroidery designs aren't expensive to begin with, although the thread certainly is -- so I downloaded several patterns. I was particularly charmed by their new Parisian collection. Although I'm not sure what I'll do with this block -- a pillow, perhaps? -- I adore the way it turned out. I need to cut the threads that join the areas, but doesn't it look amazing?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pet projects

Except that I thought they were the female version of dogs, I don't think I had a particular interest in cats until I was 6 or so. That's when my dad took me to the farm of one of the milk producers who supplied his cheese business and let me pick out my first kitten.

She was a little yellow fluff ball I named Cookie. Sadly, Cookie didn't last long: she had a habit of crawling into the wheel well of the car and was run over by my dad as he and my mom pulled out of the driveway on their way to see the movie, "How the West Was Won." (I implore you: do not ask if Cookie crumbled.) Usually my mom would get onto her knees to make sure the cat wasn't in the way, but this was the night she was wearing her Schiaparelli silk stockings, which she didn't want to run. At no other time in my life has fashion trumped a pet, and the fur that clings to my clothes every day is proof.

Anyway, Cookie was the first in a long line of pet cats, many of whom met unfortunate ends. My feline fortune seemed to change when, a year after we married, my husband came home with Cocoa, the doyenne of the Adams clowder. Cocoa lived to be 21 and was the most beautiful black cat I've ever seen, although in her waning years she became a literal shadow of herself, rail thin and matted, but still bright-eyed. Her best friend, Penny, died soon after at age 19. We currently have a six pack, including youngsters Thor and Daisy, who are this blog's mascot.

Although I've yet to adopt a cat from Friends for Life in the Houston Heights, I'm a fan of the no-kill shelter for cats and dogs. They're always generous about letting me visit their cats and kittens, all of whom seem so happy and well cared-for. Their facility is clean and bright, their volunteers are warm and welcoming -- it's a happy place. Friend them on Facebook and you'll see.

You might remember that I used a lot of my scraps as filler for bird nesting boxes. Incredibly, I have a ton (well, several pounds) left and I'm going to use them to stuff cat beds for Friends for Life. (OK, this may not look like much, but the bag of scraps is quite heavy. A lot of the new scraps are from the No-Match Star quilt because in the unique construction process you cut off pairs of small triangles. I asked Jane Hardy Miller, the pattern designer, how to best use the leftover triangles. She told me it's ok to throw them away. I'm sure she meant, stuff a cat bed with them, you crazy woman.)

Although I have a lot of cat-themed fabric, I'm going for irony with the first bed and using a leftover from a commission I had last summer. A friend asked me to make quilts for her nieces, each based upon the individual girl's interests. Because one loves dogs, I couldn't resist buying this fabric, which I found online.

Cute, right? Watch dog. Puppy love. Dog gone. You get the motifs.

Unfortunately, it also has this one, which was not shown on the fabric shop previews.
Now, I was not about to be the one to have to explain this to a child -- oh, yes, it means the dog shops at all the best boutiques but be sure to never say anything about that at school because it's a secret -- so I had to do a lot of fussy-cutting to eliminate it.

Friends for Life has assured me that their cats can't read, so I think it will be ok.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Progress is in the stars

Last week and over the weekend, I took a break from charity quilting to work on the Kona and batik commission, which is coming along splendidly even if I did discover that if my sample block unit is approximately 11 x 11 and the total quilt is 90 x 108, I need 90 units, or 90 EACH of two large blocks, three smaller rectangular blocks and separating squares. Please feel free to check my math. I have completed about 30 of each of the two large blocks, which means the light at the end of the tunnel is a dim bulb (not unlike me when I do math).

Today I returned to the latest Freedom Place quilt, which I'm making out of the Fast No-Match Stars. The quilt will require 12 stars and I have seven finished. I'm using some of the fabric that was donated for these quilts and I have dipped into my stash. And -- because my Catholic friends tell me confession is good for the soul -- I'll admit that I even bought a half-yard of a floral that I thought would go nicely with the bright butterfly fabric.

I need to get a little more teal in there, and this isn't the final arrangement, but I think it will be a pretty quilt. I may add sashing between the blocks, although the original pattern doesn't have any.

Unless my eye is poked out by one of Christina (oh, excuse me, Xtina) Aguilera's breasts when I watch The Voice tonight, I should have the rest of the blocks done tomorrow.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Do you see what I see?

I was telling a couple of girlfriends that my husband's cousin's second daughter had a baby girl last week, and said I was surprised that she hadn't been named Barbara.

One laughed, suggesting that this was a surprisingly egotistical thing for me to say. But the fact is, Barbaras run amok in my husband's family (as we do most places, being quite a lively bunch) and I was referring to this young woman's grandmother, not to myself.

Actually, there's very little variety in my husband's family. I mean, genetically they're fine -- no intermarriage as far as I can tell. But my MIL's sister, sister-in-law and daughter-in-law are named Barbara (as are her two, unrelated best friends). Her husband, brother and son are all named Richard. (My son once remarked that his dad's a Rick but his grandpa's a Dick. He was too young to know there was anything untoward with that comment, which has become a bit of a family joke.) Her father, brother and nephew are named Thomas. And on it goes.

Another recurring theme is an interest in psychology. My MIL studied it, my SIL and my husband both work in the field, my niece is getting her PhD in neuroscience and my daughter is working toward a PhD in clinical psychology. I suppose I'm the family kook, balancing out the experts.

When I was in college, I took a couple of psychology courses. In one, we could earn extra credit by participating in a grad student's research project, which involved being administered the Rorshach test. You know it, right? It's a psychological test in which perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed. I'm pretty sure I was statistically insignificant (oh, my ego!) because all I saw were rabbits. Well, all I admitted to seeing were rabbits. What I really thought I saw I wouldn't dare repeat to a cute male grad student.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted photos of my impression of a waning moon and early dawn in a Japanese garden. I had appliqued a garden lantern on the lower corner and asked if the legs on it were too long. In response, someone told me the lantern looked like a sumo wrestler from behind, and someone else said it reminded her of Elvis. I'm not certain of the psychology behind those remarks, but it proves that perception is greater -- or perhaps stranger -- than truth.

I had intended all along to applique some cherry blossom-esque flowers around the lantern to reinforce the garden motif. That part's done, although I still have a lot overedging to do, which will make the appliques stand out, and I'm going to sew beads into the centers of the flowers.

So, NOW what do you see?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Show me yours, I'll show you mine

One of the neat things about writing a blog about quilting is that you get to "meet" other quilters who are also blogging. By participating in two quilt blogger sites/directories, I've increased my exposure to others and have found a great community of kindred spirits. It's also encouraged me to coin a new term: quilting blog brain clog. This occurs when you've read so many blogs and gotten so many ideas that you can't quite think straight, and sometimes your comments reflect that. Like last night, when I told a blogger I was sewing through my blog. It was accidental -- I meant sewing through my stash, of course -- but HAH! it made her look at my blog so see what the heck I was talking about.

Somehow along the way, I also found a group called Connected Threadz, which is like Facebook for fabric artists. We keep up a virtual show and tell about our projects, and discuss other related topics. CT seems to have attracted a nice cross section of newer and more accomplished quilters, including professional longarm artists, teachers and pattern designers. When I asked for recommendations for quick quilts that have a lot of impact (to be given to Freedom Place), they suggested Fast No-Match Stars by CT member Jane Hardy Miller.

Here are a couple of those stars. You'll see I've used the butterfly fabric featured in another quilt, plus scraps from my stash. They're bright, all right, and I probably need a little more contrast so the stars are more obvious, but I'll temper them with some more subdued fabrics and the completed top should look just right.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When I look back on all the things I learned in high school ...

So you can tell by my rhapsodic waxing last week that I was a fan of my high school teacher, Mrs. Mills. But hers weren't the only great classes I took. I loved Spanish all three years with Mr. Meredith, who wrote in my yearbook that I was one of the only true scholars of high school age, proving that not only was he a great teacher but an excellent judge of intellect as well. Mr. Fanning's Constitutional History class was mesmerizing and exposed me for the first time to the actor Sam Waterston, who I still have a bit of a crush on. Then there was Chemistry with Mr. Parker. He had a glass eye and was nicknamed "Gumby" for reasons lost to Appleton West history.

Although I didn't take sewing in high school, my junior high home ec sewing classes remain some of the most valuable, long-lived lessons I learned.  Sewing has been a way for me to relax, to contribute, to express my creativity. I've had articles about my quilting published in national magazines (fingers crossed for a new piece I'm submitting tomorrow) and I've enjoyed writing this blog tremendously. I never imagined when I was making that first doll dress and then the little apron that all these years later I would still enjoy it so much. And even though the teacher's name is long forgotten, I do remember that her husband was training to be a surgeon and would cut out her patterns for practice. We were all quite envious of that.

Yesterday I was at JoAnn Fabric and the young woman who rang me up started telling me how her high school sewing class changed her life. I don't know whether she was a star student overall, but she said that excelling in sewing class and having the items she designed and made modeled in two fashion shows gave her confidence she'd never felt before. Her career path, she said, would include fashion and sewing -- two things she had never considered just a few years earlier. She just looked so darned happy as she spoke, I wanted to hug her.

I have completed another Freedom Place quilt top. The featured fabric is a slightly more subdued cat print that has a lot of grey in it, which could be a problem. I didn't want the quilt to look too moody or dull, but foraging in the stash provided a great solution: a black and white plaid and a quirky heart-and-asterisk print that "called to me" during a late-night online shopping spree.

I think that together they are very young and refreshing.  They provide a counterbalance to the cat print and the other complementary fabrics.

Here's a closer look at the cat print. Cute, right?

And here's the completed top. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Hamsa Quilt

Jews are a superstitious people. Perhaps it's our relationship with a Creator who can be as peevish as He is beneficent -- our superstitions are like little games we play to keep ourselves in line and Him happy. Psychologists say superstitions are a way for people to gain control over their environment, providing a sense of security in anxious situations. Ahh, so that's why we name children after a long-lived deceased relative ... spit three times in response to hearing news that is exceptionally good or bad (what? You couldn't choose one or the other?) ... or wear a metal pin on our collar if we are embarking on a trip. (The TSA is not fond of this one.)

Any time they gave me a gift or piece of clothing my parents would say, almost reflexively, Use it in good health or Wear it in good health. I have to admit, I still utter that to my children (or at least I think it, but I imagine they'll attest that I've said it plenty of times.). My favorite superstition comes from my dad, and because it seemed so crazy, I just figured he had made it up. Instead, it turns out to be fairly deep-rooted in traditional Jewish culture: when a person sneezes during a conversation, whatever has just been said will occur, based on the concept of "sneezing on the truth." According to the site,, "While not as foolproof as direct prophecy, it is said to indicate that events that are rational and plausible will actually come to pass or that an event that has already occurred really happened just as the story related."

I'm glad to know that direct prophecy is considered more reliable.

What isn't reliably known is what the prophets and great Rabbis really thought about superstition. The Sefer Hasidim (alternately called The Book of Saints or The Book of the Pious, it is a German-Jewish treatise thought to have been written in the 13th century by Judah the Saint -- or Judah the Pious -- of Regensburg), sort of sums things up thusly: "One should not believe in superstitions, but it is best to be heedful of them." 

In other words, It couldn't hurt.

The Hamsa -- a symbolic representation of the palm of the right hand -- is used in Judaism, Islam and Hinduism to provide superstitious protection against the evil eye while proffering power, blessings and strength.

I have sold several Hamsa wallhangings at my etsy shop (we pause for this brief moment of commercialism:, and that's how my former neighbor got the idea of a Hamsa quilt for her friend who is ill.

My Hamsa wallhangings have represented the beauty of the earth, the goddess/Mother Earth and the creation of the earth. Yes, I can be a bit of a hippie some days. It's fun to experiment and allow my creativity to express itself this way.

Here is the Hamsa quilt. The recipient's favorite color is pink, so that was central. But because the color red in ancient days symbolized the assurance of health, I had to make sure there was plenty of that as well. Hamsas should have an eye in them to stare down the evil one -- I am not so literal, so I used a leaf to represent the eye.

I hope it will be used in good health.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Of quilting bondage

When you consider all the aspects of quiltmaking that I'm either not terribly proficient at or don't like to do, it's a wonder I ever complete a project, much less am as prolific as I appear to be. However, the joy of fabric selection, cutting and piecing makes up for a lot of quilting's more pedestrian activities and keeps me motivated.

I was instant messaging with my daughter not too long ago and asked her why binding a quilt is so tedious. She has never made a quilt, but she will have a PhD in psychology in about four years, so it seemed a fair question. (You know, those people can help you explore your feelings about anything, right?) I imagine that she was thinking about plaid or whatever is the go-to topic she  considers when she wants to retreat from a conversation, but she did offer this: Well, it doesn't seem terribly creative.

True. In general, the act of binding consists of cutting 2.5-inch strips then sewing them together on the diagonal (ok, that's kind of fun) to create one long piece equal to the circumference of the quilt. So imagine: a 50 x 50-inch quilt requires one binding that's at least 200 inches long, plus 20 inches for joining the ends. Next, you iron the binding in half and sew it to the quilt top, using this folding trick to get a mitered corner (also kind of fun). But then, you have to join the ends of the binding so no one will know whether that's where you started/stopped or if it's one of the diagonal seams you produced when you created the binding itself.

I KNEW IT. You're all thinking about plaid.

I always feared and loathed that last step (cue the Mountaing King music) because you have to open the bindings and twist them around and stand on your head and bark like a dog to get them to join properly. I invariably sewed the ends together incorrectly and it would take me at least an hour of struggling just to get a product I wasn't happy with (you know you want me to say it: I was bound and determined to keep trying til I got it right).

Then I found The Binding Tool by Susan Brown:

Like the Fons and Porter raggy flannel clipping scissors I talked about some time ago, having The Binding Tool has been a breakthrough for me. (Yes, I was in a bind without it. Wait -- who's writing this blog?)

Today I completed binding the quilt my former neighbor is giving her cancer-stricken friend. Longarm quilter Cheri Blocker did her usual amazing job and the quilt is lovely. I'll ask permission to post it here next week.

Enjoy your weekend.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How big is a scrap?

Many of you know that I am dressed by birds and mice every morning in the little sparkling Disney world in which I live. (Interestingly, when my daughter was little she called me Ariel for three weeks after she saw the movie, "The Little Mermaid.")

It's no secret that I accumulate cats easily and that I can relate pretty well to even the snarliest feline. Although I'm less of a fan of dogs, I managed to charm/wrangle two pit bulls who invaded my table at last year's neighborhood garage sale (I didn't realize they were pit bulls until one of the shoppers expressed utter amazement at my lack of fear around them.). I still insist that a trio of baby squirrels who were born in one of our trees made daily visits to me while I worked in the yard, and that they smiled at me. When my friend was a wildlife rehabilitator, we took two tiny chicks through the Chick Fil A drive through, chastening the workers for serving such animals (on a bun, not as customers). I made a purple net tutu for her wild boar, Charlotte, so she could appear in Swine Lake. There are actual, unretouched photos of me with raccoons in my hair.

So, when I was trying to figure out something to do with the teeny scraps that I'm accumulating at a pretty rapid rate right now, animals came to mind.

The problem with scraps is that it's difficult to throw them away because they represent so much potential. Of course, the concept of scraps means different things to different sewists. My friends who make garments will discard anything less than a half-yard, which represents an awful lot of fabric to a quilter. The last time I was at Quiltworks, they said that one of their groups makes quilts with two-inch squares. So I set that as my standard. I would keep any scrap that I could reduce to at least one 2 x 2-inch square. I credit the inventor of Progressive lenses with my ability to do so.

Still, when you straighten the grain or trim off a selvage, you wind up with a long, skinny piece of fabric. And regardless of how careful you are with your cutting, there are always stragglers left behind.

After talking with a few of my more eco-aware friends, I decided to use my current scraps two ways.

First, I made a nesting box for birds -- something they can either nest in or from which they can gather materials to create a nest elsewhere. I cleaned and cut a hole in a quart-size milk carton, filled it with thin fabric strips less than eight inches long and hung it in my backyard crepe myrtle tree.

Then, I contacted my favorite no-kill pet shelter -- Friends for Life in the Houston Heights -- and asked if they would accept my donation of pet beds stuffed with fabric scraps. They enthusiastically agreed.

Today, when I was taking the photos for this post, I noticed there's a nest in the crepe myrtle, just five or six inches above the nesting box. I thought I had seen a lot of bird activity there -- it's right outside my kitchen window so I can watch what's going on -- but I didn't realize there had been nest-building. It has to be new because we had pruned the crepe myrtle back in February, effectively defoliating it. But it's not so new as to contain any fabric, I'm sure.

Still, there was a mom in the nest when I started taking photos; she flew away when I moved the nesting box so I could get a better shot.

And I'm pretty sure she smiled at me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The kindness of strangers

When I was in high school back in the Nixon era (you may call me Ms. Re-belzo), we didn't have such things as the Gifted and Talented program, or Horizons or K-level classes. I suppose that as students they considered us all pretty much indistinguishable. And, given the solid Germanic roots of Appleton, there actually may have been some genetic truth to that. As the only Jewish girl in my high school, I was clearly an anomaly. At least I think that's why I was an anomaly.

This was, however, a time of curricular experimentation. The college bound were not pegged into a track, say, of Biology followed by Chem 1 and 2 followed by Physics; instead, we were encouraged to explore the courses that would excite and fulfill us. One of our teachers -- Mrs. Mills -- would write intriguing course descriptions that she invariably said were for the "intellectually curious." Well, who wouldn't want to be described that way? What's the opposite -- mentally dull? I enrolled in every one of her offerings.

My favorite of her classes was The Lost Generation, which studied the American artists, musicians and writers who flourished in Paris during the First World War and the Roaring Twenties. Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris?" I was there for an entire semester. This is where I learned about Hemingway and Gertrude Stein ... F. Scott Fitzgerald and T. S. Eliot ... and my favorites just because I liked saying their names: John Dos Passos and Erich Maria Remarque.

In a later Mrs. Mills course, we studied Faulkner, Steinbeck and Tennessee Williams, among other American literary lights.  As soon as we were introduced to the concept associated with Faulkner known as "Stream of Consciousness"  -- that being a random flow of thoughts as they arise -- my equally intellectually curious classmate leaned over and said, Boy, that has your name written all over it.

It's true. I can be pretty random. But eventually I reach a point, something I honestly don't know if Faulkner ever did, as I was unable to ever trod completely through one of his books. (Hint: If you're going to try Faulkner, don't start with "As I Lay Dying." You'll wish you were.)

Reading the well-known plays of Williams was a particular joy. That man knew his way around character, dialog and plot. When we studied Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire," and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," the words instantly formed vibrant pictures in my mind.  I didn't need to see Marlon Brando as the tortured Stanley Kowalski screaming "Stella!" to imagine it. I could envision Big Daddy hissing "Mendacity," without setting eyes on Burl Ives in the role. I embraced the Blanche Du Bois line, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," because I felt it eloquently described an aspect of Southern life foreign to Midwestern sensibilities.

I described last week how a group of quilters I'd never met before had agreed to quilt my Freedom Place quilts. Today, I delivered two of the quilt tops to my longarm quilter, who will take them to the group next week. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, these quilts will be in the arms of their new owners faster than I could imagine. I'm very grateful.

Here are the two tops I've completed. I had to add some fabric from my stash, of course. I've been a little concerned about how bright they are, but maybe they will truly counteract the darkness in these girls' pasts.

How do you like them?

Thursday, April 12, 2012


The friend who gave me 300 pounds of fabric is the most exquisite knitter I know. And although she enjoyed fabric, her passion is really yarn and knitting: I was with her once when she purchased $400 of yarn from one booth at the International Quilt Festival. When she left Texas for North Carolina, her yarn collection took up several wardrobe size moving boxes. I can picture her in that artsy hippie town, just happily needling away.

Despite her experience and talent, she did occasionally make a mistake. Then, she would "frog." That's what she called undoing her stitches because, she said, she would rip-it, rip-it, rip-it.

Her expression came to mind while I worked briefly on the first of my Freedom Place quilts today. The design calls for alternating a feature fabric with a checkerboard pattern of complementary material.

First, I cut the butterfly fabric into squares and triangles.
Then I cut the other prints into strips and sewed them back into a set

that I cut apart and sewed back together.

Then I added the top and side triangles, so the completed block will be on point. I like how the yellow cools off the color combination, which reads a little "hot." Plus, it reminds me of sunshine.

Then I decided I hadn't put the block together properly, so I removed the triangles and unpieced part of the block.

And then, after turning the strips around a couple of times,  I realized I had done it correctly. So I sewed it all back together.

This is what happens when your head's in a frog.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

So you've always been a storyteller?

I met with a former client the other day at the bar in Chili's. Yes, he was a writing client (what are you suggesting?), and yes, that is an odd place to meet, but he was driving back from a quick trip to Austin and the Chili's near me is conveniently on the highway frontage road and he needed a beer and I'm trying to resurrect our business relationship, so that's what happened.

We talked about a potential writing project for about 11 minutes, then I made some remark that inspired him to say, Oh, so you've always been a storyteller?

Did he mean I fictionalize? Did he mean I fascinate?  Like Scheherazade trying to keep her head until morning, I enjoy telling a good story -- I think we've established that. But in passive agressive honor of this guy, I am suspending today's story and instead providing a peek at the new Kona and batik quilt.

The one I made for myself comprises 25 five-inch blocks, plus the joining units. The one I'm working on will have at least 90 blocks that each finish to about eight and one-half inches, plus the joining units. My friend has chosen marvelous batiks and we're using my Konas, plus a few more of my batiks, and it's coming together beautifully.

This isn't the layout, of course, but here's a preview:
I have 35 blocks completed so the finish line isn't even in sight, but I'm enjoying every stitch.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Iron rich

I've been attending Emerson UU Church for nearly 20 years, which is a pretty good track record for a Jew. Because I married a Congregationalist, when we had children we looked for a denomination and congregation where we could both feel comfortable. I've been a very active member -- taught Sunday School for nine years, served as chair of the Social Action Committee for three, chaired CROP Walk for six or seven years and counting (evidently I'm the Papa Doc of CROP Walk), and I'm currently on the Board of Trustees. My husband has been in the church maybe a dozen times. Apparently our comfort levels are as variable as a Sleep Number bed.

One of the reasons I love Emerson is that it's home to some of the finest women you could ever imagine. Having lost my mother at an early age, I've spent a lot of my life looking for a substitute mom, and at church I've found plenty.

Among them is a peach direct from Georgia. She's the only person I know whose drawl draws out my son's one-syllable name as if it had 12 instead.

This old gal, as she would refer to herself, was determined to get a tattoo when she turned 70. She wanted a gingko leaf, the symbol of memory. The funny thing is, the last time we talked about it, she couldn't remember what the leaf was called.

One time when we were discussing religion, she told me that her concept of G-d is as a large African-American woman who gives you a slap upside your head then draws you to her ample bosom and says, "You'll do better next time, baby." I kind of love that image.

She occasionally holds court at a Wednesday morning sewing group that meets at church, where she keeps us in stitches with her stories. One time, she declared that what bothered her most about today's young girls is that they don't iron. A multitude of sewing sins can be repaired by ironing, she said.

I like to iron. It's soothing to me, Zen-like. I remember having a little non-electic pink toy iron with a pigtail cord and pint-size ironing board that I would set up next to my mom's old, wooden ironing board, and we'd iron together while watching Concentration. I was in charge of the towels, and I'm sure I did a fine job.

Today, I've been ironing a lot, working on the bed sized Kona and batik quilt I've been commissioned to make. Each time I add a strip, I carefully press it. It's the way quilt-sewing should be done, but sometimes I'm in a hurry and don't iron until a block is completed. I can tell already that the precision will pay off. (Ironically, the future quilt owner actually likes a slightly wonky look, which is almost guaranteed to some extent in a handmade item, but my care will restrain that. She's paying for it, she gets my best work.) I took a few sneak peek pictures that I'll post later.

The support for the quilts for Freedom Place continues to overwhelm me. I believe I have seven sponsors, which should translate to more than seven quilts. I met my longarm quilter today as she was finishing up with her sewing group, and several members said they would help with the quilting. I think G-d -- whatever He or She looks like -- is smiling on this project.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Full stash ahead

Last week, my former next door neighbor asked if she could commission me to make a quilt for a friend of hers, newly diagnosed with a serious illness. She had seen some of my work on etsy and had been inspired by a particular wallhanging.

I was very touched that she would consider a quilt that I made to be a suitable, special gift for her dear friend and immediately agreed. With a vision in mind and a rough drawing in hand, I hurried to Quiltworks -- and I mean that literally, because it was the last day of their sale and they were closing early for Easter weekend.

The friend's favorite color is pink, so that was a great starting point for the feature fabric. I chose complementary colors for the central motif and for a pieced border.

But when I got home, I realized that I had some fabric in my stash that would look even better than one or two of the half-yards I'd just purchased. So I raided my stash, even-exchanging it for the new fabric.

And that, my friends, is how a stash never gets smaller.

I'll ask my "customer" if it's ok to post a photo of the quilt here. I'm pleased with the way it turned out, and hope it will comfort her friend. I'm grateful to be part of her healing.

I also sewed together the blocks for the cherry blossom quilt and appliqued a Japanese lantern in the corner. I still have to do the raw-edge stitching to finish the applique, but I like how it looks -- unless you think that the lantern legs are too long.  (They remind me a little of the way Nate Berkus stands. I have no idea why I notice such things.) Let me know!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

Thanks to the generosity of five friends who are sponsoring Freedom Place quilts, I had the great pleasure of fabric shopping today, again with someone else's money. I shopped at JoAnn Fabric, where everything was on sale and I had a coupon. (I also shopped at Quiltworks, where everything was on sale and I had a coupon, for a quilt I'm doing on commission.) Because I'm an abject failure at running-totaling and the fact that I was drunk on fabric fumes (I've lost my tolerance), I overspent the cash I had in hand, but I'm still within my anticipated budget. I'm sure I'll get more than five quilts out of my purchases; my hope is to have a matching pillowcase for each girl, too.

Here's what I bought.
 It's not apparent from this photo, but the purple gingham complements the purple in the butterfly print quite well.

 I'll use this orange in more than one quilt.
I chose bright colors to cast out the darkness these girls and young women have experienced in their lives, butterflies and flowers to represent renewal, and cats because I like cats!

I'll be working on my commission quilts over the weekend.

Happy Passover, Happy Easter. See you on Monday.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Yes, we have no bananas

My paternal grandparents came to this country from a town called Kishinev in what is now Moldavia in 1906. Grandpa's father, stepmother and brother had settled earlier in Appleton, Wisconsin -- I have no idea what inspired them to land there, the home of Joe McCarthy, Edna Ferber and Harry Houdini, whose best trick was probably escaping it -- and opened a fruit store. When Grandpa came to Appleton, he was so impressed by his brother Joe's success that he, too, opened a fruit store, just down the block. Uncle Joe couldn't complain because he didn't want to be accused of sour grapes.

As my dad, his brother and his sisters grew up, they were expected to spend some time in the family business, waiting on customers, stocking the bins, and so on. My Aunt Helen also helped make window signs, including one that she carefully printed out that read, "Banananas."

She laughed when she told me that story. "I got going, and I couldn't stop," she later explained.

The song, Yes, We Have No Bananas, always comes to mind when I think of that family tale. As I was searching my stash for fabric that would appeal to the teenage residents of Freedom Place, I realized that Yes, I Have Nothing Appropriate. I have lots of juvenile prints, and you've seen my stripes and plaids and solids and batiks, but I don't have anything with a teenage flair. As luck would have it, a church friend asked if she could help contribute to the production of my Freedom Place quilts by helping to pay for fabric. Then another friend suggested I offer sponsorships -- you pay for the materials and I'll make the quilt. While that doesn't exactly whittle down my fabric stacks any faster, it does enable you to participate in this lovely venture. Together, we can make sure every girl and young woman at Freedom Place has a new quilt.

Because they are small quilts -- lap size, approximately 40 x40 -- the materials aren't terribly expensive. To keep the price low, I'll shop at JoAnn Fabric, which often has sales (and I have a coupon.) I'm thinking $30 should easily cover one quilt.

If you'd like to sponsor a quilt, you can email me at, or use that address to make a personal paypal deposit (no fees). Thanks to my friends for coming up with this great idea.

Here's what I've been working on today. I've had a lot of success making quilts from this basic pattern. I've made two quilts like it in fall colors that are appliqued with autumn leaves, two quilts in frosty winter colors that evoke the solitude of a snowy morning and are appliqued with trees and birds, and one in jewel-tones without applique that I have hanging in my hallway. This one is my interpretation of the moon setting and day dawning over a garden of cherry blossoms. It will be appliqued with pagodas, to make the idea more apparent.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Thank you for asking

At church the other day, a woman approached me and asked if I would consider making quilts for a shelter she supports. Actually, she is the chair of what is called the Emerson (our church) Abolitionists, and they are fighting modern-day slavery as it occurs in the form of human trafficking. The shelter, called Freedom Place, helps those who have been victims of sex trafficking.

As I understand it, Houston has more human trafficking than any other major US city. Perhaps it's our proximity to Mexico and Latin America, but regardless of the reason, it's a shame and a crime, and it has to be stopped.

The shelter, she said, is looking for lap quilts for females. Great, I thought. I make a lot of quilts for kids -- I actually turned in four Project Linus quilts at Quiltworks last week where, you'll be proud to hear, I didn't buy anything but thread (although I got a vicarious kick out of the purchases made by my friend and, of course, since I'm sewing a quilt from her fabric I get to enjoy every inch of it) -- so it will be fun to make something for women instead.

I'm still trying to get my head around what I learned next. This shelter is for girls who have been sex slaves. They range in age from 10 to 17.

As young as 10 years old. Can you imagine? It's difficult to even think about without feeling more than a little sick. When my own daughter was that age she was so innocent, collecting Beanie Babies and reading American Girl books. At 17, she was a happy, normal teenager with so much to look forward to ... not a horrific past to try to deal with.

Two other women at church have already made two quilts each, so I have some catching up to do.

It's the only way I have to give these poor girls a hug.

If you'd like to learn more, here's a link:

Monday, April 2, 2012

What's in a name?

I recently wrote an article for On Wisconsin magazine about bubblers.

Bubblers are what Badgers of a certain age (vintage, apparently) call drinking fountains. I was in college before I learned that bubbler (and actually, like Kleenex it's a brand name, so it should be Bubbler) was not the universally accepted term for a drinking fountain. See what you find out when you attend a public, land grant institution?

Anyway, for publications I use my full name, Barbara Belzer Adams. A friend of mine from elementary school, who earned her PhD at the University of Wisconsin, read the Bubbler article, figured from context that the author was her childhood pal and was able to track me down. We've been carrying on a lively internet conversation since.

It appears she'd been trying to locate me for four years and was surprised to learn there are at least two other Barb Belzers in the world. Which means there are at least two other sets of parents out there who didn't consider how often that name can be morphed into Barbells-er, thusly consigning their daughters to all sorts of jock, dumbbell and locker room jokes that reek as much as day-old gym socks.

From childhood through college, I was beseiged by nicknames. My older sister decided when I was born that I was too tiny to carry the weight of the name Barbara (which, sadly, I have more than grown into), so she called me Barcie. I hated that name, which my family and most of my relatives adopted, and refused to answer to it after I went to kindergarten and found out it wasn't my real name (again, the benefits of public education). My mother's sister called me Barcelona (thus apparently explaining my affinity to Spain's Duchess of Alba). I have a Hebrew name, Bat Sheva (yes, like Bathsheba, whom I resemble in oh so many ways), which my mother's family Yiddish-ized to Batshevela, which one cousin on my father's side reduced to Bashie (pronounced like Kashi, the company). Which sounds a lot like Barcie to me.

I went to high school during the Nixon administration, which resulted in several politically astute friends referring to me as B. B. Rebelzo. In college, I was known simply as Bun, a moniker given to me by one of my best friends, whom I still refer to as Jake, even though his name is John. It's funny how many people didn't realize Bun was a nickname. Bun Belzer? Really? My parents may have been careless in my naming, but they weren't evil.

As my dad used to say, you can call me anything but late for dinner.

Quilters are encouraged to name their quilts and label them with their own name, and where and when  the quilt was made. This provides a sort of cloth archive that contributes to the history of quiltmaking as a whole. If you've ever found an older quilt, it is sort of fun to see when it was made and by whom, and to try to figure out how it traveled from, say, New York to New Mexico.

I always label quilts I give as gifts, but I don't  the ones I donate or sell -- I'm just not convinced it's appropriate. (I'd like to hear your thoughts about this.) I'm also a tad lazy when it comes to labeling the quilts I've made for myself. I need to go back and tag them all, as they will be part of my legacy.

When I entered this in the JoAnn Fabric quilt contest
I intended to call it De Colores, after the song. I thought it looked like Spanish dancers seen from above, twirling their skirts. Because I didn't hear from JoAnn by March 18, I know that I have not made it into the top 20, so I've hung the quilt in my dining room. The other day, I was showing it to a woman who has commissioned me to make a queen-size version of the Kona and batik quilt (which needs a better name, by the way). She touched a black cotton border and said she was surprised it wasn't velvet, because that's the way it appeared to her. Black velvet? Say hello to the newly named, "Elvis."

I'm taking suggestions for a few other quilts, starting with this one. Kind of looks like icicles, doesn't it? Or stalactites and stalagmites. Or maybe even daggers, although I'm not convinced dagger lends itself to a quilt name.

Over the weekend, I completed a raggy flannel baby quilt for the shop. I also started a wallhanging that is meant to represent cherry blossoms. And I learned about an organization that is looking for quilts, so I'll report on that tomorrow.