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.