Covid-19 Times

An Auspicious Anniversary

January 2020 • Road to California, where I showed Jen Kingwell my completed Small World Quilt

February 2020, QuiltCon: Shown here finishing my first block in Yvonne’s class (QuiltingJetGirl)

March 2020 • Quilt Guild Lecturing and Teaching

And then March 19, 2020, I post up the Milmore Memorial, as all of a sudden we are aware that the Angel of Death, bearing her poppies, will be stopping many of us mid-gesture.

March 31, 2020 • This becomes my nightly reading. Covid is real, even though we hardly know what it is.

All these musings were inspired by three things: a few random “Where were you in March 2020?” Instagram posts, my friend Laurel sending me a picture of her Small World quilt, newly hand-quilted and finished that very night, and an article titled “Three Years into Covid, We Still Don’t Know How to Talk About It,” by Jon Mooallem and published in the New York Times, the place that was kind of the horrific epicenter to the quake that still rattles the United States.

“The [NYC Covid-19 Oral History, Narrative and Memory Archive] makes clear that, with respect to Covid — with respect to so much — we are a society of anecdotes without a narrative. The only way to understand what happened, and what’s still happening, is to acknowledge that it depends on whom you ask. People’s experiences were affected by their race, ethnicity, wealth, occupations, whether they had children at home. But they also turned on more arbitrary factors, or even dumb luck, like if someone happened to be living with a sort-of-annoying roommate in March 2020…. A man compared the pandemic to a game of musical chairs: The virus shut off the music; you were stuck where you were stuck.

Now, it’s as though we’ve been staring into a fun-house mirror for a long time and our vision is correcting — but it’s correcting imperfectly, so that we may not pick up on all the bulges and dents. We are awash in what [Ryan] Hagen referred to as an “onslaught of narrative repair,” scattershot attempts to clarify or justify our experiences, assignments of blame, misunderstandings and misinformation flying in all directions. It will play out and reverberate for years or decades.”

from here

I don’t have any brilliant thing to add to this article (which, you should read, all the way to the end, even though it has a slow start), but it made me realize that we’d all been through this incredible experience — or experiences (as everyone’s was so individual) — and unlike those in the article, I realized quilters (who by our very natures are the type to sit inside away from everyone and sew) might have their own dialogue to add.

“At first, the pandemic seemed to create potential for some big and benevolent restructuring of American life. But it mostly didn’t happen. Instead, she said, we seemed to treat the pandemic as a short-term hiccup, no matter how long it kept dragging on, and basically waited it out. “We didn’t strive to change society,” she told me. “We strived to get through our day.” Marooned in anomie and instability, we built little, rickety bridges to some other, slightly more stable place. “It’s amazing that something this dramatic could happen, with well over a million people dead and a public health threat of massive proportions, and it really didn’t make all that much difference,” Swidler said. “Maybe one thing it shows us is that the general drive to normalize things is incredibly powerful, to master uncertainty by feeling certain enough.”

(see above for citation)

I got through my covid days by quilting, and it was instructive to look back through the pages of this record, to see how I tried to “build little rickety bridges to some other, slightly more stable place.” I generally was very lucky: a lovely home, with lots of supplies, a supportive husband, and an ability to isolate away until the vaccine came (for me) in January 2021, a relief and a welcome day. Maybe quilting is well-suited to helping us cope with our “drive to normalize things” — cutting patches, sewing them together, using the well-established tools of social media to keep us connected on one level, even though all the social aspects: guild meetings, classes, retreats, and sewing groups went by the way.

Orange County Quilt Guild March 2020, before the meeting started

Their use of the word anomie is intriguing, and loosely, it can be defined as “normlessness,” meaning “that the underlying rules are just not clear…Anomie sets in when a society’s values, routines and customs are losing their validity but new norms have not yet solidified. “The scale is upset,” [the early French author] Durkheim wrote, “but a new scale cannot be immediately improvised. …The limits are unknown between the possible and the impossible.”

When Laurel sent me her photo Thursday night, she bridged a time from 2015, when Jen Kingwell’s pattern was published in QuiltMania, to September 2019, when Paula James (@the_secret_sewer) and Nicola Kelly (@nicola_picola_) challenged us all in to finish these quilts, leading a quilt-a-long on Instagram. I finished mine in time to post with Jen Kingwell (top of the post) just before we were all slammed.

A well-known bridge on California’s I-15

I like to think of our quilts as those bridges, helping find our way back to civility, to health, and even to mask making (our batik fabrics were champs!). I hope we continue to figure out how to write and think about what we all went through, sharing our individual experiences with acceptance and kindness. And I hope we keep quilting!


Quilt Baby Pictures

I ran across some quilt baby pictures the other day.

And a tangent: Chaucer was on to something when he wrote “The life so short, the craft so long to learn.” I’ll explain, but first you should know that we’re cleaning out, preparing for some home renovation. Or as I like to call it, #kitcheneggedon, where we are moving our entire kitchen into boxes or onto shelves, and our refrigerator out into the garage, which meant that two of our four file cabinets had to go. It was time, really, to figure out what we’d crammed into those moving metal drawers so long ago. We filled one giant curb-side recycle bin, borrowed our neighbor’s and filled his, and I was still going strong. Glance, toss, glance, toss, glance….Whoa.

Several files stopped me dead in my tracks, as they were from the first series of classes I ever took, a veritable record of my how some of my quilts were hatched (hence, Quilt Baby Pictures for the title of this post).

• An embellishment class which sample I promptly tossed. The redeeming factor were finding two beading needles in the class kit, which I needed.
• Two Laura Wasilowski classes: one on fusing, where we learned the Chicago School of Fusing fight song and that her first iron lasted 25 years, and a second where I made a reversible jacket (which I wore for years).
• Debbie Caffrey Mystery Class in which I had fun, but when I took another Mystery Class some years later (teacher shall remain anonymous) it put me off that format forever.
• A two-day Jane Sassaman class through Orange County Quilt Guild’s summer Camp Watch-A-Patcher, where she kept encouraging me to go wilder, bigger, more colorful. She’s genius.
• And a Hollis Chatelein class about close quilting in quilts, a vanguard in that style of quilting.

• I found three classes in my files from Roberta Horton, a personal quilting hero of mine. I did what she called an African-American quilt (or Utility Quilt), a Japanese Quilt, and a Plaid quilt.
• I also took a class from Mary Lou Weidman, where I designed a quilt in honor of my last child leaving home, in honor of our empty nest. The blob on the right is the full-size sketch of the quilt:

Empty Nest, Full Life • Quilt #56 in the Quilt Index
Nihondaira, #53 in the Quilt Index

This is the quilt made with the Japanese yukata fabrics; we were encouraged to take our smallish square of yukata fabric, design a shape and assemble it, while merging and borrowing it, and extending the design through sashiko or embroidery. Roberta’s classes always gave me more than I expected.

This is the quilt I made in that other class of hers, and I wrote about this method, plus the idea when I discussed the short story I was teaching in my English Class, “Everyday Use.”

Light in the Crook of Shadows, the “plaid” quilt.

This is from a class by Jan Krentz, because I so wanted to make a Lone Star Quilt, and she knew how. I used fabric my husband had brought me from Zimbabwe (yes, he’s a keeper) and I’ve not written about it on this blog. It was named Fiat Lux, because I finished it about the time I earned my undergraduate degree after 28 years of slogging. The motto of the University of California is “Fiat Lux,” so I adopted that for the title.

Fiat Lux, Quilt #57 in the Quilts Index

I found file folders for the Joen Wolfrom class I mentioned in the last post, as well as a few others, but the file that amazed me most of all was the one that held the papers from a class with Jean Ray Laury, the grandmother of the graphic arts quilts (in my mind).

I even saved a letter she’d written to me, returning the dollar I paid for some class supplies that she ended up giving out for free. Now that she is gone, it’s a treasure newly re-discovered, once long-lost in some random file cabinet (now gone) in my garage.

While it was a treat to find all these “baby quilt photos” I’m more than happy that I actually “raised the baby” and got it launched into the world. No, there will probably never be an embellished quilt — the interest just isn’t there to place sparklies and sequins all over a quilt. But those needles will come in handy when I have to restore the beads Carol put on her block for my Ladies quilt. Yes, I’m a fan of taking quilt classes. Only once have I come out of a class feeling like it was a waste of time (and I’ll never reveal which class it was).


The Ladies are Back: This & That February 2023

They’ve lain quietly in the quilt block graveyard since December 2021, and I’ve decided it’s time to resurrect them. I have combed the book I have by Freddy Moran — the designer of this block — a bazillion times, looking for ideas. I don’t know about you, but ideas often go wandering around in my house at night and when I wake up, I can’t find them. So today, I’m writing about my newest take on this quilt.

The Gridster Bee ladies made these blocks and notions for me:

I wanted to use all the blocks, but some are needed to help jumpstart either a planned smaller quilt or majestic back art.

UPDATED: You can find all the patterns up on the circled page, above, in the header.

The center ladies are together and I have notions and blocks on two sides. I liked the giant zig-zag I found in the other books I looked through, but thought pops of color might help make it interesting. All the black will be predominantly black-on-white prints and all the white will be — wait for it — predominantly white-on-black prints.

I’m cutting a bunch of squares and rectangles. The trick is to reverse half the blocks:

So…that’s ten-thousand being made one direction and ten-thousand the other way. I’m taking bets that I won’t do this correctly, but I will be “snowballing” for a while.

Today’s the last day of QuiltCon, and in that spirit, here’s my story. We had a nice speaker at Guild the other night, but I must have sat down at the wrong table. Every quilt she showed (such as a Gwen Marston liberated stars, a traditional spider web, etc.) the lady next to me said (in a not-soft voice): “Do you like this quilt? I don’t like this quilt. I hate modern quilts. I don’t like these quilts.”

The spiderweb block is a modern block?

This is #1306 from BlockBasePlus. Name: Spider Web. Date first published: 1933 in the Old Chelsea Station Needlecraft Company periodical. The guild speaker’s blocks were a bit different, with no cute triangles on the corners, but I think 1933 qualifies a block as a “traditional quilt block.”

from here

This full, beautiful quilt is titled Beach Umbrellas, and it’s made by Cindy Wiens of LiveAColorfulLife. It’s made with the free spiderweb block found in my PayHip shop in the Pattern Lite section (three different sizes of blocks!), but unlike what was shown at our guild the other night, I do think Cindy has made it modern. Her use of a softer block in the borders — no, there is no overlay: she used pastels to get that look — and the bright, bold colors really make great use of this traditional block.

Here’s another block (on the right) that might be pushed into the “modern” category with its use of non-tea-dyed, contemporary fabrics, but I’d still consider it a traditional block. I doubt my neighbor would have. This block was from my class at Road to California 2023, taught by Becky Goldsmith. Her quilt:

All of this is to say, thank goodness for the Modern Quilt Guild which has pushed all of us quilters into updating our stash, brightening up our outlook, and helping see the possibilities in traditional blocks. Cindy’s quilt, above, would have been pretty humdrum if it were made in tea-dyed prints with tiny rosebuds on them (or “calicos” as the Guild’s guest speaker kept saying). I’m not going this year to QuiltCon, but I did get my granola made (as promised on IG), and I did watch some rain.

Lastly, another friend of mine has passed away. Judy was a gifted artist, quilter, bookstore-owner, friend, cook, wife, mother, and grandmother and that’s just some of her titles. Last year she’d had a stroke, which confined her to bed, half paralyzed. I tried to visit her often and listen to her stories, as I considered my own wealth of blessings: health, mobility, and an ability to still sew a seam. She kept me focused. She loved Ireland (shown in the photo). She could do a deft mimic of the accents and dialects she heard while there, and I still say Pos-Toffice when I head out to mail a letter.

When I was Trader Joe’s early this month, they were selling those annual bunches of daffodils, and lo-and-behold, these were from Ireland. I dropped by two bunches on the way home, trying to put off that errand because the car was full of groceries, but the little sprite inside kept saying, “Do it now, Elizabeth.” Judy was sleeping, but she awakened briefly to receive the flowers. I gave her aides directions on how to put the flowers in water, saw that Judy was back asleep, tapped a kiss from my fingers onto her cheek, and left. She died within the week.

Thursday my husband and I went over and picked up her fabric and yarn collection from her daughter. As I was sorting through them, preparing them for her friends to come over and have our own mini-version of an Irish wake, I discovered this: a house block signed by Freddy Moran, 2001. And the memory came flooding back.

That was the year that Judy and I both took classes at Road to California. Our classes were right next to each other: hers with Freddy and mine with Joen Wolfrom. At our lunch break we ate our sack lunches together, as Judy, with her delicious sense of black humor, told me some funny stories about Freddy seeming to help herself to her students’ scraps. We both laughed.

While a traditional Irish saying begins: “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,” I prefer to focus on the latter half: “Love leaves a memory no one can steal.” In my ladies quilt, l will also include these patches, thinking as I stitch:

my dear Judy, may heaven always look like your beloved Ireland–

300 Quilts · Quick Quilt

Quilt Finish: Chris’ Quilt

Make this snappy, I thought: no malingering or beating around the bush. You’ve got a birthday deadline.

This is Chris’ quilt, quilt #274 in the Index, it’s roughly 60″ by 72″– tall enough for him. My quilter turned it around in like a New York Minute, and I had it back out the door again a few days later, sending it on to him for his birthday.

I chose Mod Dots for the quilting: nice loop-de-loos around all those sharp angles and edges.

For the backing I used a pre-packaged quilt backing, liking the bursts of color against the sea of blues on the front. There are several airplane fabrics in there as he wants to be a pilot, but other than that, it was a scrap quilt all the way around.

I’ve learned to include a care label on quilts I give away.

This post is a contrast to the last one, showing you I do know how to do a quick quilt and like Mary, I can make it snappy.

Other Posts about this Quilt

Showing the blocks under construction, with the measurements so you, too, can do a snappy quilt full of love (I love working with HSTs and large blocks!)

300 Quilts · Patterns by Elizabeth of OPQuilt · Quilt Finish

Quilt Finish: Aerial Beacon

To get across great distances, way back in the day, early airplane pilots would focus on visual landmarks, or sometimes lit bonfires if they needed to find their way in the dark: “In February 1921, an airmail pilot named Jack Knight put this to the test with his all-night flight to Chicago from North Platte, Nebraska. Knight found his way across the black prairie with the help of bonfires lit by Post Office staff, farmers, and the public” (from here). When I found this Aerial Beacon block, it sent me gathering information about this idea: that there were physical beacons to guide those airmail pilots before we had modern navigation. Really? I’d never even thought about this.

An early map showing one of the routes across the United States.

Many aerial beacons were atop tall city buildings. This is from a vintage postcard of Chicago.

Some aerial beacon were little huts with a number painted on the roof. They were next to the tall beacon, with a concrete arrow pointing on to the next one. These are still found in the United States on hilltops, beside cities, although there are very few extant arrows.

This quilt began with these French Bee fabrics by Renee Nanneman. I kept trying to think of names for the bees, and thought up “sky pilots.” Nope. That’s an established term for clergymen/women, which I also didn’t know. So I kept looking, and then found this:

A traditional block, which would let the bees show off nicely, as well as the coordinating fabrics. I loved those four big triangles; sort of like propeller blades (another reference to flight). So I made my first block, wondering if could I even do this? I chose to make this a foundation paper-pieced block, so as to get those snappy points and to keep everything in place (pattern coming next year some time).

ultra-high radio frequency waves (RFID, or radio frequency identification)

Then, thinking about the idea of RFID waves, and the communications that replaced the aerial beacon huts, I referenced them with a waved border made with bias binding. It was a good exercise to figure it out, and I love how it looks.

Jen of Sew-Mazing Quilting went the extra mile in the quilting. I had many strong colors in the blocks and a very light border and backgrounds and I asked her to use Superior’s MicroQuilter thread in silver (7007). Bob Purcell (who founded Superior) told me it was their best blender, and he was right.

late-night sewing

I did begin making the blocks way back in October, first thinking about a design with nine blocks. But there was so much fabric left from each French bee color, that I made more. And took trips to Utah. And tried to sew. And took trips to Utah. And I kept trying to write the pattern, because it was such a fun block. And took a final trip to Utah. Then unlike those early pilots ferrying mail, in the next few weeks I felt more than once like I had lost my way. This quilt spent a lot of time wadded up in the corner, as I just didn’t have the moxie to work on it.

I even had the backing ready to go as I dithered and dithered about whether I should quilt it myself or not. I finally realized that given my current state, you-know-what would freeze over before I got around it it. When Jen returned the quilt, it sat some more time. Finally this past week, I found my way to binding it. (Binding is a lot less stressful since learning this trick.) And then I indexed it: Quilt #273.

the back of the quilt, held by the best Quilt-Holding Husband, at a local park

Since I often write about my own life on this blog, I will share that I have often wondered how I would react when my mother died. I thought about it off and on in my life, sometimes thinking I’d be perfectly fine and then other times thinking I’d be a total wreck. My mother lived to be 94, so she had been with me my entire life and really, truly, I liked her a lot. Yes, we had our differences, and no, she was not perfect, but in her later years (before it got really hard for her), we had an easy camaraderie. The truth is many days I am perfectly fine, and at other moments, in other days, I’m quite tender around the edges, breaking into tears. You probably know how it goes. When I was a teenager, Dad got all the credit, but I came to realize — and even more now that she is gone — that she did all the heavy lifting of relationships, of sending me little gifts, of checking in with me. I always knew she was my best cheerleader.

I had a chance a couple of years ago, after a presentation with the Utah Valley Quilt Guild, to go up to her condo and give her and Dad and one of her friends a mini Guild Presentation. Her eyesight was failing then, but we passed around the quilts so she could look at them up close and feel them; she enjoyed it all. She apologized that she didn’t have more of her friends there, but that wasn’t who the show was for.

It was for her, my mother, now my very own aerial beacon.

Other posts about this quilt:

Bias Binding Fun

the label, a simple one this time
Something to Think About

Flame-out? or Creative Spark?

If you are anything like me, there are multiple ideas in your head, lurking in the fabric you’ve purchased, or photos on your phone of projects to make. And if you are really really like me, there are some old magazines piling up — perhaps dragged home from your Guild, or pages ripped out, or maybe even a filer drawer somewhere with the label “Future Projects.” You like to browse your favorite on-line shop web-pages, you happily accept emails from your favorite designers and your Saved to Quilts tab on Instagram is ever-expanding. All of this doesn’t even begin to address the folders on Pinterest, or the patterns you’ve acquired, or the drawers stuffed with new tools, new rulers, or quilting notions.

The term flame-out has multiple meanings, but the one I’m referring to is “lose power through the extinction of the flame in the combustion chamber.” My sewing room is my combustion chamber, so to speak. I bring lots of fuel there (see first paragraph), but somehow things can flame-out. I’ve noticed a healthy amount of January blahs in Instagram, but maybe it’s just that the projects your Past Self wanted to do are not the projects your Present Self thinks are worth tackling.

Laura Entis wrote an interesting article about the getting back the “flame in the combustion chamber,” or turning that creative spark into something that can help you fly. She lists several components: 1) paying attention (done…see first paragraph), 2) write it down (see first paragraph), but it was her third idea that caught my attention: 3) put a stake in the ground. She interprets that to mean going public, and many of us do (see our Instagram accounts), but I think for quilters there is a further aspect. It might mean washing/drying/pressing the fabric and putting it with its pattern in a drawer or a box. It might even mean cutting out some of the basic units before even one stitch takes place, like we do when we have a Mystery Quilt we’re making; they always want us to prep with this step. But any way you do it, putting a stake in the ground can mean committing to sparking that project into life.

I also liked her Step 6: Map it Out. At the end of last year, I became immersed in a project that overwhelmed me. It didn’t help during this time, Mom was dying in a state far away, or that I got really sick in December, and January has me battling a painful sciatica (can hardly wait to see what February brings…not!), but the project felt overwhelming. I should have mapped it out, so I could envision the flow, the places it was going. She got that idea from Kelli Anderson:

When Anderson embarks on something new, whether it’s for a client or a self-directed project, she sets a final deadline, and then breaks down the project into stages. “I draw it out visually,” she says, sketching out each phase in proportion to how long it should take. Next, she maps the visual sketch onto an actual calendar, translating periods of time into numerical blocks. Even the best laid plans can go awry, however. “The schedule is just a suggestion,” Anderson says, one she regularly refines. “If you are indulgent and you spend too much time on one part you can oftentimes make it up later at another stage.” (from here)

So, here are some of my “stakes in the ground”:

My latest quilt is back from the quilter, who did a wonderful job; now I need to trim it and get it bound. The thing that bogged me down was writing the pattern, but I ended up selling a different version of this to a magazine, so come fall, I’ll let you know where and when. (The pattern for the above quilt will come a year after that publication.)

Chris’ quilt. I made a quilt for my grandson when he came to my son’s family (he was a boy) and within about 20 minutes he out-grew it. I’ve promised him one forever and decided a large format quilt would be fun to make. It has been.

I’ve even mapped it out, as Entis suggested, in a book that helps me break down all the steps. I’m so pathetic I’ve even listed <wait> while it’s at the quilter. I’ve made you a PDF of this format so you can map out your projects, too. Click on the DOWNLOAD button below to get your copy.

Last, and okay-I-know-how-I’m-spending-my-February:

My house is nearing fifty years old. We’ve done some cosmetic updates to the kitchen, and bigger updates to the house, but it’s time to really get serious and update the kitchen. So we’re fridge-counters-cooktop-stove-vent-hardware-sink-etc. shopping. We feel pretty fortunate to be able to do this at this time, and keep wondering if we are too old for all of this. I was encouraged by all the comments left on my Help-Me-I’m-Remodeling post on Instagram. If you have any tips, let me know. I’m really leaning heavily towards an induction cooktop as I think it’s the way of the future. And double ovens? Yes? No? Who Cooks This Much? Leave me your ideas in the comments!

PS: Yes, I was able to attend a bit of Road to California, and saw my quilt, Eris, hanging there (happy dance!):