100 Quilts · Journal Entry · Tools of the Trade

Provence, Blues and Sewing Machines

The French fabrics have arrived and they are beautiful.

But yesterday’s work was cutting 250-plus 6″ blue squares (5 1/2″ finished).  Of course, I was delayed in the forward progress by running off to a couple of quilt shops to see if they had something to add to this melange.  That’s something I used to do a lot before Professoring and before the Internet.  I used to make the rounds, collecting colors, shades, patterns and I have to say it was a thoroughly enjoyable process.  There’s something unique about being involved with the tactile when selecting fabrics–the feel of the cloth, the hand, whether they are a rough texturey linen or a smoothly woven cotton.  Heading to a fabric store is also about the hunt: what will I find?  In yesterday’s case, not much.  That makes me glad that the internet exists, as in the case of the ability to find–and purchase–the French fabrics.

We have our region’s Quilters Run next weekend and both stores were slicked up in their Sunday Best, ready for the hordes.  All the bolts were lined up, edges folded in, notions arranged, with a variety of quilts on the wall or artfully draped over the displays.  In one corner of one store was a display of Featherweight machines of all kinds, as well as some vintage toy Singer sewing machines.

It reminded me of the toy Singer Sewing Machine machine that my mother used to play with and which she gave it to me a long time ago.  This one’s not as shiny or gussied up as the ones in the store but it has nice quality that those don’t others don’t: a remembrance of my mother.

But I did catch a look at the price they wanted for theirs: $145.00.  A non-toy Featherweight Singer sewing machine like the one I have (which I purchased at a garage sale) now goes for $495.00.  I told Dave that it’s nice to know that some of my treasures accrue in value without me doing anything but hanging out, living, and getting older.  I’m going to resist any gags about how they’re gaining in value as opposed to what’s happening to me, as I hang out, live and get older.

Journal Entry · Something to Think About


I made this quilt a couple of years ago, cutting and piecing all in a rush to get it done, working with my collection of fabrics from France. That was my self-imposed structure: only fabrics that I had from France, and that limitation shows in this quilt.

I liked the design, but I had to use oranges instead of yellows, greens instead of navy, brown and purples instead of deep blues in the border. I had finished it, but it wasn’t working. The contrasts were off somehow, betrayed by the color, for sometimes when person looks at a fabric they think they are seeing something different–for a brown does look different from a green–but the lack of strong contrast can betray a quilt; contrast is needed to strengthen this particular design. Although it was finished, it was weak at the core.

Last year at our local quilt show was a new vendor–one who had bolts and bolts of real French indienne fabrics–those little prints that resemble polka dots or men’s ties. I bought two more lengths of yellow, and 8-10 pieces of navy blue, this quilt in the back of my mind.

But who wants to rip up and fix an old quilt? Maybe that’s how some of those quilt tops that are present in other booths at the quilt show came to be: lovely tops but just not quite right, as if the maker put it all together then decided to move on to something else, the top folded away to be taken up at another time.

But now I have the fabrics, the time. It’s a leap of faith, I think, to un-make a quilt. This stack could easily become a pile of blocks put back into a box to be sold some years hence at a quilt show. Or passed down to grandchildren who are learning to sew. Or given away to the thrift store. Or simply chucked in the trash. I took several deep breaths before giving a satisfying tug, pulling it apart at the seams.

It took me the better part of an evening to do this. I listened to the radio show This American Life, streamed down on my computer, listened to sounds my husband was making as he worked and moved through the house, thought about someone I loved who had just announced he was divorcing. I’ve been in that situation–divorcing–and that too, is a leap of faith. Only instead of blocks, there are children, houses, cars and sofas. Instead of threads, there are memories. But sometimes a marriage is just not right, and like a quilt, the problems often don’t show up until the quilt is complete.

I worked steadily, setting the separated blocks in a growing stack. When I finished that night, I had a soft pile of four-by-four squares, and a mess of thread on the carpet. I turned out the light, and went to bed, offering up extra prayers for those who are un-doing, ripping apart things to set lives finally right.

Un-making, I think, is an act of courage.

Journal Entry

Things Remain Undone

On the way to meet my son Chad for lunch, I caught the last of an interview with Ian McEwan on the occasion of his new book, Solar, and heard Mr. McEwan read this snippet:

“He’d been deluded. He’d always assumed that a time would come in adulthood—a kind of plateau—when he would have learned all the tricks of managing, of simply being. All mails and emails answered, all papers in order, books alphabetically on the shelves. Clothes and shoes in good repair in the wardrobes and all his stuff where he could find it. . . the private life settled and serene. In all these years, this settlement, the calm plateau had never appeared. And yet he had continued to assume, without reflecting on the matter, that it was just around the next turn, that he would exert himself and reach it. . . . [About the time his daughter was born] he thought he saw for the first time that on the day he died he would be wearing unmatching socks, there would be unanswered emails, and [at home] there would still be shirts missing cuff buttons, a malfunctioning light in the hall, unpaid bills, uncleared attics, dead flies, friends waiting for a reply. . .

So Mr. McEwan finally captures the frantic race we all feel to Get Stuff Done, but we rarely achieve that “settlement, that calm plateau” he writes about. That would explain the mess in my study. That would explain why the cracked tiles in my bathroom have not been replaced in three years. That would explain the general overwhelmingness that visits me for for sometimes very lengthy intervals, riding around on my shoulder, a little chirpy voice whispering in my ear while the pen scratches out on paper a list of things that need to be done, no, must be done.

I’ve always had this belief that I can get caught up, and in some places there is a division of labor in my life: the grading will finish, the students will no longer show up in class, the fences will be built, the house will get painted. And then I start believing that this finality will gradually appear in other areas of my life: the quilts all sewn, the closets cleaned out, the floor mopped, the laundry completed.

Obviously, it’s not a belief. It’s a fantasy.

100 Quilts · Journal Entry · Quilt Finish

Visitors. . . and a Story

We had some visitors from out of town last week. It was my daughter Barbara and her three kids: Cute, Cute and Cute. And Cute. Did I mention that they were cute? All my grandchildren are cute. I’m so very lucky.

And now, a story.
Some time ago, I’d made a quilt with pinks and blues and cherries and flowers and was so frugal with my fabric I had enough for another quilt leftover. I starting piecing the pinwheels and put them up on the pin wall, and then was stuck. I tried this combo and that combo and nothing would come together.

Then one horrid horrid day, our friend Heather wrote to say that she had Stage IV metastatic breast cancer, and it had spread to her liver, and maybe her brain but they were doing CT scans checking, checking. We waited. Good news! No brain mets, as she said.

I began to work again on the stuck quilt. Only I knew now it was for Heather so it flew together in a glorious explosion of work and love and tears and care for our friend. I thought long and hard about what to name it.

I arranged a visit to see her shortly before she would begin her first of six rounds of chemotherapy, a grueling process. I wanted her to have the quilt. I had in my mind what I wanted to call it, carrying along my pen to sign and write the name on the back, just in case I was right.

We had one of those happy-sad-teary-laughing conversations about what lay before her. I knew then what I planned to call it was correct, Earth’s Crammed with Heaven, from E. B. Browning’s verse:


Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

And only he who sees takes off his shoes;

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.


I told her that it meant to me that because of her suffering she would see and understand so much more about heaven and earth than she ever would before. She would see that indeed, earth is crammed with heaven.

I tracked her chemo treatments on my calendar, trying to visit when possible, emailing whenever as I waited for her to come up out of the vortex of chemo and bendy bones and pain.

Last week she had another CT scan, and because of her treatments, and her faith, and the doctors and good karma and prayers and heaven and hugs and everything-we-could-throw-at-it on earth, her tumors have been eradicated. As she put it: “lots of high fives and tears in the doctor’s office.”

Oh, yeah. You go, Heather! Happy Valentine’s Day. Happy Chinese New Year.

Happy Life.

Journal Entry

To Do List, November 20, 2009

Serious List of Get Things Done (take 3, 333, 234) Date: November 20, 2009

  • Dry and style hair (yes, it’s this bad that I have to write this on the list)
  • Clean off computer desk and dust
  • Find Christmas China plates
  • Plan field trip next Friday (Galco’s, furniture place, where for lunch?)
  • Do visiting teaching
  • Decide on Christmas quilt and begin to cut square #1 of 72
  • Stitch one block of above to see if I like it
  • Make the Bday present
  • Mail Keagan’s birthday card
  • Organize calendar pages
  • Plan meals
  • Clear off microwave
  • Find red berry garland for chandelier
  • Do laundry
  • Post Munich posts on travel blog (finish that)
  • Write in Munich notebook (if you can remember any of it)
  • Write in Florence notebook (if you can remember any of it)
  • Stay off the interent unless the “Tea timer” on Dashboard is going–a nifty widget that keeps a timer going for me when I need it.
  • Is there something wrong with me when I look at my house full of stuff, junk, dust bunnies in every corner, the constant hovering of YOU’RE NOT WRITING hanging over me and I’m stretching to find things to put on this list? Time to go back to the internet, or grade something.
Christmas Quilts · Journal Entry

Piecing Equals Writing?

I’ve been working on this quilt for too long.  I’m really tired of it, but I can’t stop now as I spent a gank of money on the fabric and don’t want to just put it up on the shelf.  Besides I know I’ll like it when it’s done.  I hope.

When I was in grad school and slogging through the writing of my novel, it feel like sometimes I was being tortured, one paragraph at a time.  There’s days when even though you are sure you’re writing The Great American Novel, it’s all just too much.  I wanted short stories! Poems! Essays!  Anything that had a page count of less than twenty pages.

And now?  I want to make a baby quilt! A lap quilt! Anything with a block count of less than twenty blocks.