Some Thoughts on Our Nation’s Milestone

COVID-19 Map_ May 24_2020

For several months, I’ve awoken every morning, and looked at this map.  I remember when not every state had COVID-19, I remember when New York started spiking, I remember when we started our stay-at-home time some two months ago.

I was aware that we were coming closer to the milestone of 100,000 deaths during this pandemic, and I thought about all I’d read about the Spanish Flu when I was in graduate school and wrote a short story about a dancer and her young soldier who went off to war and never came home, felled by the influenza that ravaged the world in 1918.

But how would I choose to depict our losses in our pandemic?

Kentucky Death Quilt

from here

I’d seen death quilts, with little coffins neatly stitched, tucked away in their little graveyard or around the edges of quilt.  Or would I want to depict them as Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae did, in his poem Flanders Fields?In Flanders fields the poppies

 

But this past Sunday morning, I saw this:

COVID-19_NYTimes1

I read the article online, scrolling through the humanizing choice that this paper had made, to give a person’s name and a salient, interesting fact about them from their published obituary.

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At first it was just numbing, then I noticed this: a quilter.  I began to look for other quilters.

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I found several.

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And on one page, I found not only a quilter, but a “collector of people, laughter and good stories.”  It made me wonder: what one line would I want people to remember about me?  I found several intriguing qualities, and I reflected briefly on that person, especially the one who was “Faithful in corresponding through cards and handwritten notes.”  A woman after my own heart.

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I loved Patricia Yanni’s quality: “Wasn’t afraid to try new things.”  So often we look to people’s achievements, that they were this important person, or grandmother to twenty-five, or CEO of a Big Corporation, but wouldn’t you rather be known as someone who wasn’t afraid to try new things?  I would.

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I’d like to be known as someone who gets things done.

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Someone who had a life-long passion for learning.

I circled the second one (in red) because now this was in my hometown, a hospital where I had gone for a surgery several years ago.  Rosa could have been someone who cleaned my room, made my bed.  I will think this week on all those lives that have been taken too soon.

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I will remember the quilters.

Sawtoothmania2

Returned Samples

Samples Returned

I didn’t want to open the envelope when these teaching samples came back, even though I’d been expecting them.  The Guild Program Chair wrote me a lovely note telling me they’d never had to cancel a speaker before, and they were sorry.

I cried.

outer shell virus trojan horse

How do I write a blog post about what’s going on under the surface for those of us who love going out and teaching and meeting new groups (groups of 50+!) and hanging out with quilters and celebrating what they make in their classes?

When Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle of Modern Quilt Studio, in a newsletter, said that they’d canceled all classes and Guild visits until there is a vaccine, I knew that what I initially thought of a just-a-few-weeks experience was now going to be at least a year, if not two or three.

I think it’s been slowly dawning on most of us — as we stay carefully put, doing our “i-sew-lation” sewing, doing our best to be cheerful — that a creeping sadness is all around us.  It’s not only the horrific amount of deaths from Coivd-19 or the stories of those on the front lines in the hospitals or that we share memes incessantly, trying hard not to be sucked under. That creeping sadness some call grief (and that may be what it is), interrupts creativity, joy, connection, and a host of other daily living patterns.

Urge to create is gone cartoon

One morning’s walk this week, I dissolved in tears as my husband discussed all the formal steps we would have to take for possible retirement: forms to be signed, Zoom calls, separation from his job and mountains of research and careful planning. It wasn’t that we aren’t prepared or ready for this new shift in our lives.  I was just jealous that he had forms to be signed, Zoom calls and mountains of careful planning.

I cried because all of sudden, doing what I loved was gone, and for the foreseeable future–it would remain out of reach.  There were no forms to be signed.  Just a lonely envelope in the mail from a most kind fellow quilter.

So many tears for such a little crisis, I thought.  I immediately shifted into Counting the Blessings Mode, as that’s my usual.  I have a wonderful home to shelter in, a sufficiently stocked sewing room, a kind and loving husband who works hard to understand me, sufficient steady income, a large family of brothers and sisters and parents and children and grandchildren and a wide expanse of friends, both in person and digital.

But it’s just hard to retire when you weren’t expecting to, when you’d found what you really loved to do.  I don’t know how long it will be until I can greet quilting friends again in person.  No one knows. But we’ll all just keep going, keep trying to count our blessings, keep working to bridge that not-in-person gap that we all face.  Some days I do fine at this.

And other days an envelope makes me stop and have a good cry.

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I’ll be in my Sewing Room — my particular version of a Happy Box — if you need me.

tiny nine patches

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This came in my emailbox yesterday.  Given what I wrote about above, I’m not surprised.  I’m glad that the Modern Quilt Guild is being proactive on solving the problems that might exist in our new covid-centric world.

And as far as my teaching goes, I am in contact with my future quilt guild gigs, seeing what their plans are, if they will be holding events.  If you have questions, and have already booked with me, please get in contact to discuss.  Things change quickly.

tiny nine patches

The illlustration of the virus above is:

“A rendering of the outer shell of an adeno-associated virus with the exterior partially removed. The shell is used as a Trojan horse to deliver a genetic component of the coronavirus to raise an immune response. Credit: Eric Zinn and Luk H. Vandenberghe”

I thought the illustration beautiful.

Leisa and the Sawtooth Star Quilt

Leisa and I at quilt show

Back in the day, Leisa and I were always hanging out at quilt shows. But now, she spends a lot of her getting chemo treatments, dealing with ALLeukemia, and hanging out at UCIrvine, where she is being treated.

LeisaJohn on NBC news

Here’s a video clip from the NBC Nightly News that explains it all.

So I floated the idea of a quilt for her, texting out little group of sewers who have hung out for a while.  Everyone was on board: Lisa, Marlene, Laurel, Caitlin, Simone, Beth and I.  But what block?  Well, you know I’ve had Sawtooth Stars on the brain since the beginning of the year, so we all scrambled to put blocks together, with Laurel sewing the blocks together and our quilter, Cathy, getting it done in record time.  Laurel bound it for us, too.

LeisaSawtoothQlt grouping

Laurel and I worked on the arrangement for all the fun Sawtooth blocks we received from everyone.  We finished it in time for Leisa’s birthday, and Laurel took it over to her.

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A couple of weeks later, I had the chance to catch Leisa in between hospital visits.  (Her dog Marley loves the quilt.)

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Close-ups so you can see the quilting of loops and hearts and flowers.  Cathy shut down her business after this, so it was one of the last quilt tops she did.

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The backing is the Tula print with bears all over it.  Because of this we called the quilt:

Leisa Quilt Label

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And then this arrived in the mail: I’ve known Leisa for years, and she knows the way to my heart is a lovely note.  Tomorrow she heads back to her hospital for more treatments, and we hope our hugs provide solace as she works her way through this difficult part of her life.  My heart goes out to her and to her family, and I’m cognizant of others who have suffered the ravages of cancer.  I can only hope for healing for you all.

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Shu Embroidery

Recently I learned of a young woman on YouTube, Liziqi, who is worth watching.  As one commenter wrote, “Li Ziqi makes Martha Stewart look like a slacker.”  I learned about her video on garlic through the seasons and I was hooked (trust me, you have to watch this).

I found the episode about Shu Embroidery.  She doesn’t actually weave the base cloth for her embroidery in this episode, but I have no doubt that she probably could.  (In this video, she makes a quilt).  The music is tasteful, the mood serene, and the fantasy about living off the land in the Chinese countryside is complete.  While I usually shy away from excessive YouTube watching, I’m going to make an exception for Liziqi.

Liziqi screen shot

To you, to Leisa: Life isn’t easy, as a screen shot from Liziqi’s website attests.  And while her saying is a bit cheesy, it does have some truth:  we can live with our hearts engaged, thinking about each other, and bringing forward our best offerings.

Like a quilt.

Bee Happy in April 2020

While I titled this Bee Happy in April 2020, part of that is a statement: I’m working on my Bee Happy Quilt, started at least a year ago.  But part of that is also a question: is it possible to be happy in April 2020?  Let’s tackle the first, wander through the second and I promise I’ll leave you with something funny.

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Like many of you I’ve been reading — no, gorging — on the news at this time, and one article about how nature is taking back the canals of Venice, the meadows of Yosemite and how we are seeing less pollution in our skies also commented on the amount of bird songs available now to us in our own backyards.  So one mopey day, I pulled out my Lori Holt Bee Happy quilt (!) and started anew.  I sat at the kitchen table, stitching, listening to the avian calls, and took a break from the chatter.

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BeeHappy6_1
BeeHappy6_full quilt April 2020

Hens stitched, blocks sewn and what I’ve finished is all smoothed out onto my design wall, a sort of vertical storage these days. Three of her rows are finished, ending with the clucking hen sisters.  I numbered how many I have left: 13 blocks.

I’ve been making a little tip sheet to go along with all the weeks on Lori Holt’s blog, where she has all her photos and pictures.  However, sometimes the info is not arranged as easily as I would like, and so I offer these as an adjunct to those working on the quilt who also need a bit more.  Click to download the PDF files. They are found on a page up in the tab section, under 2020 Projects, if you need to find them again.

Bibimbap Bowl
African Peanut Stew

I laugh at those COVID-19 memes that list a full menu for dinner on the first three days then devolve down to cereal and soda by Day 20.  I alternate between complete angst at dinner time and diving in to make a cool meal.  Here are two of my successes: bibimbap (top) and African Peanut Stew (bottom, recipe on ElizabethCooks.com).  My daughter, who lives too far away, has been baking these:

Barbara Macarons

Baking and selling them.  She’s really mastered this treat.

Like the rest of you, I spend far too much time scrolling on my phone, I’ve been happy to see the contests sponsored by major museums across the world to have those of us keeping quarantine to mimic famous works of art.

Art Imitation Frida Kahlo
Art imitation Last Supper
Art Imitation Rivera
Covid Meme Quarantine houses

I also follow the hashtag #quarantineart to break up the quilty quality of my IG feed, where I found this image.

Other components of our COVID-19 lives: Zoom conferences (this time with my brothers and sisters and my two elderly parents highly quarantined in their senior living building), memes, walks around our neighborhood in the morning, and finally, peering into the homes of TV newscasters, where I spotted a quilt on the back of a sofa.  Hey!  A quilter lives there…or at least they appreciate a quilt.

So, can we be happy in April 2020?  Possibly.  Probably.  Often.  Sometimes. Always.  Occasionally.

In January 2020, way back in another time and place, my local quilt shop asked us to nominate someone who could use a sewing machine in their lives, along with some sewing helps from Olfa and fabric from the store.  I wrote about my friend Hayley, a young mom who is in my First Monday Sew-day group, who has really taken to quilting.  She’s the wife a medical student, and has a sweet young daughter.  I then waited…and waited…and finally heard this week that she had been chosen!

Hayley Wins Machine
Hayley Wins Machine2

We all wore our masks, kept our social distance, and Janet, the shop owner read from a prepared paper, thanking all those responsible for giving this award.  Then the curtains parted to reveal a sewing machine–Hayley started to cry, I started to cry, Janet started to get emotional.  I was so happy that someone who is starting to love quilting could get her own machine.  Here’s the video on Facebook.

Kay sews a mask

Now a funny video about how to sew a mask.

Here’s hoping you’ll  Bee Happy/be happy in April 2020!

Economy and Rough Drafts

Economy Block_6

I help teach a group of beginning quilters, and we call ourselves First Monday Sew-day, and yes, I know it’s not the First Monday today, but it’s COVID-19 season and nothing is normal anymore.  For this First Monday Sew-day, I chose to teach the Economy block, also known as the Square-in-a-Square block.

April 2020 First Monday ILLUS.png

I’ve made a little handout to go along with this, which includes a detailed chart of measurements.  Click to download the PDF file:

FirstMondaySewday_4_2020

(NOTE: I’ve also collected all my First Monday Posts and put them in their own page at the top of my blog, just in case you want to find them easily.)

Economy Block_1

I looked at Catbird Quilt Studios’ chart, but then decided I wanted to test out my own measurements.  First I cut some sunny yellow fabric for the centers.

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I pulled some neutrals from my stash, cut the triangles, then painstakingly went through each measurement, adjusting it to what I thought would work for teaching beginners, then went to work.

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After getting the first set of triangles on, I squared it up, jotting down the measurements as I went through each size.

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When you trim, do your best to leave a 1/4″ of seam allowance at each point, as shown above.

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I love this color of blue, known around our house as painting-tape blue.

I’ve already put the triangles on the first two sides and pressed them.  Now I’m starting on the second set, with the finish below:Economy Block_3

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Here are all the sizes, stacked up together.  I’m thinking bordering the smallest sizes again to equal that large 15″ block in the lower left, and seeing what evolves.

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This is a free pattern from the Robert Kaufman Fabric Company, and it uses the Economy block, but the quiltmaker fussy cut center blocks for more interest.

Into the Woods front

I added one more set of triangles on this economy block to get this quilt. Doing a search on “economy block” yields lots of images to scroll through.

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I liked how this quilt maker had pinwheels inside their Economy blocks.  Our beginners learned how to make pinwheels when they learned about Half-Square Triangles.

tiny nine patches

Making Masks April 2020

And I’m still making masks.  I am making them for people I know, friends and family who need them as our particular county is a mask-wearing place.

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So when two friends came by and I realized that these masks wouldn’t work for them, I went back to the Accordian-style mask, added a nosewire sleeve and turned the sides into plackets, through which I could slip some elastic.

I’d say this is the fourth or fifth iteration of cloth masks that I’ve made.  I kept wondering why I couldn’t be like all the other mask-makers of our particular universe, and just settle into one kind?  I was heartened by “Tear It Up and Start Again,” an article by Harry Guiness, that reminded me of things I used to teach my college students, back in the day.  I reminded them never to turn in their first draft, as the really good writing starts to happen on the third or fourth rounds (inevitably the class would groan about this point).  Guiness notes that “Too often, when it comes to self-improvement, we create idealized, top-down systems with unnatural rules and regulations. We naïvely assume that we will somehow stick to our rigid plans when life gets random and hard, throwing unavoidable chaos and crises into the mix.”

We’ve all had some unavoidable chaos recently.  While this article dealt more with those self-improvement plans we all make for ourselves (I hope you have all torn yours up during this stay-at-home time), I did like his nuggets of truth, such as this one: “When a plan or resolution fails, the solution isn’t to dismiss it and try a new, equally rigid prescription next year or next time. It’s to build on what worked, ruthlessly cut what didn’t and start straight away on a much-improved second draft.”  I like that I won’t have to discard what I learned in my first draft, but can carry forward the best parts.

“I never lose. I win or learn.” This phrase has been attributed to many, but whoever said it was on to something.  Hopefully we won’t lose during this time of forced idleness (for some), crashing boredom (for some), an onslaught of toomuchtodo (for some).  We can win at our tasks if everything goes smoothly.  However, you can tell by my variety of masks that it doesn’t — usually — go smoothly for me, but we can still learn new things about others, or new things about ourselves.

I’ve learned I like to tinker to figure out which mask will fit which face.  I’ve learned that I can’t read the news before I go to bed at night.  I’ve learned that my current forced isolation and distraction (courtesy of the novel corona virus) is not the best working environment for getting my quilting projects done.

I’ve learned a million new science-y facts about peak dates and doubling rates and flattening the curve and so on (I am married to a scientist), which may or may not come in handy in the Life After COVID-19.  But hopefully I’ve also learned that my first drafts can lead to successful subsequent drafts, no matter whether it’s writing, or quilting, or making masks.

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Last Supper

The Last Supper of Christ, by Jorge Coco

Happy Easter to everyone!

Quilting in the Time of Covid-19

Angel Death_Sculptor

Like so many of you, my life feels right now like this sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, placed in the American Wing; we seem to take a photo (or five) of it everytime we go there, so that it ranks it right up there with snapshots of anything Monet.  It is titled The Angel of Death and the Sculptor, by Daniel Chester French.  The sculptor is mid-stroke and the Angel gently takes his hand — stilling him —  as if to say, “You’re done for now.” If this work seems familiar to you, French was also one of two sculptors who created our Lincoln Memorial.

I came slalomming down off my very enjoyable time with the Orange County Quilters to a buckets-of-rain day, one where I’d normally stay in, but that day I went to two different grocery stores, trying to stock up our house.  In two-days’ time, our world came roaring to an end with the advent of the novel corona virus, also known as (and always in all caps) COVID-19.  I had it easier: one of my friends was in Brazil at Iguazu Falls, and did about a 28-hour turnaround trip back home.

Yesterday I sent a letter out to some friends and the outward flowing of goodwill back towards me, and to others on the list, has helped me deal with this isolation.  I was feeling undone by the contant drumbeat of bad news and sadness and worry about our hospital workers on every level and the deaths and the lack of tests and misinformation and too much information and should I make masks and will my neighbor give the disease to me? sort of stuff.

So to get myself back on track with doing something creative, I’m listing here some of the projects I hope to undertake.  These are quilting projects only.  I have lists and lists of finishing up the house, regular stuff, and the burning question (which, feel free to comment on) is whether I should have the house painters back to finish up the details on their recent big job?  I’m calling it Quilting in the Time of Covid, with apologies to Gabriel García Márquez.

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  1. Finish quilting and binding a quilt I’m referring to ReJiggered.ReJigger

It’s a variation of City Streets, just in different colors.  I’d thought about the name Vitrailed, which means to set with stained glass, because the Tula colors are reminscent of our trip to La Sagrada Familia a couple of years ago:

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2. Totebag with Spectrum Pattern on side

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I’d made this for an EPP workshop I taught last August, and gave it away.  I’d like to try another, in different colors.

3. Make up Azulejos in a tangerine/indigo version

Azulejos Quilt_1

Fabric gathered — check
But that’s all.

4. Work on the quilt that I’m calling Eridani (no image yet).

If we all ever get back our lives, I’m supposed to teach this in October of this year.  Stay tuned.

5. Make face masks.  

Face Mask Orange Dot Quilts

So my husband and I had this conversation this morning while getting ready for our Stay-At-Home Church, and it went something like this: If only the people who get sick are supposed to have face masks, yet all hospital personnel have face masks, should we have face masks to protect ourselves, too? Yes, but…the big caveat is if you are using a purchased face mask, then no.  I’ve chosen Dora’s version (above), and will be making a few for ourselves and family.

ToDo_March 2020

In cleaning out I found a  To-Do List pad which only has 3 lines on it per day.  So I have to choose only three things to accomplish.  Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I made a week’s schedule, listing only three things.  But then my Frantic Self addded more and more, writing in the margins and on the back.

Why is it that in this time of coronavirus, we still feel the push to do?  I think it’s because we want our routine back, of Mondays at the grocery store, Tuesday at the Quilt Shop Sew-day, First Mondays with my little group of angel sewers, Tuesday-then-Friday-then-Saturday meetings with my guilds.  We just didn’t see that Angel of Corona Virus headed our way, stilling our blur of activity, asking us to stop.

So I write this hoping to find a new balance, a new routine.  I found it helpful when my Gridsters in the group letter talked about what was their experience during this time, and what they were working on. While I’d enjoy having a giveaway from any comments you might write, the problem is that I’d want to mail everyone a little treasure, instead of just two or three (and even though I love my USPS and need them to keep us connected, I won’t do that). However, I’d love it if you’d share what steadies — not stills — and how things are in your COVID-19 world.

Happy Sewing!