Digital/Virtual World · Guild Visits · Something to Think About · Zoom

To follow the notes of a disappearing bird

I work upstairs in a bedroom at the end of the house in what used to be my daughter’s room, before this penultimate child burst out into the world, leaving home at twenty, coming back only for visits — an ending I didn’t see coming, for sure. In that room, my sewing machine sits on a desk that runs underneath a double-wide window, and my view is visually sheltered there by the boughs of a silk oak tree, like a frame.

Just below the window, and sometimes climbing up the screen, is an enormous wisteria vine — no it’s really two vines — stuck in the earth some thirty years ago when we moved to this house. In the spring it’s an uncontrolled explosion of heavy blossoms, followed quickly by incessant leaves and sinewy vines and tendrils, climbing, growing, spreading, taking over the old arbor full of termites and carpenter bee holes, and reaching over the pathway to the silk oak.

Two days ago I was startled by a squirrel that leapt from the roof of our house onto the silk oak limb, and as the wisteria has its tendrils wrapped around that one, too, the whole green carpet above and just below my window was set into motion with the squirrel’s landing, a rustling that kept me watching until everything stilled and the squirrel descended down the trunk and onto to other things.

I took a leap of sorts last year when I figured out how to do everything Guild-related from this desk in front of this window: videos, Zoom lectures, demos with two cameras on camera stands that I always have to wrestle into submission for at the time, I was unaware of the fancy ones that moved at the touch of a finger. I loved the Zoom teaching, especially.

I loved all the students in their places and their spaces, their fabrics right at hand, the mess underfoot, the walking back and forth from cutting station to ironing board to sewing machine. It was a rich, varied tapestry of individuals all honing their craft, this pattern they’d chosen, and we worked together as a very long-distance team. Most of the time.

I had a few failures, when I couldn’t reach through this digital space to show them how I trimmed, or to look at the blocks arranged on a wall that was in the hallway just around the corner, with no way to show me. I’ve had classes where it was deathly silent, everyone on Mute, watching my class videos or just being extra-respectful to not bother everyone with their usual noises: phone calls to friends, TV on for company, or the singing along to the radio. I could see them having a life, but there I was at the desk, sipping my water: the girl in the digital box.

Concentrating on getting the talk set up

I loved the Guild Presentations, too: the rows and rows of shining-faced quilters, and before I start, we are all expectant, all of them present in their easy chairs, propped up against their pillow towers on their beds, or the living rooms where husbands/friends/children/dogs wander through, and at the kitchen tables, all of us beaming at each other.

As you know, I recently taught a second class for the Santa Clarita Quilt Guild and my husband asked me if I had any repeats from the first time. I hadn’t looked up the previous class, but when I saw one student’s beautiful wall, I knew she had taken from me before. The space was familiar, for, in a way, I’d spent several hours there last year.

I now have two lectures, four online classes, but almost no gigs lined up. Is this an ending? I love teaching, but maybe it’s time to take longer to watch that squirrel with her descent or
“To follow the notes of a disappearing bird
out into the trees, up and out along the farthest / branch…”

I don’t know. Maybe it’s not?

I pinned all the Blossom quilts on the design wall before class.

I recognized an ending last time I came to this familiar junction. And I recognized when I had written everything I needed to say at another place in time. But this is all sort of unfamiliar to me now, for I don’t think I’m done, but yet somehow it feels like it might be that way. Or, it might not.

I gave the final scheduled lecture for 2021 last week. It was a hybrid: with a small cohort in their Guild’s usual meeting place at the Fellowship Hall, and the rest of us on Zoom. It was an interesting push-pull, a tension between the recent months of Covid and our isolation and this guild meeting was kind of at the reverse place — wanting to get out, but also wanting to stay in.

I recognized the impulse. Here in California we are all feeling sort of safe with masking in place, numbers down, vaccines in arms, and so we are venturing out to normalcy. However, I figured out some time ago that I would never visit a Guild in person again to teach or give a talk, much preferring the Zoom format. So perhaps this hybrid meeting was the opening of that proverbial door, the notes of that disappearing song beckoning me to the edge of a different wood, in a different territory.

Perhaps.

I’ll still be quilting, I’ll still be writing here on this website. I have a thousand-and-one projects lined up, and I may yet figure out how to schedule my own classes, turning students loose in my videos and handouts and structure. And I know Santa Clarita wants me to come back, too.

Stay tuned.


“Some Ants for Henry,” by Ralph Black
[….]
To begin each day among the weeds, crouched
   and hungry for a sign of complete desire, this
is my small prayer. To pull a blade of grass and watch
   a single globe of dew fade and blink out.
To follow the notes of a disappearing bird
   out into the trees, up and out along the farthest
branch, laying my fingers against the pulse
   of that blue-fletched, warbling throat.
Such moments can kill a man, or startle him back
   to his senses. [….]
(from here)

Something to Think About · This-and-That

This and That • August 2021

Oh my goodness. The brain is fried, the eyeballs are smarting because of smoke in the air and it’s too hot to move or do anything which explains my SECOND round of August This and Thats. What can I say?

I have finally OD-ed on podcasts (more on that later) and found myself a good book: another Maisie Dobbs novel. I have three hours left to go.

What I mean is, it’s the first one done of four I have to do for the first-of-nine giant Bear Paw’s Ruler-free block. I’m playing along in the FingerPaintsQAL on IG and had the opportunity to take a class with Laura yesterday morning (I scribbled on the pattern above to hide her work). It was fun to see people I recognized! Above this block are scenes from class: the fabric key at the ready, the stack of fabric (I took her advice and cut 5″ strips of fabric from all the colors: saved me a lot of time) and ruler-free cutting in process.

Like the lady says, it’s not a race.

Did I mention that California is having a gubnatorial recall? Like either of these goofballs will win my vote, but check out Mr. Drake. Wouldn’t it be cool to tell your kids that one time you ran for governor of California? Or drop that bit on a first date?

Just want you to know I still have a few things on my To Do List from March 2000. This is because we chatted about To Do Lists in the last post.

Occasionally I fall down the rabbit hole of art galleries on Instagram. Jim Isermann turned up. Quilters, start your engines:

I think this is a quilt…

We’ve had more than a few fires in our state this summer, but I loved the write-up about grabbing a quilt.

Generally, the news has been weighty and ponderous and horrifically sad, with covid, airlifts, fires, babies in hospitals, angry young men (and some angry old men), divisiveness, coupled with more suffering and death in country far far from here. I realize that this post could be construed as lightweight and frivolous. But all this news reminds me of old news: the fall of Saigon long ago, my father’s bout with polio and stories my mother told me of getting her first vaccines for Whooping Cough because her baby sister had died of that disease. That is why I have avoided podcasts: they are wearying. Add in the sorrows I read daily on Instagram in all your lives, the divisiveness in our families over vaccines and masks (and yes, I’m making more masks this weekend) and it’s no wonder I’m grabbing bits and pieces, sewing and quilting, poking fun at candidates for California’s governor when inside I’m weeping a bit that it has all ended up in a Big Fight All The Time.

Our individualism has run rough-shod over our ability to come together as a community and do what’s best, what helps those babies and children have a better world. And then I see little toddlers held tight in Afghan arms as they walk into the belly of a very big plane with no seat belts and no snacks and somehow they all don’t need to be ducktaped to their seats (what seats?) for their 3 hour flight to freedom, to what we have and what we fight over but somehow don’t understand how fragile it is. They leave everything behind: little treasures in their bottom drawer, ties to their communities, friends and that bowl that Grandma always had on the top shelf, and I snip off a piece of this hope, tuck it into my heart and keep going.

The other night I found a photo of the first sewing machine I ever owned: The Genie, by Singer. My parents gave it to me for Christmas when I was a Freshman in college, majoring in Clothing and Textiles. I sewed on it forever, then passed it on down to my daughter. I have a lot of memories like this that are easily recalled when I see photos. I’m thinking on what I have that I could give up…give up to the refugees that are certainly coming our way. And to end this post on a better note (I’m not really going to jump out the window, I promise), I want to give something away to you.

I finally got all the bits from the last two giveaways mailed out, so before summer disappears, Shelley of Nanakaboodle (ETSY) and I are doing a teeny giveaway of Cluck, Cluck Sew’s Diagonal Seam Tape. I’ve ordered multiple times from Nanakaboodle and she always has really prompt shipping and a cheerful customer service.

UPDATE: Giveaway is closed, but thanks for reading!

To win this roll of seam tape, leave me a comment below telling me about your first sewing machine.

Think Good Thoughts & Let’s Share Joy and I don’t know what else, but you do.
Happy Quilting!

Gridsters · Something to Think About · This-and-That

This and That • May 2021

This has been a busy week, with zooming and teaching at the Orange Grove Quilters Guild, but I’ve managed a few things around the edges.

This was April’s Gridster block, requested by Nancy. She sent out the blue fabric, and we chose the other, with her guidance.

This was May’s Gridsterbee block, chosen from my Sawtoothmania pattern by Allison. She also sent out fabric, but we provided the center color patches.

She had us do a wonky Christmas Tree. Allison asked for the one from another quilter, but I also have a free tutorial sheet on making little Christmas trees, too. Such a clever idea!

My husband brings me flowers every day…well, photos of flowers. This one measures about 1 inch across in real life.

I finished Vesper Flights, and went on to this one: The Midnight Library. I listen to them at the same time my mother does, but this is one I wish I had in print, so I could underline things that caught my heart and imagination. Now I’m deep into Obama’s A Promised Land. It’s moved much faster now he’s been elected, and hearing about the 2008 economic meltdown, as well as the hog-trading of politics has been interesting. I am SURE I never want to be a politician. I’m sticking with quilting.

This is a close-up of one of the panels I used on my Wealth of Days quilt backing. I was stoked that it had our city on it. I tell most people, “we are between Palm Springs and LA,” but here we are!

Fabric receipts? Now the fabric just shows up in my mailbox, like magic, or something.

Occasionally, when writing this blog, or trying to color in a design, I can’t quite make the program give me the color I want (like this background). That’s when I turn to this no-frills site which shows a ton of colors with all their hexadecimal codes. I always start with the Blues page, which is what I’ve linked you to. I just copy the #code, pop it into my software or blogware, and I’m good to go.

I love following people who know what they are doing. I love reading their blog posts, their Instagram posts, and while I’m not a total fangirl of them all, I have several favorites (there are too many to list here; see my list at the bottom of my blog). I appreciate their sharing what they’ve discovered and learned. However, recently a famous maker of absolutely necessary quilting supplies popped the above Instagram ad up on my feed. (I’ve blocked out all the identifying marks to protect the marketing department.) She may be qualified, but is she an expert?

Shouldn’t she be referred to instead, more appropriately, as an Influencer?? I like Aurifil’s word for their influencers: “Ambassadors,” which my macaron-making daughter let me know, is also used in her industry. Rather than the previous ad campaigns of simple extolling of excellence of product, we now use people for that. (In my English classes of yore, this was a type of logical fallacy, using celebrities to sell products; however, we’ve morphed from random celebrities to using established personalities in the field to sell products.) Carolyn, a sewist/sewer who I’ve read for years, knows her stuff and has an excellent post on the rise of Influencers. I love this part of the post:

My criteria is based upon:
– Can they actually sew?
– Are they learning to better their craft?
– Do their garments fit well or are they just photographed well?
– Do they have any actual fabric knowledge or are they just taking stuff because it’s free?
– Do they understand why notions are important and why they’re needed to perform a task?
– Is all of their knowledge YouTube/Internet based or have they actually read a sewing book?  Not all YouTube videos show you the correct techniques.
– Is this just a way to make them Social Media Famous?

A reminder for us creatives from Grant Snider

And lest you think I just sit around, I am working on a scrappy blues quilt, but it’s pretty shy right now and I just can’t coax it out from underneath the bed. I’ve even tried leaving spools of thread and colorful scraps to lure it into the daylight. Maybe later I can get a photo of it.

This is a quilt for a college-girl’s bed. My granddaughter shyly asked me last time I was at her house, “Grandma, will you make me a quilt for college?”

Me, inside:

Me, outside:
“Absolutely!”

We traded designs and pictures back and forth, but I quickly discovered that she is a minimalist, and likes gray. She knows I hate am not a fan of gray (generally), but she told her mother she thought I would come around after working on her quilt.

The red line in the drawing above is to approximate her queen-sized bed. I ordered yards of Painters Palette solids from Pineapple Threads, and they arrived last week. Between the shy scrappy blue quilt hiding out of sight, and this one, I’ll be keeping busy.

I can’t believe I signed up for this, but I swear it was because they come in cute little boxes. I do have some undressed pillow forms around her that need some clothes, and these seemed to call out to me (although if you know me, it won’t surprise you that I’ll be changing up some of the designs…looking at you Miss Christmas). But I’m excited to get a little fun package every month in the mail. (Guess this means I’m in covid-recovery–that I’m actually planning into the future.)

Lastly, I listened to/watched this show about the writer Amy Tan, called “Unintended Memoir.” It gave me so much to think about as I worked on the shy scrappy quilt, and now I want to go back and read her books again from her first, Joy Luck Club. She speaks movingly about her mother, and Tan chronicles their relationship as well as the writing of her novels. It lasts about 90 minutes; I recommend it.

Happy Quilting!

Guild Visits · Something to Think About

Who Gets to Make Art?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our world of quilts, and by that I don’t mean the larger world–just our own little world. I’ve made some hideous quilts, some use-up-this-fabric quilts (above), some quilts I consider my best masterpieces. Our own little world is echoed out into our guilds, our social media, our quilt shows, publications and then it echoes back to us in terms of the materials we can use. It’s a cycle, a circle, but at the nub of it is that one quilter looking at her one stack of fabrics, or the sketch she made while waiting at the doctor’s office and seeing the print on the back of the chairs. It could be she was messing around with a traditional block, or created one of her own. And from that nub, that spark, hopefully art begins.

from here

I’ve been thinking about this because of an article by Guy Trebay (found while cleaning out) where he asks straight off, “Who gets to make art?” Written about the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, it is an interesting overview of this age-old question.

from here

Do you get to create art? Do I? Or is it only relegated to that famous quilter that is all over Instagram? The lady who has her face on the ads of the sewing machine you like? Does more fame equal more entitlement to call it art? And then there is the pressure from the outside world, debating forever and ever if making a quilt is a craft or an art?

from here

Trebay attributes this question to Luke Syson, and says that “In asking [this question], Mr. Syson was adding his voice to a growing chorus of museum professionals who are challenging traditional hierarchies of art production. He was talking, in this instance, about the obscure craft of scrimshaw, subject of a fine study show at the Fitzwilliam, but more broadly about the importance of recognizing and celebrating those gifted artists whose work is so often relegated to the stepchild status of crafts.”

from here

Luke Syson, now the director of the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge (Britain), shares his experience of having to address some of his biases about what iconic art is in his TEDTalk, which he titled “How I learned to stop worrying and love “useless” art.” It’s worth a listen, if you have a few minutes. In that afore-mentioned Instagram post about scrimshaw art, he asks “Who gets to be an artist?” In the text he writes ” I thought about the scrimshanders then – working class, almost entirely anonymous, using their time to making things that were beautiful and that documented their lives. Amateurs, yet completely excluded from the world of leisure that this word implies. But I’m guessing there was a collectors market for these objects early on – that these were a sideline rather than simply the making of personal souvenirs.”

Which leads me to think about the anonymity of women, making their art for years and years, hidden in plain sight. They were making that which was beautiful to them, and which represented their lives. And yes, amateurs, all. We’ll leave this discussion here, with a quote from Trevor Bell:

“Art condenses the experience we all have as human beings, and, by forming it, makes it significant. We all have an in-built need for harmony and the structures that create harmony. Basically, art is an affirmation of life.”

Today is Mother’s Day. My mother is on the left (c. 1948), my daughter (named after her) is shown in the center in a photo from high school (c. 1998). (I sent this photo to her when she complained about one of her children being always on her phone.) I’m on the right (c. 1972).

My mother made art: seven of us. She never quilted. She read. She never painted, as did my father. She did do dishes, laundry, dressed elegantly, organized us, kept us going. I owe her everything, and as she approaches her 93rd birthday, this Mother’s Day I celebrate her as a different kind of unsung, ungalleried, un-media-ed, unknown sort of artist, but she was significant and affirmed us all.

I’ll be in my happy place this week, hanging out with the Orange Grove Quilters. We’re making Merrion Square in our Workshop. If you want to hear my program of Abecedary of Quilts or participate in a live/online workshop, please contact Pat (the Workshop Chairman) at workshops@orangegrovequiltersguild.com or drop me a note (and I’ll check with Pat). I love teaching this little quilt, as there are as many different quilts and there are quilters. Each one makes this little village their own.

And as life moves on, it seems this will probably be the last time I teach this class. Let me know if you are interested.

Happy Quilting! (turn the sound on)

Something to Think About · This-and-That

January This-and-That

To start us off right for January, Carol of the Gridster Bee chose Lori Holt’s Tall Pines Quilt Block, part of her Sew Your Stash series, found on YouTube. I lost my mind and my way a couple of times, so made up this diagram to go with her dimensions (screenshot from YouTube).

Click if you need to enlarge

For Carol’s signature block, she requested that we all make her a Teeny Christmas Tree from my free pattern. I updated it for her, so be sure to download the 2021 version.

Oh, and lately, we’ve had some current events. Even on my birthday, which I thought was highly unfortunate, so thank you to all who sent birthday wishes on the last post. On that day, they were much appreciated.

To balance out the above, some good news: The Shine Blocks are starting to return to the website, and they are in a new and improved format. Above are Blocks 1, 2 and 3. I’ll bring back three every month until they have all come home. To access, click on the above tab: Shine the Circles Quilt.

Remember all those memes that used to say that the month of April was like a bajillion days long? I think January 2021 might give April 2020 a run for its money. Several people I’ve chatted with lately have had a bad case of the holiday doldrums, a condition that my 93-year-old mother swears happens every year about the 27th of December and can slide all the way into mid-January. She’s right, you know.

So I’ve saved a great article just for times like this, and the above illustration on the article perfectly depicts how it all feels. It’s titled “Finding Hope When Things Feel Gloomy,” by Jenny Taitz, published way back in November of 2020. Clearly, the doldrums were starting early during the pandemic.

Taitz, a psychologist writing for The New York Times, starts us off with a basic: Control what you can. She writes: “When crises in the world at large feel out of your control, thinking about the various components of your life — and setting small, specific goals to improve them — can help reduce feelings of helplessness.” I think this is something we are all familiar with, as we resort to scrolling on our phones (see below), or looking at our stash of fabric but with no real desire to do anything with it.

Another idea is to “Swap microaggressions for ‘micro-progressions’ ” or instead of trying to take steps forward right now, perhaps try to incorporate “small actions that communicate respect.” It’s hard when facing the same people day after day, no matter how delightful and witty they are, to not to give in irritations about their habits and that noise they make that you can hear from all the way on the other side of the house. Or the neighbor who keeps moving towards you, breaking the social distance guidelines, having just returned from an RV tour of the United States. It’s also often hard to notice the micro-progressions I make in my daily tasks, the fabric all cut out, the blocks completed. I’ve taken to writing down even the littlest thing on my To Do List, just so I have a record of how this time in my life was spent.

There are other tips in the article, but I’ll close with my favorite: “Work on your mental agility.” I have a favorite mental rut I like to travel in when things are hard. It always involves a lot of sighing, many trips to the kitchen for the chocolates leftover from Christmas, maybe even some tears, and yes, doomscrolling. But if I can just step to the side of that rut for a few hours, perhaps vacuum AND dust the sewing room, I find that small actions help me avoid the downward trend into the doldrums. Of course, if you are having serious depression, get some help. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, just call your doctor and get in to see them.

We quilters have been alone a lot lately, with all of our usual venues shut down: no trips to the fabric store with friends (and lunch afterwards), no quilt guilds in person, and no retreats or fun conferences or shows. So find a way to connect, either through Zoom, phone calls, or some creative social distancing, and try to find hope going forward. “Hope is a psychological stabilizer — it protects our well-being from stressful events,” said Mark Manson, an author who writes about hope and happiness. “Even if you feel emotionally depleted now, research suggests that it’s possible to consciously and systematically increase hope.”

Alison Glass’ stack of colors

Holding onto that smallest sliver of hope can be enough to pull us through, and makes an anchor to our souls. Even with all the news lately, find a happy stack of fabric and if you don’t have the energy to cut into it or make it, patting it is perfectly acceptable.

As for me? I’ll be here, in my sewing room, having just set up for my workshop with the Beach Cities Guild this Saturday, where we are making Criss-Cross quilts.

Onward into this year!

Covid-19 Times · Shine: The Circles Quilt · Something to Think About

Christmasy Shine Blocks • Gloria in Excelsis Deo!

The sign on the door of my sewing room as I sew a special gift for my husband.

Okay, you just have to see the creativity of my friend who pattern-tested all the later Shine blocks — the last few I’ve been talking about. The originals, you are familiar with. Now I’m doing them in Red, White and Blue. But my friend Linda, of @lkhomework (she used to teach school before she retired), did them all in Christmas fabrics, and she has graciously allowed me to share them with you.

Such wonderful eye candy, perfect for Christmastime and to help get us in the mood for this very different season in 2020.

As you can see, she plans a diagonal set for her blocks.

Yes, I realize I should have imprinted the number of the block before I posted them, but I didn’t. Here’s an index of them all, in mix of the original colors, illustrations and RWB:

Block #1, which is based on a traditional pattern, morphed into Block #7. Linda used both of these variants to great success. I think her quilt is going to be just fabulous!

And today the December QuiltMania newsletter was published, and with this, their series of my SHINE: The Circle Quilt blocks ends. The first 12 blocks can be downloaded by subscribing to their free newsletter; they will send you the link (details here). They will live at QuiltMania until early 2021, when they will come back home here to stay. I’ve enjoyed sharing them with QuiltMania, and feel like those scary disorienting days of covid are behind us, when I first made the offer to QM for them to use my patterns, in order to do my own little part to help keep interest in their excellent publications.

More than other years, I find this Christmas to be such a mix. I wrote on Instagram about seeing someone contemplating a jump from a freeway overpass. I had just come from visiting a friend who had successfully completed her initial phases of a stem cell transplant, the cells giving her another chance at life, and I’ve thought about these two contrasting experiences for days.

She, working so incredibly hard to keep life, to beat her disease, putting up with all manner of incredibly painful and difficult treatments and procedures. And then to see this young man who appeared to have cut open the chain mesh fence that shields our overpasses from just such desperate decisions. Our traffic was slowed, and as my car neared the bridge, I could see the man clutching the fence, holding on, having given himself a second chance as the fireman secured a belt around him, preserving his life. It was a different kind of second chance than my friend fighting cancer. Hers, a grueling year-long journey. His, a reconsidering of a tragic decision in a split second.

And so our year continues with such contrasts: thousands of people dying from the pandemic, while we turn inward to try and find the joy and the happiness, aware that just around the corner, ennui and disease and depression await. It’s a dance in the best of times, but made so much more complicated this year with its seemingly endless conveyor belt of tragedy. With hearts so tender, Christmas sewing is a tonic: the snowmen and Santa, the holly and ivy, the red and green, patchwork and stockings and gifts and delights.

And so I rejoice in Christmas.

I light the candles on our kitchen table and set out the soup. Over dinner, my husband and I (a covid-bubble of two) talk over the news, before moving on to the detritus of our day. I relish the lights, delight in the sight of our miniature tree and my husband’s nutcrackers, all anchoring symbols of familiarity, grounding us and keeping us tethered.

I rejoice in carols: a favorite song can move me to tears, so close to the surface are the emotions of this season. I might post again before the year is out, but you may be too busy to respond; it’s less than two weeks until we close out the official holiday of lights and gifts and slide on into the new year. To wish you all the best as you make your way to 2021, I leave you with one of my favorite songs of Christmas (click on the link to listen). Sing along and enjoy!