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).
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.
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.
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: