Monday, December 30, 2013

Pickle Dish recipe

Excited as I was to FMQ the Franken-quilt, I had run out of any thread that would even approximate the colors I might need. Enter my dear husband, who was taking a trip into town. Meanwhile, back at the ranch (just an expression; what we have more approximates a hobby farm), I tried out the pickle dish recipe by Kaffe Fassett. Here is a quilt that somebody made following the exact recipe Kaffe lays out in his gorgeous book, Quilt Romance  (with just one substitution). They sell pre-cut kits at a shop called Tennessee Quilts:

Some pickle dish, eh? Normally, I would avoid something of such complexity. But my stepson's wedding is coming up in June, and I need to hone my skills for the double wedding ring quilt I want to make for the couple. (In fact, according to Barbara Brackman's criteria, the pattern above is a double wedding ring quilt; the traditional pickle dish pattern has spears.) Here is a another double wedding ring quilt in process, by Oregon quilter LuAnn Kessi:

So I set out to make a pickle-dish / wedding ring unit while I was waiting for my husband to return with the thread. It involved sewing on paper (note the place where I nearly sliced off part of my finger several years ago):

Ripping off paper:

And of course, cleaning up paper crumbles:

Despite how involved the process was, I did find some spontaneous pleasure.

Doesn't that look like a black-eyed Susan?

My takeaway lesson: Better get started on that wedding quilt now!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Quilt Frankenstein

The exigencies of Christmas gifting forced  me into my first experience of free motion quilting, affectionately known as FMQ in the quilt blogosphere. I have long feared FMQ, but had to FMQ the pastel crazy quilt (about 36" x 36") from "A Post with No Words" to meet the USPS deadline for Xmas packages (the recipient was my sweet 7-year-old niece). In other words, I used my home sewing machine to stitch together the three layers (front, back, batting), rather than sending it off to a long-arm quilter who has a special machine for the job.

I did not get to take a picture, but vowed to FMQ the next quilt I made. That would be my quilt for B. Today I stitched up the backing, a true scrap-terpiece, taped it to my table, laid the batting on top, the pieced top on top of that, and "basted" the three layers together with safety pins:

The quilt incorporates many of the fabrics that B. picked out for her own patchwork creation (indefinitely stalled), and others I thought she would like:

There are doggies because she loves them, foxes because she sings "What does the fox say?", chicks because she's a country girl and loves to coo over baby things, tropical stamps and a world map because you've gotta believe she's going places, and skull and crossbones because she fancies herself "Goth".

B. may or may not be Goth but her quilt is pure Frank--Frankenstein, that is. As scrap-tastic as the backing is, the cotton batting is even more so. I sewed together strips and scraps from previous projects, zig-zag stitching the edges together. In haste. Without squaring off the edges. The result was unacceptably puckery:

The only thing to do was to perform pucker reduction surgery in several places:

And stitch the batting together, Frankenstein style (to the side is the largest pucker I removed):

I can't wait to FMQ "Quilt Frankenstein." I'm excited to do it, and I must say, not the least bit afraid.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Scrappy Solstice Rhythm

Like a good elf, I finished my Christmas shipping on Saturday morning. Then I wondered "what next?"

I felt the darkness right about then. A lot isn't right around here. Our reward system of behavior management isn't working; B. is boycotting it, then attempting to wheedle the reward through tears, hypochondria, and fault-finding ("you owe me!"). Besides that, my husband is chronically overworked. My default assumption, even on the weekend, is "he's busy and he doesn't want to be bothered."

As for me, I had another obligation I didn't want to think about. I was 2/3 of the way through blowing it off.

I tiptoed up to the sewing studio (B. was still sleeping), out of habit rather than volition, out of comfort-seeking rather than inspiration. I sorted through my bins, and started cutting half-square triangles for a quilt. It was a quilt for B. Here it is so far:

I suppose it's appropriate for the solstice, a kind of day-and-night quilt. In a way, I am just making it to get me through the darkness of not-knowing.

I don't know how B.'s story will turn out. I don't know whether my husband's work will ever recede and allow him a life of his own. I don't know if I will have to give up some of my competing commitments, which of them matters more to me, which of them makes a difference.

I do know that sewing a scrappy quilt like this creates a steady rhythm, and that I like that rhythm. And that I feel good about exposing B. to that rhythm when she comes into the sewing room to hang out, as she does on a regular basis. With her inspiration and my guidance, she gets started making something, but then quits, sometimes very close to the end. I don't know why. My rhythm continues, a steady heartbeat of intention.

This rhythm has been carrying me through the darkest days of the year.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Christmas Miracle

Christmas miracles. They do happen.

And birthday wishes do come true.

My adopted Lakota daughter, for whom I made this star quilt (see earlier post), which I just got back from the quilter and bound . . . 

Complete with its cozy corduroy backing (my long-arm quilter Judy has been loving the corduroy backings, and I have been too, as it uses up fabric purchased for making kids' clothing -- not as easy to sell as I'd hoped) . . .

Yes, that Lakota daughter who worked so hard to get her kids back from foster care, then ran out of luck in late August when a school shopping trip took a wrong turn at the casino . . .

She got her kids back yesterday, the day before her 30th Birthday!

D. showed up to court on Tuesday expecting to have legal guardianship assigned to the foster parents. Her lawyer phoned in from elsewhere, expecting business as usual. The kids' social worker? She didn't show up. And just like that, the judge granted D. provisional custody of her three children.

I did not believe my ears when she told me on Tuesday. But when I called up to the reservation today, I heard, "Oh, D's into town taking Marian (her eldest) to an appointment." It was for real. It is for real.

Yes, I believe it's the best birthday present ever. I guess she won't mind that my gift to her, intended to wish her strength for the long haul, probably hasn't arrived yet.

She's probably not needing that strength today. But she will.

And I might just need the rest of that corduroy!

(For those who want to advocate for other Lakota mothers to get their children back, please visit Lakota People's Law Project)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A proliferation of BFs!

Happy happy! Not only did I finish the snowball piecing (in Earth colors, for B's best friend)...

... but I have had many marvelous and astonishing adventures with B. and her BFs.

Today, it was the boy friend, with the emphasis on "boy." At 11, he is two years younger than she--respectful, sweet, and non-hormonal!!! He came to the car wearing his 3rd place medal from last night's wrestling meet. They spent the day together, and what a gift his cuddly friendship was to B., what balm for her soul.

By contrast (ahem!), the other night, I dropped off B and her statuesque best friend for a shopping spree at the mall, $15 each. Two hours and one ho-hum meeting later, I returned to find B wearing $7, 7-inch black stilettos, apparently "picked out" for her (?) by the Payless Shoe employee (bless her heart). I threw a BF ("b*tch fit"), which was countered by B's "BF", which was then checked by my "opposite day" routine: whenever B. dishes up insults, either hurled expletives or snide and cutting remarks, I thank her for her kindness: "you know, I have always wanted to be called a '_____'." This was ultimately check-mated by the statement "I love you," and so I agreed she could wear the shoes one day to school, after which they would be in my custody. How grateful I was for the BF's presence, as a modulating witness to our madness.

The bottom line: Both of B's BFs are telling her she needs to show more respect!! As an expression of gratitude to the gods, I think another BF-quilt is in order (for the wrestler). But first, there are a few details left on the best friend quilt.

Namely, it's too square-ish. Even with borders, the height will need to be expanded more than the width.  Do I use a special band at the top? Applique? Flowers and hearts? A quote? Her name?

All this, to ponder tomorrow. For now here's an amazing song I discovered on Pandora while making the quilt--appropriately enough, by Railroad Earth.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Best Friend quilt

My foster daughter's best friend came over this Sunday.

While B is all quicksilver with her emotions and thoughts, her "BF" has always had the Earth vibe: receptive, kind, trust-worthy, slow to react. When she arrived wearing a brown tiered skirt, I felt my choice of Earth colors was confirmed!

(Plus, her mom said that her room was lavender).

I am an Earth person myself, and discovered a major source of solace when I first began "playing in the dirt"--or "soil", as we like to call it here in Iowa. My very first quilt, made after my freshmen year in college, was composed of brown, green and purple isosceles triangles. (I had learned of some ancient philosopher's notion that all matter was made up of triangles, and I loved the idea!) That quilt lasted for almost two decades, transitioning from bed quilt to car quilt to dog bed to rag.

This quilt will be a snowball pattern. I've been pinning a lot of snowball quilts on Pinterest. This blog's discussion of snowball / nine-patch variants got my mind working. But I figured, on the blocks that alternate with the snowballs, you can use any pattern; you don't have to use nine-patch. So I am trying out this triangular pattern. I think this will make the overall geometrics more interesting:

Nature is assisting me in my inspiration. I've been cleaning up my garden, with all its seasonal purples, browns and greens:

These colors are soothing and strengthening for me. So when my B. is busy throwing what she calls "BFs" (b*tch fits), I'll try to tune out and tune in to the BF quilt and meditate on the healing power of our beautiful Earth .  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

One more Saturday night

It's not just any other Saturday night. It's the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and my "hippy mom" (see this post or her own artist's web site) is arriving tomorrow! I drank some coffee this afternoon, thinking it would help me clean house, but instead I tackled some of the 2 dozen g-bags I owe to the New Pioneer Coop in Iowa City. And now, at 1 a.m., I am wide awake.

I made some discoveries during this round of g-bags. I found that this Japanese yardage plays very well with sea green (right up there with midnight blue among my favorite Crayola colors). I've conceived (but not yet gestated) a sea green quilt for a May graduate, so this was a step forward. I even discovered a Kaffe Fassett print in my stash that contains a bit of this color (the lilac "Stencil" on the right below)!

Another person on my quilt list is a nephew, the 3rd of 4. I bought the festive Mardi Gras fabric several years ago to use in a camp shirt for him. Never got to it, but it's his turn for a quilt.

But that's not an urgent one either. What's urgent to me is B's friendships.

B. and I spent some good sewing room time today. She finished the blocks for her quilt (see its beginnings here, and we bonded over Johnny Cash (she knew all the words to "Folsom Prison Blues"!). Then we discussed how to describe a band she felt I had grossly mis-categorized as "goth" and "heavy metal" (Black Veil Brides). The song she played, I must agree, was better described as a melodic "rock anthem". She introduced me to "real metal" (Korn), which thankfully, she hates, and a new genre called "scream-o".

B. is, as she says, "working her way to the top of crazy." In her world view, you get attention for being pretty or crazy (no room for smart, or even cute?). Reports are she's climbed a few rungs at school lately. Her "friends" encourage these efforts. Yes, tonight we had a little "discussion" (ahem) about the definition of "friend."

B's most faithful friend, mentioned here, is nothing like that. Unfortunately, this friend has troubles of her own. She is at the top of my quilt-worthy list right now. The interesting thing is, I have no sense what kind of quilt to make. I'll text her mom tomorrow about colors, and take it from there. Stay tuned for that and more!

Peace out!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

More of the story

I finished the Lakota Star quilt top about a week ago, but have been wondering how to write the story.

I'd love to write about the bands of horses that roam freely over the reservation. Everyone knows whose horses are whose.

They inspired the choice of background fabric, which shows not only horses but gray-blue "ghost horses."

There are a lot of ghosts on that land. Children frequently report their unwelcome visitations.

Anyway, in the summer of 2012, about six months after I got back in touch with Morris's now-30-year-old daughter, my husband Mark and I headed up to Green Grass, South Dakota to rehab the cabin she had shared with her dad and grandmother--where they were living when I met them.

Her 3 children had been in foster care for 3 years, and her lack of a stable residence was a major obstacle to getting them back. The cabin looked like this inside:

The leaky pipes (plumbing with duct tape??!) had been its downfall. Once disabled, it was vandalized, with doors pried open, windows broken: a proper gang hangout. Mark, like the quiet hero he is, mastered the plumbing and subfloor. I headed up the drywall-and-paint team. A kindly Christian carpenter installed windows and doors. A couple more trips and the cabin was outfitted with floor, baseboard, trim and appliances.
The ghosts are the real story, though. In a previous post, I told how, as I scraped and painted the Green Grass church, Morris had regaled me with "glory stories" of rodeo performances, band gigs, and romance. These stories always had the same trajectory. At the end he would pawn his guitar, get thrown into jail, dumped by the girl; his bad luck was his joke, his punch line. In fact, rehabbing the cabin, I found an upside-down horseshoe Morris had nailed above the front door.
I once asked him if he ever dreamed of having a guitar and playing again. "Naw, I'd just end up losing it," he'd said.
Back to 2012: Once situated in the cabin, my adopted "daughter" was on the road to getting her kids back. We talked frequently over the phone, almost every other day. There were roadblocks: more than one junky car that broke down, needed repairs, died; workmen who waited until late November to install a furnace; lots of wiring money back and forth; the inevitable boyfriend troubles. When visits began, we talked parenting issues, boundaries especially. As someone with FASD and no parenting models, she struggled to sort through their demands. But she did the work; she took the classes. And, one day this past August, the court granted her custody of her children--just before the school year started.
Imagine me now, giddily sewing school outfits, planning my trip to meet "grandchildren". Watch how it gradually dawns on me that I haven't heard from D. for five days, since her latest car break-down. Then, receiving the news, fresh from a North Dakota jail, that an impromptu trip to "buy clothes for the kids" in Bismarck had turned left at the casino and had gone straight downhill from there. Thousands of dollars of the kids' tribal money, gone. Vanished. Poof.
And just like that, a year of effort was wiped away. Her children were back in foster care, and this time, her oldest daughter wouldn't talk to her (Still won't). It felt like the end of the story.
Things have changed: for one, there is no more wiring of money. We don't talk as often anymore. But the lives continue. My Lakota daughter is taking GED classes. She reports having been sober "for a while." If there are three children still unsure who their parents are, there is one woman who has a home where she had none. And soon, a quilt to remind her to continue to aspire for something beyond mere survival.
Sometimes a quilt is the only love language I know how to speak.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Almost a fair finish

The Roxy quilt top is done!

I hated loved making it, but all obsessions good things must come to an end.

You may notice the black triangles along the right edge. Yes, I thought I had run out of floral fabric (despite scratching my head about how that could be). And indeed, I later found the 11" x 44" strip of fabric, piled where I had left it, in time to replace the black edge with floral should I so choose to spend an hour and a half in that fashion.

I once worked for a guy who used the idiom, "We ain't going to the fair," as a way of saying, "Good enough." For a quilter in Iowa, this is a literal expression. I have never entered a quilt in the Iowa State Fair, and I probably won't. I don't mind the character it gives to the quilt. And I don't think my friend will either.

And, the leftover floral will be like a sourdough starter to leaven some other quilt!

Before I close the book on the Roxy, I must choose between a wide-wale lavender corduroy and two different pink calicos for my backing. I'd choose the lavender easy, if it didn't need so much supplementation (2 feet in height, 1 foot in width). I also have scads of a ruby red corduroy (not shown) that would glamorize the piece, even though it doesn't quite echo the poppy reds in the quilt. Thoughts?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Carrying water

I should have known I had my work cut out for me this weekend. This is the card I made in Wednesday's Soul Collage club meeting (find out about Soul Collage here). I'm not sure why I made it or what it means, but it did not bode well. I did end up "carrying water" this weekend--mostly because I avoided bucket work on Friday evening. Thankfully the disasters were minor.

Let me say first that I made some breakthroughs with the Roxy quilt I described in my last post. Here, I put my second draft beside my first draft:

I still felt that the gray blocks were "overmedicating" the exuberant floral. So, I did the yin-yang thing and imported a little of the floral into the gray blocks, like so:

This fabulous solution, achieved around Thursday, got me so excited about the project that I began sewing day and night. I neglected:
  • my paid manuscript-editing work
  • grocery shopping
  • cleaning
  • talking to my husband
  • feeding the dogs
  • my radio commitments (I do some community radio)
  • closing doors to keep out the cold.
I did manage to keep up with B., who hung out with me in my sewing room largely because she'd been grounded from TV for having started off the quarter fresh with D and F averages (how can you not hand in homework that you have already done? Evidently because it's the cool thing to do).

I wish I could show you a finish (almost there!) but certain matters intervened.

On Friday night I left a bucket of kitchen scraps out on the stoop for "someone" to take to the ducks and chickens. That someone would not be me: Why not? because of course, as soon as I was done cooking a cursory dinner for the family, I was headed back up to vastly more important things.

That made the bucket a free-for-all. On Sunday, there was dog barf everywhere. On several rugs, a dog bed, even on my husband's sandal (which, I admit, I have yet to clean). Plus, I had to track down two interviews for our Monday a.m. radio show or risk letting down the team. Cook another cursory meal. Edit those manuscripts. Sleep, yes, sleep.

Then, for good measure, this morning I climbed the stairs eager simply to gaze upon my beloved creation.

And saw (and smelled):

Evidently, once my dog Teddy's digestive system evened out, he wanted to express his real opinions.

But it is the Thanksgiving season. And I can be thankful that Teddy's digestive system has evened out, that his turds (there were two others) magically failed to land on any fabric, and that this bamboo floor that my husband so lovingly installed in my sewing room is relatively easy to wipe down. Thankful that I have found the perfect solution to the intense floral fabric (can't wait to show you the finished product!) And thankful that I have family (and readers) to keep me honest about my commitments!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Poppy Fields of Snow

I haven't forgotten about the large floral print.

It's been on my mind. So has a friend of mine. For most of her adult life, she has been one of those statistics linking mental illness to homelessness. Round and round she has gone, from apartment, to car, to shelter to car, working part-time jobs that don't let her stay too long at any one place. Apart from all that, she is creative soul, a loving mother and a grandmother. Feminine, dark and strong (are you catching my drift yet?).

I saw her two weeks ago when she was in town to see her youngest "babies" (11-y-o twins), and she was acting different, "crazy" for lack of a more respectful word. Last year was very hard on her, with a freak car accident, imprisonment, and release to homelessness, this time without a car. Recently things seemed more hopeful, as she'd found a subsidized apartment, but she appeared more bewildered and agitated than I'd ever seen her.

Still, at that visit two weeks ago, my friend showed such genuine appreciation of my foster girl B.'s bodacious character, and she made such a sweet effort to invite B. up to the apartment where the twins live with their father, suggesting that we five "girls" get together for an outing over the holidays. A visit to the Des Moines Art Center was mentioned! How fun.

On that visit, may it come to pass, I would love to bring her a quilt made of that dark, strong, feminine fabric I've been struggling with.

With large, busy prints, I seem to like the contrast of "Irish chains". (Remember my recent quilt from an earlier post). Yesterday, I came across this quilt, entitled (appropriately enough for today!), "Poppy Fields":

I am imagining the dark floral print in place of the white blocks, however, and solids or near-solids as the chains, with gray as the allover background color that tones down the jumpy floral. Here is my "first draft":

I think I need horizontal chains, as well as the vertical ones. The medium-tone purple will have to go; it competes too much with the gray. The chains will have to read either = white (vertical) or = black (horizontal). I have some forest greens that will look good with the light pink. Those are my friend's colors: black, pink, gray, forest green, and too much vivid, amazing Technicolor life for her mind to handle...

Meanwhile, our first snow today has me thinking other holiday thoughts. I have a bin of reds and greens set aside for a Christmas quilt. So far, I've found two patterns that interest me. This, one, called River Trees, by Jan Magee:

And this one, from a book of antique quilts (I believe the greens have faded):

How about you? Do you have any Christmas quilts you are itching to make?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A square of sunlight

I've been hunkering down through the halfways of a lot of projects. Here is the Dresden plate project at about 1/3 done (remember I have 19 of these blocks). These blocks are shown as if sewn for effect, but are not attached.

Some of you have asked, will I use different color backgrounds. The answer is:

For better or worse, I have only enough of the inky-black fabric to make 12 blocks. If I could have gotten away with 14-inch blocks, I would have several more. But I determined I needed 15-inch blocks, and we all know that 45"-wide fabric is really only 42" (and that a 2-by-4 is more like 1.5" x 3.5").

By "inky black" I mean indigo--"midnight blue" for you Crayola kids. Indigo--that fugitive shade of the rainbow--is a marvelous, plant-based dye originating in Africa that colored the first Levi's, the blue on the first American flag, and (I just learned) was used as currency long before that (see this review of a recent book about indigo, looks interesting). I'm 99% sure my blues are synthetic lookalikes, but nonetheless it seems appropriate to be working with these "midnight blue" fabrics as the dark season sets in.

(Barbara Brackman, quilt historian par excellence, has several posts on indigo: here, here, and here)

I know several people who experience SADD-ness at Earth's autumnal leanings, but for me there is a kind of excitement, the kind we got as kids huddling together under blankets in our indoor forts. The fact is that as fall fades into winter, sunlight becomes more precious. Over the weekend I had a wonderful moment. Usually, handwork is for multi-tasking: watching TV, attending a meeting. But midafternoon on a Saturday, buoyed by my dogs' giddy aggregations, I spotted a square of sunlight in a place I rarely sit, grabbed my Dresden handwork, sat and stitched.

I think this is what is meant by "living in the moment". Instead of "using my time wisely", I chose to enjoy some of what finitude has to offer.

Evidently, this idea is nothing new.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Half a story

Here is a half of a Star Quilt I made in the last few days:

It is for a special person in South Dakota, someone who "adopted" me as her mom. She's going through some particularly hard times now. Her biological mom has only a couple of months to live, and she and her two sisters can't afford the gas to drive to Fargo to visit. On top of that, one of her two beloved twin "aunties" is sick. And sadly, this "daughter", D., suffered her own personal devastation this August.

I met D. when she was 15, on a solo trip up to Green Grass, South Dakota. I set out to paint a church whose exterior was peeling badly. It was the only non-residential structure in that reservation town, a little white Gothic church on the Plains, and I thought it deserved a decent coat of paint.

Her father Morris had community service hours to work off, and so he was assigned to help--which he did, by making coffee, spinning tales of his youthful exploits, smoking cigarettes, and cursing at me in Lakota, telling me not to work so g'damn hard. Morris was particularly amused that he was on the board of directors of the church, whose services he never attended. Morris introduced me with pride to his mother and D., living together in a tiny cabin with him. His cousin, suffering from liver disease, joined the cause and had a bit more elbow grease to offer. Eventually, a church group materialized to help me finish the project. This was about the time my workers had received their monthly checks and returned to their habitual drinking, so I was glad to escape Morris's sloppy and disheartening protestations of love.

During that "work trip" I attended a Give-Away, or Wopila (see the definition here) feast, which occurs at the one-year anniversary of a person's death, when all of the deceased's possessions are given away, along with gifts made just for the occasion. It's a beautiful tradition that impressed me deeply. White people could seriously learn some things from it. The women had made several Star Quilts, some of which included buffalo or American flag-themed appliques on the design.

That fall--early November as I remember it--I received a letter that Morris had died in a car accident and his funeral was to be that weekend. The next day I packed a small bag, got in my car and drove. When I arrived twelve hours later, the basement of the little white church was packed and the wake was underway. The driver of the vehicle was present, inconsolable and drunk. Others in the community remembered me. The wake would continue late into the night with the funeral and burial the next day. A country gospel band seemed to play continuously.

The cousin who'd worked with us found me and we drove to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes to place in Morris's casket. He urged me to read the obituary in the local paper. To my surprise, I was named as a survivor. And the painting of the Green Grass church was listed as one of Morris's proudest accomplishments.

We laughed hard at that one, but I laughed in part to cover my shock.

As I was leaving, the family gave me the choice of two or three beautiful Star Quilts. I chose this one. It has been used and loved ever since--on the wall and on the bed.

But that is just half of the story. (More of the story is told here.)