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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Thoughts on Love and Valentine's Day

Today is a beautiful day.

It is the type of winter day we are occasionally treated to here in northern Minnesota...and the type of day that makes me love winter. The sun is shining, the snow is sparkling, and the sky is a hopeful shade of blue.

But my heart is heavy.

Today is Valentine's Day. Normally I exchange cards with my husband but that's about it. It is one of those made up holidays, after all. And truthfully I always feel melancholy on Valentine's Day. It makes me think of loves lost, non-reciprocal love, and makes me feel sad for those who don't or haven't known love.

This year is different.

It's only been about seven weeks that I learned that I have metastatic breast cancer, also known as Stage IV breast cancer. Simply, I learned right before Christmas that the cancer I had "beat" in 1999 and again in 2003 had returned...this time taking up primary residence in my lung with some vacation homes in my pelvis, femur, and spine.

There will be other times to rant and rave about what it is like to have cancer back in my life 17 years after my primary diagnosis when I was so close to that magic 20-year mark. There will be other times to post about what this new life of mine is, and means, and how it will end.

But back to my reason for posting: Valentine's Day. Sigh.

I have never needed a reason to 'remember" those I love. I have never needed a wake up call to my own good fortune. I don't need to be reminded to "live every day" or "love like there's no tomorrow".

Ugh. All of that garbage makes me want to scream!

The truth is I knew the second I met my husband that I had won the lottery. He loved me fully and unconditionally then and that has never changed. And I get to luxuriate in the power of that love every day. He has ridden this roller coaster with me for almost 27 years, and he's always making sure I have the best ride of anyone!

I have never doubted the love of my beautiful daughter. I distinctly remember the moment when as a toddler she took me by the hand and my heart fluttered...because in that touch was the trust and promise and bond of a love that can never be lost. Even though she is miles away I can feel it as powerfully as if she were sitting next to me right now.

I am so lucky to bask in the sunshine of my son's love every day. Because he lives with us, I am treated to his honest, unapologetic displays of affection: the same way he has showed me love ever since he mastered the workings of his own body, especially his ability to smile. I am treated to his love like a waterfall that never stops. It is his nature and I am the lucky recipient.

I know I am loved.

I don't need flowers, or chocolates or cards, to know it.

I know that I am incredibly lucky. I am cared for. I am supported. I am entirely who I am because of these three.

The part that I am struggling with, the part that I dislike so much about Valentine's Day is: how on earth do I let them know how deeply, how tenderly, how furiously I love them? The love in my heart overwhelms me. It is actually painful. My heart physically hurts. I cannot breathe when I think of it. There is no poetry, no perfect sunrise (or sunset for that matter), no music, no beauty that I could hold out to them and say...this, this is how I feel.

And, honestly, it is the way I have always felt. But the desire to tell them is now more incessant and immediate.

Simply put, they have made my life a LIFE.

They have given me everything I have ever wanted or could ever need.

Somehow one day I will find a way to tell them. I will keep trying.

I will keep accepting their love.

and I will keep loving them.

The bravery to love despite the pain that comes from it, is the truest meaning of love I can imagine. It is amazing that we humans continue to do it, knowing that we risk heartbreak.

I will continue to love until my heart bursts into flames with its intensity. I will never, never stop.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Vintage Scraps Under Control! (A Lesson in Patience and Hard Work)

Well I realize that title does not make this seem like it's going to be a fun post, but believe me the pay off is BIG!

Years ago I purchased a bag of fabric scraps that included feedback remnants and other fun prints. I had all kinds of ideas of using them up in something fun, but the state they were in kept me from doing anything with them. They were a complete knotted mess of small pieces bound together with frayed ends. UGH! So I threw them in a drawer which I would occasionally open, look side eyed at and quickly shut.

Now I've moved into a new house with a studio that provides little to no storage space. Unwanted things must go! The scraps had been lovingly packaged into a box (dumped) and moved into our basement. This week I decided it was time I forced myself to deal with them.

The first thing I did was free each piece from the mess and press the heck out of them (years of wrinkles are miraculously stubborn!) As I pressed each piece I finally got a chance to really see what I had. There were some awesome prints like these two which are some of my favorites:


Almost all of the pieces were the discarded cuts from someone cutting out clothing patterns. If you've ever seen what's left after cutting out patterns you know they are weird shapes with very little useable fabric. Some of them were even partially made clothing or the remnants of clothing that had been torn up like this piece which was a shirt collar:


But that didn't stop me!
I pressed on (ha!) and sorted as I went. Happily I did discover some larger pieces of fabric including a complete feedsack (yahoo!). Sadly most of the pieces were tiny and some prints were only found on the tiniest of scraps. Still, nothing was thrown away!

Once everything was pressed and sorted I had a decision to make. Was I going to just box them all back up? The problem with that idea was that I realized I'd be taking up a lot of precious storage space with completely unusable bits of fabric. After some online searching coupled with soul searching I decided to start cutting. Even saying that still makes me feel squeamish even though I know it was the right decision. As my husband said, "Now I can turn someone else's trash into treasure!" For real!

I decided on the following plan:
1. I would save any truly large pieces (fat quarter or larger...okay I broke this with a couple of my favorite prints which I want to savor). These pieces needed to be basically square. All strange cling on pieces were removed and cut into smaller bits.
2. When it came to cutting I started with the largest pieces first.
3. At all times I took into account the size of the scrap and determined how to get the most out of it...I really tested my math skills on this one...and now you know why it took a whole week to finish!
4. After setting aside the largest piece that would remained uncut (and there weren't that many) I decided on the following sizes of cuts: 5" square, 2 1/2" squares, 1 1/2" squares, 2 1/2" strips, and 1 1/2" strips. I chose these sizes because they can be used together and are common precut sizes often found in jelly rolls and charm packs.
5. I only kept 1 1/2" and 2 1/2" strips if they were close to or over 12" in length.
This method meant I did A LOT of cutting. But it also meant I had very little discarded fabric.
The project was slow, seemed endless, and required me to be very persnickety. It was unlike cutting yardage because each cut was unique to each piece!

Here's an example of some scraps before and after I cut them to give you an idea of the process:

  

 I was pretty excited when I was able to actually fussy cut some of the pieces :)


As I mentioned there were some really tiny scraps. Some were only large enough to get a 2 1/2" square or two. Sadly, this is the only piece I have of this particular fabric, and I love it! :


Finally after five days I have everything cut! The photo doesn't quite capture the amount of time I put into this!


But these pictures of my vintage stash make me so happy!

Larger pieces and 2 1/2" strips
1 1/2" strips, 1 1/2" squares, 5" squares & 2 1/2" squares

I now have an organized stash of vintage fabrics from big cuts or specialty fabric pieces that went uncut like this barkcloth:


Here's the lot of larger pieces I have left. The full feedsack is in the upper right corner. Isn't that print great? Someday I may have the courage to cut it...but not today! :


Of course I also didn't have the heart to cut into my favorite print. I just love what it says in the selvedge: "Fascination" A Regulated Cotton "Never Misbehaves"!


I don't know what's in store, but I am resting easy knowing I finally kept the promise I made to myself all those years ago when I bought that bag! I know that now that these fabrics are ready I can jump right in to designing a great quilt!

Hooray for patience and hard work!

This piece was cut by the original owner!


Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Fabulous Friday Full of Fun

I had such a FUN day yesterday, Friday Jan 27th!

First (a little less fun but worth noting) I started my first week off of my chemo med! YAY! I will be putting all my mental mojo toward recuperating my white cell counts over the next week, getting some good sleep, and preparing myself to restart chemo next Friday fresh as a daisy and raring to fight! I also had an appointment with my fabulous Oncologist wo was very pleased with how I've been handling this regimen, and gave me the go ahead to keep plugging along :) I've said it before, but in our current political climate (which seems to be anti-smarts and anti-healthcare) thank heaven for wonderful medical care, science, research, clinical trials and pharmaceutical companies. My wonderful life is officially brought to you by big brained people with integrity who devote their life to finding a cure for cancer and I am indebted to them. Period.

Soapbox put away...So I can move on to the truly FUN part of my day. I went to the Fabulous Fantastic Phenomenal McTavish Quilting Studio located right here in little old Duluth, MN and run by the world reknowned, award winning, living life with gusto, uber talented shero Karen McTavish. This was my third time quilting a quilt at the studio. Each and every time I have found Karen and her partner in crime Cheryl to be nothing short of inspirational, supportive, generous, creatively motivating and empowering. They do all they can to help you finish your quilt your way....whether it's something modern that you want to artistically quilt every little square inch of, something you just want to get done so you can move on to the next project, or an heirloom you want to quilt in a traditional way, they completely have your back and it is so special to see in action. Seriously, do not wait...if you want to learn to quilt your own quilts, this is the place to do it. You will never regret it! Check out McTavish quilting studio on the web, or visit in person at 1831 E 8th St in Duluth.

On to MY day....I recently finished the Frances Firefly lap quilt (the finished top was 62 x 72 inches...yes I know, that's a big lap!) This is the first time I ever made a quilt from one designer's pattern that I followed to the T. It is also the first time I even used the designer's fabrics in exactly the way she used them in her quiltWhat I'm saying here is: I did not, per my usual modus operandi put my twist on this quilt at all. Okay, wait, I just lied...I made one small change. In the original quilt teach firefly "bottom" is made with solid white fabric. I substituted the color highlight (which is a bright yellow from Kona cotton) to closer replicate a firefly's glowing tail.

Here's a picture of the completed firefly blocks:




And here's a picture of the completed quilt top:




Just as an FYI, the pattern is called "Frances Firefly" and it is designed by the very talented Elizabeth Hartman. She does all kinds of adorable patterns including her Fancy Forest Quilt, Hazel the Hedgehog (with optional glasses), Bjorn the Bear, and so many more. Her patterns can easily be found at your local quilt store. (My personal fave local shop is Hannah Johnson Fabrics located in Lakeside at 4511 E Superior St in Duluth. Say "hi" to Janet for me if you go!)

So, I love my Frances Firefly  quilt top but since it didn't have a lot of "me" in it, I wasn't completely in love with it. Until, that is, I started quilting. There was a lot of blank space surrounding the offset firefly blocks. That gave me a ton of open space to go wild with some awesome Karen inspired "Mctavishing" style quilting. The grey essex linen (one of my favorites) was a fun textured background to quilt on!

Here is a picture of the free motion wavy line pattern underway:




And here are a couple of pictures of the freemotion background as I got into the firefly bodies. The lines got smaller, and finding a directional path was difficult at times, but always completely FUN!







I had to take this cool picture from underside the longer...look at how the light from above lit up this firefly block like stained glass! Cool, right?




To balance out the curves, I did some freehand straight line quilting in each of the firefly wings and a fun spiral on each of their little bottoms :) I also straight line quilted each firefly body perpendicular to te quilting in the wings. Sorry, no pics of that.







And (cue the horns blowing) here is a picture of the completed quilt showing the movement that I hope replicates the fluttering of their wings!




Just for fun here's a pic of the back of the quilt showing the piecing I did using all Elizabeth Hartman fabric. The colors are so saturated and lovely :)




And here's another closeup of the quilting detail...it just makes you want to touch it!




All that's left for me to do is sew a binding onto this quilt. I'm thinking it will be made up of scraps to bring some of that gorgeous color to the edges.

I have to say what an amazing thing it is that with the help of Karen I was totally able to create the image and feel of what I had imagined before I came into the studio. This is what makes a great teacher....direction, but not the kind that overtakes your goal... direction that allows you to express your vision.



In closing I want to suggest that you tretch your wings, friends! Go outside of your comfort zone. Be brave. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. You will make new friends, learn new skills, and you will open up a whole world of creative opportunities that you never knew existed!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Falling Leaves Quilt

I wanted to take a bit and relish the experience of having completed my banner quilt (the one up there in the banner!) and show some details of it from start to finish.



This particular quilt journey started when I found the hand sewn blocks at a garage sale. There was a whole group of them...most of them in 1930's era solids and a few in prints. I bought them for very little more than a few pennies. But like many quilters I honestly can't pass things like this up when I see them in garage sales and the like. Knowing that someone worked their heart out to create something special, something I'm sure they loved, only to have it remain unfinished and eventually sold for pocket lint is just too much for me to bear! I particularly enjoy things that are unique, hand sewn, and/or show a particular spark of something...whether it's excellent craftsmanship, unique design choices, or just Something that catches my eye, I don't know what it is exactly but I know it when I see it! And these blocks definitely had IT!



There were easily enough blocks for a whole quilt. Each block consisted of a very unique leaf which was usually cut from a bright solid or in a few cases an interesting patterned fabric. Each leaf was appliquéd onto a square of muslin. In this case it was very thin fabric...more on that later! Around each appliqué the used the standard blanket stitch. Additionally the same black thread was used to embroider the stem of each leaf as well as the leaf's veins in chain stitch. See? Unique! Original! That fun spark that caught my eye!!!



Here's a photo of what they looked like:







In order to deal with the somewhat fragile nature of the background fabric, I cut squares of muslin and glue basted (just a couple of dots of Roxanne's Glue Baste-It) in the seam allowance.

Then came the fun part...deciding what I was going to do with them! At first I thought I would just sew them together to simulate falling leaves...simple, right? Yeah, well, that's just not me. Instead I bought about a billion trillion fat quarters of mismatched (but matching to my eyes) fun, colorful fabric to use as sashing between the blocks. I also bought some adorable gnome fabric (leaves, right?) to use as cornerstones between the sashing. Plus let's not forget this freaking awesome bird fabric and well, sure, I might as well buy some mushroom fabric (theme, anyone?) so I can fussy cut them for the borders. And just like that what started out as a low cost easy peasy quilt turned into an expensive adventure! Here's a close up of the top as I had it laid out before sewing:









And here's a closeup of the completed top:









Here's a picture of the entire top showing the fussy cut borders (my design wall was too small at this point!):









What can go wrong with mushrooms, gnomes, and birds?









This quilt ended up being the perfect size for our queen bed. Here's a picture of Baloo as a puppy enjoying the completed quilt. Because he is what we affectionately call "a chewer" (understatement) and he is now a full grown puppy, the qult is put away until I can trust him. In the meantime he can destroy a cheap Target quilt!










This is the first of what I know has become a line of "rescue" projects. I LOVE taking these incomplete makes and turning them into something that is totally me. I also hope that the completed piece reflects the feeling of the original maker. Hopefully she/he would be proud of what we accomplished together.








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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

struggle

struggle.

within or without?

i will take without.

at the least there is something to rail against

someone to persuade

and the comfortable righteousness of my own principles.

within is so very different.

i rail against myself.

my principles lie in tatters.

i am cruel.

i am indomitable.

i am unforgiving.

i do not fight fair.

through experience

i know

it comes down to

self re-creation.

not a kind of renewal or rebirth that sounds lovely, painless,

and uplifting.

my reality says

there is no higher plane.

there is the fight.

the struggle.

the mourning that comes with the loss

of the self i once was.

the shrugging into the new self,

trying out its boundaries and limitations

like an uncomfortable suit,

and then, finally acceptance.

this is not to say

that change may not eventually be appreciated,

but the patch is always there in my inner self,

sometimes stronger than that which was removed,

but more often needing extra support, attention,

or special treatment.

i reflect on the life of the scarecrow

patched together from discarded rags,

used shoes,

stuffing and sticks for flesh and a backbone of wood and nails.

he gets recycled in the field, year after year.

perhaps needing a new shirt to hold in the scraps of his body

or to be filled with more substance

in order for his limbs to do their job of menacing the crows.

who was he once?

how does he feel about who he is now?

or does he just accept it,

settle into his new self

and grin?

i think i am like the scarecrow.

patched

molded

worn

rebuilt

stuffed and splinted and stitched.

a spine made of wood and fasteners and grit…

whatever is handy

to ensure it does its job.

it keeps me standing

despite the temptation to fall.

i am left to struggle because the struggle is what there is,

the true make-up of that which holds me together:

sinew and muscle and bone.

the struggle keeps time turning.

but still

it becomes more difficult to stand.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

untitled

nothing to say

only bland weak thoughts

or flashes of internal light

that spit and immediately grow dim.

my mind wanders like a firefly

caught in the updrafts of emotion,

fleeting sites,

the smell of something once enjoyed,

the heat of a body just out of reach,

left to close off and slowly dim

until the pulsing light is merely a
  
retinal tattoo,

a smear in the dark.

a ghost of some once present thought,

now forgotten.

thoughts fade like breath on a window,

a dying star

only to be noticed

too late

and left unexplored.

left to wonder

from whence it came

what depths were left unplumbed

what treasures

will remain buried.

inspiration

with not enough inhalation

and far too much

exhalation.

to pause between is the key.

Evidence of a Life