Monday, July 18, 2016

The day I came back to life

We all have those pivotal moments in our lives that we can look back on and see exactly where our path changed. I had a moment like that back in the fall of 1993, as clear as the ringing of a bell. I was working on a quilt, using a crappy sewing machine that fought me on every stitch. Quilting was my haven from the hectic life of raising four rambunctious boys, it was the only thing I did that stayed done. I loved everything about quilting, especially the math-yness, the puzzling out the numbers of yardage, pieces to cut, the order of construction. Kent found me sobbing in frustration as I ripped out again, a seam that my machine couldn't manage. Somehow, in that moment, I knew that quilting was "my thing", it was going to be "my thing". Because he believes in me more than I can ever understand, we figured out how to get me the machine I needed (a used Bernina 1530), and, well, here I am today.

For twenty years I knew who I was and where I was going, and I was making good time. The boys were growing up into fine young men (much to my relief) and my career in quilting was successful beyond my wildest dreams. Opportunities weren't just knocking on my door, they were pounding and I said yes, come in, have a seat, make yourself at home. It was exciting, fulfilling, challenging and meaningful.

And then the wheels came off in a slow motion crash and burn. There wasn't any bright moment of enlightenment, but a slow dawning that I was tired and unhappy. I felt pigeon-holed, trapped by my own success, and that I had used up all of my smart words. So I stopped saying yes to everything, and finally stopped saying yes to anything. This was supposed to make me happy.

Instead, I found myself in this weird sort of limbo. Having this luxury of time, but without focus, feels rather self-indulgent and wasteful. Don't get me wrong, I've been having all sorts of fun being off task. There are knitting groups, embroidery guilds, fiber artisan groups, spinning groups, and quilting guilds galore. I've joined them all, met some really terrific people and learned some wonderful stuff.

At the same time I've come to see that this life of going with the flow doesn't really suit me. I'm just too young to be this old. I've realized that I have a few words left that someone might yet like to hear. I've remembered that I get to be in charge of who I am and where I go, and I have mad skills!

When I look back on this time, twenty years from now, I want to see this as the day I came back to my life. I'll see all of the growth that came in my time off, even the time that felt wasted because it taught me what feels restful. I'll see that the path wasn't straight, that I often didn't even know where it was going, but I still went, and darned if I didn't make good time.

Maybe it's silly to think I can look back from the future, but I'm going to go with it. How else do we find purpose and direction for our lives? All I know is that I've flunked retirement. Watch out world, I have no idea what comes next, any more than I did in ninety-three, but I just know it's going to be awesome.

Monday, March 28, 2016

About the yellow

There was no doubt that the applique needed some yellow. It was always just a matter of how the yellow would get there. Originally I had intended to embroider simple flowers, just lazy daisies, in several shades of yellow pearl cotton. I even stitched a few in place. But it just didn't work for me.

I decided to just stumble ahead and hope that an idea would present itself, and it finally did. I've been trying to be less literal in my applique design. I think my science background just hungers for accuracy. But my flower garden isn't a faithful rendition of any real flowers. I could call them zinnias, or cottage roses and you'd probably go along. And all those circles I like to toss in, what are those supposed to be in real life?

It occurred to me that if random circles are okay, perhaps commas could work. It's a shape that I like a lot. It's the shape of a single feather in traditional quilting. It's a paisley, or a petal. They have a bit of motion, with that little curve by the point.

So, out came a scrap of Wash Away Sheets.

I used a pencil to sketch out the shapes, using the original placement lines for the embroidery flowers to suggest the size. (I've traced over them with sharpie here so they are easier to see.)

Working with the same fabrics from the yellow pieced block, I made up a few, just to test out the idea, and I liked it!

Since I figured I'd roughly need about six thousand templates (slight exaggeration, it's actually closer to a hundred), I recreated the shapes using my Silhouette and let the machine do the cutting.

Yeah, that's a little bit of yellow there. I didn't plan, just made an assortment using three different yellow fabrics and three different sizes of commas.

So, I'm busy stitching down commas. My literal brain really wants to add a couple of green lazy daisies to the base of each comma, just to give them a place to grow from, you know? But I'm resisting. At this point it's hard to tell if what I'm adding is improving the design or just a ploy to prevent me from finishing.

Thanks so much for all your kind comments and concern. I'm feeling terrific. I've worked through the shock of having a heart attack, which is something that happens to other people, and celebrating the extra time I have been given.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Happy to still be here

There is no other way to say it than to just say it. In the early hours of March 7, 2016 I had a heart attack. I'm fine. Honestly. Because I knew the early warning signs, which are very different in women, I got to the hospital in plenty of time to avoid permanent damage to my heart.

I won't go into all the gory details, just suffice it to say that the monstrous heart burn and jaw pain were enough early warning to have me concerned. The nausea and lightheadedness that followed sealed the deal.

The five minute drive to the hospital gave me just enough time to consider my mortality and be grateful for matching (and clean) underwear (not that anyone besides me noticed). Just mention chest pain and you won't be wearing much very quickly.

The first blood test was inconclusive, the second blood test changed all that, and the third blood test had me bundled off to the cath lab for some quality time with a balloon and a stent to repair a completely blocked right artery.

Within 36 hours my blood enzyme levels had returned to normal levels and I was sent home to start my new life as a heart attack survivor. Because we got there so early in the attack I have nearly no damage to my heart. It's funny, on one hand I don't feel any different at all. I'm still me, and yet everything has changed. I'm shopping for stylish medical alert bracelets and nitro pill holders.

The hardest part was telling my family. To be honest, I felt pretty ashamed, certain that I had brought this on myself. The marvelous cardiac care nurses assured me that being embarrassed was a waste of good energy. I don't have any underlying conditions, despite being overweight, my blood pressure and cholesterol are just fine. Let's face it: my sole purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others. If just one woman's heart is also spared because of what happened to me then I've done my job.

I made sure to call my sons myself. I didn't want them to have even a moment's panic while Kent got from "Mom had a heart attack" to "but she's okay". I figured if they heard my voice they would already be reassured. My youngest son assured me that I couldn't die, I didn't have the most fabric yet. (Yeah, he's a keeper.)

I'll be on special meds for at least a year while my body gets comfortable with the stent. It will take a little while to get all of my energy back and to get past that feeling of fragility that comes when a crucial body part misbehaves.

It seems that having such a great outcome means there must be something left for me to do in this world, hopefully still a long way off. What ever it might be, I'm already back to putting the finishing touches on A Fine Romance. I think I can be forgiven for missing the Tuesday deadline for basting the thing. I was in the hospital with a heart attack after all. (I plan to claim "heart attack" now anytime I feel the need to princess out, I'm going to milk it for all its worth.)

If you're a woman, or love a woman, please make sure you understand what a heart attack looks like so you can have the same great outcome as I have. Just google it and read several articles. It might just save your life too.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Making Progress

I hoped that laying out the finished parts of A Fine Romance would light a fire under me, and it has, sort of. You can see that all that remains to be appliqued is half of one border, and some parts in the corners where the seams come together. Nothing much, really, compared to the work done so far.

It hasn't taken much to stall the project and I'm trying to figure out why. I've always thought that projects become UFOs for good reason. Often it's because we are unsure of the next step, or we lose faith in the outcome. I realized that I was going to be short of leaves and the burden of making more leaves was almost crushing. Honestly. I didn't count when I started making the leaves. We were holed up in the extended stay hotel when I was working on them and we were so stressed that even counting leaves was iffy. Turns out I only needed leaves that tip to the left, I still have a big old pile of leaves that tip to the right.

Being a few leaves short of a border (a teacup short of a place setting, a sandwich short of a picnic) I figured this would be a great time to put that Silhouette back to work.  After just a little experimentation the trusty machine was spitting out lovely, perfect templates for the needed leaves. In the end it took less than two hours to make 25 more leaves. (It would have been less time but I was binging on old Downton Abbey episodes and one must look up to ogle the dresses.)

So, the last half of the border is now pinned in place and I'm stitching away. Quilt guild meeting is next Tuesday and I have a half-hearted goal of having the top together so I can use the church tables to baste the quilt. There, I've said it, it's out in the universe, perhaps that will shame me into getting it done.

On the personal front, we have finally accepted an offer on the Saginaw house. Yay! We have every digit crossed that all the dotting of the Is and crossing of the Ts will go smoothly. That wonderful old house needs to be loved and it sounds like the buyers are just the right folks to do it.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Testing, testing, 1-2-3

When I first learned to applique (way back in the dark ages), there was a lot about the process I didn't like. There seemed to be a lot of extra steps, making extra work without extra value. I think in another life time I might have been an efficiency engineer. I love the idea of doing my best work with the least amount of effort. Streamlining the process is what has lead me to the technique I call "Hand Applique by Machine" (or, as Craftsy prefers "Machine Finished Hand Applique").

Instead of sewing everything twice (basting), I glue baste, for example. And to avoid the step of removing the freezer paper, I developed Wash Away Applique Sheets.

Another tedious, but vital, step in the process is cutting out the templates. I tried to make it quicker by stapling and cutting multiple layers of templates, and that works just fine. But what if we could just send a little file to a machine and hey, presto! perfect templates? It's just as easy as sending a document to the printer, but this machine spits out applique!
I've considered all sorts of die cutting options. The problem with die cutting machines is that the sizes are set, a die for a rose will only ever make a rose that size. But a file for an electronic cutter can be scaled to any size! Look at all those perfect templates, cut from my WAAS.
I've been playing with my Silhouette Cameo. I'm learning how to use the design tools, which are really pretty simple.

I love that I can make perforated lines for the internal shapes, which will make it very easy to keep the parts of a motif together. There is also a process for writing on the shapes, which will help in organizing the shapes for a large project. I'll be playing with that next.
I'm not completely happy with this project yet. I really don't like my fabric choices, so I'll be reworking it and making it again. But I am thrilled with the possibilities of easily cutting my applique templates, just look at those perfect circles, imagine being able to make them in any size! I wonder, though, is this a gadget that applique quilters could love? Would you be tempted by a pattern that included a file for an electronic die cutter?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Because I am a clutz

I really should know better than to leave a cup of coffee near anything I value. This time it was just a few splatters on the unsewn end of one of the applique borders. It would have been luckier if it had been on the border that isn't sewn yet, but I don't know anyone who plans on being a dork.
Most of the coffee washed out, what remains will just add to the subtle variations already in the fabric. Despite my best efforts, washing out the coffee also meant getting part of the applique wet. This half of the center rose was left unstitched, waiting for the remaining applique shapes to be pinned in place.

After washing I tossed the border into the dryer. I certainly didn't want to leave it sitting wet, a sure invitation to any colors that might feel like a jog into the background fabric. I had to leave the house, and I didn't want to leave the border all jumbled up in the dryer, especially if it didn't get entirely dry. So I spread the border out on the cutting table and slipped a ruler under the applique to protect the background from the slightly damp fabric.

The piece got wet enough to release some of the glue basted edges. Some of the Wash Away Applique Sheet templates also started to disintegrate, but a little quality time with a glue stick will fix this right up. Disaster averted this time, but somehow I doubt that I've actually learned my lesson.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A silk painted rose

This little rose was my first attempt at painting on silk. I was hooked from the start. I have signed up for two more classes and set up a nice little space in the basement for the delightfully messy stuff. On this piece, I've used clear gutta to define the shapes. Gutta is a resist to contain the flow of the paint to specific areas, acting like a sort of dam to hold back the paint.

After the gutta was washed out I found that I lost some of the paint with it, especially in the center. I also ended up with white silk showing where the stems were meant to go, which I liked because it just begs for embellishment.
Silk is very slippery and thin, so I ironed a hunk of Wash Away Applique Sheet to the wrong side as a stabilizer, and hauled out my box of silk embroidery floss. My first thought was to replace the missing paint in the center with embroidery stitches.
Nope. The blending of shades of pink didn't work as hoped. The stitching just looked clunky and forced, so it got picked away. The nice thing about silk is that it's pretty tough and the holes just closed right in.
What it needed was a more refined hand. I started in the center of the rose, outlining each petal, using the stitches to replace the lines that the gutta had left. As I worked, though, I felt that perhaps, once again, I was being to literal. As I got to the buds I decided to let the lines be a little more abstract, unfinished, more sketched in than actual outlines.
By the time I got to the last leaves I realized that thinner lines would be even better, so I used just two strands of the six stranded floss here. If I were starting over, I think I'd go even finer, something to try next time.
Here it is. I love how the leaves look. Best of all, this little slip of a project (it's just about 4 by 6 inches) has left me thinking about how I would do the next one differently. I won't try to fix this any further, I think I've learned all it has to tell me.

What a luxury for me, creating these little cast-offs, just little bits of this or that I can use for trying out new ideas. It seems like forever since I've had the time to "waste" on things that may not turn out. Deadlines can do that to you. It's taken me a long time to unwind from the deadline rat race too, to leave behind that feeling that every moment must be productive or I will fail, disappoint or come up short. A feeling that's left me entirely unproductive, paralyzed, feeling guilty and a little lost. Finally I am looking forward to not getting it right the first time. I have entered the joyful land of the do-over.