Not Waving, but Drowning

notwavingdrowning_front2Not Waving, But Drowning
Quilt #173
39″ high by 43″ wide

This quilt began its life in a quilt block I designed, which I call Semaphore.   My friend Cindy saw that and made a version for a fabric manufacturer, who then put it on a world tour (see a photo at the end).  I saw it again at Quilt Market in May 2016, and decided I wanted one myself, only larger.

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I purchased several charm packs of solids, and arrayed them all out by color family and from dark to light, using several color groupings.  There were many duplicate squares, but after I felt I had a good amount, I went to work.  More information about the layout and design ideas as well as how to quilt this can be found in the pattern, for sale on Craftsy.

I titled the block Semaphore, but always in the back of my mind while I was working on this quilt was the poem titled “Not Waving, but Drowning,” by Stevie Smith, about a man who gets in trouble while out in the waves.  He drowns because people think he was waving, but in reality, he was signaling for help.

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I think the half-square triangles look like a series of nautical flags, waving in the wind.  I decided to quilt it also in a wavy pattern, but didn’t want a tightly controlled wave.

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I wanted those waves loose and lanky, wild and woolly, just like those ones that come up and splat you in the face when you are wave-jumping in summer.

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I love the colors in this quilt, and the up and down fluid movement of the quilting. It calls me to remember that our lives, like the ocean, can lift us high, can hit us in the face, can overwhelm (as in Stevie Smith’s poem), yet also can bring a lovely memory of a summer’s day. In a nutshell, it reminds me that life is full of ups and downs, a blend of dark and light.  It’s also a reminder that, in spite of what we post on Instagram and Facebook, we all aren’t having tons of fun and radiantly happy all day long.  But we also don’t want to be drowning when we are in reality signaling for help.  So, take care of your loved ones and friends, and please please…take care of yourself.

And keep quilting.

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cindyquiltsemaphore

Cindy’s quilt at Quilt Market, using the Semaphore block.

 

(NOTE: This post has been updated with different content after original publication.  It was originally about depression.  Thank you all for your comments; I have them saved and will reread them often.)

tiny nine patches

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Making Progress on Oh Christmas Tree Quilt

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Remember this?  And did you know there are (at this writing) about  35 days until Christmas?  So I decided I’d better get to it.  counter-pinning_1

Since rolling around on the floor pin basting a quilt is not really something I want to do, I do my pin basting on the counters now.  Some people use ping pong tables or dining room tables, but the principles are all the same:  Tape/clamp the backing to the counter, using the edges of the counter to help locate the center of the backing, and keeping it straight.counter-pinning_2

Lay out the batting, previously cut to size.  Tape down.counter-pinning_3 counter-pinning_4

Drape the quilt over the above, matching centers and getting it on straight to both axis–both North-South and Left-Right.  (Ask me how I know this.)  But I did find out that you can unpin pretty quickly when you find out you neglected to pay attention to the Left-Right axis.  Quilt is all pinned now.

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That felt is really thick on some parts, so I used it to help scoot my needle around the disc.  I decided not to quilt through the felt ornaments, but to instead outline them.  I know I may go back in at some point and put in some stitches so that it is not too poofy, but aware of the deadline, I just outlined today.  On the first day of quilting, I did all the way around the tree–all flowers, leaves, birds and the manger scene at the bottom.oct_quilting-background2

Then I had some time left before the next interruption activity, so I had decided to keep going on the background around the tree.  I had chosen a really really really low-key free-motion design for that space, given how much was going on in the rest of the quilt.  I quilted little stars (less than 1″ tall) and loopy lines in between them, using a matching thread: Masterpiece from Superior Threads.  Bisque is my go-to color for nearly everything and it worked well here, too.oct_quilting-background

At the end of the first day I felt like I made great progress: all around the tree stuff and then all the neutral background on the righthand side.

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Day Two.  I tackled the lefthand side of the tree, filling in the background with the loopy star path, as before.  I am trying to get better at “puddling” up the quilt all around me so I don’t end up tugging and pulling as I work.  Lots to learn.  I have a Sweet Sixteen Handi-Quilter quilting machine, and I’m amazed at how much more quickly I can stitch a vast amount of quilt, than I could when using my domestic machine.oct-day-2_2

After I completed the center background fill, I outlined the triangles, then stitched in the ditch down the backside of them in a long straight line, outlining them.
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Here I am at the end of my quilting session on Day Two.  I’m now stalled at how to quilt the wonky stars and am letting my brain think about it for a while.  I might yet make my deadline of Dec. 1 if I can work out the stars challenge.

I also realized that I shouldn’t do a star-studded-over-the-top quilting job, as it will change the look of the quilt.  Those wool appliqué pieces are rather flat and glob-like, if you want to know the truth, and if I quilt heavily, it will further emphasize that they are “floating” on top of the quilt.  I’m trying to keep everything flat, not puffy, so that the quilting feels integrated with the quilt.

As I reviewed the quilts I’ve made this year, it feels like it’s been the Year of the Tiny.  Some of it is due to group challenges, like Four-in-Art, some of it is due to swaps and collaborations, and a lot of it was due to my being gone a lot from home.  I can’t get the work done if I’m not here.  Writers have a phrase for it, something to the effect of the need to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair in order to get to the writing.  And unlike writing, with its portable paper and pen (computer?), when quilting, there is a lot of stuff you need, that can only be found in the sewing studio, room, or nook.

Joseph Campbell understood the idea of a place to create, when he noted that

“To have a sacred place is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so, where you do not know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody or what they owe you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. …This is the place of creative incubation. At first, you may find nothing happens there. But, if you have a sacred place and use it, take advantage of it, something will happen.”

Annie Dillard wrote about the time she had a space upstairs in an office with a window.  She reached over and closed the blinds, even on the Fourth of July so she could keep writing, undistracted by the view, the noise, by anything.  I had a quote of hers taped to my computer when I was in grad school:

“Every morning you climb several flights or stairs, enter your study, open the French doors, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air.  The desk and chair float thirty feet from the ground, between the crowns of maple trees.  The furniture is in place; you go back for your thermos of coffee.  Then, wincing, you step out again through the French doors and sit down on the chair and look over the desktop.  You can see clear to the river from here in the winter.  You pour yourself a cup of coffee.

Birds fly under your chair.  In spring, when the leaves open in the maple’s crown, your view stops in the treetops just beyond the desk; yellow warblers hiss and whisper on the high twigs, and catch flies.  Get to work.  You work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.”

We are the same in our places of creation, whether it be the dining room, the corner of a bedroom, or a big fancy studio.  We need our place to create, we need distraction-free blocks of time.  We need to keep cranking the flywheel, to turn those creative gears.

We need to work.

tiny nine patches

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I do not know about, nor choose, the content, nor do I receive any money from these ads.
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Breaking up the Quilting Work: A Few Thoughts on Refueling While Working

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In a recent article about taking restful breaks in 99U, written by Christian Jarrett, he talks about the need for “truly restful breaks” when working hard on a project–which are different that just taking a break.  He uses a modern analogy when he writes “Just as you need to refuel your car and recharge the batteries in your cell phone, it’s important to give yourself the chance to recoup your energy levels throughout the workday. In fact, the more demanding your day, and the less time you feel like you have to take any breaks, the more crucial it is that you make sure you do take regular breaks to prevent yourself from becoming exhausted.”

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Finally stepping away from the quilt late one night

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celebrating Lisa’s birthday with our quilting group: The Good Heart Quilters

Jarrett notes that  “[N]ot just any kind of break will do. Psychologists and business scholars have recently started studying the most effective ways to relax during a workday – they call them ‘micro breaks’ – and their latest findings point to some simple rules of thumb to sustain and optimize your energy levels” which the article breaks down into a “three-step process.”
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One is to “get out of the office.”  For me, the office is my home, so I interpret that to mean to get out of the quilting room upstairs and away from those kinds of tasks.  So getting together with my long-time quilt group works for me, as well as entertaining my grandsons (above) when the come for a long Sunday afternoon.

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The article relates that “Countless studies have shown how a green environment gives us a mental recharge, and what’s really encouraging is that recent work has shown that this doesn’t have to be a tropical rainforest. A modest urban park is all it takes.”
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Taking short breaks early and often is one of the ideas.  He quotes a study from Baylor University, highlighting this interesting detail: “[I]f you take frequent breaks, then they don’t need to be as long to be beneficial – a couple of minutes might be enough. On the other hand, if you deprive yourself of many breaks, then when you do take one, it’s going to be need to be longer to have any beneficial effect.”shine-block_sashing-tryout

I noticed all of this when I was working on my Shine quilt.  I started with the backgrounds: close quilting in the “white” areas with white thread, but then what?  Coming back to the quilt after a long break from my shoulder injury, I started with outlining the circle blocks.  Another break helped me see that more detail work was needed on each circle, with sometimes as many as four thread changes for different colors.

The next conundrum was how to quilt the small “sashing” in between each block.  I drew out many ideas, but ended up choosing what you see here: some modified geometrics.  Since I try to take frequent breaks to rest my arms/shoulders while I’m doing this project, I feel like I’ve avoided some of the burnout that can occur when we see the looming deadline and quilt our brains out late into the night.

If this is your Modus Operandi, or the way you work,  you might want to be aware of Jarrett’s final thoughts about taking breaks: “[Y]ou might have the view that you’ll push yourself relentlessly during the day, squeezing every minute for what it’s worth, and then completely flake out after dark. This strategy of extremes might work for a robot, but not a human. Psychology research from the University of Konstanz in German and Portland State University shows that over-exhaustion at the end of the day makes it even more difficult to recuperate after work hours. In other words allowing yourself proper breaks during the day will make your out-of-hours recovery more effective, ultimately boosting your productivity and creativity in the weeks and months ahead.”

I’m not talking to young mothers, who find that nighttime is the only time they have to work without little helpers (although that does explain why when the baby is sick and the toddler is a pest and you fall exhausted into bed at night, that the night’s sleep doesn’t seem to provide the needed rest).  I’m talking to myself, I guess, pushing to finish off a task, always reluctant to let go of a day’s work, hoping to get “one more thing done.”  I found Jarrett’s advice helpful as well, in allowing me to understand why sometimes I just have to push back from the machine — or the computer — and take a break.

I just need to make sure it’s the right kind.

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The quilt shown is Shine: The Circles Quilt.  Free EPP patterns can be found by clicking on the link in the header of my blog.

Legacy

Mom and her quilt

This is my Mom.  Dad is nearby, as always, watching over her.

Mom's Cross-stitch

This is a quilt that took her two years of living life abroad in Lima, Peru to make, putting in one cross-stitch after another.  She sat in an upstairs window seat in our home there, overlooking a quiet suburban street — quiet, except for the time that someone missed a stop sign, careened into our yard, the car turning upside as it landed near our front window.  My dad said he thought the maid had thrown the vacuum cleaner down the stairs again.  Luckily the Clinica was a block away, so it turned out all right.

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My mother didn’t really speak Spanish, although she tried her best to communicate with the household help she was expected to keep: a maid for the household, a maid for the laundry, a man to wash the cars, and a gardener.  She took Spanish lessons, socialized with the faculty wives at the college where my Dad taught, and tried to corral her four blonde teenaged American daughters, along with the raising of the three younger sons.  But when she wasn’t juggling all that, she sat and stitched in the window seat on the second floor, by the large upstairs landing that was like a second family room.  All our bedrooms led off this landing, and perhaps it was a way to keep herself at the center of our lives? When the two years was finished, she brought the quilt back to the United States, had it quilted up by some ladies in Provo, Utah (the city to which they returned) and carried on with her life.

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On my most recent visit, her eyesight failing, she finally let me take it home.  I had her pose for a picture before I carefully put it back in its zippered pillowcase and carried it away to my upstairs extra bedroom.

We bandy about the word legacy in our quilt world so easily some times, as we confront our stacks of fabrics and magazines and books, sewing away madly, trying to keep up with the deluge of digital media and blogs and print materials and keeping our local quilt shop in business.  We are busy, aren’t we, as we are always cutting and sewing and cutting and sewing and frantically trying to outdo ourselves with the number of quilts we’ve produced in a year, going for our Olympic best, in the best competitive fashion.  Numbers!  Quantity!

My mother didn’t have Instagram.  Or the internet.  Barely any English-language magazines.  But she had a plan, several boxes of DMC teal embroidery floss, some needles and a pair of scissors, and a series of stamped cross-stitch panels that when sewn together, would make a quilt.  And she quietly worked on that.  I remember many conversations with her hands drawing the thread in and out of the fabric, as she listened, and gave advice.  Sometimes I thought — in my little 13-year-old teenage way — that she was all by herself in this thing.  I didn’t think of my mother as her own self at that point, and if I had I might have thought loneliness might be a part of the stitching, but I don’t really know. Knowing my mother made it I realize that there’s probably some of her finger-pricked DNA floating somewhere in that cloth, as well as her feelings, thoughts and memories (she missed her own mother during that time).  It has the essence of her, in a way that only a quilt that has been held and worked on for two years can have.

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Legacy’s origin comes from the Latin word “lex,” meaning law, or group of laws that are written and have become canonical, or ingrained and accepted.  And in a derivative sort of way, it (the laws, the legacy) can be a messenger, an ambassador of sorts.  And so it is with this legacy, this quilt: it is a message from a time in her life when she sat quietly and stitched, raising her seven children in a home in Peru.

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A Little Inspiration, A Little Bit of Work

Sometimes, like after I’ve been gone from sewing for a while, I need to ease my way back into the creating.  Sometimes I like to visit blogs by quilters, such as Jane Sassaman.

Sassaman collage quilt

(from Jane Sassaman’s blog)

Kevin Umana

(from Kevin Umana’s IG feed)

Other times I like to check in with artists. . .

AIGA

. . . and graphic artists. . .

inspiration Sagrada Familia

. . .architecture (photos of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona). . .

Alcazar Tiles

. . . and other makers’ work, like yours:

Quilt Makers

But then I remember that applying the seat of my pants to the sewing chair is what gets things done.  Or as Chuck Close put it:

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What gets you going, after a dry spell?

I really loved reading about all your travels, and hoped-for travels.  You do inspire me to consider new destinations to investigate.  Congratulations to Betty, our winner of the pearl cotton threads:

Betty Winner Threads

 

I’ll get those out to you in the mail.  Look for my note via email.