Some of Life’s Mysteries

Batik fat quarter in sage.

Batik fat quarter in sage.

Over the last few days I have begun a project, which I have been waiting to start for months.  This quilt is for a young woman dear to my heart, these fabrics collected since late spring.  Now it’s early autumn, time for this blanket to come together.

Another batik, this time in beige.

Another batik, this time in beige.

Some projects are like that, eagerly anticipated yet made to wait.  Others hit like a truck, but not always do I know why I feel flattened in the middle of the road.

And sometimes, there isn’t an answer, for as I pulled these fabrics from the closet, salivating over them, I learned some initially distressing news; the family for whom I had a pile of quilts was gone.  I don’t know to where, or how to reach them.  I spent part of a day ruminating over this information, wondering if I had sewn more quickly or not made quilts for the parents…  But at the end of the day, I accepted that perhaps this was a blessing I hadn’t considered all those days of cutting, piecing, and quilting.  Maybe all my thoughts for them were prayers of a sort, taking them to a better place of residence where a bevy of quilts wasn’t altogether necessary.

These were bought at Eddie's Quilting Bee in Sunnyvale; I think these two are some of my very favourite fabrics.

These were bought at Eddie’s Quilting Bee in Sunnyvale; I think these two are some of my very favourite fabrics.

A bevy of quilts; sounds better than a flock.  And of that bevy, all have been granted new homes, which lifts my heart.  The sister quilts were the hardest to place, but they will go to our church in December, landing under the giving tree for two girls who need a bright splash of warm colour.  No quilt goes unclaimed on my watch.

Add a splash of green from Beverly's in Campbell, and now we're cooking with gas.

Add a splash of green from Beverly’s in Campbell, and now we’re cooking with gas.

But back to this beloved project, which will be called a Bestie Far Away.  Not my bestie, but a bestie to someone close to my heart, which means a bestie to me, in a way.  These fabrics, many batiks, were part of the birthday pressie collection, plus a few I picked up along the way.  But as soon as I received them I knew for whom they were destined.  Yet, other quilts loitered in the queue ahead of this one, a fall quilt, autumnal in nature.  And now, the first day of October, it’s time.

Thank you lord, it’s finally time!

The completed stack; some those on top will also be incorporated into another project, hehehe....

The completed stack; some those on top will also be incorporated into another project, hehehe….

There was A LOT of fabric to cut, two hundred fifty-five squares worth, plus more for good measure.  And that doesn’t include the sashes, which will make this comforter seventeen by nineteen four-inch blocks, or sixty-eight by seventy-six inches.  That’s no small quilt, let me say, especially after my foray into baby blankets.  But fifteen by seventeen fits on my quilt wall (just), and that’s what matters.

If it fits on the quilt, bring on the piecing!

And now the hard part; which square goes where...

And now the hard part; which square goes where…

Lately I’ve been doing the actual quilting on my smaller table, where my sewing machine most often resides.  I’m thinking for this baby, sashes included, it’s going to be quilted on my big table, here in the grotto.  How shall it be quilted remains to be seen.  I’d *like* to try something different; I’ve stitched in the ditch myself nearly to tears.  But that’s a few weeks away, for today is a road trip for Dad’s next step in the battle against cancer, not a fight he can win, but more of a scrap to see who outlasts the other.  Either Dad will tire of the tussle, or cancer will concede to let nature take its course, which might sound erroneous, but sometimes life surprises us.

That family of quilts wasn’t for one particular clan after all.  Who knows where Dad’s journey on this path will take him?

About halfway; I was sending these to my eldest, getting her opinion.  She was pretty pleased.

About halfway; I was sending these to my eldest, getting her opinion. She was pretty pleased.

But this I do know; once pieced, then rows sewn, then sashed, then sandwiched, then quilted, this project will land in the arms of a lady so beautiful and amazing, it gives me profound pleasure even thinking about her and this quilt.  It hearkens back to when I was finishing Dad’s blanket, my very first quilt, and how happy I was to give him something necessary in his chemo adventure, also a gift from my own hands.  That is a large part of why I love quilting, writing too.  It comes from my hands, head, and heart.  In this rather modern world, it’s a precious blessing to pass along.

The finished quilt, which will now decorate (and keep watch over) the grotto in my absence.

The finished quilt, which will now decorate (and keep watch over) the grotto in my absence.

Nothing virtual about a quilt, I’ll say.  It’s about as tactile as one’s soul gets, and even better when it rests in another’s grasp.  Another mystery, best left unsolved.

And just in case they try to escape, those tucked in the far right corner have been documented.  Sorry kids, but you're not going anywhere but under my sewing machine...

And just in case they try to escape, those tucked in the far right corner have been documented. Sorry kids, but you’re not going anywhere but under my sewing machine…

Alternating Snow and Shades

Just moments ago I removed this quilt from my dryer.  Well, relative moments ago; I’ve since photographed it, and am now writing this post about it.  But as I write this post, the quilt in question sits on my sofa, recently finished.

Backed with Disney princess fabric, an adorable print that I know will be appreciated.

Backed with Disney princess fabric, an adorable print that I know will be appreciated.

To me, finished for a quilt is laundered.  Then a blanket is DONE.

But how much occurs before DONE is achieved; fabrics are purchased, cut, then sometimes they loiter, as other projects emerge.  This quilt was cut ages ago, Kona snow and a bunch of vibrant prints, then whiled away much of the latter part of summer in a Baggie, tucked out of sight.  I didn’t want the owner, my youngest daughter’s best friend and mum-to-be of Master Z, to find it when she came for her baby shower at our house.  The family of quilts kept this one stilled, but last week I put it together, alongside the baby quilts.  Finished hand-sewing the binding (light blue Kona that matches the blue on the back) a couple of days ago, then washed it this morning.  Stuck it in the dryer, ran some errands, then returned home to a completed quilt.

Son and mum quilts side by side.

Son and mum quilts side by side.

Oh, if only it were that easy.  Toss some squares of fabric into the washing machine, and voila!  But it’s far more work than that, steps that lend themselves to whatever fits in my life at that time.  For example; this morning I cut fabrics for one of my next projects, with another stack waiting in the wings.  After I get back from Dad’s appointment at the doc, I’ll go to town on those quilts, as hopefully I’ll have all (or most) of the fabrics cut.  Cutting fabrics is an essential part of the process, but it doesn’t involve the sewing machine.  It’s like the plotting stage of writing a novel.

Fabrics for the future...

Fabrics for the future…

And speaking of books…  I’m also hoping to get back into The Hawk when I return.  I want to write a post about how much I ache to continue that tale, but quilts get in the way.  But writing The Hawk is sort of like making a quilt; contemplating various ideas before I actually start typing.  I’ve been thinking about that story as I cut fabrics, wash quilts, heck, even while sewing those comforters.

But I truly don’t need more time in the day.  Twenty-four hours is plenty, believe me.  All things in their own (darn) good time, that’s my motto.

Baby Quilts

When I began this quilting journey, I had no plans other than to make a blanket for myself, which immediately became a comforter for my dad.  (I didn’t want to burden anyone with my initial efforts, but Dad needed a quilt more than I did, and parents ignore a multitude of sewing sins.)  One quilt quickly morphed into several, most of which were standard lap-size, some a great deal larger.  When my youngest daughter’s best friend learned she was expecting, I added that de facto grandchild onto the queue, not far behind his mum, actually.  Right now I’m in the middle of binding that mother-to-be’s quilt, but in the meantime, here are some smaller projects made with just as much love.

When I was little, my great aunts addressed all our cards to Miss This and Master That, a tradition that now might sound antiquated, but certainly falls right into place when describing a baby quilt.  Master Z’s mum requested royal and light blues and white, which were a pleasure to work with.  I picked Kona snow for the white, giving the quilt a softer look, then chose Kona royal blue and another Kona hue that now I can’t recall the name of, but it worked well as the light blue.  For the prints, I chose a collection ranging from bears on trains to monkeys in rocket ships, with some octopi and submarines added for good measure.

I also included some light and dark blues in tone on tone, then backed it in light blue flannel decorated with dark blue and white stars.  Stitched in the ditch, it’s approximately thirty-five by thirty-five inches; my usual patchwork squares are four inches after sewing; these are just a bit smaller, at three and half inches.  Which meant that compared to all my other quilts, even Scrappy and her Big Sister, Master Z’s was a breeze to finish.

While that little gem was taking shape, a very good friend mentioned her sister-in-law was expecting a second baby.  I offered to make that wee one a quilt, sort of my mood right now.  Little Miss A is due in January, but I went right to work, finding adorable pinks, greens, and purples in both prints and solids.  Then I found the backing fabric, and….  And the whole quilt’n’kaboodle was a done deal.  I chose bright pink for the binding, just in case Mum and Dad thought the dusty blue backing fabric was too strong.  But the whimsical nostalgic theme of that backing fabric works as well for a girl as it would for a boy.  (And I bought a little extra, just in case…)

Like Master Z’s quilt, Miss A’s was easy to assemble, but I did pin the sandwich with care; I wanted no shifting during the quilting, which was stitched in the ditch, right now my favourite method of straight-line quilting.  Flannel better holds the sandwich together, but that antique-looking cotton had to be included.  I’ve been playing around with different walking foots, which could be a post all its own.  Suffice to say, I’m committed to the one that came with my eldest daughter’s Brother machine, not even the actual Janome foot equal to the Brother foot.  Thank goodness my daughter hasn’t had time to work on her Christmas tree skirt quilt; when she does, I’ll be aching to again borrow that superior foot, to continue the work.

But making baby quilts doesn’t feel like work; it feels…  Precious, magical, and yes, abbreviated.  No comparing a lap-sized blanket, or one for a king-sized mattress, with a petite baby blanket.  Plus the fabrics are more dainty, well, not those of emergency vehicles and dump trucks, but the size of those squares is smaller than what I am used to, or perhaps it’s all mental.  Beautiful little babies will be snuggled within these quilts, and I hope they will be in use for ages.  I did avoid obvious references to infants; I want these blankets to last well past the toddler stage.  When my youngest was less than a year old, her paternal grandmother made her a blanket, which became known as the Star Blankie.  Crocheted squares were pieced together, then backed with white flannel decorated with red, yellow, and green stars, moons, and crescents.  My daughter adored that blanket, and all that remains is the crocheted top, the flannel worn away.

From twenty years ago; my two youngest, that girl gripping that Star Blankie for dear life.

From twenty years ago, as my youngest grips her Star Blankie for dear life.

I hope that for my grandson and Miss A, these quilts are similarly loved.  It certainly was my pleasure to create them!

Another Twenty-Five Years

On Monday, I sat with my parents at the oncologist’s office, waiting to learn Dad’s most recent PSA results, plus those of bone and CT scans.  As we chatted, Dad mentioned that if you asked him that day how much longer he would live, he’d have to say another twenty-five years.

Twenty-five years, my father smiled, then continued rambling.  Dad loves to talk, but those words struck me, staring at the fluff growing out along the back and sides of his head, although his mustache will be a while in filling out.  He’s still skinny, but food tastes good, even his beloved ice cream, which since February had been off the menu.  Other than his wobbly balance, and the probability of losing two big toenails, a post-chemo life has returned in full.

When the doc stepped into the room, Dad’s two-inch thick folder under that man’s arm, I wondered if Dad’s feelings towards his longevity would be borne out by the results waiting in that manila folder.  First off we learned the CT scan was clear, whew!  But the bone scan showed some worsening, although not to any internal organs, another hurdle cleared.  The PSA however, had jumped from sixteen to thirty-six.  Which isn’t all that bad, but it’s not the way a PSA after nine rounds of Taxotere should be behaving.

Which meant that next week we are all heading to Sacramento, to the UC Davis Medical Center, probably for radium treatments.  Although before the doc had joined us, Dad noted that in the ten months since he’d been to UCSF, who knew what sorts of advances had been made?

And from a man who feels he still has another quarter of a century to live, I can’t argue with him.

The visit wasn’t a long one; after the results were made known, the chit-chat centered on that impending trip to Sacramento.  As we left the office, Dad inquired about his Lupron shot, which they could administer that day.  We all trooped to the waiting area, where Dad gripped his prescription for more pain meds.  He had started that day feeling rough, but by ten a.m. was feeling well enough to consider another couple of decades.  But I noted his age at the top of the paper; 70.  And as he groused about a few aches and pains, I reminded him of that number; it’s not only cancer in the equation.  None of us are getting younger, to which he smiled.  “Yeah, I’ll be taking a sitz bath, then look over in the mirror and wonder who that old fart is staring back at me.”  We chuckled, then he was called for the shot.  Mom and I discussed Thanksgiving dinner; she would like to have it at their place this year, easier for Dad to relax in his easy chair.  When he emerged, I mentioned that plan, and he agreed, but not for his comfort.  He prefers his own stuffing to those made by my siblings.

As we left, Dad walked slowly, maybe due to the slight ache from the shot, probably from weariness, age, and yes, cancer.  But his voice was sprightly, maybe he was thinking about making his own turkey, of which he can be rather possessive, or that the results were in, or that even if the PSA had jumped twenty points, he was feeling another twenty-five years were possible.  I was considering how wonderful it was that chemo was over, for that also rang in his tone.  Food tastes good again.  His legs are stronger, even his hair, or as he laughed, the little he used to have, was growing back.  His poor balance might take another nine months to clear, nerves the doc said, that had been rattled by Taxotere.  Two lost toenails were also small potatoes; Dad has bigger fish to fry, or a turkey to roast.  I don’t know how long he’ll have, nothing in this life is certain, other than death and taxes.  But throughout Dad’s cancer journey, I have been reminded that life isn’t the long view.  It’s right now, and on Monday, it was right then; right then, Dad had places to be, Mom did too.  They had arrived in separate vehicles, and all three of us said our goodbyes, until next week, when they will travel together to Sac, where I will meet them.

And in the meantime, there are quilts to finish, like the one for a special little girl.  Life is constantly evolving, rolling from one second to the next.  Another doctor’s appointment down, which leads to another binding to attach.  That will be my plan today, after having pinned that little quilt to within an inch of its sandwich life.  The quilting went well, I must say, and I was hardly stabbed in the process.

And thinking about it, who knows?  Dad could live another couple of decades, by which time the little girl for whom this is being made could be a mum herself.  Such are the mysteries of this life, which is why any of us are here in the first place.

A Family of Quilts

Finally this project has reached the artist’s completion.  Once these quilts are in the hands of their owners, then I can say it is truly finished.

But for today, oh my goodness, I have reached the sewing end, and what an end it was.  Amid road trips and sporting events, familial milestones and the warmest Silicon Valley summer not only in my brief memory but for those with much deeper roots, five comforters have come forth, tied together by fabrics and manners of quilting.  Not sure I’ll ever again embark on such a vast endeavor, but after I wrote the Alvin’s Farm series, I said, “No more mega-tomes!”  And then last fall I started The Hawk, and look where that’s gotten me…

Ahem, anyways, let me explain these quilts, just a bit.  I ask for your indulgence, because like Alvin’s Farm and The Hawk, initially the idea was small; I wanted to make a toddler quilt for a lad named Ritchie.  And then I learned Ritchie had two older sisters.  And then I thought about mom-daughter quilts, and what about Ritchie and his pop?  And then…

And then I had five quilts in the queue, sort of like how I wrote Alvin’s Farm, then ended up with five more books in the kitty.

Maybe other novelists plan out a series.  I certainly didn’t; it sort of hit me like a sledgehammer, until I wrote the last sentence of The Timeless Nature of Patience.  At times I needed that sort of nature to muscle my way through these quilts, and I occasionally feel that way about The Hawk.  Because sometimes a project, be it a blanket or a book, screams to be acknowledged, even if time feels constrained and outside events conspire to squeeze out what little a person has to run on.  But the proper fuel always finds its way into the tank; these quilts are bound by more than cotton (and some poly) threads.  They are the culmination of a little bit of my brain (and a lot of my heart and soul), and I will never forget how they came to be.

Alvin and his clan were from a poor night’s sleep, dawdling on the computer.  The Hawk emerged from a dream.  These five quilts are all about giving.  And I guess an argument can be made for the stories too.  But a quilt is more personal, no one else will ever use it but the one for whom it was made.  In that manner, books and quilts are very different.  But today, let’s focus on the fabrics.

Ritchie’s quilt was born of a good-sized scrap leftover from my daughter’s whale comforter.  I added the solids, some tone on tone, and just adore how one print stands out against the vibrant hues.  I hope this blanket assists in teaching Ritchie his colours.  If nothing else, it will aid in nap times, backed with snuggly microfleece also from my daughter’s whale blanket.

The big sisters quilts were planned with some matching fabrics, also coordinated with some in the mom-quilt.  For Ritchie’s four-year-old sister, I concentrated on light blues, and I especially like the bird print, near the bottom.

I backed it with an adorable frog flannel, pieced with coral at the bottom.  I went with strips for these quilts, easier to put together, plus I wanted to try this method.  I think it worked pretty well.

For the nine-year-old sister, I used fewer juvenile fabrics, although the feel is still youthful.  It’s a little longer than the other two, but is backed with a cute cloud flannel print, reminding that childhood is a precious moment, not to be given away too soon.

Both sister quilts are bound with fabrics from each other’s quilts, and some from Mom’s quilt.

As for Mom, she has a patchwork, to tie in with Ritchie.  I went a little colour-crazy with this quilt; I wanted it to be full of hope and excitement.  It’s backed with a light purple cotton, and was stitched in the ditch, like the sister quilts.

Mom's quilt is on the right, Ritchie's on the left, with a placemat between them, buffered by the Big Sister quilt top on the far left...

Mom’s quilt is on the right, Ritchie’s on the left, with a placemat between them, buffered by the Big Sister quilt top on the far left…

The binding is scrappy, like the girls’ blankets, and I even threw in some of the butterfly material from my curtain-making days.  No fabric goes to waste in this grotto!


And speaking of such, for the dad I went back to the brother-in-law stash, adding some solids used from Ritchie’s quilt.  I backed this quilt in a dark royal blue that looks purple at times, then bound it with a lighter blue.

It was the last of the group to be completed, and I actually finished it on Wednesday night, watching a documentary about Harry Nilsson.  I washed it yesterday morning, then threw into the washer the nine-year-old’s quilt.  And once that blanket was dry, the project was done.

No revising, no last edits.  Once a quilt comes out of the laundry, there’s no more to be done than to present it to whom it belongs.

That will happen next week, no real hurry, as it’s still plenty warm here in the South Bay.  But autumn is batting its long eyelashes, as the days grow shorter, leaves falling from trees.  One of these days we’ll get a chilly night, but by then these quilts will be in the proper hands, providing comfort.  And that’s all I wanted to do.

At the end of the day, or the beginning of the morning, I just want to spread a little love.  Be it through fabrics or novels, here you go, enjoy!

Behind the Scenes

The rhythm of writing isn’t always that of actual writing; occasionally it’s taking stock of what has been written, what I did last week.  Then I went away for the weekend, and while I considered immediately returning to fashioning the story, other tasks have jumped the queue.  Behind the scenes, or chapters perhaps, life constantly percolates, nudging aside the words for a day, or two…

But these lulls are good for pondering the plot, of which The Hawk has plenty.  In reading over what I had crafted since the early part of August, I was pleasantly surprised by how cohesive it all was, well, mostly cohesive.  Pretty darn cohesive, actually, for all that I know that the reader doesn’t know.   And then there was what was being revealed, in bits and pieces, which somehow I managed to leak out without giving too much away.

Upon a second glance, I shocked myself, that it wasn’t a big mess of mumbo jumbo.  Sometimes (*sometimes*) a writer does know what they are doing (even if they think they have not one single clue).

It’s a lot like Buttercup; my daughter and son-in-law claim she’s not the smartest dog in the world, and at times, I agree.  At other times…  Well, she never goes hungry, gets lots of belly rubs, and spent much of Saturday being admired by my dad, who called her a pot likker in a voice I have heard since I knew better.  She was a good pot likker, he crooned, while scratching her ears, then rubbing that belly.  And later, Buttercup found a perfect spot on a mat, as if instead of pumpkins, it had her name on it.

Last week I was Buttercup, reminded that while I might not show it, I do know what’s going on.

When that happens, my goodness, it makes this whole writing gig worth it.  No, I’m not writing today, maybe not tomorrow either.  And no, I’m nowhere near being done.  But (*but*) I do have a clue.  Perhaps just one clue, but it’s better than no clues, and as long as I keep scribbling notes at the end of the manuscript, and not put too many days between when I next get around to Chapter 91, it’s all gonna be okay.

I firmly believe that; The Hawk will work itself out, one way or another.

In the meantime, some quilts are calling my name, a walk needs to be taken, a new rice cooker aches to be investigated.  But behind the scenes, that novel is bubbling, much like a big pot of spaghetti bolognese, tomorrow’s fare.  I’m always thinking, whether I realize it or not, as all the hoo-haa that accompanied chapters 75-90 has paid off, in ways I still have yet to understand.  Sometimes the reader isn’t always the one in the dark, but as long as the writer keeps the faith, the person behind the curtain continues to spin the dials, making sure the whole kettle of fish doesn’t boil over.

Buttercup isn’t worried.  Why should I be?

More Quilt and Novel Nonsense

Not quite a third done.

Not quite a third done.

For the last few days I’ve been sewing together the rows for the dad quilt, which yes, looks suspiciously like the Brother-In-Law quilt, sans the camo and the heavier flannel fabrics that were a royal pain to sew.  This quilt has solids that are shared with the toddler quilt, tying together those father-son blankets.  I’ll ‘quilt’ the dad comforter in the same manner as I did the toddler blanket, sometime next week.

Sometime next week I’ll finish this family project!  And yes, I’m ready to move to the next quilting extravaganza, which waits patiently.  Thank goodness fabric can’t talk back; I’d be up to my ears in blah blah blah…

But as I cropped today’s photos, I was struck by how much sewing a quilt top mirrors the writing process.  An author starts out with a stack of ideas (quilt squares), then has to plot them out (arranging on the quilt wall).  Then comes more plotting or considering the plot (time behind the machine, sewing those squares into rows), which morphs into that first rough draft (rows sewn together).

About halfway completed.

About halfway completed.

Here is where the comparison ends, for once a quilt top is finished, all that remains is making the quilt sandwich, quilting said sandwich, then binding the quilt.  I suppose I could equate that with revisions, but truthfully, they’re not the same animal.  Revising means sometimes taking the entire novel apart.  That’s the last thing a quilter wants to do, once the basting begins.

Yet, a seam ripper comes into play; you cannot sew without one.  But after all that sewing blocks into rows into a quilt top, the emphasis falls toward putting those fabrics into a cohesive whole.  And while the same result is hoped for during the writing process, it takes far more work, in my opinion.

Maybe other noveling quilters would argue, however, this is how I see it.  The processes are very similar, metaphorically, up to the finished quilt top.  Then, paths diverge.

Nearly three-quarters of the way there.

Nearly three-quarters of the way there.

Now you might ask, with fair reason, why is this woman so obsessed with novels and quilts, or more precisely, the process of turning words into stories and scraps into blankets (but not novels into quilts, or vice versa)?  Well, it’s better than indulging in other, perhaps more harmful, vices.  But I think the reason I beat this dead horse with as many sticks as I can grasp is that occasionally I encounter would-be writers/quilters.  And having managed to write a few books and sew a few quilts, I itch for like-minded others to do the same.  In this rather techie world, aged pastimes are slipping from our consciousnesses.  It’s easier to virtually do so much else, but what else is actually being accomplished?

I don’t want to bash technology, goodness knows it’s how I publish novels.  But while my PC makes writing so much easier, I still have to park my keister in the chair and write.  Or sit in front of the sewing machine and guide fabric under the presser foot.  And the results from those actions are…sometimes beautiful, sometimes meh.  But they aren’t virtual; they are books for others to read, and quilts to warm their feet.

As autumn slowly approaches, even here in Silicon Valley, tootsies need a toasty quilt under which to wiggle.

Completed quilt top!

Completed quilt top!

While I never envisioned becoming a quilter, for ages I harbored authorial dreams.  It took years for the latter to be achieved, but the blissful sense of accomplishment was well worth the wait.  I simply want others who ache to write to know it’s possible, if not without a lot of butt-in-chair time invested.  Making a quilt is the same.  And in one manner, books and quilts are much alike; better if they are given away.

Which is truly what the whole kettle of fish is all about; giving up something for another project waiting in the wings…


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