Half A Quilt Away

Been quilting lately, actual honest quilting.  Making a quilt is so much like writing a novel, different layers that fall under one heading, but without all of those processes, nothing is accomplished.

I’ve been sewing a lot lately, but thinking about writing.  Lots and lots of thinking.

Recently my daughter sent a terrific shot of Buttercup; you can just barely see the rim of white in her eye, her little front paw daintily curled into the blanket.  Right now I feel like Buttercup when it comes to novels.  I just want to close my eyes and pretend I’m sleeping.

Yet, when it comes to quilts, I feel like this shot of Buttercup; ready to wrestle another comforter until it hollers uncle.  Or something like that.

She's taking a big bite out of that celery!

She’s taking a big bite out of that celery!

I don’t know why quilts are currently easier for me to reckon; it’s not that I merely twitch my nose and out pops a quilt.  There’s quilt math and fabric shopping and seam ripping and…

And a lot of tasks that don’t require too much brain power.  This summer it’s been quite hot in Silicon Valley.  Perhaps the heat has fried my brain cells.  Maybe all the novels I’ve written over the last seven years have left me dry.  Or maybe…

There is a time and a season for all things, I know that very well.  And while I *want* to write, instead it’s time to quilt, even if it’s been pushing 100 F here for weeks on end, or it’s hit over 100 F.  A hot summer, the warmest since our return from Great Britain, but that probably doesn’t have much to do with why I’m not writing.

Today I’ll quilt the other half of the Brother-In-Law quilt.  Not sure when I’ll get around to the binding, maybe this weekend.  This stage, for me, of the quilting process, is like those last few revisions before publication; the downhill slide feels so good, yet the bottom seems far away, even if you squint.  But it’s also close, because no longer is the quilt going to shift, nor will the story experience major changes.  Still, I can’t give away this quilt in its present form, nor could I upload a novel unless I knew it was done.  And at this point, uploading a new novel lives in a galaxy far, far away.

And for the first time since I started writing, I’m wondering if I missed that last transport back to Mos Eisley.  Although, my novels usually aren’t filled with a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

They aren’t filled with bassets or quilts either.  Perhaps that’s the real problem…

The tale of a quilt-top…

Hanging horizontally on the line; the light was just right for me to get this shot, which at the time the Giants were winning, 2-1.

Hanging horizontally on the line; the light was just right for me to get this shot, which at the time the Giants were winning, 2-1.

Tonight I finished the Brother-In-Law quilt top.  I feel like I’ve been working on this project all summer, and in a way I have; the fabric has been around for ages, and the cutting took considerable time.  Shirts aren’t anything like yards of store-bought fabric when it comes to the rotary cutter and cutting mat, but those fabrics were free, and were cottons (and poly/cottons) my BIL liked.  And it was as if I was stepping back in the past every time I transformed a shirt into a pile of squares; this was how quilts used to be made all the time.

The last squares I sewed; as if the back tells another story, or maybe it's the quilt's life in a parallel universe.

The last rows I sewed; as if the back tells another story, or maybe it’s the quilt’s life in a parallel universe.

Most of the fabric was previously clothing.  I added the camo, plus two blue fat quarters and the remnant from some muslin.  I needed some solids to balance out the plethora of prints, mainly plaids.  Plus the shirts themselves were a variety of linens, some flannel of varying thicknesses, some all cotton, some a blend.  One blend didn’t like a hot iron, and after I was done, I threw the leftover squares in the bin.  But the rest were fairly well-behaved, and now they are attached as a whole.

And hopefully by the end of the week they’ll be quilted into a lovely comforter.

But I wanted to reflect a little on the process, which indeed has taken most of summer, in between road trips and sports.  Then suddenly the quilt-top is complete, that sewing endeavor finished.  Never again will I sew these squares into that pattern.

This was not my neatest sewing, but it was a challenge dealing with so many different kinds of fabrics, sort of like managing all the crazy events that make up one's daily life.

This was not my neatest sewing, but it was a challenge dealing with so many different fabrics, sort of like managing all the crazy events that make up one’s daily life.

And that’s a little daunting, when I consider it as such.  Maybe it’s this project being so tied into the last weeks of my dad’s chemo, other life changes rearing their head in the interim.  Certainly some quilts have had their share of secondary meanings; the Mijos Quilt is still the Bonhoeffer Quilt in my head, and I won’t soon forget the four-day quilt-extravaganza that was the Whale Quilt.  But this blanket, or the top of this blanket, carries a deeper sense of accomplishment, or maybe it’s just freshly swimming around in my head.

But not only my brain; my soul has been seared by this collection of fabrics, shirts and fat quarters and a half-yard of camo, plus another half-yard of a lighter coloured camo for the binding.  That fabric was also a poly/cotton blend, so this quilt contains a wide gamut of fabrics.  I made that binding a few weeks ago, before I even started sewing together the rows.  I had a day between drives north, and needed something to occupy my hands.  My mind has been a blur for the last several weeks; thank goodness for quilting!

The vertical view, by which time the Giants were losing 4-2.

The vertical view, by which time the Giants were losing 4-2.

However, a manuscript has been returned from one of the best pairs of editing eyes I know, and now that Dad’s done with chemo, literary activities are beginning to stir.  Currently it’s a gentle tap tap on my shoulder.  By this time next week, it could very well be a head-banging gong worthy of some of my most beloved rockers.  Yet, this coming week will be about quilt sandwiches, with some housecleaning on the side.  Probably little about baseball.  The last three days with the Dodgers have left the Giants scratching their heads.

Fortunately I have more fabric to cut.  The Giants can lose all they want.  I’ve got more quilts on the roster than sense, like I used to have more plots than brains.  But maybe plots are making a comeback.  Soon enough, I’ll know…

No more chemo…

That was the title of my mom’s most recent email to my siblings and me.  After nine rounds of Taxotere, Dad has said no mas…

I don’t think it was a difficult decision, although Dad wasn’t quite sure when we last talked about this, over a week ago.  Yet, I could see this coming at the party; he was as weary as I’ve ever seen him, gripping his cane, along with the arm of whoever was near.  But his smile still shone, his words upbeat, albeit spoken in a voice thin and tired.  That was what ended the chemo; Dad is tired of being so dog-gone tired.  His PSA only dropped .2 last month, down to 6.2, which is wonderful compared to his numbers at the beginning of this year, in the low 80s.  Now we wait, which is all anyone can do, to see how the PSA responds, and how Dad heals.  Chemo was to aid in this battle, but what a brutal tool it has been.

Still, none of us bemoan these past months; life is a cycle of ebbs and flows, and my father isn’t the only one with health issues.  The Brother-In-Law Quilt is (finally) coming together, and while it’s still plenty hot in California, I want it to be finished before that BIL has his own medical procedures.  Not that my BIL is going to need a quilt to stave off the chills, but I hope this blanket will warm his heart, as surgery looms.  This quilt is sort of saying, “Yes, serious treatments sit on the horizon, but soon enough they will be over, and cooler days will have come, and you can stay toasty under this rather busy comforter.”

Ten rows done, with # eleven pinned and waiting to be attached...

Ten rows done, with # eleven pinned and waiting to be attached…

And be thinking of hunting trips for 2015 too.

Camo binding waits patiently...

Camo binding waits patiently.

However, not all quilts are camo-themed; I’m back to florals and bright prints, for a family who needs some quilty love.  The fabrics below will form some mum-daughter quilts to go along with the toddler patchwork which has already been removed from the quilt wall, to make room for another expression of affection.  It’s like instead of a get well or miss you card, I throw together a quilt.  Dad started the mission, and on it goes.

The fabric on the right was what I used for curtains, and I was so pleased to find more of it!

The fabric on the right was what I used for curtains, and I was so pleased to find more of it!

Maybe my youngest daughter was right, when coining my quest, that everyone needs a quilt.  In between revisions, baseball, and the annual housecleaning extravaganza (yesterday it was the interior of my fridge and hallway baseboards, today is the living room dusting and baseboards), quilts are pieced together with the utmost of love and care.

And tomorrow will take care of itself, PSA-wise and whatever else comes along.

Festivities and Fabrics

Sometimes the best gift isn’t a tangible item.  Sometimes the best present is those you love close and rowdy, wet and splashy.  Dad’s birthday party this past Saturday was at my sister’s house, where a pool pleased the younger crowd.  Dad stayed dry, in a chair, yet his joy was infectious, a quiet, low-key happiness that tied us all together.

Well, that and all the yummy food…

My family is known for eats; there was more food than we needed, but sewing enthusiasts will understand.  Sometimes a plethora of fabrics are necessary, although fabric isn’t as perishable as macaroni salad.  We took home hot dogs and tri-tip, a gorgeous cantaloupe and home-grown tomatoes.  And now that I’m home, a quilt queue is calling my name.

For my brother-in-law, who loved plaid shirts and hunting.

For my brother-in-law, who loves plaid shirts and hunting.

First up is the Brother-In-Law Quilt, which has been cut, arranged, even rows sewn, although not together.  I was going to start that last night, but instead I cut fabrics for another quilt, while still one more loiters on the quilt wall.  My peripatetic life as of late has precluded writing, but quilting, well, quilting comes in stages, like planning for a big bash.  You need an outline of guests, then a menu, then a location…  Equally in quilting, you need fabrics, then to cut those fabrics, then to arrange those fabrics…

For my youngest daughter's bestie!

For my youngest daughter’s bestie!

And when the purchased fabrics aren’t quite enough, you raid your stash, and come up with a few more.

What's sitting on my quilt wall, for a toddler.

What’s sitting on my quilt wall, for a toddler.

We didn’t need any more vittles on Saturday, but the love wafting along my sister’s patio was thick, giggles from the pool rife, familial chatter vying with my brother-in-law’s smoker to fill the air with heavenly sounds and scents.  Parties are never long enough, but luckily we seem to meet up often, due to holidays or special days or just the need to bond with relatives.  How precious are these days, summer or not, when a clan can reconnect in person?  So many social media devices at hand, but hands are meant to be clasped, then wrapped around each other.  Love is best shared when voices and faces match up alongside aging bodies that can still get out and about.  Relatively, my father is young at seventy, but chemo has altered him, none of us can deny that.  He still uses that chemo quilt, although triple-digit heat hovers.  Dad has a hard time feeling the heat, but the love, oh the love…

The love trumps everything.

For me, quilting is borne of a similar love, for colour and cottons, combating idle hands and to share a tangible aspect of my creative heart.  I can’t always be in the bosom of my most beloved, but I can sew them a little piece of my affections.   And the affections aren’t always for those well-known.  At times they are for strangers, but only on a linear plane.  Someday Dad won’t be here, but my memories will last until I can’t recall them, and his quilt will suffice as a marker of this extraordinary time and a great love, lasting until those threads fall apart at the seams.  I’ll think back to small swimming children, delicious smoked tri-tip and creamy chocolate cake, and the hugs which don’t translate via emails and letters, but are intoxicating when received, perhaps a little like a quilt.

Those rows aren't going to sew themselves together...

Those rows aren’t going to sew themselves together…

And speaking of quilts…  Best I get to work on one!

The Days Are Just Packed

I’m stealing a Calvin and Hobbes book title, but it’s the plain truth.  Except for my daughter’s wedding two years ago, I’ve not been this busy in ages.  It feels good, because while I’m only getting older, I’m still able to do what I like, which lately has been quilting.  And driving.  Not much writing, none really, but that’s all right.  There is a time and season for all things.

Scrappy's Big Sis waiting on the quilt wall...

Scrappy’s Big Sis waiting on the quilt wall…

2014 has been a year of fabric.  And chemotherapy.  I *hope* 2014 stands as an anomaly for the latter, a beginning for the former.  It hasn’t been much of a year for words, other than those exchanged with my dad in batches while he has Taxotere pumped into his veins, then more chats as that medicine alters his body.  Chemo #10 is eleven days away, the last round.  Dad just turned seventy, which is itself quite a feat, but mixed with his recent battles stands out to me even more.  We’re throwing him a big party this upcoming weekend, another event squeezed into a summer that has raced past, ticked off by quilts and road trips and sports.  Truly the days are teeming with adventures.

Nearly two months later, I started to put together this quilt, which initially was going to be for me, until the Birthday Quilt came along.

Nearly two months later, I started to put together this quilt, which initially was going to be for me, until the Birthday Quilt came along.

Recently I finished the Former Roomie quilt; unbeknownst to my eldest, I also sandwiched into that endeavor Scrappy’s Big Sister, which I gave to my daughter yesterday, a surprise for which she was very pleased.  Yesterday Germany beat Argentina for the World Cup, while the Giants managed to blow Arizona out of the proverbial water with two grand slams, one from their power-swinging pitcher Madison Bumgarner.  I don’t begrudge missing those games, for we visited with our eldest and her other half all afternoon, Buttercup too.  I hadn’t expected to see them until this weekend’s big bash, hence the green scrappy quilt staying on the QT.  However, now I can note that quilt’s completion, amid the scattered remnants of this post.  I made the rows in mid-May, and there they sat on the quilt wall until last week, when strips of green were sewn between them, the whole thing a scrap-lover’s heaven, from the pieced-together batting, backing, and binding.   That quilt is indicative of my summer, what with revisions here and there, me as well, up and down freeways trying to piece together all that matters most.

For some strange reason as I sewed the rows together, the quilt began to shift, like it wanted to be an Aztec temple.  I didn't understand this at all...

For some strange reason as I sewed the rows together, the quilt began to shift, like it wanted to be an Aztec temple. I didn’t understand this at all…

My dad, my kids, quilts and plots.  And my husband, when I get a chance to see him.

But sometimes that is how life is; more irons in the fire than one has irons!  And surprisingly the only side effect seems to be driver’s elbow; my left arm, just under my elbow, aches after about ninety minutes of driving.  I dug out a strap I used when stitcher’s elbow was a problem, which seems to alleviate the pain.  That denotes my age, which I cannot change.  Otherwise, I feel good, what with piles of shirts to cut into 4.5″ squares for my brother-in-law’s quilt.  That’s the next project on the sewing table.

Shirts my BIL donated to the cause, plus some camo, as he's an avid hunter.

Shirts my BIL donated to the cause, plus some camo, as he’s an avid hunter.

Maybe this seems like a lot, maybe summertime is when the body, and mind, are supposed to take it easy.  I wanted to start writing the sequel for Heaven…Mississippi this month, don’t think that’s gonna happen.  I wanted my SF Giants to maintain that massive lead over the LA Dodgers, and well…  Well, at least San Francisco took the series from the Diamondbacks.  The All-Star break starts today, even ballplayers need a day off.  But as for this quilt-crazy author…

Snapped by my youngest last week as I hand-sewed Scrappy's binding while we watched footie semi-finals...

Snapped by my youngest last week as I hand-sewed Scrappy’s binding while we watched footie semi-finals…

Not so much in the way of rest and relaxation until the weekend, once deviled eggs and fruit salad are made, corn husked and placed into pots of boiling water.  Those are our contributions to the birthday party, and after I’m sure they have been sorted, I’m going to find my dad, who will probably be inundated with kids and grandkids and friends.  I may not do more than shoot him a friendly smile, to which I may not receive much beyond an understanding grin.  And if we get a few minutes to chat, perfect.  His voice is pretty raspy, but that doesn’t seem to hinder all he has to say, about the present, the past, even the future.  He has plans, in case the Taxotere doesn’t quite keep his PSA in check, radium treatments one possibility.

The finished second scrappy quilt!

The finished second scrappy quilt!

But that’s months down the road, hopefully further even.  Maybe this time next year, God willing.  And God willing, I’ll still be quilting, and hopefully writing, and maybe those Giants will be winning.  In the meantime, there is this day, which has a list of to-do’s already waiting.

Scrappy backing too...

Scrappy backing too…

Writing this post isn’t on the list, more of a way to get my morning started properly, as jasmine tea is sipped, windows open to catch some early cool breezes.  The day is packed indeed, but there is always room for a little more love.

A Quilt For a Former Roomie

I finished this quilt two days ago, but other events have precluded me from posting about it, namely The World Cup.  The first semi-final was the sort of game that just seemed unreal.  The second semi was everything soccer is about.

I watched the first fifteen minutes of the Brazil-Germany match with my youngest daughter, who has been around all week.  She came back with me, after my dad’s chemo session, and it’s been lovely having her around.  At about twenty minutes into the game, her former roomie called, while I was stitching the binding for that young woman’s quilt.  My daughter took the call in the sewing grotto, for it was already 1-0 Germany; what more damage could be done?

A silly question, for within the next ten minutes three more goals were scored, or was it four?  It was so many that I can’t even recall now, as over and over I jumped up, scurrying to the grotto, calling out the scores: two nil, three nil, four nil…  By halftime it was five nil, a nightmare for the host nation, a bizarre score more akin to baseball.  By the end of the evening, that quilt was basted and so was Brazil, a 7-1 crushing defeat that could only be made worse if Argentina happened to beat Holland the following day.

Which, ahem, they did.

My life is bound up in what I do; sewing, writing, watching sport.  Other things too, loving my nearest and dearest, and that’s where the quilts come in.  This week has provided my youngest and me plenty of time for chats, amid the sewing and footie.  We spoke of her goals, and mine too, a quest that is something along the lines of everyone needs a quilt.  And a book or two to find comfort within.  Making this quilt has brought me great personal pleasure; I love the florals and the bright solids.  Seeing it in person, the solids aren’t quite so bold, but in photos it seems they stand out starkly.  I like how I quilted it, and tomorrow it will be in the hands of its owner.

It is better to give than to receive, although I don’t know if the Brazilians would agree…

I don’t always make sense, but I do make quilts…


Four rows sewn; this was how it started.

Four rows sewn; this was how it started.

I said those very words yesterday afternoon to my husband while explaining how I quilted the Former Roomie Quilt.  Instead of following along the rows with a quarter-inch seam, I sewed halfway through the squares themselves.  And by the end of the day, I had quilted that baby, including the scant quarter-inch seam around the perimeter.  This morning, I’ll attach the front of the binding.

So many steps in quilt-making, but then, many good things in this life are based upon building blocks, and sometimes those steps aren’t easy to explain.  Tutorials do wonders for something like sewing; they’re not so handy for writing.  I couldn’t sit in front of a camera, or narrate a power point about how to write a novel.  Writing a novel is far more invisible, much like making a baby.

But quilting, well, it’s a tangible process, that gives me intense pleasure, especially since I came across a tutorial that makes the final stages of sewing the binding a breeze.  Sometimes I wish I could locate a site that explained how to leave a manuscript alone for say, oh, two and a half years, then come back to it with a viable plot.  I’ve recently done that with Heaven…Mississippi, but then I wonder if that’s the fate of The Hawk.  In two, four, or eight years, after how many ever quilts have been fashioned, might I return to that behemoth and give it a conclusion?

About two-thirds put together.  But many stitches remain.

About two-thirds put together. But many stitches remain.

No tutorials available to answer that question.  It’s much like my dad and chemotherapy; he just had his ninth dose, one more to go.  His PSA is down to 6.8, but will it remain that low once the Taxotere is truly out of his system?

Inquiring minds are dying to know…

As I tried to explain to my husband my new quilting process, he was watching the Giants.  The Giants…  I’ve given up on them, for now.  Maybe that doesn’t make me a very loyal baseball fan, but through the month of June they squandered an 8 1/2 game lead over the Dodgers, and just typing that makes me a little heartsick.  I was safely tucked away in the sewing (but not that much writing) grotto, yet, San Francisco managed to pull out a win, behind the erratic but formerly brilliant (and two-time Cy Young award winning) Tim Lincecum.  Maybe Timmy is indicative of my writing, at this current moment, aching to return to its previous glory.  But I have to give thanks for the plot stirring in my head, which doesn’t have to do with The Hawk, but characters just as beloved.  I left Kendall, Sarah, Heath, and Ben dangling on a rather thin line, but now I have a notion of how to rescue them.  And while no, it doesn’t have to do with quilting, it does have a lot to do with my dad’s current path.  When my husband and I visited him together last, Dad bemoaned how crappy he felt, and what lousy company he was.  I remarked that if he didn’t mind us coming to see him, we certainly weren’t bothered.  He smiled, for I know he loves the distraction, what he said more than once as we readied to leave.  That we had made the last two hours fly by, even if he spent all of that time huddled under a blanket, spitting up, or dabbing at his watery eyes.  After nearly thirty weeks of chemotherapy, Dad is showing all the typical signs, but his spirit is mostly unflagging.  I put all these symptoms and moments under my writing hat, where by now they are crammed tight, waiting for release.

What I didn’t know three years ago, when I wrote Heaven Lies East of the Mississippi, was that I had to wait for my father to undergo chemotherapy to complete that tale.

Awaiting the binding (and for the seamstress to finish this blog)...

Awaiting the binding (and for the seamstress to finish this post)…

Now, I could be daunted by that fact; what in the world will I endure to finish The Hawk?  Maybe very little, maybe…  Let’s not go there.  Instead, let’s concentrate on quilts, or the Former Roomie Quilt, which by the end of this day will have an attached front binding, and probably a good part of the back binding hand-sewn into place.  Not while baseball’s on, mind you.  The Giants start an inter-league series with the A’s, oh jeez.  I’ll sequester myself in some baseball-free zone, as a needle carefully winds in, then out, of the fold in the binding.  Another quilt coming under the hammer, another book waiting in the wings.  Another day of my life on a journey I never expected in the sewing, noveling, and cancer-witnessing variety.  It doesn’t always make sense, but it all means something.


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