Monday, December 31, 2012

Brace Yourselves, This Is A Long Post

Today is the last day of the year. In the past, this would have been the time I would scurry around the house to clean the corners, scrub the tubs, clear out the spider webs, carrying out the silly superstition that I must never carry last year’s dirt into next year. 

But Christmas day changed that for me. My son, my daughter and I have custom made a new tradition to bring joy into our tiny nucleus. For the second year in a row, we went into Chinatown in Philadelphia to stuff ourselves full of Chinese dumplings for lunch. 

Wouldn’t you know it, of all of the shrimp dumplings made in the kitchen; my daughter ate the only one which accidentally had a peanut wrapped inside. With her heart racing, her lips swelling up, her chest pounding with pain, her lungs shutting down, I rushed her to the nearest hospital I could find. I stood helplessly and watched a room full of nurses and doctors inject in her arm shot after shot of some powerful stuff to get her breathing again. We all knew her airways were open again when she began to scream as the medicines rushed through her bloodstream. It turns out the feeling of sheer terror is a common side effect when one's veins are injected with pure adrenaline.

I sat for hours waiting for her to regain consciousness and for the observation period to end. I had time to think. I think that was the moment I realized my gaze had been focused on the wrong point of my horizon. 2012 was a hard year for us. It was a year of financial crises, medical emergencies which brought on more financial crises, a hardworking year. I plowed through each problem, solving it then preparing to work on the next one. A lot was resolved; in fact groundwork was laid for success in 2013. But instead of joy, all I had left in me was exhaustion. Not sadness, not depression, just plain tiredness. But on Christmas day, my baby almost died, and then she didn’t, just that fast.

2012 has plenty of reasons for rejoicing. There were many opportunities to fail, but we didn’t.

So for 2013, I will remember Psalm 121. I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip-- he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD watches over you; the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The LORD will keep you from all harm-- he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

To start, let me raise up some of the many women of valor who lifted my spirits throughout this year.

+Zurn Perry Holly at right here in my neighborhood!  Holly’s quilts regularly hang on the walls of the Cloth and Bobbin, my place for fabric and therapy. Meticulously made, shimmering with plays of light and shadows, always with the quiet message of “hey, maybe I could do that too if I took a class.” I am thankful to know Holly in person and for her work on her blog. She is so generous, and her focus is on love and healing. I look forward to deepening our friendship.

 +Johanna Hertz the owner of the  Cloth and Bobbin. While not a blogger herself, Johanna helps me in so many ways and not just in choosing fabric. Johanna with an eye for color and design, is both kind and direct. I know I can count on her to tell me the truth, and she’ll do so very clearly. Everybody needs a Johanna in their lives.

 +Masha Novoselova at What can I say? Masha has introduced me to a world of embellishment, embroidery, and beauty for beauty’s sake. Slowly she is transforming me from a firm believer of functional art to celebrating art as an expression of the human spirit.
Years ago, when I was 22, I joined the army in hopes of learning Russian at the Defense Language Institute. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let me choose my language until after I raised my right hand and gave the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, etc, etc. 

When I was finished  swearing in, I was told all the Russian classes were full. I chose instead to learn Arabic, Egyptian dialect. I did well at the language school, but they taught us military vocabulary back then, not people vocab. I could give the grid square coordinates to call an airstrike in fluent Egyptian, but it was real tough to order a cup of coffee in Cairo after shopping in the wonderful Suqs. Reagan was president then, and we were still operating with a Cold War mindset. I have read that the army has drastically changed their training techniques since then and their language training is focused on people skills with a much more practical vocabulary

Now, with dear Masha’s help, I can learn Russian in the most important context of all – love. Love of  creating art and beauty.

Claudia at for her stitching. Claudia takes embroidery and embellishing to a celestial level. I gaze at her website and her work, and forget to take a breath – it’s just that pretty.

Michele at for expanding the quilting community – at least into my life. Michele has this gift, actually many gifts. She has all this energy to manage her home, two tiny kiddies, her job and her passion for quilting. She uses her quilting as a conduit for her love. Last year, she actually made 2 full size quilts for her kid’s teachers to express her appreciation for the work in her kids’ lives. Then she made a raffle quilt to raise funds for a scholarship fund. On top of that, she manages several round robins. I sense that Michele will probably end up a significant driving force in the quilting industry.

Lily at for her whimsical stories, carefully designed photos, her daughter, who is a kindred spirit to my own 14 year old. Her ingenuity in finding treasures in the trash and making her tiny spot in the city look like the country. My inspiration.

Audrey at for reminding me of the beauty of yesteryear's fabrics, her imaginative and humorous twists to traditional designs. And always a positive post.

 Heather at for freely sharing her Irish wit and sharp observations of human nature as she journals her life and her craft. I love our pen pal friendship, Heather. Your letters inspire me just as much.

Kate at Kate across the pond, presides over a quilt swap 3 or 4 times a year that attracts quilters from around the world. Her most recent one had over 60 participants. Swaps and Round Robins are only as successful as the woman managing them. Kate’s swaps are imaginative and successful. Thank you Kate!

Ann X at .  Ann with so many talents. She can quilt, knit, make dolls, and teddy bears. She is an amateur historian, with such a rich family history. She is also fluent in several languages and though Latvian is her native tongue, her blog, Big Paws, is written in perfect English. Her posts of historical fiber arts and Baltic mythology are amongst my favorite and I read them over and over. While we were conversing about Latvia and Lithuania (my father’s roots) she sent me this HUGE envelope of Soviet era postcards, stamps, propaganda, from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. My kids and I spent an afternoon marveling over what we saw. I love your blog, Ann.

Sheila, at Sheila’s blog is a source of comfort to me. Her posts center on her quilting, her grand kids, and what’s on the stove for supper. After my bus is late and I’m stuck in pouring down rain, when I get home tired and hungry and no energy to carry through the evening I sit and log on to Sheila’s blog. It’s one of those feel good places I go to seek comfort. I’ll read a post of a sewing lesson she gave her grand kids, a quick recipe she made, a whimsical sock puppet she put together, then I get off the couch into the kitchen and get dinner going. Her blog reminds me of that home we all pass by at night, where the lights are on with the curtains still open to the living room. And you peek in to see a glimpse of a family sharing a joke. All seems calm and happy there and you wish you were a part of that. Sheila, thanks for that feeling of comfort and quiet courage you give me. 

There are so many others I love to log onto and read, but this post is already way too long.  You know what? This makes me  resolve to take the time throughout the year in 2013 to share in my posts those times a quilter shared something that inspired me. It also makes me resolve to stop lurking so much and leave comments so quilters know right away how their words were meaningful.

If you have read to the bottom of this post, wow. Thanks for hanging in there with me. I plan to announce a traveling stash to begin tomorrow in our new year. Until then, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Monday, December 17, 2012

This Tree Quilt. . . whoo boy.

If you have been following my progress on this tree quilt, then you know that I have been stuck at this design conundrum since last June. I am growing tired of staring at this thing on my design wall, and I'm anxious to come to a resolution.
My latest try to choose a background that would better represent a forest, was the following.

I drew a picture of a tree with no leaves, then I cut out the template to make some trees out of black construction paper to audition the idea.
I liked the results enough to go a little further by making a prototype to see how laborious it would be, and whether it worked against the pale blue and gold background.

I started first by piecing together a small prototype of the background.
Next I drew the design on the back of some tear away stabilizer.

Once my template was transferred, I made a sandwich with the black fabric front side down, the background fabric right side to black fabric wrong side, then the stabilizer. Then I held the 3 together with a basting stitch.

Next, I set my stitch length to very short, then carefully and slowly stitched along the markings on the stabilizer until every line was covered. This took a while. The one mistake here, is that I used a blue thread so I could see more easily the outline on the black fabric. My eyes aren't that strong, and I hoped it would help somewhat. We'll get to that in a minute.

I flipped the sandwich over, then marked in chalk the negative areas I would cut away.

Once I cut away the negative areas with small, sharp scissors, This was what was left.

I then began to satin stitch around the branches, which is where I struggled with the blue thread. My Janome doesn't do satin stitches well, and the blue kept peeking through.
Even so, it is very dramatic and I like it. But I think the contrast is too stark for this quilt. Plus, I think I will use a technique my machine can more easily handle. I'm looking now at internet photos of birch forests and am now considering adding some tall, narrow, deep grey birch trees to the background to help the eye travel to the sunset rather than just jump there. I'll finish the satin stitching on this block and maybe add it to the back with my signature.