Category Archives: chain piecing, quilting, waiting, philosophy, waiting at jail, hospitalization, mental health

Kindergarten

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Kindergarten

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Bronwen said “this looks like a boring school” as we pulled into a parking space before kindergarten orientation.

As we went inside we met another girl, Caroline, who immediately asked if Bronnie was heading for kindergarten in September. They immediately started playing ring around the Rosie.

I love how kids become fast friends. I grabbed a pic of them in the library reading Pinkalicious books before they went off to their future classroom.

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As we adults talked about indoor and outdoor shoes, food choices, and school supplies, the kids made butterflies.

So the moral of that story is: I wish adults would quit taking themselves so seriously. It’s silly.

Ready for a revelation??

Okay. I have been doing the Dr. Who quilt for my good friend, Amanda. If you go to the Quilted Thimble’s Facebook page you can see all the blocks so far.

Sci-fi themed stuff is kinda angular. And not right angles that we’re used to in patchwork. No–the slight angles that require paper foundation piecing prevail.

So. Here’s the issue I’ve run into too many times: sewing my seam, folding back the fabric ready for pressing, only to find that it doesn’t cover the foundation despite it being the correct size.

Here’s something I stumbled upon as I sat there, annoyed at having to frog stitch tight number 1 stitch length seams.

Step One: Lay your first fabric (right side up) on your foundation. If you want, hold it with a pin or glue stick.

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Step Two: Fold your second fabric at the angle needed on your foundation.

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Step Three: Sew your seam. Trim your excess fabric from the seam allowance.

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Step Four: Press and trim around your foundation.

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You are done!

Well, hopefully that helps you out should you be mired in paper piecing like I am! (Has anyone else noticed that there is a real prevalence of this method in patterns these days? Check out what designers are up to. You’ll see what I mean.)

Have a good week everyone!

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Dilapidated Fence Rails

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Dilapidated Fence Rails

We all have run across the fence rail block if we’ve been quilting for any length of time. Typically this block is done by cross-cutting strip sets, right? Right. That only makes sense.

Okay. Having said that, I’ve been doing this year’s Craftsy block of the month (bom). It’s not really a class I’d expected–this one is all about colour theories and principles. The ones we’re all familiar with: warm and cool, complimentary, an examination of value, and the less obvious like hexadic. Anyway, every single block is strip pieced. So the whole quilt will be string blocks, and four patches or another configuration of squares. It’s all pretty straight forward straight line piecing.

So after finishing the various exercises you’re inevitably left with something like this:

strip remnants

     strip remnants

So this time around for the fence rails I decided to challenge myself beyond the requirements for this month’s colour study. I decided I’d cut a lot of yardage for previous blocks and didn’t want to cut anymore. As you can see by my pile of leftover strip sets, there’s a lot of fabric here that satisfies any colour study. So I went ahead and started being a strip surgeon. It’s not as tricky as it sounds. It was kind of fun and I got some nifty surprises when it came time to do the final block trimming.

Step One: figure out what strips you want to use. Remember, this is a method of lengthening your stubby strip sets. Find several of the same width and get to stitching them in to a strip. Or if you don’t have any already cut that match the width you need, piece some narrow strips together until you reach your width requirement. It will make for an intricate looking block!

leftover strips from earlier trimming

leftover strips from earlier trimming

piecing the leftovers

piecing the leftovers

press the seams open and then from the front

press the seams open and then from the front

Step Two: Now you have a long Frankenstein strip ready to use in a traditional strip set, or you can carry on adding other pieced bits, as I will below.

prepping for a new seam

prepping for a new seam

You need to cut away any selvages and jagged bits so that your new addition is straight and easy to add.

ready to sew

ready to sew

Discard the old selvages and grab your Franken-strip. It’s ready to be added.

adding to another strip set

adding to another strip set

Okay, you’re almost done! All you need to do is figure out what placement you’d like and pick out a few stitches for your horizontal seam allowance. Sew your seam and press open.

Step Three: Sew the vertical (lengthwise) seams and press them open as well.

long seams

long seams

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Tada!! You have just added more fabric to your existing stub. You can do this as many times as necessary to make the required length and width for whatever your pattern calls for.

My class pattern called for 24 of these little 6.5″ square fence rails. It was fun to make, but man, 24! I think what made me want to use up the remnants of what I had was the fact that  1. I hate having leftovers that are difficult to deal with, like strip sets, as they were made specifically for another project and would require a lot of ripping to be useful in another context and 2. I was thinking of my old house today.

Yeah, I was a bit sentimental. Probably because I’m not feeling well. Whenever the weather changes from rainy to sunny warm like it is now, the barometer changes and I get a sinus infection. Every year. Without fail. And it’s painful. It is depressing. The only thing that stops me from paying someone to curb-stomp my head is the nice weather! And whenever I’m sick I think of places, people, and things, (all nouns, actually, haha) that are comforting.

Anyway, in our townhouse complex there was horrific Franken-fencing. The strata had no contingency fund and the fees were too low. So the fencing was all rotted away and would blow in the wind. No kidding–it would wobble and the neighbourhood cats would fall off if they were walking along it! Nobody wanted to try saving money to replace the fencing. It was always a hot button issue, not unlike what Republicans think of Democrats, I figure, when it comes to lowering taxes and only the wealthy can afford the luxury of getting sick. But I digress. My husband and I were more than happy to pay more so that when the fencing finally fell down, it could be replaced. Because the strata fees were so low, when the roofing went, every unit in the place had to pony up $5000 because there was no money to replace it!

So I decided that this piecing exercise had a certain symbiosis: use up the extras and make a whacked out fence as a tribute to the one we had at our previous home.

Have a great week everyone!

 

 

Presence

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Presence

So have any of you lovely people found yourselves addicted to blocks of the month? I sure have.

It started with the craftsy block of the month classes, which are free. Then I got into paid classes. Then I found out about a great (and economical) block of the month called The Sugar Block Club, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Last year’s cute blocks are in my latest sampler that I’m still quilting (it’s an oversized queen bed quilt that I’m doing by hand, so yeah. It’s been a very long time in the quilting). They came with recipes for goodies, if that’s your thing. This year’s blocks are about going “beyond the block,” so there’s recipes and reflective themes around which the blocks are designed.

an embroidered quilt label

an embroidered quilt label

This month is “Presence.” I find this theme interesting, as I have joined several blocks of the month groups from all over the internet and have been having fun keeping up. By the end of the day I get a chance to read and get caught up on correspondence, whether that be email or facebook or anything else.

Lately I’ve been on the phone more than usual. My grand mother was just in a serious car crash that broke her arm and killed her friend that was travelling with her. It has been very sad for us. Luckily Maria’s family went to my Nonna and told her they bore no ill will and they forgave her for what happened, even though it wasn’t her fault. We’re greatful that Nonna didn’t have another stroke from the incident’s physical and emotional strain. She suffered a stroke last year trying to help Nonno back up after he fell getting out of bed.

It’s very sad and one of the hardest things in my life to sit back and witness my grand parents getting older. I mean, it’s going to happen, I get that. But my grand parents are very strong willed people. They grew up in Mussolini’s Italy. My Nonno was a very young man in the war and kept as a POW for two years in Cologne Germany after liberation while the countries were able to cobble up a rail line to get people back to where they needed to be. My Nonna is 10 years younger, but suffered in her own way at that time. She had to raise her brothers from the age of 11 after her father died of the flu. Her sisters and mother worked the field and considered her still too young and needed the house run. To this day nobody manages a house like Nonna. It is always pristine.

Having said that, this concept of “presence,” as put forward by this month’s sugar block, I’m intrigued by the history of that. What is meant by that term in this case is to spend quality time with your loved ones. No screens, no divided attention. It’s funny because my grand parents wouldn’t have had the time for “quality” time either in childhood or as parents themselves. They were hard workers–and still are, as much as they can be. They still live in the same house they built in 1956. It’s a typical two storey rambling house from that era. Superficial things are different about it now, such as the vinyl siding my Nonno installed back in 1989, the “new” kitchen that was done in 1974, the carpeting that was replaced in 1986. But otherwise the place remains the same.

They worked very hard to pay for that house in cash. Never had a mortgage. Nonno worked Christmas eve and Christmas day shifts at the Cominco mine for triple time so they’d have extra money. Quality time? Time spent not working was a waste for this generation.

My parents were very similar to this, in a contemporary sort of way. Yes, they had a mortgage, car payments, credit card debt, the usual stuff. But because of those factors, they worked hard in their white collar jobs. Mom was a legal secretary (and still is) and my dad was (and still is) in the aviation industry. By the end of a work day, we’d sit together and have dinner, and then ask to be excused from the table and me and my sister would blast off downstairs to the TV room. My parents would stay upstairs and chat, or more commonly, watch their own TV.

This was light years before the internet became ubiquitous as it is today, so TV was pretty much the only diversion of the time. I never blamed them for not spending “present” or “quality” time with us as we grew up. They were busy. Parents who care are busy. That’s how I saw it.

But now I’m a parent. I am busy and I care about our daughter. So does my husband. But sometimes the best way we can spend time with Bronwen is to sit and do our own things. She likes cartoons. I like reading or watching craftsy classes, sitting downstairs quilting, or dashing off a block or two for my BOMs. My husband likes to play zombie games on his phone. The one thing that is “quality time” in the traditional sense is bedtime stories. We do make a point of having that. Cody and Bronwen go to the library once a week and pick out new books. When we have the extra money we buy books from those Scholastic book orders through school. So she has a healthy love of books that we are proud of.

books and games!

books and games!

So are we “present”? Well, half way, I suppose. I think it’s a matter of finding what works with your family. I know some parents who refuse to allow their children any TV at all. The kids can only use the internet for homework, and no phones after a certain time of night. It seems like a lot of work to have a daily battle about this, especially if the kids happen to be teens. Not a battle I’d want to fight! But they do it because they want to keep the bad out as best they can. I don’t argue about it with them. I just feel like that’s the same attitude as the war on drugs or the war on terror in the States. It’s a hollow comfort for those who believe we need that kind of approach.

Anyway, I hope all your families are experiencing positive time together in your own ways. Have a good week!

Oh Bronwen!

Oh Bronwen!

Music and Meaning

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Concert Tee!

Concert Tee!

 

Fess up–as quilters we are natural hoarders. It begins with fabrics and thread, different needles, pins, machines, thimbles, interfacing, machine feet, you get the idea. I have another collection that my husband hates anew every time we move house: my records and record players.

just some of the records

just some of the records

This is not all of the albums. I have other nooks and crannies and boxes with albums. I started collecting when I was 15. Nobody thought it was cool then. People ask me “why are you a collector of a dead format like vinyl?” My answer: economics. I used to come across the odd $20 spending money at that age. One CD used to cost about $25 in those days. So I could scrape together the money for sales tax and get one CD, or I could be smart and get almost 20 records–they averaged about $1 apiece at the flea market! I also got records for free at the market because I was a good customer.

The habit starter

  The habit starter

This is the lovely Philips HiFi that I got from my Gramps in 1996. Today it serves as an aquarium stand. Our reef tank sits up there–30 gallons! This machine is an interesting piece and I’m so glad I still have it. It started out as a stereo in 1946–the year Gramps went into the Royal Navy. Of course, it was oak covered in a mahogany veneer. Can you believe they covered actual hard wood with plastic veneer?!

Anyway, by the time I got it the veneer was crumbling and making a huge mess. When I stripped off the veneer with a heat gun (truly toxic work and I should have worn a mask, but hey, I was a kid) the wood was revealed and was nice but only in places, so I decided to paint the piece. I used lead based white house primer and mallard green paint that was so old it didn’t stir properly, so it was streaky. I coated it with about three coats of high gloss polyurethane.

It stayed green for years until I met my husband and we moved into our first home that we bought together. The green didn’t go with our furniture. So I brought out the red! So it’s been red for the past decade or so.

Another question I get about it: Does it work? Answer: it needs new tubes and the turn table needs a new belt. The AM radio does work–picks up stations as far away as Seattle, which is quite a distance from here. But with the aquarium on top, the lid obviously stays closed and it serves as a stand.

I used to sit in front of this hifi where those circles are (the spots where the speakers are covered by rough fabric) with my open bottle of vodka and I’d line up my codeine tablets on the salmon coloured carpet. I used to play songs like “I can’t make music” “My little town” and anything by Art Garfunkel, James Taylor or Carole King and cry. There was a great deal of sadness in life back then.

I had developed borderline personality disorder but it was completely unnoticed, not monitored, and I was twisting in the wind. I had tried to seek help for myself but everywhere I sought it followed the belief system that because I was still in active addiction I was unable to be helped. I would have to quit drinking, which would be the easy bit, and quit those pain killers. Not so easy. I still have to make a conscious decision every day to not allow any minor discomfort to be an excuse to take pain killers of any sort. But regardless of the latter, there is something condemning about telling someone in dire straits that they are, essentially, unhelpable. It makes the addiction take an even firmer grip–at least, it did for me. I wouldn’t quit opiate pain killers until 2004, when my choices were to move on to heroin because of my high tolerance, or death.

I started hearing the same music differently after I was released from the detox facility in August, 2004. I found that my entire music collection was vinyl– a very physical format. One has to remove the disc from several layers of plastic and paper and then place a needle on it. And then you have to be careful around the stereo because you don’t want any skipping. Also you can’t go too far away because the record only plays for about 17 minutes on one side. I used to stack my albums on one of those steel spindles that drops the records down. Kind of like an in-home juke box set up. But I put too many on there once and broke the spindle! 😦 Big sad emoticon!

I still love records as a mom, wife, quilter, etc. And I love having my collection swaddling me in my home along with all my other stuff–mounds of fabric, threads, journals, books of poetry, CDs, paints, canvas, beads….But I’m so glad that they have more meaning now. It’s kind of like whenever I hear the lines at the end of “A Song For You” which was written by Leon Russell but made famous by the Carpenters in 1972: “And when my life is over, remember when we were together/we were alone and I was singing this song for you/we were alone and I was singing this song for you.” Karen Carpenter died at 32 in 1983, and this is why many fans listen to this song and wonder over it’s prophetic meaning. But I hear it and think about my old life and am glad that it’s dead.

Now the trick is keeping myself alive–and keeping the desire to stay alive. I’m older than Karen was, and most people in highschool thought I’d be the first to die, and I’m not. Katherine passed away from cancer. I need to reconcile the old labels I got: “crazy” “reckless” “dangerous” “unhelpable.”

Wish me luck.

 

more...

more…

Explore with me

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Explore with me

 

 

 

 

explore sugar block

I think it’s very interesting that this month’s Sugar block (a fun BOM over on Amy Gibson’s sweet little blog) was an elaborate pinwheel which even included some paper piecing.  She called the block “explore.”

Now in her post about this theme she mentions how we all tend to be creatures of habit and want to do the same things. I’m so there! Like she said, I like to eat the same foods, watch the same tv shows, pick Bronwen up, or conversely drop her off at her scheduled places (I am the proud owner of a solar powered key chain that flashes “Mom’s Taxi.”) I just generally go about my day and do the same things.

Yesterday was my birthday. This year was that fun year where I got the terrific birthday gift of needing to renew my driver’s license. That was amusing. But I got a lovely ice cream cake and an enthusiastic daughter who insisted on putting all the candles around it. We had to convince her that daddy would light them, though.

Ice cream cake!!

 

Just to save you the trouble of counting the candles, I am 33 years old now. I have lived longer than many friends ever thought possible. This is one of the things me and the psych talk about all the time–living as long as I have is an accomplishment.  At least, to him it is. For me, not really. Like eating the same foods or taking the same route home from work, I’ve tried to get people to understand how it bothers me that life is so much like one of those punch card machines in a workplace. Wake up. Punch in. Have lunch. Punch out. Back to work. Punch in. Go to bed. Punch out. What’s truly depressing about this analogy is that even my doctor who sits and listens to this often agrees with me. He’s admitted to me that he feels like that a lot too. Well that’s no good! It feels like I’m preaching to the choir!

So okay. I keep myself busy. But I try to find different ways of quilting that teach me new techniques and keep my hands busy. Just last week I finished a mystery quilt that was a terrific Kimberly Einmo design called chain of stars:

Chain of stars quilt top

 

I did it all in batik fabrics that were on sale at the Cloth Castle. I’ve never worked solely with batiks like this before. I consider this a bit of a stretch for me–it’s a traditional, yet modified block placement of a Jacob’s ladder quilt. I don’t do a ton of traditional stuff, so making this was interesting. (Although I did end up ordering her flying geese ruler and jelly roll ruler because they look like they’re pretty awesome and I think I will be making more flying geese.) Now to do this quilt required some planning. I had to number the fabrics and make sure they all coordinated just so. I think it turned out great!

But sometimes it’s just as fun and gives the same feeling of accomplishment when one gets to just play at the machine. So I found another pattern I liked that was in Jenny Doan’s “Quilting Quickly 2” class on Craftsy that was a prism quilt made of two jelly rolls (I used one jelly roll called “flirt” and extra yardage but you get the idea). Straight line sewing, and minimal crucial match points. I even had enough left over to make an oversized saw tooth border:

Flirt prism quilt

 

The next truly traditional quilt I’m going to tackle (after I’m done all the other things I long to make, haha!) is the double wedding ring. The class is available finally on Craftsy. If you’re an addict like me, it is a very helpful class. But I digress.

Quilting makes me feel warm, both literally and figuratively. The iron and sitting under a quilt sandwich while stitching it does work up a sweat on hot days. Figuratively it makes my heart feel like I’m connected to my Auntie (in Italian, Zia) over in Italy who had to be the best with an iron that I’ve ever seen. She introduced me to the power of a pressure steam iron. I have a Rowenta just like her old one now and I wouldn’t trade it for any other wimpy iron! I think of her all the time when I’m pressing.

I think of my grand mother (in Italian, Nonna) who lives in Canada but in the Kootenays, which is far enough away from me that I only see her once or twice a year. She is an avid crocheter, knitter, and can make her 1960s Singer, well, sing! She’s one of those lucky people who can see an image on a pattern or walk up to any doily and figure out how it was made and replicate it. She and I are quite alike. She has always lived her life on her terms (although we suspect that she and my grand father, who is almost 11 years older, were arranged to be married. She won’t admit to this.) and I think she’s fairly satisfied with what she was delivered. She’s recently suffered a stroke which has shaken her sense of mortality loose a bit.

I remember when she had her first mastectomy about 12 years ago. We went to visit because we were worried for her and wanted to be there. I remember leaning in to give her a hug and kind of making it a side-lean so that I wouldn’t brush up against her prosthetic. I was afraid of it. A part of my unbreakable Nonna had been cut away, just like any other mortal. But she took my other side and pulled it in tightly, saying “You’re not going to break me!” in her typical irreverent tone. She had kicked cancer’s ass by going full boar and having the breast removed when she didn’t have to. Removal of the tumor and radiation was an option but she didn’t want the suffering just to save her boob. I admired that then and still do.

My iron wielding Zia in Italy passed away from cancer about three years ago. I saw her last in 1995. She too lived as she wanted, but within the parameters of her generation’s tolerance. Meaning, she had an elementary school education only; she was a wife and mother. That was her lot and she accepted that. However she had the loudest voice at the table and was large and in charge. Man she fought her illness. But I never had the money to get over to her in time before it killed her. Something invisible to the naked eye killed her. It was an impossibility to me. I was in the hospital after a suicide attempt when she died. I had to borrow the common area phone and talk with Nonna, numb the both of us, saying how hard she fought.

And that’s what life seems to be for people like me. Sure, I am not ill with cancer or some other horrible affliction. But I do have a host of psychiatric problems that date back almost 20 years. Just like me, each morning they’re there to greet me. Punch in. Punch out. The best I can do is keep stitching and keep one foot in front of the other, just like everyone else.

Brownen's embroidered feet

 

Gratitude is abundant

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Not to sound like I’m having a cheesy Oprah moment where I’m “making the connection” or generally having a eureka moment, but I thought I’d post about gratitude being around me.

I’m on a bit of a philosophical kick right now because it’s just the sewing machine and me all day while my family is out at school and work. And lately I’m doing a TON of strip piecing, which is just like sewing down an Alberta highway–a zillion kilometers of 1/4″ straight seam allowance at a zillion kilometers an hour. Not that I’m complaining. It’s just that one gets to thinking about other stuff while doing that.

I’ve gotten to the issue of gratitude. Initially when I started quilting (when I was pregnant with Bronwen, so about 5 years ago) I relied a lot on my basic sewing knowledge that I’d gotten through formal lessons as a kid. Yep–my parents put me in proper garment sewing lessons at the age of about 9. They let me use mom’s 1960s era made-of-Detroit-steel Singer at home to finish my projects. I made a shirt, some neon pink sweat pants (complete with elastic waist), a neon green draw string gym bag, you get the idea. It was the early 1990s and all things neon ruled my world!

Fast forward to 2008: I had a new (plastic housing) Singer sewing machine (I still have that very basic machine and would like a new one, hint hint to my husband!) and a book of baby quilt patterns. I was feeling, well, maternal. I was just about to be pregnant and wanted to get into a domestic, yet creative and artistic hobby that could benefit my new family. So quilting made sense. And I thought I felt great!

I made the cutest cloud quilt that was the best introduction to piecing because it called for only two fabrics and was made mostly with strip sets. Great! Of course, not too many points matched up because I didn’t have proper cutting technique (I didn’t realize there was this nifty tool called a rotary cutter) and I had no idea about how to get 1/4″ seam allowances. They were closer to 1/2″. And that’s when I was consistent.

baby cloud quilt

baby cloud quilt

And then the part I looked forward to most–hand quilting! I have been a cross stitcher and embroider-er for enough time to know how to make pretty stitches. But I didn’t know one needed batting with NO scrim. Nor did I even think about basting. So my hands were pretty torn up and the quilt has virtually no quilting on it. But it still works. I am also proud of the fact that I mitred my binding!

mitred on my first try!

mitred on my first try!

Anyway, why this foray into quilting history? Well, my local quilt shop, http://clothcastle.com handed out a form to say they were holding a quilt show for log cabin quilts. There was a small entry fee and whomever won the contest got to keep half the pot and donate the rest to a cause of their choice. I like a challenge and I did have a hankering to make a new quilt. I knew I wouldn’t win (and I didn’t) because I didn’t even know about rotary cutters, come on!

But one thing they did was to say that we were to make these log cabins our own. Well, I made a ridiculously bold quilt, that’s for sure. It had needle turned applique, embroidery and hand quilting.

I finished it in the hospital. I managed to get the machine piecing finished at home but felt it was still lacking something despite its alternating blue and orange palette. (Both fabrics were prints too, so it was super busy already.)

I wish I could tell you that I was in the hospital for something easy like my gallbladder, which happened about a year later, but one morning when Bronwen was four months old, after I finished the bottle ritual that had worn me thin, I opened the cabinet to take my now large cocktail of anti psychotics, SSRIs, and anti anxiety drugs. The bottles were very delightful looking plastic vessels that shone in the sunlight. I had amassed many pills. I had amassed many horrific thoughts. I knew I was about to do something very wrong but felt my body acting in spite of any rational thoughts that were trying to break through. I swallowed every pill I had, excepting the Prozac. It was meant to make me happy and I didn’t feel like that drug would help my cause of death.

I went upstairs and wrote a lengthy letter to my husband and daughter outlining my reasons for leaving them. I tried, most of all, to address my daughter to tell her that in no way was this her fault and she should never feel like that.

I closed the letter, getting very groggy and clumsy with the pen now, with the final lines from Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”: “And miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep.” The doubled line really drove home the length of my sadness, I felt. It didn’t matter that I needed to quote someone else to express it.

I woke up several days later in an emergency ward and was shipped off to a mental hospital after being deemed “stable” in the medical sense. While convalescing on ward 4A I had managed to bring in some fabric and had gotten my portable sewing kit out of lockup. But what to do? Embroider! But what? All the names of the patients on the fourth floor with me that I knew. So I set to work.

The result was a crib sized quilt with tons of names on it.

craaaazy busy quilt!

craaaazy busy quilt!

When the quilt show finally came, I’d finished the quilt. I went and saw just how amazing some people with more experience were. It was great! At the end of the show, after the winner was announced, we were to collect our entries. I’d written a blurb to go with my quilt, explaining this story that you just read. And when everyone saw that I was the maker of this bizarre and busy quilt, I got so many hugs. Total strangers were lining up to hug me and wish me the best through my journey of a mixture of post partum depression, existing depression, and a rough personality disorder. They all saw my baby in the stroller and adored her.

This post is for them. They shared a wealth of knowledge in that quilt show–not just of technique and possibilities, but that it’s not always necessary, even in our crazy stiff-upper-lip culture, to keep even our most deepest sorrows to ourselves. Just go to the quilt shop. Hugs abound!