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July Sugar Block

July Sugar Block

Here’s this month’s block that Amy Gibson calls “serve.” It was an interesting combination of techniques: quarter square triangles, paper foundation piecing, and the basic nine patch assembly. It was a fun task to grab some stripes and make them line up the way I wanted them to. I’ve always had an irrational fear of stripes in my quilting–probably because they never lined up in one direction, like when my grand mother used to force me to wear striped pants when I was a kid! But they worked great this time around and I’m so happy!

Anyway, Amy put it to us to “serve.” She quoted the Bible and seemed to find some solace there, and that’s cool. I liked her bullet list at the end of the entry that was a bunch of down to earth methods to be a better person. Like patience in line, giving people your seat, doing others favours when they ask you to (ie getting them a drink from the fridge while you’re on your way over; there’s a common request in our house!) etc. Just being good. I’d like to think I follow those tenets of living. Although depression makes it very hard sometimes.

For those who’ve lived with a person who is depressed they probably think it’s a selfish disease. It looks like that on the outside. But it’s not. It’s an exhausting disease. And any medications don’t help. And for the same reason depressives often fall on depressant drugs like alcohol and pain killers, the pharmaceutical companies produce meds that have the same sedating effects. It’s a drag, quite literally.

Bronwen's tomato sprouting seeds

Bronwen’s tomato sprouting seeds

One thing that’s been inspirational lately is watching Bronwen grow up. She has developed interests that I never had at her age, like nature. This girl is a whiz at sprouting seeds and keeping plants alive.  Her father and I are terrible at it, but she’s got a green thumb. She also remembers factoids about certain trees, plants, and animals. She makes sure our fish and invertebrates are doing well each day. It’s so refreshing to hear her spout off about that stuff. Don’t get me wrong–she’s a normal kid, too. She loves video games, cartoons, Disney princesses, and being colour coordinated.

When she was a baby she felt like a small animal that was constantly unhappy. My husband and I were fighting day and night to keep her and ourselves alive. It was a strange feeling. I didn’t feel love for her at that point and I’m not proud of that. But in “service” of this person that I wasn’t particularly fond of yet, I did all the laundry, diaper prep for the diaper service, bathing (in between my own mandatory sitz baths), and bottle cleaning. Now she’s school age and we can talk things through. We are happy we served her well and she is a happy, thriving child about to enter kindergarten.

an earring bundle!

an earring bundle!

I just sold these earrings yesterday. It was so awesome to see a happy lady take some merchandise off my hands. Some of you may not know this, but I actually make jewelry too! I just haven’t made any lately because I have a full inventory! So there you have it: another facet of me. It’s a lot of fun meeting people who will be wearing my goodies.

This lady who came to my home had two very gregarious young boys. The oldest told me he was five and by the looks of his brother (who was dressed in a super hero costume) he was likely around three. They immediately spotted the trappings of another kid’s house: building blocks laying around, balloons, and of course they couldn’t resist the keyboard at full blast. Now the old me (especially prior to motherhood) would have dwelled on those kids making such noise. But in service to my client I talked to the kids about kid stuff and talked with their mom about mom stuff. It was fun, really. And it was all following the basic tenets of being a good person, I think. And I think that’s what I read into Amy Gibson’ s blog post about service. Give it a read. See what you think.

mighty bail of batiks

mighty bail of batiks

These are just some wicked awesome batiks that I wanted to show off! They’re for my next quilt! I never used to think much of batiks but I’m starting to really like them.

Have a fun week everyone!


Explore with me

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


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!