I found some batik strips one evening as I was going through a tote of fabric and decided to see what I could make. I thought about what I could do and then settled on the idea of sign language. I sketched an “I love you” sign and heart. From there, I was able to make a matching set of wall quilts.
I believe these have been claimed, but I’ll update this post if I’m wrong. I’m very happy with how these have come out, and I’m loving the sign language idea and will probably make another set at some point.
This is an article I wrote a while back for our community magazine last fall. I wanted to share it on the blog as well.
The holiday season is upon us, and people are already beginning to buy gifts to give – if they haven’t started already. Gift-giving is an art form in and of itself, and it takes many factors into consideration: age, cost, usefulness, etc. The best gifts can also remind the recipient about the giver as well, and this is where a unique group of gift-givers excel – the handmade gifts.
It’s a common misconception that handmade gifts are low cost or even “cheap.” But nothing could be further from the truth. When someone takes the time to buy/collect supplies and craft an item specifically for a loved one, that takes a personal investment that simply cannot be duplicated in an item purchased from a store. Not to say that bought items aren’t special because, of course, they can also be cherished. But there is something about a handmade gift that endures beyond its time and even beyond the item itself. Some of my favorite pieces of furniture, while not the most attractive, are special to me simply because my great-grandfather made them. And as of the last several years, they are also a lasting memory as the man himself is no longer with me. So what is it about a handmade item that gives it that lasting power? The explanation is more profound than one might first think.
In 1992 Gary Chapman released his book The Five Love Languages. He identifies five areas where people express their love for others as well as how they feel the most loved. These areas include Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, and Physical Touch. As a quick review, Acts of Service translate to doing nice things for a person, like washing their dishes or mowing the lawn. Words of Affirmation simply mean a person likes to be told how much they matter. Quality time can mean a date or any one-on-one time. My eight-year-old daughter feels most loved when we spend time together, so a trip alone with her to the grocery store can help her feel connected and loved. Receiving Gifts doesn’t mean that a person is greedy – just that a gift, no matter how small, is a gesture that means more than just the item itself. My sister showed her love to her friends every year as a child by spending her birthday money on Christmas gifts for them. And she is so very proud when she knows she has found THE perfect gift for someone. And Physical Touch doesn’t have to be overly dramatic. It could be as simple as hand holding. My six year old son feels loved if we are sitting beside one another while watching a movie. As long as some knee or foot is touching me, he feels loved. And while it is possible that some gestures can fall across multiple areas, I can only think of one thing that combines all five.
A handmade gift is unique in that it covers multiple Love Languages. The act of making it with a specific person in mind, the time spent on designing and crafting it, and even a sweet note accompanying it all touch on multiple routes wherein people feel loved. It says over and over again, “I love you.” A person made this item specifically for that person, spent time on it, made it with their own touch, gave it freely to that person, and it often includes an explanation or sweet note with it. A handmade gift has the potential to say “I love you” in all five Love Languages. And in that, it is no small feat.
So if you are lucky enough to receive a handmade gift this holiday season, take a moment and realize exactly what you have been given. It isn’t a mere item or token. It certainly isn’t cheap. It is the ultimate expression of what it means to love another person from every conceivable angle. Honor the handmade gift for it was made with love.
For the most part, my quilting hobby is fun, especially the t-shirt quilt commissions. I love the look on someone’s face (usually a sneaky mom who smuggled shirts to me) when they see those shirts made into a quilt their senior will take to college. But sometimes the quilt commissions can take a more somber tone. Sometimes I’m tasked with a commission to make a memory quilt from clothes from a loved one that has passed on. I’ve made memory quilts from clothes of both deceased younger and older folks, and it’s a profound task, preserving memories of someone else’s loved one.
My first t-shirt quilts were from my father’s clothes, and they showed me the healing power of a memory quilt. My father died unexpectedly, and I had a lot of anger mixed in with my grief. It was an anger that I didn’t know what to do with, and I felt powerless to confront. And then my grandmother told me I’d be making four t-shirt quilts for myself, her, and my two other sisters. And it was in the making of these that I found a degree of peace and finally felt like I could say goodbye. Clothes are probably the hardest part of a loved one to reliquish. We remember what they looked like in them, which ones they favored, and they even smell like that person for a long time afterwards.
I was nervous when I made a memory quilt for someone outside of my own family. It was for a young man who had passed away from cancer. I remember gulping a bit as I finished up the design process and was ready to make those initial cuts into the shirts. Again, the idea of preserving those memories for someone else is daunting. So I prayed. I placed my hand on the bags of clothes and prayed for guidance, peace for the grieving family, and the ability to do that person’s memory justice. Whenever I have a quilt that has a similar back story, I take the time to pray beforehand, asking for the same guidance.
I thought I would share that prayer with you all in case you find yourself faced with a similar challenge. Feel free to use, adjust, or change as needed.
“Heavenly Father, I pray your guidance as I make this quilt. Please guide my hands that I may do justice to this person’s memory. May this quilt bring their family comfort in their grief and remind them of more joyful times. In your name I pray, amen.”
Update- I currently have a guitar quilt listed in my shop!
This quilt was given today. I’ve been sitting on it since earlier this month, and I couldn’t make a peep about it since it was for a friend who was also connected with me via social media. She’s a youth minister, and I was asked to make a quilt in celebration of her 15 years of service at our church.
I thought about several options concerning the design, but we all knew it would be for signing in the end. So this meant it would need a lot of light colors or at least a good sized section.
I remembered I had a picture in my Pinterest quilt section that I’d been wanting to try. It wouldn’t take anything to do a different instrument! And what does every self-respecting youth minster play? The guitar, of course! I loved the blog entry that went along with it.
**This pattern is now for sale on Etsy by the original creator! It seems only fair to post a link to the pattern here as well. Violin Pattern Etsy Link
I also had a rainbow jelly roll I’d purchased while on vacation with friends in Mississippi. I’d been waiting on just the right project to come along, and this one seemed perfect!
The urge is to think that you can simply cut out the fabric and flip it, but that would have the wrong side of the fabric and the seams sticking out. I had to make two identical columns of rainbows and cut out a guitar shape from each. The cool part is that in doing this I automatically had two quilt tops prepped!
I couldn’t get to my projector at work, so I got creative and taped a bunch of card stock together, traced half of my own guitar, folded the paper in half, and cut out a full sized guitar! I did it this way to ensure symmetry. I am keeping the template as it looks neat and will, no doubt, come in useful for later projects.
The side with the white half of the guitar is made using reverse applique, and the other side is using traditional applique.
The quilting inside the guitar needed to be extra special. There’s a song that is sung at a lot of the youth events, and it was stuck in my head almost the entire time I was making the top. So it seemed a no-brainer that the first verse of that song would be quilted into the white part of the guitar. The song is “The Servant Song”, and I quilted the following in cursive, “won’t you let me be your servant. Let me be as Christ to you. Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.” And although I’m a literature teacher, I had to forego the punctuation. It hurt a little.
For the rainbow side where no one would sign, I really wanted to do some type of vine or tendril look. I did a faint tendril on the white side as well because it needed some type of quilting to ensure it was sturdy.
After that, I did my usual wrap around binding technique and used rainbow thread. The final step was to add a hanging sleeve.
We presented it to her this morning and hung it up at the reception for everyone to sign.
Empty bobbins are moments in life where we pause and reflect. It’s like when your bobbin runs out in the middle of a project, and you have to pause everything you’re doing to reload. Here’s one such reflective moment. This is a recollection on how small moments can have unforeseen effects.
Our story begins in July of 2000. I had just gotten on to the campus of Berry College for my freshman orientation, and I was excited to be spending the next four years on this gorgeous campus. Berry College has what’s known as “The Berry Bubble” where the outside world seems to get cut off, and our sense of community was so strong we could go back to older ways now considered dangerous, liking giving rides to other students when we didn’t necessarily know one another yet.
I guess that bubble-effect is immediate because I slowed down and offered a lone guy, clearly a new freshman like myself, a ride to the buildings where orientation was to begin. It was July, after all, and even in the Appalachian foothills the heat was profound. His name was Jonathan, and we spent the rest of that afternoon chatting and getting acquainted with the campus and our peers.
The first week of classes, he was still about the only guy I knew on campus, and my roommate had met him, too, so she and I decided to be brave and visit Jonathan over at the boys’ dorm. I’ll admit, the boys’ dorm was a unique experience, and before my college years were up I’d have a lot of memories there – some innocent and some not: my first time getting intoxicated (1 of 3 times in my entire life), my first D&D game, realizing I’d forgotten a music performance there, staying up all night watching movies in the lobby, and even learning how to do a 3 point haircut. But it all began with that first trip to visit a friend.
My roommate and I ventured up to that top floor, reserved for freshman, and found Jonathan’s room, door wide open to anyone who wanted to stop by. That’s Jonathan to a tee – open, friendly, and one of the nicest people I know. He still is, by the way. Top-notch dude. There I also met his roommate, and it wasn’t long before that roommate and I started talking. But that relationship didn’t last much longer than our freshman year, and it was definitely for the best. One good thing that came out of all this was that I met his friends, affectionately known as the computer kids. You see, I was a music major, a group notoriously close knit and always nose-deep in a practice room. I didn’t have a lot of the same classes as these guys because of rehearsals and private lessons. Most of my core classes were early in the morning – not so for them and anyone else who could manage it.
I met the computer kids, and through them, my junior year, I started going to a LARP (Live Action Role Play). Yes, it’s geeky. If you’re judging and raising an eyebrow right now, then you have permission to go and step on the nearest Lego. I got the last laugh, as you’ll see by the end.
Anyhow, through this LARP I met some of the most wonderful people who are my dearest friends to this day. These friends decided that I would make a good match with a guy named Herb. So they told a white lie on one side and a white lie on the other, and eventually he and I went on our first date. I had just gotten out of an engagement and had no interest in dating, and he wasn’t “on the hunt” for a girlfriend. That meant it really was the perfect scenario because neither of us was feeling pressured or pressuring the other. It was a relationship built on a foundation of not being too serious or pushy, and that has become a trend with us. This kept our wedding from turning into something other than a celebration and union (no stress or over-the-top displays), and holidays are pretty fun because we don’t get too wrapped up in the presentation of it all. And we’ve kept that same idea throughout our marriage (10 years and counting) –never take yourself too seriously. Always be able to sit back, breathe, and laugh about it and about yourself. Fourteen years since our first date, ten years since our marriage, two children, two cats, a dog, and a house later – I’m still head over heels for this tall, bearded guy who surprises me with sour gummies when he goes to the store.
It’s funny how life works, though. I always wonder how my life would be if I hadn’t stopped that day back in July of 2000 to give Jonathan a ride.
**So this post is easily my most popular. I’m glad to see it. But, shameless plug here, if you guys appreciate my writing, check out the actual reason for this site – my quilt art. There’s a shop and link to my Etsy store. Just saying. Anyhow – enjoy the analysis!
As mentioned before, in my real life I’m a literature teacher at a high school. If you’ll permit me to exercise my non-quilting skills, I’ll demonstrate what I do on a daily basis in my classroom.
I recently took my kids to see Incredibles 2 (okay, let’s be honest – I took myself, the kids were just along for the ride!) Like many Pixar films, there was a short film prior. These are really cute and usually saturated with metaphors and rife with literary analysis, and this movie was no different. It had a little film titled “Bao”, directed by Domee Shi. Some friends of mine, and other rando folks on the internet, expressed confusion and concern over it. As a literature teacher, I “got it”, so I figured I’d share this little analysis with you all.
The Folklore Connection
So there are several things going on in the background of this little film that help with sorting it all out. For starters, this is a nice little nod to the Eastern folklore story of “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.” (It goes by other variations of that name as well.) Think about it as a sort of Eastern version of “Thumbelina” or even “Pinocchio”, and you’ll follow along just fine. At its heart, it’s the story about a lonely bamboo cutter and his wife who have no children and desperately wish for one. One day while out on the job, the bamboo cutter’s wish is granted in the form of a small, very small, baby who comes from a bamboo stalk. The story goes on from there, but it’s the origin of the baby that’s important for this connection. The baby was created out of a desperate wish for companionship, for a child specifically, to love and raise. At the opening of “Bao”, we see a couple, older, who are having a quiet dinner. The husband doesn’t say much/anything, and we’re led to believe that the woman’s wish is possibly the result of loneliness in marriage.
Yes, it’s a bit of a shock when she bites into that last dumpling/bao and it begins to cry like a baby. We watch in surprise along with the lady as the dumpling becomes sentient and acts just as a baby would. Where we part ways with the woman is that she accepts the presence of the dumpling child and basically rolls with it.
Now comes the second part of the background knowledge you’ll need. Congratulations! You’ve just been exposed to [possibly] your first experience of a genre known as “magical realism”. It’s a neat genre, one of my favorites actually, where the world seems normal and folks generally go by established social norms; except when something “magical” happens they just roll with it. Examples of this genre range from the writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, especially his masterpiece 100 Years of Solitude, all the way to Toni Morrison’s Beloved. More popular cultural examples are found all throughout the films released by Studio Ghibli and its head, Hayao Miyazaki. Coincidentally, they also released Princess Kaguya, a version of “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.”
So here’s what I mean. In Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, a character actually, literally ascends to Heaven. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. She straight up GOES Straight Up. And while we normal folks in our realm would be confused and concerned about the logistics and get caught up in the details, the normal folks in the novel take careful note of the event and then go on with their day with a sort of “guess it figures” attitude. In Miyazaki’s film My Neighbor Totoro, the kids run to the dad, claiming the house is haunted. His only response is to comment something along the lines of “Neat! I’ve always wanted to live in a haunted house!” No one questions or dismisses the kids’ claims. They believe and embrace them.
So when the little dumpling turns sentient and the woman rolls with it instead of getting caught up in the “why” and “how” of it all, the story crosses over from the realm of the normal and is now operating by the magical realism rules.
Once the scenario is established and we’ve, hopefully, accepted the situation that this woman is now a “mother” to this little dumpling child, we follow her struggles. This isn’t a normal child. It’s easily damaged, and she’s fought long and hard to bring it up as best as she can. While strange, we can compare her joys and its growth and fears of the outside world to our own if we are parents. I’m a mother of two, and the idea of something happening to my two children is enough to change my breathing and blood pressure immediately.
So we learn to understand her concerns, but we also see the little dumpling child pulling away. We see it going through the typical “phases” of childhood and adolescence. Again, we can compare these scenes to our own experiences as either parent or child – or both!
Tugging through this all is the one thought “how long can she keep this up?”
Food as a love language symbolism
It’s where these struggles reach their peak that we see how big a role food actually plays in this film. It wasn’t a coincidence that the film begins with a meal. As Professor Thomas C. Foster points out in his book How to Read Literature Like a Professor, meals are symbolic of relationships and indicative of how close people are. Want to see how healthy a family really is? Watch them when they sit down to a meal together. It’s very telling. For a quick reference examine EVERY DINNER SCENE IN THE INCREDIBLES MOVIES. BOTH OF THEM.
So the film opens with a meal between two people with no conversation or eye contact. It’s an easy sell for us as the audience that the woman probably feels lonely. As strange as the device of the dumpling child would be, it’s a nice symbolic tie-in that it comes after the husband has left the table and the last piece of food is being eaten by the woman that the dumpling child manifests. It arrives at the height of her loneliness and her “love language” being unrequited or appreciated. If the phrase “love language” is confusing, here’s what I mean.
We also see the big scene where, in a last effort to reach her grumpy, petulant dumpling child, she cooks the most delicious-looking meal that animation has EVER produced! I mean I wanted to go out to the nearest Chinese restaurant after that scene and dig in! You can see the love and care she takes to ensure this meal is “perfect”. And her dumpling child rejects it and leaves her alone in the room. She then proceeds to eat the entire meal by herself. On the surface, it looks like she’s being petty and doesn’t want to give her dumpling child the satisfaction of leftovers, but symbolically she’s taking back her love because it was rejected. She can’t take it anymore and tries to “self-love” as she consumes this perfect meal by herself. Notice that the husband is no longer shown in these parts because it has ceased to be about him a long time ago. This is about her and her need for affection.
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme
After that rejected food offering, the film reaches its climax. The dumpling child returns home with a girlfriend. In fact, he indicates he’s leaving the home to be with her. Here the woman reaches her most frantic state of mind. After all that she’s done to keep him safe. All that she’s provided. All the love she’s invested. She cannot bear to see him leave, so she pulls back – literally. She does physically what I can only guess every mother has done emotionally when seeing her son “replace” her in her mind. We know she can’t actually stop him. And she probably knows that, even if she were to miraculously manage to keep him with her physically, the emotional connection has changed. In her mind, it’s gone.
And here’s where most people, rightfully so, were “disturbed”. (I use the word I’ve seen used to describe this scene by others online.) She eats it. She eats the dumpling child in a final effort to keep it from leaving her. Of course her regret is immediate because she’s still lost the dumpling child. In her fervor to keep it from leaving her, she’s destroyed any chance of a relationship.
And it’s here that the story also reaches its zenith of symbolism.
Parents know that our kids aren’t ours to keep indefinitely. They will pull away and leave our care and safety at some point. And the harder we try to control that and fight it the harder the push back is. And in her efforts to put off that separation she destroyed everything, including the one she loved most. The story acts as a warning against that consuming love that won’t admit growth and separation. It is destructive and will only end in tears and further loneliness and alienation.
Isn’t This Just Empty Nest Syndrome?
I’ve seen some claim the film is simply about “empty nest syndrome”. Well, kinda. But that seems simplistic and doesn’t quite do justice to the complexity of this story. Empty Nest Syndrome focuses on the separation of the parent and child. “Bao” is much deeper than this. It’s about that love between a mother and her child and where the line gets crossed between love that is nurturing to love that is destructive. It’s about that fear parents have of no longer being relevant in their child’s life. It’s about being possibly replaced.
Wait, there’s a son?!
And here we see her, lying on her bed in the dark, crying continuously. She’s admittedly much worse off than she was at the beginning of the film. We see the long-absent husband looking in on her with concern. And then the big reveal happens. Her human son walks in, looking adorably like a little dumpling himself. This makes it easy to understand why we’re only just now seeing him. The woman was crying both over her dumpling child’s fate AND the fact that she’s repeated the same mistake again. Held on too hard again. Severed that bond because it couldn’t be all hers… again. Her loneliness that we saw in the opening scene wasn’t from her marriage but from her vacant role as mother.
Here’s where it gets sweet. The son gets pushed in by the dad in a final attempt at reconciliation. And what does the son do to shorten the distance between himself and his mother? He speaks her love language and offers her food. And he joins her in this little “communion” and eats as well. They sit on the bed, side-by-side, and just eat. No words are necessary; they’re already speaking. He understands her much better than she realized. He was listening after all.
From this small moment, they begin again. Only this time the significant other is invited in to the relationship, and the mother assumes the role of mentor instead of “mother.” After all, her motherly instincts before revolved around protection. As a mentor, her role changes, and so do the dynamics. The wife is welcomed and included. Not only that, but she excels!
The food symbolism changes from the sitting down and eating together to the preparation of the meal itself. The mother is no longer simply offering up her love language of food for others to consume. Now she is enabling others to also express themselves in that same medium, and they create the meal together. And as such, she is no longer in fear of being irrelevant or unnecessary in her son’s life. She is important and feels it. And the best part is now her child/children have a way to speak her own love language to her. She is now open to receiving love in addition to offering it.
The boy and I decided to get some mommy-son pictures made, and I wanted to bring something that was important to both of us. So I brought the Star Wars quilt I made him. This was the prototype for the other Star Wars quilts I made.
I like how they turned out. Miles over at Portrait Innovations did a great job!
Empty bobbins are moments in life where we pause and reflect. It’s like when your bobbin runs out in the middle of a project, and you have to pause everything you’re doing to reload. Here’s one such reflective moment.
Mr. S’s Love
Years ago, my kids and I were walking around the curve in our previous neighborhood, which is mostly retired people, when I waved to two older gentlemen talking in a front yard. Their conversation ended as we passed, and one man, now referred to as Mr. S, walked over to say hello to us. We all said hello, and I pointed to our house. He said he remembered when we moved in that we didn’t have kids. I made a comment about no adult supervision, and then he asked if the kids liked candy.
Was it mean that I immediately thought he was going to offer us a Werther’s Original hard candy?
I mentioned we had enough Easter candy, but he seemed eager, so I finally capitulated and accepted his offer of some mints and chocolate covered raisins. And I do love some chocolate covered raisins. He invited us up to the house.
I’d noticed his house before. It was newer and looked very nice and quaint from the outside. It was certainly in a different league from my 1978 doodoo brown ranch house. He opened a side door into the kitchen, and we walked in. (I’ll add I wasn’t too worried about safety as Mr. S lived alone and was 86 years old. Pretty sure I could take him if need be.) Here’s where the moment became more than just candy and mints.
You see, Mr. S was a widower, a fact he shared with me as we entered the house. He said his wife had passed away about six years ago, and they had been married for 56 years. He said, “When you’ve been married for that long, you kinda get used to one another.” I know our younger family reminds our older neighbors of that period in their lives sometimes, so I smiled and figured that seeing me with my 3 year old and 1 year old reminded him of his own family. But later he informed me they had no children.
And then, he proceeded to show off the house. He said his wife had had it built, and that she had passed not long after it was finished. He commented, “She built me a house and then left me” more than once. He mentioned her constantly, too. At times, it even sounded like he was fussing at her for leaving him, but in a good-natured way.
I’ll admit it – the house was perfect. It was just what I would have designed for myself: wainscoting, high ceilings, large kitchen, sun porch, butler’s pantry – elegant but not pretentious. He showed us all around the bottom floor, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. I mean, yes, the house was gorgeous, but we’d come over for candy and mints. I hadn’t commented on the house much at all. Certainly not enough to warrant a tour.
As we walked, I saw pictures of his wife were everywhere. There were pictures of her when she was younger at the early part of their marriage all the way to gray haired dame. And yet, she still didn’t look “old” at the most recent picture I saw. The house looked very sophisticated and decorated, and I figured it hadn’t changed much since she’d gotten it set the way she wanted. And then it hit me as to why we were getting a tour.
Mr. S was proud of his wife. He was bragging on her, even six years after she’d died he was still beaming with pride. Every detail of the house was attributed her good taste and ability. I’d never met Mrs. S, but her presence was everywhere in that home. If I had walked in without Mr. S there to narrate, I’d have assumed she was still very much alive. The house just felt…complete. It didn’t feel like an 86 year old widower lived there. That house was just as much Mrs. S’s today as it was 6 years ago when it was finished in time for her to pass on.
I suppose it’s a good thing that Mr. and Mrs. S had gotten used to each other after all that time because it’s clear she isn’t leaving him any time soon.
Of course, this was several years ago. I have since learned of Mr. S’s own passing. And while it was sad to know that such a kindly old man wouldn’t be waving at us from his yard anymore or offering mints and chocolate covered raisins, I couldn’t help but smile a little because I knew he was finally back with Mrs. S.
This quilt goes down as one of the most emotional quilts I’ve done. For starters, I was asked to complete it by another quilter, so I felt like it needed to be perfect. Another consideration was the fact that it was a memory quilt in memory of a younger person. I’d done memory quilts before, and it wasn’t the first one I’d made for a mother. But this one felt different, and I wanted more than anything to do the lady’s memory justice. After all, I remembered her memorial service because I volunteered to help in the church nursery while it was going on.
Some things that stood out, however, were that my normal medium was gone. This was not a standard t-shirt quilt. In fact, there wasn’t a single t-shirt in any of the bags of clothes I was given! But what I DID have was dress clothes. Clothes with cool textures. Clothes with beautiful embroidery. Clothes with unique colors. So I sat on the quilt idea and wondered what to do.
The mother, being a quilter, had suggested something akin to a “crazy quilt” style, but none of the patterns or images I found online seemed to be exactly right. I looked around and must have seen 100 different ideas on how a crazy quilt can look. And then one morning during my shower, where I do my best thinking, I thought of the 101st crazy quilt pattern!
Here’s the premise. The lady was an artist. Artists are all about color and balance and placement. So I would make a sort of art gallery out of her clothes. I would help to emphasize the “gallery” part by adding a shadowbox element to each of the sections. This would also allow all her different colors, textures, and details to be featured.
I started by going through the clothes. I’d just gotten a new/old dining table to use as a craft table. It was in my garage, so I stood there that night, listening to the chirping of crickets, at peace, sorting the clothes into the different color stacks. I had enough for eight different color panels. That left one empty block. Then I had an idea I hoped would work for the last block.
Since she was an artist, and this was her gallery, I went through her old Facebook posts until I found exactly what I’d hoped to find – her artwork! There’s some debate on whether the picture is a self-portrait or Tori Amos. She wasn’t exactly distant comparison. It was one of the few pieces I found, and I downloaded it immediately.
Now that I knew how many stacks I had and how many blocks I could make, I sent the mother a draft layout. We worked and switched a couple of color sections, and then I got the green light to start cutting.
One of the first ones I did was red. I’d been told she loved red; it was her favorite color. So it seemed natural to begin here. After that, I got better at my blocks and was able to knock out the other seven faster than I anticipated.
A close up of the pink square.
After that, I enlarged the artwork and used two pieces of fabric paper to print it out. It was still smaller than I needed, so I added a red border to make it the same size as the other panels and began piecing the top together.
I added the shadow boxes and was happy to see them coming together. It wasn’t long before I was able to send her a picture of the completed top.
Now the next challenge was with the quilting. I thought long and hard about doing a simple stipple pattern, but then I had another idea. I decided to revive the circle-swirl quilting pattern because I wanted to add some whimsy to it. I also didn’t want to distract from the clothing panels, so I kept the main part of the quilting to the white area. I used the dreaded “invisible thread” to reinforce the clothing panels and make sure they didn’t shift or bubble up. (Imagine trying to sew with fishing line and you’ll understand why this kind of thread is a last resort.)
We went back and forth on the backing and finally settled on a black, white, and red pattern. From there, I had to complete the last element – but maybe the most important. I had to make the label. That took some thinking because I didn’t want it to be a let down. I remembered that the mother was happy I’d chosen to focus on colors because her daughter’s memorial service featured a homily from a friend who described her in terms of color. I loved it and was startled because, as said before, I wasn’t at the actual service. I was in the nursery.
Keeping that in mind, I asked for a copy of the friend’s homily. I used phrases and created a label based on that. Now the lady’s sister deals in graphics, so she worked her magic and made my original label look far better.
I printed the label on fabric and sewed it to the back corner.
This quilt was a long journey, filled with emotion. But it was also filled with creativity and pushed me to new limits. In many ways, the artist from whom it was made inspired it, and I feel like she had a hand in its making. In the end, it was and remains an honor to have been tasked with making this. It is one of my favorite and proudest works.
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