Love Letters to Friends, As Well As Very Important Musings on Earth Shattering Matters:
Thread Count, Powerlifts, Quilting, Karaoke, Lemon Cookies, and Graphomania

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ups & Downs & Half & Half for Little Lambs & Quilty Hugs (Respectively)

... being my first contributions to Hands2Help, and a celebration of quilty community.

As was perhaps inevitable, I've been haunting the quilty blogs and inching my way into saying hello to the long-timers in that crowd: and also routinely being amazed and a little shamed by the volume of output these folks whip through.  I can't conceive, at this point in my life, of having so much time to devote to quilting but I now know what I'm aspiring to for retirement.  Long after I have made quilts for all of my friends and family, and have started in on Round 2, I hope to be retired.  OH but also contributing regularly to the many quilt-providing drives and organizations: whether for refugees or foster kids; cancer suffers or those displaced by fire or flood; women's shelters or veteran's outreach; homeless centers or centers for the elderly - anywhere someone needs a hand or a hug, some big-hearted sewists are on the case, making sure the quilty community's love of the craft (and the fabric) is being translated into a truly staggering outpouring of goodwill.

Confessions Of A Fabric Addict

Which is where Hands2Help comes in.  This mind-bending effort by Sarah of Confessions of a Fabric Addict has drawn a bigger response each year over year since she started in 2011; this popularity adds days if not weeks to her administrative load, I'm sure, but also adds literally hundreds of quilts every year to the general quilt population worldwide.  More importantly, of course, these offerings arrive with the humanitarian impulse sewn right in.  They say: "I see you, I think I understand a little of what you're experiencing, and I hope this helps you through.  How about a hug?"

Sarah picked 3 organizations for H2H to contribute to this year:

  • Little Lambs of Utah - comfort kits for kids going into foster care, emergency shelter or who have been hospitalized.
  • Quilty Hugs for Happy Chemo! - I guess that's pretty self-explanatory.  Another blogger, Em of Em's Scrapbag, collects these quilts to distribute to folks going through chemo.
  • Victoria's Quilts Canada - for folks living with cancer in Canada, Linda (and friends, I hope) turn your quilt tops into full-blown quilts.
...but Sarah also made it clear that if you had an organization close to your heart (or your physical self) you could always make quilts for them instead, and it would still add to the overall bounty of H2H.  Very cool!  Being home for work for a change, and having access to my fabric and scrap pile (albeit tucked away in storage), I wanted to add a little bit of love to the pile.  So:

This one is going to Little Lambs (and hopefully it's not too big for a backpack, per instructions). I was trying to come up with something that maybe an older kid/teen would dig, because I feel like sometimes that age group gets short shrift, so hopefully this isn't too precious or young.  My sis-in-law gave me a brief glimpse into the life of a foster kid through her volunteer work and... it's brutal.  Hats off to these folks for giving a shit about these youngsters, whom the System seems to routinely forget. 

I call it Ups and Downs, for obvious reasons.  Seems apt.  I followed a pattern by Angela Walters, w/Kona Beige and scraps.

Excuse my thumb over there. Some spots, some crosses, and some swirly waves on the back.

Ugh, my first attempt at machine binding.  I'm..... sure I'll get better eventually.

And this Half-and-Half quilt, a pattern by Missouri Star Quilt Company, is off to Em for Quilty Hugs.  Er.  It will be.  As soon as I'm doing quilting it and bind it.  Which I'll do as soon as my replacement thread shows up in the mail, because I thought I had several spools of this Green Linen thread but turns out I had ONE of those, and a whole lotta Ecru I didn't want to use.  I mean, from a distance, it was *very* close.  Ecrulinen.  Linecru.  Like that close.  And my local Joann's utterly failed me by not having it in stock when I made an emergency run.

Made from some Kona... Old Green? maybe? yardage, and like 18 ten inch scraps squares of various sunny brights. 

A strip of hot pink among some other springy greens. They don't exactly go with the front green, but they are at least different enough that it is evident I wasn't *TRYING* to match anything.

The stalled quilting effort. Ha! Didn't get too far.  As I learned in B-school, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  Stupid Ecru.

This weather has been crap.  I took these in late afternoon after like 5 consecutive days of downpour, so the shadows are long, and the patience was short.

But I vow to get this done this week - I've taken Friday off for this expressed purpose, and I shall not be diverted from my task: nor rain, nor Joann's, nor Ecru, nor dark of night, shall stay this courier from the swift completion of my appointed rounds.  That is to say: check's in the mail!

I regret not getting something together for Victoria's Quilts too, but I can always send it along later, I guess, and at minimum I can make them something for next year.  I just ran out of days (and yet, retirement seems to be receding on the horizon, so I guess ol' Albert was right about that whole time being relative thing.)

To Sarah, and Em, and Linda; to all the quilters who have linked up this week, or sent quilts over the last 8 years:  hell yeah and well done, you all! (or "youse", as we say in Chicago.)  I hope that in my future - my near future, even before retirement - I am able to keep up with your generous spirit, dedication, and time management chops.  Or if I can't keep up, at least I can keep trying.



Friday, May 18, 2018

A Fidget Blanket Recipe: Baubles, Gewgaws, Gadgets, and Hope

... Being some reflections on an insidious disease, and the ways we fight it.

My cousin not long ago asked me if I'd be able to make a Fidget Blanket for her MIL, who is living with them right now and suffering from Alzheimer's - I of course said "Of course!" because that is what family is for!  And then set about promptly trying to figure out what a Fidget Blanket was and how one might make it.  Here's my first attempt:

I know, I know - it's kinda busy.  I might have gotten a little carried away.

Fidget, or Sensory, Blankets, are helpful for a few different kinds of folks: people with autism, ADHD, hyposensitivity and other sensory processing disorders, and dementia like that related to Alzheimer's.  For these folks, fidgets serve many purposes:
1. they encourage motor activities that wake up the brain and allow users to focus on intellectual activities like listening in school or holding a conversation;
2. they give safe options for soothing repetitive motion and can mitigate the restlessness or anxiety that people with these conditions experience;
3. they provide a gentle way to remember or re-learn common tasks like using buttons or zippers or pockets;
4. they can provide sensory stimulation through different texture and motor experiences in a controlled way;
5. They can be themed to help provide reminders to the users of who they are, what hobbies they have enjoyed, the family that is around them, even their own names;
6. Some things I read suggested that when higher cognitive functions start failing, touch is something that begins to take primacy again, like it did when you were first forming your neural networks as a baby, and also trying to stuff entire wooden blocks into your mouth (probably.) . Exploring touch becomes much more significant to folks with late-stage dementia.
6. They're kinda fun. I played with mine sort of absently while I was watching the end of a Cubs game, and I can definitely see the appeal.

So after a 2 hour bender in the Joann's gewgaws and gadgets aisles, I returned home with a pile of fasteners, frippery, and fabrics of different textures, in the hopes of creating something that might spark some interest in my cousin's MIL, whose name is Carol.

Starting at the top left: stretchy hairbands woven together, satin with an operating zipper that does not open into a pocket, a snap placket  (it's closed here, you can see it below). Next row: a parachute fastener, a button with two stretchy bands of different sizes that fit around it, and an appliqued flower patch.....
The snap placket, this time open, a stretchy weird mesh thing I bought because it was a dollar, three different kinds of ribbon - stretchy, flowered, and linen (the last two sewn down completely, the first one sewn in loops you can stick your fingers into.) Next row: same flower patch, a ribbon sewn in with a picture frame hanging off it and a fuzzy hair accessory, and another ribbon with a magnet purse clasp sewn into the ends....

Two parachute cords with a clasp, a fuzzy square with another zipper to nowhere, a crocheted doiley cut in half with a stretchy loop to make it bunch up like a pocket. Next row: a working pocket with one operational button and one decorative one, a piece of loose purple daisy ribbon attached to a sewn down heart patch, and a stretchy band with Carol's name in beads and another picture frame.....

Starting with the crochet doily pocket thing, which has a tassle on the stretchy closure, four stretchy ribbons sewn in a way that can hold a picture, a couple more ribbons with clasps that can have interchangeable stuff hung off it, and this big gray fake fur piece which is VERY soft and nice to pet.....

...and which has a velcro strip so it can be removed, with a polarfleece operational pocket underneath it for keeping stuff in.

This purple thing down here is a Marble Maze, which has two marbles you can work through a maze sewn into this fuzzy bathrobe textured fabric. The blue-green stuff is a faux-leather fringe that came from over in the jewelry design section, and the dark fluffy looking bit is scratchy and stretchy, like garter material, sewn along the Maze border.

The back is super basic flannel, which apparently helps keep the blanket from slipping off of one's lap.  My sewing here is atrocious - please ignore.

The basic layout here came from Rob Appell of ManSewing's extremely great tutorial here: this gave really clear and helpful suggestions for both how to do it and how to plan it out to provide stimulating, but comforting, activities for someone suffering from dementia.  He made his for his grandpa, whom he thought might respond to the clasps, burlap, and measuring tape - things he'd used as a carpenter and crafts person before his illness.  Personalizing these, the theory goes, may spark some piece of recognition in a dementia patient, or give them a comforting moment of muscle  or sensory memory usage when their cognitive memory is not up to the task.  Though I was anxious about some of the new crafty skills I was attempting - eek, zippers! velcro! - this came together remarkably quickly, once I had laid out the pieces and figured out how I would use the piles of crap I'd bought.

In answer to the "what would Carol want?" question, my cousin suggested pastels would be good, but I tried to avoid making it look like a child's easter basket too much with some darker burgundy, a bit of gray, and some purple - the color of Alzheimer's awareness.  She did specify Carol's name and that she hated cats and loved birds, music, and gardening, so the flower patch and fabric were apt: and I did keep an eye out for bird patches and the like, but it seemed every one I saw was cat-related, no help at all! I could probably have done better in the "personalization" department... I will plan that out better for next time.  I hope the stretchy bands and picture frames can actually hold pictures decently; and most of the hanging bits (and the fake fur) are detatchable in case this needs to be washed or some of those pieces replaced (eg with something less noisy, distracting, or unwelcome.) It's not all interchangeable like that, but I think it could withstand a little more wear this way.

Fidget blankets seem to be a relatively new thing, and not necessarily the first thing an MD might prescribe to a patient who was dealing with Alzheimer's: they aren't exactly something you'd find in a medical supply store.  But I was really intrigued by the enthusiasm of the informal online Alzheimer's care-takers community for these, and the interesting cottage industry that has sprung up for the customizable creations on Etsy and the like.  There doesn't seem to be a lot, if any, of commercial sources for these funny, idiosyncratic little things, and so it has been left up to the makers, the caretakers, and even the sufferers themselves to come up with ways to create these, and share what elements seem to help, or at least to interest, themselves or their loved ones.

In this way, these seem to be a singularly homespun gesture of defiance and hope, a way to provide occupational therapy of sorts for people whose neural connections are failing daily, and a way to say "I love you, even if you don't know who I am anymore."  As defeating and helpless-making as this disease must be for everyone involved, I appreciate that this is an attempt, however amateurish, at flipping Alzheimer's and other disorders a big ol' bird (which surely Carol would approve, given her love of birds.)
In sum: here's hoping it brings Carol a bit of comfort and/or calm. Personally, I am grateful for the education that resulted from this request: both of some crafty skills I'd never tried before (zippers! velcro! eek!) and for the peek, however brief and incomplete, into the issues of sufferers and caretakers alike.  Hats off, and hearts out, to you all.



linking up with Can I Get a Whoop Whoop at Confessions of a Scrap Addict.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Syzygy Means the Planets Aligned Long Enough For Me To Get This Done

... being a quilt of a graphical nature, for dancing queen and designing woman, DB.

Welp, so much for resolutions.  A short post, just to get this sucker out the door.

It's not so much that I'm not doing anything crafty, as that I've been shuffling around a little for work: this quilt, for instance, which I call Syzygy, was started in NYC and made a trip to Ecuador before being finished in Chicago:

You can maybe see why I thought of it as "Syzygy", though it could have also come from Zzyzzx, CA.

Which is suitable for DB, who is herself a jet-setter of some reknown: a boot-scootin' country & western music lovin' Francophile that I know via an extended college crowd.  DB then moved into my neck of the woods in Chicago and promptly opened shop as THE best-catered party apartment north of Irving Park Road (and by "catered" I mean "she did all the damn cooking, holy shit", which is nothing short of magical to me and my pop-tart eating, can-opening culinary habits.)

Ms. DB, whom you might remember as the talent behind the Gramdrew's Home for Wayward Girls logo, is hereby the recipient of this cracked mirror of an offering.  She had expressed a desire for something of a graphical nature, and as always, these airy descriptions coming from an actual designer just baffle and terrify me and I demanded examples. So she picked out some of the quilts I had made for other folks that she had liked, and the one that stuck with me was Sister Lulu's Fractured Flowers quilt.  This pattern is "Arrow Point Path" by MeadowmistDesigns and seemed to fill the graphical bill, AND had the advantage of not being too complex to piece when I was in transit for pretty much 3 solid months.  I did a little bit of an ombre fade thing with the shades as I moved to the outer zigzags.   And I went with toasty reds and oranges, and a linen-y taupe-brown, in part because it was freaking cold out when I started to do this and I couldn't even look at my glacial blues and cold water greens in January or whenever the hell that was; but also because my impression of DB's living room revolved around these warmer shades.  Hopefully I'm not misremembering that, DB!  But if I am, let us just say this color scheme is reminiscent of the endless vats of salsa I have cumulatively consumed at your annual Cinco de Mayo party, as well as the cheery warmth of your hostessing in general.

The flip side is one of my favorite patterns (which I compulsively draw in my graph paper notebook) in oranges and yellows with one strip of the central red tone from the front to make it fit lengthwise:
Man, I love this pattern.  In Sashiko I think it's called Asa-no-ha, or hemp leaf.
As I pieced this top, it reminded me of many things: zippers, tire tracks, the cymatic visual representation of sound waves caused by dance music... this last, of course, because DB is a dancing fool extraordinaire, and once stayed out dancing so vigorously that she broke her foot (okay, or exacerbated a running injury, maybe): like, on and on until the *actual* break of dawn.  I know this because I witnessed it, since we were the only two that stayed out that late after many other wimpy dance-haters had left hours prior..... and we might have made it out at the same time they were leaving except at that crucial moment "The Killing Moon" started up and that was all she wrote.  Hence: broken foot. Eternal respect for your dedication to the craft, lady.
I started working with Suki the Juki on free-motion quilting, but my lines were still just straight(ish).  However, it's still like 50% faster than using a walking foot, IMO, because you don't have to wrestle with your quilt to reposition it so much.
This is to say nothing of her karaoke prowess, which runs a funky gamut from Stevie Wonder ("If You Really Love Me") to some classic Country & Western ("Tiger By the Tail") and I even saw her captivate a live-band karaoke crowd with that venerable old chestnut "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," because she is a born entertainer, and a natural onstage (something I never, for all my karaoke obsession, ever mastered.)  And indeed it was DB who introduced me to the dearly departed Carol's, the last honkytonk on the north side, which was within stumbling distance of her apartment, and mine, back when I was her neighbor in the RavensHood.  In addition to being the bar voted Most Likely To Be Playing a Patsy Cline Torch Song At Any Given Moment, it was also home to a truly David Lynchian cast of neighborhood characters, including a tiny, reedy-voiced librarian-looking woman who used to on occasion bust out with "Birthday Sex" at Thursday night karaoke (one of my favorite karaoke nights in the city, especially during the unemployment/grad school stint of the late oughts.)  Think the C&W bar at which the Blues Brothers sang, minus the protective chickenwire, mating with the Isle of Misfit Toys.  Aw, Carols. We hardly knew ye.
The edges are a little different from the diamond centers, nothing too crazy.
In any event, I hope this one works out, DB, and satisfies your preference for something of a graphical nature. Surely you know by now that your fancy pants artistic terminology falls on deaf ears when it comes to me, but maybe if you think of this as tire tracks or dance tracks or as an abstract rendering of the excitement one might feel upon being gifted a one-way ticket to a prepaid apartment in the 11th arrondissement, it will endear itself to you anyway?  In a pinch, at least, you'll have something to throw on top of any party guest that might decide to take a quick snooze on the living room couch, in spite of the raucous dance party going on in the dining room (ahem.)

In which it becomes clear that colors really do look way better in sunlight than in whatever you call the light in the basement I'm living in right now.  "Grotto-esque"?
I would tell you to let me know the next time you get your rock show on, but let's be real: these old bones do that like 1x per year these days and would likely take a raincheck. On the other hand, Summerdance starts in June with Samba, Swing, and Salsa - right up our alley!  Hollar if you're going: I'll bring a walking cast, just in case.



Linking up with Confessions of a Scrap Addict - Fridays Whoop Whoop