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

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

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Fuzzy Resolution: A Year in Review which we acknowledge that 2017 was pretty unproductive, but vow to reform in the new year.

Fortunately for me, I do not make a living blogging, because I would starve.

In my defense, though, I was mysteriously blocked from logging into the Blahg for some time, and while it was not a difficult fix, in the end, it was an irritating and just-large enough obstacle that it overwhelmed my desire to hear myself talk - I know! - in this forum.  Until today, when I was looking for something to enable a vigorous procrastination session that involved neither any of my Four Adult Tasks (groceries, laundry, garbage and dishes); nor Work, which is something I generally do not deign to do on days off.

And here we are, all logged in like a real blogger!  Happy 2018, all!

So a few things happened this year that were not recorded:

First, in Spring, was a quilt for my old workmate and karaoke comrade-at-arms, Grassie.  I fully intend to get my shit together to write her the post I promised all those months ago.  But meanwhile, she had asked for a Kaffe Fasset pattern called StripeScape which used a heaping helping of his stripey, serape-esque fabrics which were really nice to work with. And this came together pretty quickly, which made me so exuberant that I decided I should hand-quilt it.  Yipes!  I had hand-quilted only Nene's Winding Ways prior to this, and while I really enjoy the process, there was FAR MORE hand-quilting in Grassie's Serape Quilt, I think, because it took me so, so, SO long to finish it.  And even when I gave it to here there was a section at the bottom that was not, in homage to how our friendship will always be a work in progress, or some shit, I dunno, you fill in the gaps.  Anyway, here it is, better blog post to follow, Grassie!!

You can enlarge this to see the hand stitches, which follow the stripe directions in straight lines at about 1" apart. Whew! Also, most of my pictures of the progress on this one seem to have gone AWOL.  Stay tuned for those (I hope).

And then my niece Boolia had her Bat Mitvah in the summer - her quilt was what I considered a "sophisticated riot" of color which is, indeed, what Boolia is herself.   Sadly for me, I did not realize her BM colors were rose (which is part of her name) and silver, or something? So this quilt is decidedly not that, and is probably as opposite to that as you can possibly get and still be within the visible light spectrum, but hopefully still fills the bill for a young lady starting on her journey through the dark forests of teenager-hood, a time both for becoming more sophisticated (well, supposedly) and also for having a riot.  This navy sashed stars quilt is not a formal pattern but there are a lot of these kinds of star around - the Scrap-Jar Stars I made for Colt in 2016 is similar, though this one interchanges the solid background with the patterned colors on alternate blocks for a jolly dappled effect.  (How often do you get to use "jolly," outside of Jolly Old Saint Nick or For She's a Jolly Good Fellow? Jolly good show!)

(In the mix here was also Gramsy's Granny Squares quilt, which I already blogged about, and apparently also E & M's Butter-Churnin' Hourglass quilt was also sent in 2017, though it seems to me I finished that over the holiday break last year, but whatever.)

Lastly on the quilt front, my cousin CC had, some time ago, asked me to make a quilt for her partner Sher, which was supposed to be a Christmas present, but, um, is at least going to make it for Sher's birthday this coming week, I understand.  I was very pleased with this despite some minor emergencies that gave me something to fix on New Years Day.  As it turns out, though, it was also not a difficult fix, though it did cause me some angsty hyperventilation, AND gave me some new confidence about fixing my inevitable fuck-ups in the future, because once you've put a quilt together it's actually pretty easy to take it apart again, and restitch as needed.  Design-wise, CC was looking for "clean, flowing lines" and maybe mid-century or Art Deco, which left a pretty wide open field to work with. So this is a technique called a French Braid and the pattern "Thanks, Frank," by the venerable documenter of French Braiding, Jane Hardy Miller, is intended to evoke the Prairie School leaded-glass stylings of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose work spanned (and changed interestingly during) the period from Arts & Crafts to Mid Century.
If you're thinking this progression of colors would trigger my ColorStress (TM), you are correct.

The original of this in Miller's book was mostly dark and cool feeling, so I warmed it up with some earthy bricks and olives and browns, and used a background which was intended to evoke crackled old glass but is actually pebbles, and made the whole thing surprisingly (to me) traditional looking. It was also a little weirdly skinny, despite my adding extra borders.   I really like the thin black stained-glass-reminiscent sashing around the colors, though, and will probably use this technique again someday.
Finished crinkle, with beadboard-esque "piano key" vertical quilting. The back is an orangey flannel.

And finally, in related sewing news, I have a new friend which I ordered to be delivered to me here in NYC, who arrived in September, the first of many visitors to this NYC apartment!  Her name is Suki, and she is a Juki quilting machine, and she is the bomb.  She is about 3x the bomb that my old trusty Singer was, if you count bombness in dollars, but I love them both in their ways.  However, the Singer is tucked away in my storage unit at present, so Suki has been keeping me company on this NYC jaunt.  Though she is, if she will forgive me saying so, frickin' HEAVY.  Like myself, she is an semi-industrial workhorse.  She only does one thing (a straight stitch), but she has a powerhouse motor that makes short work of bulky seams, and has an elegant elongated throat (the hole between the upright part of the machine and the needle mechanism) so I can stuff more quilt in there and not wrestle with sewing on the middle of the quilts so much. She also has an easy thread-clipping mechanism and a needle threader for these old eyes, speed control, and is generally a cut above in all respects.  We are still working on some tension issues (thread tension, that is) but I think she's settling in nicely.  Welcome, Suki!
All function, no fuss.  Look at that speed control to the far right - I am definitely more turtle than rabbit.

And looking at this Blahg I realize I literally only posted twice last year, and that is kinda sad - not because I make a living blogging, because I do not, but because the aim of my blahg is love letters to friends, and I have many, many more of those to write.  This year was a bit of a downer, politically, plus I was on the road a bit more and in more different places, for less time in each, than last year.....but excuses be damned, I aim to be more productive this year; and to keep making inroads into this hobby which has brought me such delight, and provided a way to share warm fuzzies with my peeps.

Things to try in the New Year:

1. More hand stitching. It takes for-fucking-ever, but it is so very satisfying.
2. Along with that, i'd like to do some Sashiko patterns, perhaps working my way up to doing the traditional white thread on indigo fabric thing (that will REALLY show all the mistakes).  I just love the geometric precision coupled with the utilitarian, but nevertheless incredibly beautiful, Japanese art form.  Um. Anyone have a yakuta whose seams need some patching/reinforcing?
Traditional forms: Simple Sashiko, Hitomezashi, and Kogin, picture from Studio Aika blog

3. Applique.  The only applique I've really done was the Flag of Mikuador, but there's a wealth of patterns out there, traditional and modern, that have piqued my interest in this fundamental fabric craft.
4. And speaking of Mikuador, my brother and fam took the plunge and bought an old farmhouse on some acreage out aways in NW IL.  And a farmlet needs a barn quilt, i.e.,  a quilt pattern painted on wood and hung from a barn.... which is a whole 'nother artform, really, but I have that in my sights for spring, hopefully.  A quick Google search will come up with hundreds of barn quilts for you to peruse if you are so inclined (none, it must be said, that look anything like the Flag of Mikuador.  Viva!)

Random barn quilt from Guthrie Center, IA (picture posted here in 2011)
5. Free Motion Quilting.  I've avoided it for many reasons, but Suki the Juki gives me a new inspiration to try it again - also, she comes with a bunch of different FM quilting feet, and I just bought myself some new FM rulers, so I believe the die is cast for FMQ2018.  (I actually had a dream last night that I bought a new FM quilting ruler. It was purple.  It's amazing how deep and complex my subconscious is.)
6. .....and, of course, to continue writing thank you letters to my beloveds, so many of whom I still would like to send a humble fabricky offering and a few fond phrases. Don't know where I'd be without ya, peeps!  As the wise men of Extreme once, confusingly, put it: "More than words is all you have to do (sic) to make it real."  But since I have few enough opportunities to show anyone anything in person these days, I will have to make do with the words themselves, stuffed between layers of fabric and sent to you from the UPS STORE of my HEART.

I love you easily as much as this naked kewpie doll does.

As ever, Besos, Merry Craftsmas, and Happy New quilts Years to all,