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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Twenty-Eight Years and a Million Little Pieces least, that's what it felt like.

I'd mentioned that I'd sent two quilts out last week. The other has arrived, so Now It Can Be Told  - no thanks to USPS, who told me it'd be there last Thursday, the swine, and then somehow got it to Kansas before sending it back to Illinois before it progressed to California. I know Americans aren't supposed to be good at geography, but jesus christ, people.  KANSAS. All you had to do was keep going in a straight line.

This assumes no detours to, say, Corpus Christi or Bozeman

So E, my good friend and long-time comrade in meat-eating, being mesmerized by radio plays, bookishness, aversion to talking on the phone, and general snarkery, moved her fam out to the west coast some years back, leaving miserable Midwestern winters and high-quality restaurants for the tolerable climate and subdued surfer-student vibe of the O.C.  We met in high school when I trilled an alarmingly friendly, "Hello, person sitting next to me!" at her on the first day of sophomore honors English, only to be chastened by her icy, basilisk stare of dismay; but all was forgiven later, when I sneezed into a Kleenex and she wanted to see the result. 
One of the many hobbies I've developed over the past 28 years is refusing point-blank to do anything E tells me I should do for my own good, and then discovering over the course of several years that that is precisely what I should have been doing all along.  Case in point: she asked me to sing at her wedding a good 3 years before I could contemplate singing anywhere in public, to my everlasting regret.  Also: blogging.  I think she probably told me in like 2002 or thereabouts that it was my calling.  Also: Twitter.  I'm holding out on that one, though, because really? 140 characters? I cannot be bound by 140 characters! I laugh at 140 characters! Faugh ha!*

*142 characters

In her own pursuit of middle-age craftiness, E has recently landed upon the ancient and venerable art of knitting, and being a meticulous and particular person she is also a meticulous and particular crafter, and knits some truly delightful things.  Like this wee aqua elephant she knitted for her sister's baby shower, which I am showing here with no permission at all, after rudely thieving this picture from her Ravelry page.  His name is Elijah.

She's also a way better photographer than I am.

Because I am to be subjected to cold weather when she is not, I demanded suggested that she knit me a sweater, in return for which I would make her a quilt.  I wasn't really thinking about the part where she didn't need blankies to snuggle under, living in southern California and all, but in any event a quilt she now has, courtesy of a Cora's Quilts pattern called "Aspen Glow." : a wintry mix of icicle aqua and cardinal red and slushy taupe which is surely as removed from an O.C. winter as I am from 140 characters.  I'm guessing that E did not realize this was named after a John Denver song when she plucked the picture from obscurity on my Pinterest page.

I also came to realize that, despite knowing E for nigh on three decades, I would have had a very hard time guessing which patterns on that Pinterest board she was likely to have chosen.  Everything she's Liked so far has been very traditional-looking and even Civil War-era reproduction type quilts, whereas I think of her taste as very streamlined and modern.... which just goes to show, either I don't know my E as well as I think I do, or her tastes have changed, or her tastes in crafty things is considerably different than her taste in website layouts and work clothes.  Be that as it may, I was very willing to tackle her selection, because its repetitively-pieced medallion blocks are different from what I've been doing, and I could use suggested fabrics to make it easy on my color-stress, since I already knew she liked them.  Besides, she's usually right, so I might as well just do what she tells me.

This is Aspen Glow, swallowing draped over my couch, pre-binding:

How sweet a pattern, you are thinking, as your eyes unheedingly blip over the multiple millions* of pieces involved in each of those squares.  I, too, tripped ignorantly and blithely into this pattern, not realizing it was going to take me as long just to cut out all the pieces as all my previous quilts had taken me to finish completely.  I stupidly confidently decided this should be a QUEEN-SIZE quilt, for E's guest bedroom.  Despite owning a queen-size bed for the last decade and a half, turns out I never have actually MEASURED the bedding it takes.  This martyr-plucking corksmoker is 96" x 96".**

*may be hyperbole
** is not hyperbole

Here is about 1/4 of Aspen Glow piled in pieces on my cutting board, with some bits already pieced:

Suck it, James Frey - those littlest pieces are 2" square

The fabric used in this pattern, incidentally, was 5 selections from the Kate and Birdie Paper Company line "Winter's Lane" which was very very lovely and, of course, coordinated already so I had zero thinking to do on that score, thanks be to the Great Color Wheel.  And while I may not have guessed that E would like this quilt pattern, I could have very readily guessed that she would like this fabric line, since aqua is, like, her family color: and in fact that she would have liked this company in general, which comprises a wife and husband duo selling beautiful and sustainable paper goods and textiles of the elegant, well-made variety that I associate with E and her stuff.  And being in Winnipeg, it's clear they know a little something about a wintry mix.  I can only assume this color combination and illustration subject matter made E instinctively miss digging her car out of dirty snow-drifts and not being able to feel her feet for approximately 1/3rd of the year.

Winter's Lane - all the beauty, none of the chilblains

Now, lest I seem ungracious in my shock at this million-piece labor-intensiveness, I should note that the cutting was not really all that onerous, as I did it over the course of many weeks in dribs and drabs, an hour here, an hour there.  And of course, I was delighted to put some time and love into a present for one of my oldest and dearest friends.... but in any event, this was just yet another thing that E had encouraged me to do which, in the long run, would turn out to be a good thing for my personal well-being and/or growth.  (She probably wasn't thinking that when she chose the pattern: she was probably thinking: "Oooh, aqua!" Or maybe she was thinking, "Aw, John Denver!" Or , "Hey, frostbite!")  (Twitter really is a non-starter, though, I promise.)

Because as I put these million pieces together, I managed to impress my ownself with how cool the resulting blocks were turning out, even though I had literally nothing to do with the pattern design or the fabric selection.  Nevertheless! So pleased.  Here is one block, minus the sashing:

Only about one-half-million pieces

But then, nearing the millionth piece pieced, it dawned on me that there was no damn way I was going to be able to quilt this sucker on my stumpy little Singer - there was just too much quilt to stuff under there.  So I could send it off to someone with a long-arm, or hand-quilt it.  Either would have been a first for me - but in the spirit of Learning As If You Would Live Forever, and also because I'm poor and/or cheap, and also because it seemed like it would preserve the semi-traditional nature of this pattern and keep the quilt soft and pliable rather than stiff with stitches, I opted to hand-quilt it.  

Memo to E:  remember how you said that home-made crafts should be identifiable as such, and should maybe not have that perfect glossy sheen that you get with mass-produced store-bought items?  Well, mission accomplished!  Because, especially in the beginning, my hand-stitching was truly laughable and awkward.  I totally deleted those pictures failed to obtain any photographic evidence of this, but here is one of the outlined cross shapes as it appeared on back - white thread on white, to hide the worst of the hitchy stitches:

If you squint, those look straight..

But after many hours of practice, the hand-stitches started being less horrible. A pity I was practicing on your actual quilt, though.  Bonus of hand-quilting in November/December in Chicago:  you get to sit, for hours at a time, on your couch watching Netflix with a giant snuggly quilt draped all around you, with impunity, because you are doing work.  And now you know how I managed to binge-watch all 8 seasons of Dexter and 4 seasons of Justified basically since Thanksgiving while maintaining a day job.

A quick shot of the back - this was about half-quilted, I think, and shows my I-guess-by-now-signature stripedy backing using two of the front fabrics, one wider swath of some stash linen which happened to be in the same browny-taupe color family, and quite a lot of some nice white cotton percale sheeting, which reminded me of E's customary crisp, clean bedding and provided relief from the busy-ness of the front.

Plus it sort of looked like one of those giant fancy hotel comforters, minus the questionable stains.

The general heft, hand, and coziness of the thing was very pleasing to me, despite those things not being at all beneficial in southern California; and I actually swelled with pride at accomplishing something relatively complex which required me to follow directions and color within someone else's lines and have it come out looking like the picture on the pattern (mostly) (if you photograph from far away.) (In poor lighting.)  So once again, E, I am indebted to your suggestions, which have so often steered me towards being a happy, responsible, self-sustaining adult person, even if those suggestions required me to cut up my status quo into a million pieces first.  Long may you swelter under the unnecessary warmth of this quilt, and I hope those wobbly stitches don't all rip right out of this thing because that would make it much harder for me to pester you about my sweater with a clear conscience.

An Elijah the Elephant would also be acceptable, as long as he does not expect me to Tweet.

Brunch photo circa 2006, by Dennis.  I am poised to disagree.



  1. Your quilt is absolutely stunning! I have a queen-sized kit stashed away for my own bed and yours makes me want to toss aside everything in progress to start it - millions of squares and all! Beautiful hand work as well- you're very brave!

  2. Heya Shelley - sub "brave" for "don't know what I'm getting into..." But actually I found the handquilting very relaxing and fun. And the pattern was beautiful to watch come together. You should definitely resurrect your queen size project!