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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Life: A Quilting Lesson

…being a dispatch from The Unsolicited Advice Lady for a nephew on a new adventure.

I first met my nephew JB when he was about 9, I think - my brother El Jefe brought his new lady friend (now wife, Cairo) and her sons to dinner to meet the fam, which I'm sure was about as horrifying a thing as could be imagined, for a lad of 9….especially given it was MY family, boisterous as we are, and especially for a young dude as reserved and adult as JB was at that age.  He sat quietly observing the chaos that is the Reflux family en masse; leaned against his mom, with preternaturally wise old eyes in his little boy face, and made the best of it.  That dinner has now lasted about 15 years, lucky kid.

In the ensuing years, despite sporadic, holidays-and-birthdays level contact, I was delighted to witness JB growing into
a patient, serious man (with some detours through TeenagerVille, including a bout with some startlingly yellow hair that was, fortunately, just a phase.)  I recall withs some amusement the Christmas that his mom set out to punk him by filling a box that he was sure contained whatever the latest newfangled game player was (was it a PS2?) with thrift store clothes.  Ha!  This is why Cairo was clearly meant to be part of my family, that rascal.  And to his everlasting credit, JB's fleeting look of bewilderment was quickly replaced with a polite pasted-on smile and a (pretty) sincere thanks for whatever nasty old jacket she had stuffed in there.  It was a masterful recovery - and I think he was only like 12 at the time.  (The look of relief and joy that flooded his face a few moments later when Cairo produced the correct present was also pretty priceless, as was the equanimity with which he has accepted our good-natured ribbing about the whole thing, ever after.)

Young JB in his Yellow Period.  

JB is the kind of dude you'd trust your car, your kids, your life with.  In fact, I'd sooner trust him with kids or dogs than I'd trust myself, because he is an expert with both (and I…. am not.)  True to his practical and measured nature, when high school graduation rolled around, JB looked around carefully, weighed his options (crappy in those days, economically speaking, especially for youngsters with limited work experience), and joined the Marines, which was cause for some alarm given the perilous state of the world these days.  But JB's time in the Corps was fortunately safe - unless you don't consider getting pepper-sprayed on purpose to pass a physical test "safe"- and in any event ended this past spring, followed by JB deciding on a college.  It was these two momentous events - plus an upcoming birthday - that caused me to start plotting a quilt for him, celebrating the closing of one door and the opening of another.  And every college freshman should have fresh bedding (even if he's been already living on his own for several years and probably doesn't need it.)

Et voila:  JB's quilt -
Binding in progress, but you get the gist.

Pre-binding, quilting in progress, and the "correct" orientation: Up!

This is based on the pattern "Up Up and Away" in the book Sunday Morning Quilts, which seemed like just the sort of quilt title one would want to give someone on the cusp of figuring out what the next chapter holds.  (Of course, those triangles are pointing up in the picture but could just as easily be considered to be pointing down, which is sort of a glass-half-empty sort of perspective.  Let us call this the inherent dualistic uncertainty of the future, and/or just orient the points up in all the pictures. )  I actually made the small triangles consistently sized, unlike the pattern, because I felt like JB is an ordered sort of fellow and would prefer that.  Nevertheless, this is a scrappy quilt, made with quite a lot of 5" Bella Solids Silver squares on point, and then bits and pieces of several prior quilts.  I limited the palate to start with, hunting down all my bits of navy, brown, gray, burgundy and olive and expanding to allow a few brighter mustards and purples in there too.  So there's a little bit of chaos happening, but it's contained somewhat by the great quantity of gray.  I think they balance nicely.

All crinkled up, post washing.

I had started with something altogether different - it was in browns and tans and various other earth tones, and intended to look woven….but as I went along, I realized I didn't really like it, and that was partly because it was just not screaming "JB!!" at me.  (Also because the base color was suspiciously close to baby poop.)  A quilt for JB needed to be more quiet, more refined, more modern, and look less like a rattan chair, so I scrapped those browns and started over after I was about halfway through.  I'm so glad I did, because the gray scrappy one is about 100x better than the first.  Lesson learned: if at first you don't succeed, bail!

It's like the fabric equivalent of lactose intolerance.

(Sidenote: I don't do much quilting in the summer owing to how I HATE TO BE HOT and summer saps my will to live, etc, etc, but I did get on an organizational jag that included ironing and cutting all of my heaping piles of scraps into useable pieces, a la this very helpful lady's tips and techniques post.  This felt extremely slow and retentive while I was doing it, but dang me if I haven't found uses for lots of those little pieces that I just never would have bothered with if I hadn't gone through the trouble of untangling that pile of wadded, creased, multifarious fabrics.  Bully for thriftiness and practicality!  Though in truth, this does not seem to have slowed down my fabric-buying habit one bit.  It did speed along the process of making JB's scrappy quilt, however.)

I did try to supersize this quilt, as JB is really very tall - so though it ended up being about 90x70ish, I think, that is probably still just the equivalent of a napping-on-the-couch-binkie for him.  The back comprises two particularly scrumptious Robert Kaufman fabrics: this indigo Dot Chambray and a similar one in black, both with an excellent drape and softness.

And the quilting pattern pretty much just followed the grid on the front, with the addition of lines through each diagonal, resulting in this pretty star pattern that I found quite soothing (and with the indigo fabric and the geometric quilting, recalled the art of sashiko, and thereby constituted a nod to JB's Japanese heritage, too.)  It's a little hard to see the stitching on the gray in the photos, but I dig it - on the front, you really just see the diagonals cutting through the squares. It comes together better on the back.

Stars, grids, hexagons, diamonds, triangles…. a geometric meditation.

"On a clear night, you can almost…see the stars!"

The binding I used was a bit of an issue for me.  I had been hoping to use something a little more in the barn red/brick territory, but what I ended up with seemed a little more wine-colored than brick-colored. I sat on this decision for a couple days and finally went ahead with it anyway - I probably could have found the red I was looking for eventually, but I wasn't sure when I'd get a chance to get this to JB and figured that done is better than perfect sometimes (especially in the summer, which I seriously could not get my act together to think about this for long.)  As it turns out, I'm okay with the wine after all - there were enough purply reds in the quilt for it to make sense.

And this label - oy, such a dufus I am.  I wanted to evoke JB's final rank of Sergeant, which you can see here is three yellow chevrons on various colored fields, depending on the uniform.

I went minimalist and stylized with just single lines for the stripes, thinking 1) that JB is not a super ostentatious dude to begin with, but also 2) that the Marines were a part of his life, but may not be a huge part in the future, so I wasn't going to go all Globe N Anchor/Bulldog/Semper Fi! on the label.  But then, like a dope, I embroidered the label so that the words are upside down, if you were to be looking at the stripes correctly.  Doh! If I'm not mistaken, chevrons inverted would make him a Sergeant in the Royal Air Force.  (And what is it with me and labels, anyway?  It took me a full three months after I had given Lupe her quilt that I realized I had embroidered "2016" on her label - meaning I'd written that out, went over it with needle and thread, adhered it to her quilt and took multiple pictures of it, and passed it along to her, all without realizing that it was still, in fact, 2015.  Eh?  Senior moment, you say?  Indeed! Apart from the facts that I am 43, and that this moment lasted an entire quarter of the year.)   In any case, I caught it too late to fix it, and so I must consider this another lesson learned: which lesson is CHECK YOUR WORK.

Or perhaps it's just encrypted!


A very hearty oorah! to you, JB, and in deference to your new home, also: Go Redbirds!  No one in the family could be any more proud of you than we already are, and I wish you the very best in whatever your future holds.  You probably haven't needed advice from any of us since you were 9 years old, but even so I will leave you with these parting life lessons, gleaned from the time spent on your binkie very adult quilt:

  • Even orderliness benefits from a little chaos now and then.  Chaos can be pleasing too!
  • Whether things are looking up or looking down is largely a matter of which way you spin the binkie.
  • When life gives you wine instead of brick, DRINK IT.
  • No matter how gray it is, you can see the stars, if you're looking for them.
  • No harm in changing course sometimes, if your course is looking like baby-poop rattan.
  • Check your work!  Of course, I know that you will, because you always have.

Very much love, congratulations, good luck, and happy birthday!  The world is at your feet, friend - go carpe the crap out of that diem.

Top o the world, Ma


(Aunt) Astrid

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