Love Letters to Friends, As Well As Very Important Musings on Earth Shattering Matters:
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Monday, August 28, 2017

Animatronics are Banned at the Home for Wayward Girls: A Belated Housewarming for the Homecoming Queen

....being a fond housewarming gift, long overdue, for a very warm house indeed.

The problem with this itinerant lifestyle I am currently leading is that it plays havoc with my best intentions for getting quilts to their deserving owners.  (This problem is compounded because, as anyone who has known me for 20 minutes can tell you, I am 99% good intentions.)  This quilt, for instance, was started last Thanksgiving nearly, and has been riding in my car and gone back and forth to Texas (twice) and several times Michigan, among lesser travels (like to the Joann and the liquor store and such).  But it is finally done and mailed, and high time too, as its new owner has long been hosting quite a number of us, for going on 30 years now, and could probably do with a loud and public THANK YOU instead of the usual 6-pack-of-beer-and-Boursin-cheese-offerings, which is kind of my standard.
The finished flimsy top, in which you can already see I'm going to have trouble with excessive fabric wiggliness.

This is the back.  I'm not sure what possessed me to use pink binding, but it worked out okay.

The earliest recollections of my college chum Gramsy involved, I think, the Cap'n's birthday party which I crashed with some of my scruffy Clark House roommates.  Or maybe it was the "90210" parties she and her roomies hosted at her house, but surely, if not those, it was the half-a-million rock shows our greater community of rock aficionados went to at our local rock pub.  Whatever it was, I am glad we were cemented together casually down at school, because it was when we all moved back up to the city that I began to know her in earnest, and love her for her droll wit and hilariously exasperated take on what was, at that time, our fresh adulthood.  Even down at school, though, one could recognize a fabulous hostess when she offered you a potato-based casserole.


And speaking of adulthood, our Gramsy was always a pioneer there - while still in school she and her roomies were among the first to decorate their abode like an actual human would (instead of, say, a Clark House resident).  I recall gingham curtains, and strategically hung contact paper that looked *just* like wallpaper, and dinner parties.  Dinner parties!  How classy!  (Even if they *might* have been parties dedicated to our suburban casserole-and-pimento-loaf-eating roots, wherein lady fingers made with Wonder Bread and ham salad *might* have figured prominently.)  Later, back in the city, she would be one of the first people I knew with a comfy couch that was not inherited from parents; the first I knew to use honest-to-god movers; and among the first of us ladies to buy property, in the form of a super kickass converted bakery that became the site of some very vigorous baking-and-drinking sessions, and rock-show pre-gaming.

And of course, at that point, there was still rock n roll.  This photo booth gem of Nikita, Gramsy and me was taken at the long-lamented, dearly departed Lounge Ax, immediately before the Old 97s took to the stage in probably their "Too Far to Care" era (so, like 1997.)  Gramsy's husband was not a fan, but we were!
"What's so great / About the barrier reef? / What's so fine / About Art?"

And let us not forget Prom Party, a few years later, which Gramsy (as an authentic, actual, honest-to-god former high school Homecoming Queen) was responsible for handing her tiara off to the newly crowned winner. Though I do not think she relinquished her crown, and nor should she have! I mean, look at this beauty and her stellar court (via POLAROID).

The Cap'n, Nikita and me, and Gramsy (seated as is her royal prerogative.) If the sign didn't tell you this was the 90s, the shoes surely would have.

And I forget when this even happened, but it was somewhere in that era too: the Cap'n' and Gramsy as....Siegfried and Roy. Replete with sequins, self-tanner, and furry chest hair. The sort of halloween costume which is still spoken of in hushed, reverent tones, all these years later:

the Cap'n n Gramsy as Siegfried and Roy.  SIEGFRIED AND ROY.  (And that's Bean as the Swedish Chef.)
But all good things must end.....or, at least, be shuffled around a bit, when Gramsy and family moved two hours south to the birthplace of our friendship: our college town.  While this has resulted in fewer rock shows attended together (and, let us not kid each other - the couch is a much stronger lure these days anyway) and a lot less furry costume chest hair (I PRESUME), it has not entirely impeded our desire or ability to gather round in Gramsy's kitchen, sending her pre-teen son scuttling for his bedroom, mowing through her crudites like a plague of drunk locusts; or lounging in a hungover sort of way on comfy couches, watching HGTV with Gramsy's hubby; or  hanging on her patio in clement weather, shooting the shit endlessly and cackling like the scraggly old stew hens we are now.  And all this despite the fact that she is a full-on University professor who is advancing towards becoming Dr. Gramsy, and does not technically have time for our shenanigans, yet always seems to have time, anyway.  As long as you don't bring up the horrifying spectre of (whispered) [[[animatronics]]], which will get you banished forevermore from Gramdrews' Home for Wayward Girls. (Ask her about her trip to Disneyworld. As long as you have someplace else to stay).

Gramsy and I- oops! -wearing the same jacket.  You can tell we're adults at this point because there's food on the table.

About that nickname: her current place was dubbed The Gramdrews' Home For Wayward Girls, the former part of which title is a combo of Gramsy's and her hubby's names, and the latter part of which I swiped from my sister Lulu's old house, which was also a way station for travelers and those in search of periodic accommodations, only she called it the home for WAYWEIRD girls.  Despite being a borrowed sobriquet, this suited Gramsy's place so perfectly well that one of the Wayward Girls in question, the lovely and talented DB, made a logo for one particularly hotly anticipated gathering.  As may be expected, t-shirts were also produced.
Graphic courtesy of DB, who I think had some time on her hand that week. 

So how do you make a quilt that says "I feel more at home at your house than I have at most of my own apartments?"  When ruminating about what to make for Gramsy, I knew I would work with the current Home for Wayward Girls color scheme - fortunately, these are very homey indeed: feathery taupe, creamy cappuchino, buttery yellows and carrot cake orange; fireplace grays, frayed denim blue, heavy cream.  The sort of color scheme you may want to sink into and never leave.

A lounge session at the current Home for Wayward Girls - actual footage.  Snort!  Get it?? 
And what pattern?  TRUE CONFESSIONS: once upon a time, Gramsy herself was nudging me towards the venerable midwestern mid-century art of Charley Harper.  And while I loved the work and it suited her so well, I have yet to do anything very representational like his stuff, and so.... I bailed early on that idea (sorry, Gramsy! Someday when I am better at applique, I will make you a Harp-illow. )

Instead, I was drawn to the classic Granny's Square pattern for a couple of reasons - first, I love the traditional coziness and thought I could modernize it up a bit with some transparency color work (to make the colors look like they were layers of, say, scotch tape on top of each other, progressively darker, or combining a yellow and a blue by using a green to bridge them.  Check out more of these here.)  Results were a little mixed here, but I had a good time trying to get the color interplay right.

And second, there is a tradition in Log Cabin quilting of using a red square as the very center patch, to represent hearth and home.  And I thought, if any quilt should contain a reference to being a center of love and homey-ness, Gramsy's quilt surely should, since she (and her hubby, who also works with itinerants) has always provided that for so many of us fly-by-night passers-through-town.  I tried a bunch of different reds, and also a staggered layout, before settling on a deep dotty rust for all of the center patches, and a more spaced out and gridded 4x5 layout for the blocks.
In progress on the apt floor in Houston, which I left in.... February 2017. And of course, it took me about 3 minutes before I started thinking of this pattern as "Gramsy's Squares."

I did have a little bit of trouble with the top, which I had sashed together in a way that guaranteed it would be wiggly when I sewed it....and then I doubled down on the dumb by quilting some of the edges before I had done part of the middle, which is like a cardinal sin in quilting, because it leaves you with THIS little nightmare;
This green and yellow square was all wiggly no matter what I did, but I'd already sewn all around it so it had no place to go.

And by god, if I was gonna make Gramsy a quilt, it was going to be of the snuggliest couch-lounging variety I could manage, which meant lots of double-gauze for the back.  While I love double-gauze with my whole heart, it done me wrong (again) because it multiplied my issues with the wiggly top by ALSO being wiggly, and refusing to be basted into place in straight lines.  Which led to this silly looking bit here:

Forgive me, Gramsy.  The lines, they are crooked, though I tried very hard. But I was out-wiggled.

But overall, I can live with the silly and the wiggly in order to gain the snuggly, and also I really liked these colors together, but turns out it was because it reminded me of an album cover put out by a band I really liked, back in their short-lived heyday circa 2004.)
The back is all double-gauze of subdued shades. What does this remind me of?  Oh yeah....

... early 2000s alternative rock, of course.

In the end, the wiggles were mostly compensated for by the desirable washed-quilt scrunching up....though that yellow and green block draws my eye eternally and will be the death of me, dangit.

Once resewn and washed, the wiggles subsided somewhat.  Transparency attempts in evidence here (I hope.)
And the label...well, of course, the label could only be one thing, and with apologies to DB for my somewhat fast and loose embroidered interpretation of her careful lettering, I think it nevertheless captures the spirit of what she was going for:
My homage to DB's original brilliance. Was gonna add a "EST. 1990" at the bottom but that made me feel too OLD.

And speaking of old: tiny infant children at Christmas at the original Home for Wayweird Girls, Urbana, maybe like 1993.  That's the Cap'n in green, me in back, Gramsy at 3:00, and Chella at beer-thirty.
Little did these young ladies realize that they would be carrying on in much the same manner, 25+ years hence.  Though if they'd stop to think about it, they'd know that this was really among the best possible outcomes, and well worth the time invested.

The Gramsy Squares quilt takes its final ride in the car, where it had lived for the better part of a year.
It seems kinda relieved to be going home, no?

So big stupid hugs and potato-based casseroles to you, Dr. Gramsy, and many many thanks to you for your willingness to open your home up to all sorts of itinerants, and also feed them a lot of the time, and also for generally being awesome and hilarious and sensible to a refreshing and amazing degree for all of these years.  I promise I will try my best to never bring up [[[animatronics]]] ever again, even though your reaction to them is so, so funny, if you will promise to forgive me my wiggly fabrics and my silly lines, and also the tardiness of this humble offering.  Consider this my contribution to the clean bedding stash for the next lucky passers-through.....hope I am among them soon!

If you squint, you can't even see that yellow and green block up there,
which is very wiggly to this day but it doesn't bother me.
Very much.

I'll bring the beer & Boursin - save me a seat on the patio!

Besos always,

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Architect and the Water-Melan: Some Adventures

...Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver-tongued and the other, comedy gold.

In a flurry of productivity over the holidays, I finished up a few things that had been WIPs for a bit - among them this here blue-and-white hourglass dealio, which has gone to my ol' college chum, Loquacious_E, and his fabulous ladyfriend Melaquious Trombone (a favorite of her many, many Facebook nommes de plume):

Some shirting type materials + white, different hues of blues with the odd light brown thrown in.

I met Loquacious_E on campus as he was returning from a stint in Australia lo these 2.5 decades past, and I mostly remember two things: first, his anomalous blond dreadlocks (well, baby-locs, at least) and savage tan; and second, how he just appeared one day on the quad to his friends' aggrieved joy that he was back, but hadn't told anyone (this, clearly, in the Time Before Facebook).  He seemed the sort to keep his own counsel, but it was also pretty apparent that there wasn't much happening that wasn't being captured and analyzed somewhere in that big computer he uses for brains.  

Eventually I recognized a punny-tongued kindred spirit, an amused realist with a trenchant wit as dry as the Outback.  He was one of my four dude roomies in a college house that went by the deceptively bland name of "The Clark House" (for the street) but that house, though I only technically lived there for a semester, figures at least as prominently as any other campus character in my stories from that era. Apart from the open sewage drain in the basement floor (which did not seem to bother the bands that played there) and the crumbling ceiling tiles out of which may drop, for instance, an actual goddamn mouse, this house was situated strategically between where everyone else lived and the bars where we all drank and went to see rock shows, so it was routinely pressed into service as a way-station, or location of the after-party, or emergency quarters for any too "tired" to make it home (and/or too drunk to be afraid of sleeping on the couch, which was... not very clean.)  And at any given event one might find Loquacious_E holding up a wall somewhere, eyes shut and giggling in characteristic glee, and making wry observations at the absurdity of it all.  Certainly I saw him doing this way more than I saw him doing any schoolwork, which minor irritation apparently wasn't worth bothering to do if you have the sort of brain that E has.

Brain not pictured.  He's already thought of 10 replies to the stupid comment you haven't finished making.
Best Portrait Ever, from Champaign by Go Pellegrinetti, circa 2008 I think?

Anyhoo, E absented himself from the midwest after college to soak in the glory that was mid-90s Austin, TX, along with several others of our crowd - I swear for a good 10 years there I was never in want of a couch (cleaner than those of the Clark House) to crash on in Austin.  But as E returned in the early oughts to the midwest to go to school for another approximately 30 years to finish off an Engineering/Arcitectural combo platter, and as he has now purchased a 2 flat with his ladyfriend, I think we can call him local once more.  And that Architecture degree is going to serve me well someday too, when I scrape together the cash to hire E to design me my tiny cabin on the grounds of Mikuador, amidst the vegetal splendour of the SW Wisconsin driftless area.  (Amusingly, E offered to thank me for this quilt by helping the next time I needed butter churned or a barn raised - little does he know that this latter thing is EXACTLY what I will be asking for, down the road; at least, one raised on blueprints that can satisfy Richland County building codes.  Mwahahaha!)

Here is Loquacious_E, at left, cracking up me and another roomie from the Clark House, Murphy, in
the Logan Square kitchen of friend Ellen.  I am in danger of spilling whosever's leftovers those are, which I surely poached.  Was this the one where Ellen later injured her back trying to dance to "All The Single Ladies"? Picture by Krystal.

And at some point after his homecoming - I'ma wanna say maybe a little over 10-11 years ago now? - he located his petite amie Melaquious (who had also lived some time in New Zealand, so they could maybe compare notes on Australasiatic accents and foods)  and brought her into the fold, to the great benefit of us all, and to the ten-fold increase in the fart-smell-related-humor one might experience at any given cocktail party.  Sometimes your friends find a mate/spouse/partner who is always just their mate/spouse/partner, and that's cool - we don't all gotta be having sleepovers and shit - but Mel has become a friend in her own right, too.  For instance, I can't recall how many times I've asked her to explain her remarkable talent for getting free airline miles, which is like some sort of superpower; or made her promise to teach me how to properly lay tile, a trade she picked up in New Zealand.  It's also possible I've seen more of Mel than of Eric in recent past years - it was indeed the same Mel who came to visit me in Cape Town, the origin of this very blog, and also the origin of this extremely great picture that I cherish in my heart always, of Mel being forcibly ejected from our white-water raft somewhere outside of Livingstone, on the Zambezi River:

Mel in full extension. My god I love this picture. I will never not love this picture.
This is the event that inspired our river guide to call her "Water-Melan" for the rest of our trip.  Also, ask Mel to dance for you sometime.  It is incredible.  Cape Town will not soon recover from those particular stylings, and that was 7 years ago.

So, bound by their mutual love of travel, organic vegetable gardening, extraordinarily fat felines (RIP, Nastee - we hardly knew ye), and a keen sense of the ridiculousness of things, Loquacious_E and Melaquious form a dynamic duo who are instrumental to my greater social life back home - which is true even though I may only see them a couple times a year these days. (Which gives you a pretty good indication of what my social life is like, but that's certainly nobody's fault but my own.) One such event was the wedding of B & S  two years back - a wedding Mel both precipitated, by introducing the happy couple, and officiated, with all of the pomp and dignity one might expect from a mail-order minister with a hot line in bathroom humor.  (It was lovely, actually.  I was teary.) 

Side note: E and M also went to the Dalmatian coast and environs this past Labor Day, and damn me, I really should have gone with them: first, because that would have been fun, and cool to see, and second, because Mel is an excellent person to travel with, because she always has plans and ideas (which I tend not to have.)   AND she takes excellent pictures, to boot, such that you may not have to worry about taking substandard crappy ones with your shitty phone, because hers will be better anyway.  You can see proof of this in the afore-linked blog posts from Africa: if it's detailed and interestingly composed, that's Mel, and if it's grainy and possibly has a thumb in it, that's me.  Here's one she took of me as we safari'd, which is one of maybe three pictures of myself I actually like:

I don't have plans to make a musical record album or write a book, but if I did, this picture would be on it.

Thus, this quilt is for many things, even beyond taking a good picture of me or making me laugh for 20+  years: for shooting the breeze on a hot July night waiting for renegade fireworks to begin, surrounded by Mel's lush backyard jungle of a garden and her outdoor bathtub; or hogging the whole al fresco dining portion of old neighborhood haunts, from just before to well after happy hour; or driving across three countries in search of springbok carpaccio; or sitting on the Clark House porch, vaguely queasy from a night of music and beer, waiting for everyone to wake up so we could go eat at Fiesta and get back for a nap, back in the day.  

And among these, there is also that one time that I plant-and-cat-sat for them while they were gone for Christmas - Japan, I think? or was it Turkey that year?  - in 2010, which seems to be an odd thing to be grateful for, but which engagement came a critical juncture when I was stranded in Louisiana at sister Lulu's, recovering from unemployment, relative homelessness, and exploding appendix surgery, and desperately trying to return to my home base.  It was the combined efforts of many of my comrades, most chronicled here by now, that got me home; and it was staying chez E&M that got me that first foothold back in the locale and the life I was hankering for.  So a hearty mwah! and an egregious bear-hug to you both, essentially for leaving town right when I needed you to, so I could park my kiester on your couch and get my bearings in the company of your portly kitty and your large vinyl collection, and drink all of your herbal tea (I had a cold.)

I went pretty simple on this here quilt - when I asked Mel some months ago what a good quilty thing might be for them, she voiced "blue" and "modern" over traditional and other colors.  Though the hourglass pattern I used is anything but modern.  That sucker has been around since at least the 18th century as a quilt block, let alone the centuries prior as a regular old decorative motif favored by aboriginal peoples - cultures who never actually saw an hourglass in the flesh. I mean, triangles aren't exactly the intellectual property of any particular era.  

closer up on some hourglass blocks - not too tricky.  

While there are as many definitions of "modern quilting" as there are actual quilters, some consensus seems to have been reached about the "modernization" of traditional patterns being part of the trend - spiffing up the colors a bit, making the pattern outsized or deconstructed someway, to put a new spin on an old beast.  Simplification is also part of that overall aesthetic.  True modern quilters would probably poo-pooh this as an example of the art, though.  Whatever my modern intentions, E&M's blue and white hourglasses really call to mind something breezy and nautical, more than screaming MODERN (but really, who wants a quilt that screams at you?)  


For the back, just a big old swath of more stripedy blue and white, which fabric came from the Stash of the Unknown Benefactress, and a skinny band of chambray at the top (or bottom, depending) because as usual, I was just short - and sometimes it's nice to break up an unrelieved expanse of one fabric anyway. Daringly, I made the stripes go horizontally across the width of the quilt, rather than the more traditional vertical stripes you might expect.  I KNOW.  I'M A RENEGADE. I liked the skinny stripes - they made me think of old school ticking, but not quite as Gramma's Featherbed as all that.

Just bashin' the status quo, that's me
And the quilting was a quarter inch to either side of the seam lines on the diagonals, making the back all diamonds, toute suite and easy peasy.  I have not had the energy to dive back into free-motion quilting on this machine; that feels more like pursuing an artform, whereas I just want to play with fabric and make geometric patterns out of different colors as a hobby.  Someday maybe I'll have the attention span to put into decorative quilting, but for now, peeps be getting straight(ish) lines and grids up the wazoo.

Diamonds are a quilter's best friend

And there you have it, my fine favored friends - a wee binkie for your lovely home, where I may yet need a couch to crash on, and will always need a beer to drink and some breezes to shoot.  No matter where you may roam, you should be prepared to find me sleeping on your porch or possibly in your outside bathtub (weather permitting).  And next time you cook up a travelin' plan, keep me posted.  Even if I can't go with you, I will still definitely want to hear all about the absurdities of the trip, since experiencing things through the prism of your particular worldviews is the next best thing to being there; and in some cases, way better.

See you soon, don't go changin', and save me a seat on the patio.

Lookit you, you starry-eyed wastrels.  photo by Craig DeA.  

Love! and Besos,