Last week I was off my feet a bit. Not so much thrown off. More like tripped up, as when you are engrossed in conversation and don’t see a slight rise in the corner of the sidewalk paving block and find yourself in a wild and awkward dance as you try to right yourself. All you wanted was to walk along and have a nice conversation with no unexpected bumps. That’s all most of us want in life in general too, right? To walk along without bumps? Good luck with that.
The cause of last week’s bumps was twofold – a decision someone made some time ago that I just found out about, which resurfaced old traumas, and a reaction someone had that reversed good feeling. The bumps led to sadness and reflection and finally to what my mother summed up as “You poured out your heart.” I needed to work my way through.
I’m here to say that it’s all well and good to pour out your heart, but in the time that follows the outpouring, you have to actually do something. In times past I did not so much control what activity came next – I went to work or fixed a meal or fell asleep. This time, post-outpouring, I had a full day staring at me with nothing else in it.
Thanksgiving is coming and so are my granddaughters Eppie and Rise, now 5 and 7.
These are the cuties I’m talking about, smiling on Rise’s first day of school. Eppie walked up to the bus stop with her, having to wait one more day for her own first day of kindergarten. Note it was cold enough in the morning in late August in Vermont for a jacket, but not cold enough for Eppie to wear shoes. Rise probably has them on only because of going to school.
I have quilts in mind for them for Christmas. I’ve had quilts in mind for them ever since my neighbor Tracy told me how she treasures the quilt her grandmother made for her. I’ve made jammies and simple dresses for the girls, but not yet quilts. With their visit coming soon, I figured I had better get going because I like to watch people open the gifts I give them and I don’t want to have to mail anything – and here I am writing about it instead of doing it!
When your heart is greatly stirred up, it helps to use your hands on something that requires focus. It helps to direct energy toward something that will bring good to someone else. I don’t expect Rise and Eppie to oooh and ahhh over these quilts when they open them up next week. But in ten years, or twenty, or thirty, maybe they get a warm feeling inside knowing, remembering (I hope!) how great was Oma’s love for them through every step of their childhood. There has to be Good in these gifts, if not now, then later. I’m banking on that.
Quilts then, on this empty day that needs focus. First, assess inventory. Open the scrap fabric boxes and make a pile of fun fabrics, colorful fabrics, plain fabrics (to balance the fun and colorful). Take out the sewing machine, the ironing board and iron, the scissors big and small, the cutting mat, the rolling blade. Uh-oh. Where’s the rolling blade? You can’t get the precise measurements and straight edges you need without the rolling blade. I can’t find the rolling blade.
Well, that’s unfortunate. Now I have two choices. I can either take (what will feel like) half the morning to drive forty minutes to the store and forty minutes back and buy a new rolling blade. Or I can order one that will arrive tomorrow and make do in the meantime with scissors. I will certainly not be done in a day. Make-do kicks in. This is the new roller that duly arrived the next day, still in its package for reasons yet to come.
Having a goal to make two quilts but having no roller to precisely cut the fabric nudged me in a new direction. I hemmed, I hawed, for all of three seconds (deadline here, remember) and decided okay, not-so-precise – a.k.a. crazy – the quilts will be. Please understand that I am not a crazy-quilt kind of person. My quilts have taken one of two looks. Either they are orderly and color-coordinated, like these I made when my granddaughter Zoe was born last year (one baby-size for Zoe and one doll-size for her big sister Piper):
Or they are orderly and slightly-less-color-coordinated, like the two from before Zoe’s, a lap quilt for my dear friend Kim and the larger one for her mom, Lyn’s comfort quilt.
Can I do crazy? Can I start sewing with practically no idea what this thing will look like when I am done? Can I put pieces randomly together in ways that will affect that section and ultimately the quilt overall? You betcha!
I just started sewing pieces of fabric together, proceeding in hopes that Piece A wouldn’t clash terribly with Piece B (which got tougher when Pieces C, D, E, F, etc came into play) and willing to include odd angles, varying size pieces and some larger squares all in a row from another quilt I had started but never finished. I wanted to use some of the cute, child-like prints, but not too many.
In no time it seemed – mainly because using scissors goes faster than using a roller blade – I had the main part of Rise’s done.
You have purple funky surfer guy (find him), pink and aqua hedgehogs, funny owls, sleeping sheep, happy watermelons, golden sunflowers and even a piece of the lavender daisy print from Zoe’s quilt. You have some squares made of two perfectly cut (I took my time) 45-degree pieces and some rectangles slashed with a random angle. Some stripes, some plaids, some solids, some dull, some bright, a piece from a dress I made for Rise, several pieces from jammies. You have pattern here and no pattern there, big pieces and small pieces, some deliberate juxtapositioning and some whatever. You have funny ways the pieces came together and predictable ways.
And isn’t that just like life? You have things you can make happen and that you feel happy about or proud of as well as things you can’t explain: What was I thinking when I did that!? You have some rooms/projects/relationships that are a mess and some that are comforting. You have people who make you laugh and people who are just kind of there, filling up space. You have ideas/colors/particulars that appeal to you and ideas/colors/particulars that don’t. You keep going back to certain aspects of a thing because it shaped you or speaks to you or satisfies some part of yourself that you can’t even identify. I like the purple funky surfer guy.
Quilting makes a mess. Samuel came on the second day to make pizza, which we always enjoy in the living room, so I didn’t worry about the table. He took one look at it and said So this is the table of Mrs. CAYGO. His little dig was aimed at my occasional nudges to Clean As You GO in the kitchen. Yes, well you try making a quilt without making a mess. I’ll clean it up. Just maybe not so much As I Go.
This photo also shows plainly that sometime in the afternoon of the first day, while making do with scissors, I found my roller blade. You see it there, the yellow one on the ironing board, the new one still in its package on the table. I found my old one, of course, exactly where I had left it. The seams of the outer portions of Rise’s quilt are therefore straighter, less woobly, than the inner portions which will not lay as flat. But some roads we walk are straighter too, aren’t they? And some are a woobly wander.
Having a roller blade for Eppie’s quilt from the start meant straighter seams but no less creativity. With the confidence that I can “do crazy,” I began in fact to enjoy the randomness, to let one section suggest the next, to give myself license to use a piece that is not the absolute perfect one. How often do we get what’s absolutely perfect anyway? Is it okay to come close, to do the best you can, to make do with what you have, to hope that the love you put into a thing will shine through your obvious flaws and fears?
I say yes.