My Old-Time Religion

I grew up in a family committed to missionary work. One aunt was a Christian missionary in Mexico, another aunt and uncle were Wycliffe Bible translators in Vietnam.

I spent last weekend witnessing as well, proselytizing and evangelizing, but not for Christianity.

Those who follow along here may have a vague memory of me announcing that I’m an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I’m not religious in my beliefs.

It’s just that my religion doesn’t have a god . . . but its heaven is most inviting, or at least it’s the place for me.

It’s a small sect, with few faithful adherents. Some are the equivalent of C&E (Christmas and Easter) Christians—they practice the faith but casually and only on their own terms.

My religion isn’t well-represented in this region; we few members seek each other out and rejoice when we find another believer.

It’s a fundamentally old-fashioned belief system, slow-paced and beholden to the olden days.

My religion, it seems, is hand quilting.

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Last weekend, I spent two days at the biennial show of the Champlain Valley Quilters’ Guild, sitting at a quilting frame–demonstrating, teaching, talking about quilting by hand–and looking for converts.

Like all missionaries, I got a variety of reactions. Some people walked by and laughed, and walked on. A couple of hand quilting atheists shook their heads and called me crazy.

But my slow work, with the serene smile on my face and the peace in my movements, drew others. They sat, they watched, they picked up a needle and joined me.

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Some people were curious—they seemed to come looking for a new kind of meaning, a place of belonging.

Others were already true believers. We spoke in almost spiritual tones and words of how we felt about the hand quilting. It has a soul; it carries the spirit of our ancestors; it allows us to transcend the mundane, to find a peace unavailable through a machine.

I asked them to look at the three or four quilts, in a show of 400, that were quilted by hand, by members of the faith. We could all see and sense the difference, even though we admitted that the quilts done by machine were often awe-inspiring in their own ways.

We agreed that, while we’d never go to war or start an Inquisition to defend our faith, we’d never foist our beliefs on others, we still agreed that our ways suit us best.

Everyone needs to believe in something, I guess. And I believe in taking it slow . . .

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One of only three or four hand-quilted quilts in our guild show. Maybe next time, there will be more!?

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I Wander As I Wind . . .

IMG_8789I’m winding warp. By the time the day is out, I will have 7 more bundles like this, all for a set of towels.

Winding warp is kind of boring, kind of repetitious, kind of mundane, but without it no weaving can be done.

When my mind wanders as I wind, I think of possibilities.

Because winding warp is all about possibilities and all about anticipation.

In this warp I see Christmas, of course, and winter. Snow and brisk winds and the cozy fires of home.

I see strong fabric where there is now simply thread.

I see useful objects that will please people who have values like mine, who value function and form and the imprint of the human hand.

I see hours spent watching the cloth grow, watching candy cane stripes wend through white, fresh and crisp and pleasing.

Through the occasional stress and struggles and bad news of daily life, I see making and becoming and creating.

So, I will go wind warp.

After the Storm . . .

IMG_0385“It’s like a dark cloud encroaching on a sunny day . . . that cloud hovers there and distracts us from carefree joys of summer, causes deep concern for what comes next, brings a measure of dread.”

I wrote those words two months ago, feeling like a storm was approaching, threatening to rock our world.

Sometimes storms change direction and pass us by. Sometimes they peter out.

Sometimes they hit us hard and cause damage from which it is difficult to rebuild.

My step-dad, John Malcolm Bauman, died about a month ago. He had been in an intensive care unit for about 3 weeks before he died.

He was an exceptionally fine man, which made his loss exceptionally difficult. Even the medical personnel who worked with him commented frequently on their affection for him—one ICU nurse told me, “we’ve all fallen a little in love with him.”

He was a retired newsman, had worked as the evening TV anchor in a good-sized mid-western market. He was the Voice of the Quad Cities, and what a voice it was–mellifluous, intelligent, quietly funny, and wise.

Our loss of him has shaken our world, all of us, but it has been hardest on his wife, my mother.

She has moderate dementia and he was her anchor. He did most everything for her and considered it a privilege to do so, so he said.

Now I do those things for her, at least for the time being, and doing so has changed my day-to-day life in major ways.

For the last two months, she has lived with us and much of my time has been spent learning what I need to know to help her through this transition—what medications does she take? From where do we order them? How are they administered? Where are her bank accounts? How do I gain access to them? What do we do about her belongings at the home in Florida she shared with her husband? And what do we do about the place she owns here and will no longer be able to use?

I give you all this information by way of explanation. My time has been spent on family this summer, with little flexibility. What time I have claimed for myself has been spent, not on writing, but on making things. I’ve used my limited free time to quilt and to weave, my quiet pursuits that provide the balm I’ve needed.

In some ways, the sky is clearing. My mom plans to move to a lovely assisted living facility nearby and, when she does, she and I can resume our fine mother-daughter relationship, which has been unavoidably altered by my becoming her caregiver.

In all of this, we’ve found silver linings to that dark cloud. We are lucky in many ways. She worked hard for many years and lived frugally, so money is no issue at all. She is emotionally strong and a real trouper, ready to move past her grief and forge ahead, into the next stage. When we were kids, she told us to view every challenge as an “adventure,” and she is taking her own advice.

Some day, when things are more settled, I’ll tell you about the things I’ve been making. I’ll be back to rhapsodize about the joys of ironing vintage linens, weaving cloth, finding the perfect autumn apple, enjoying making something by hand.

In the meantime, know that your writings have buoyed me. I hope you’re weathering whatever storms have blown through your lives!

And, John, I have three words for you—alors, pellucid, forsythia. You’ll know what I mean . . .

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John and my mom, on their wedding day.

Summer 2017

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It’s been a summer, with highlights and struggles.

We’ve been weaving.

Working, and playing, outdoors.

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Enjoying the lake.

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Over-indulging, on ice cream, adult beverages, and catnip.

I’ve been inordinately thrilled with my first food crop—a total of about 30 raspberries from two forlorn bushes we planted last year.

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We’ve spent lots of time with family members. We’ve seen a good deal of the ones we are closest to, and treasured every minute, and we had a chance to spend time with cousins I hadn’t seen in 25 years.

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Don and I participated in our first craft show as weavers—we had a perfect summer day, great feedback on our weaving, and a fine number of sales.

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It hasn’t all been sunshine and cocktails and easy living, though.

One of our number, a man we love, is struggling with scary health issues and we are trying to do all we can to support him.

It’s like a dark cloud encroaching on a sunny day . . . that cloud hovers there and distracts us from carefree joys of summer, causes deep concern for what comes next, brings a measure of dread.

I will hold summer in my heart, though, and remember that even on the darker days, this time is precious, every single moment of all the days.

So much going on . . . I haven’t had so much time for, or felt much like, writing. But your writing and your photos buoy me. Keep those summer posts coming . . .

Our New Roommate . . .

I was delivered in late fall, in the mid-1950s. She was delivered two days later; we’re almost exactly the same age.

She lived her whole life in Vermont while I left upstate New York for many years, only to return and make my home here again.

Lately she found she needed a home so we invited her to live here. But she had to be willing to live in the garage until we found a place for her inside.

Does that sound mean? Making an older lady live in our garage?

It’s okay–she’s tough, and she’s happy to have a home where she is appreciated and can feel useful.

Our new housemate is a Macomber Add-A-Harness loom. Yes, another loom.

The Macomber company, started in 1936, is still in business and they could tell us that the serial number on our new loom meant the loom was delivered in late 1955 to Mrs. Maurice Jones of Montpelier, VT. Mrs. Jones, Jean, died at the age of 88 in 2013.

Her husband, Maurice, died just last year, at 93. When his belongings were dispersed, Jean’s loom sold at auction and we found it on Craigslist.

It’s a wonderful loom, sturdy and clean. It has 4 shafts but, as its name suggests, 4 more can be added, since the company is still going strong.

As often happens, the loom was sold with “extras”—when someone stops weaving, they have no need for the arcane tools of the trade.

And as much as I love the loom, it’s these extras that have really fascinated me.

Mrs. Jones went all in when she chose weaving as a hobby. She got books and magazines, some nice tools, and quite a lot of pretty thread.

In the 1950s, when a person wanted to buy weaving yarn, she couldn’t go on the internet and look at pictures or ask for samples. Mrs. Jones had to write to companies and request samples.

And she did. And she kept every sample she received.

Yarns from Lily and Butterworth and Troy and Golden Rule. If none of these names are familiar, it’s because the companies no longer exists. The Lily yarn you can currently buy has nothing to do with the Lily Mills of Shelby, NC, and though Troy still exists, the company now sells quilting cotton fabric. The others . . . all gone.

Mrs. Jones records are a mini-museum of weaving in mid-20th century America.

Did she become a great weaver? The evidence suggests she did not.

All of the requests for yarn sample are from 1955 and 1956.

The magazines are from the same years.

The items were all stored in newspaper-lined boxes, and the newspaper was from 1967.

Mrs. Jones’s obituary mentions that “Jean enjoyed flowers and gardening, her berry patch, mowing her acreage on her ‘Jean Deere’ tractor, bowling, square dancing, hand work, cooking and entertaining,” but says nothing of weaving.

It may be that she wove for a while. The man from whom we bought the loom remembers that, at the auction, there were hand-woven items and the auctioneer speculated that they were made on this loom.

Or maybe the weaving bug, that old arachnid, never really bit. And maybe the loom has been quiet for all these years.

I’ll keep Mrs. Jones records because I don’t know what else to do with them—I can’t just throw them away.

And all that yarn? Will we use it? That’s a tough one. When that yarn is gone, it’s gone forever, just like the once thriving textile industries is the United States . . .

But the loom will be quiet no more! Don has big plans for her.

She won’t live in the garage for long—at 60-something, she deserves better.

 

When All is Done, and Said

All our words are never said and and all our work is never done . . . but we complete steps along our creative way.

I’ve made reference to and shown glimpses of this quilt I’ve been working on—and the top is finally finished!

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The impetus for the quilt came from the block-of-the-month (BOM) challenge my guild had this past year. The way the BOM works is that each month at a guild meeting, participants are given the directions for a new quilt block to make during the coming month. If one stays on track, by the end of the year one has done a good bit of work toward a finished project. I like finished projects as well as the next person!

And I liked the theme our guild chose: in light of this being the 100th anniversary of New York giving full enfranchisement to women, including the right to vote, the theme of our BOM was Women’s Suffrage.

The theme appealed to me a lot but I wanted to take it further and make my quilt more broadly about women’s rights. And I didn’t want to stop at the 9 pieced blocks that we received instructions for.

I reverted to my roots—my love of words, words that inspire, words that provoke, and words that maybe even foment change.

I chose 10 quotations from 9 women and one quotation from a man, Mitch McConnell, about a woman. I tried to be inclusive and choose from women of different eras and backgrounds.

For the embroidery, I used my tried-and-true freezer paper and computer printer method for transferring the designs to fabric—I wrote about it here.*

I ended up with 9 pieced blocks from the BOM challenge but needed one more for the design I wanted, so I added a block from a pattern called “Contrary Wife”–I figured many people saw the suffragettes as just that (it’s the block at the bottom left).

I sewed the pieced blocks and the embroidered blocks together in an alternating grid, with sashing. At some future date, I’ll hand quilt the whole thing.

I started this quilt well before the US presidential election and worked on it while I watched the voting returns, never suspecting the way things were going to turn out. I lost my way for awhile after that and didn’t work on the quilt for a good long time.

But as it turns out, I felt compelled to finish.

I’ve been thinking about a phrase I read somewhere—weapons of mass creation. Although the word “weapons” makes me uneasy, I do like the juxtaposition of ideas, that we can use the tools we have to build up rather than tear down.

And the tools, or weapons, I have are words, and needle and thread and shuttle and loom.

And I intend to use them–for my own comfort, for the simple joy of making, for the chance to make statement, subtle or less so, about the world I want to live in.

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*I’m thinking about doing another, even more detailed post about this, to encourage others to try the process of embroidering their own words on fabric. Would that be useful? If you have strong feeling, let me know.

 

Flurries, with Blowing and Drifting . . .

Blowing and drifting snow?!

No, it was 90 Fahrenheit yesterday (about 32 C) in upstate New York–a record for the date. We don’t have snow but we have flurries and squalls and storms and drifts . . . of cottonwood seeds.

For 11 months and two weeks of the year we love our cottonwood trees (populus deltoides). The are very tall and offer lots of shade; they are tolerant of cold and flooding.

But for two weeks in June, they are more than a little annoying. In early June, they spread their seeds in small fluffs of “cotton” and the sky is full of this snow.

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The fluff covers the ground, and drifts and swirls in the breeze. Rain tamps it down but also turns it into a nasty mat that clogs downspouts and gutters. Cats track it in and the wind blows it into every open door.

The fluff sticks to sweaty skin and wafts into cocktails. It collects in spider webs and on the flowers of every blossom. This thin layer of fuzzy white acts as a scrim, blunting the bright colors of June.

The good news is that it lasts for only two weeks. By the end of June, the airborne fluff will be gone and only the residual mats of seed will remain. Oh, and the sprouts that I’ll be pulling for the rest of the summer.

In other early-summer-outdoor-news, every sunset seeks to outdo the previous night.

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IMG_7680And the goslings grow.

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Is early summer fulfilling your expectations and delighting you?

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