Dumb Animals

We had a strange animal event Friday night/Saturday morning. The basement windows are small and high on the wall, with wells outside. We put plastic covers over the window wells, but every now and then a critter of some sort makes its way into the well. I’ll usually lift the cover and put a piece of 2×4 in so it can crawl out. (This always happens at 11:00 at night, by the way.) Friday night I heard scratching and squeaking, so I went into the laundry room and saw Buttercup staring intently at the window. I flipped the light on to see what kind of critter we were dealing with and discovered a small mole-like animal. (After looking it up today, I think it was a northern short-tailed shrew.)

Somehow this poor critter had found a way between the screen and the window! It’s a tiny space, maybe 1/4″ wide, although the screen gives a little. It was scooting around like a little mime. I took a carpet knife outside and cut a big 3 corner tear in the screen so it could get out. When I lifted the window well cover there was a horrible stench – I had a bad feeling, but didn’t see anything in the dark. It crawled way up in the corner of the window to get away from me, so I went inside to let it calm down enough to escape. Ten minutes later, I heard more squeaking. It was still there, and now a second, smaller shrew had crawled in the tear and was nosing at it, squeaking and chirping. The first one wouldn’t budge, other than to flinch back from the new one. I watched for a while, then decided the first had wedged itself up so far in the corner that, with it’s paws against the window instead of the screen, it couldn’t get itself out.

Shrew 3

Back outside with the carpet knife I went, and slashed the screen from top to bottom. The shrew fell down to the bottom, still inside the screen. Inside again, the smaller shrew kept going in and out of the screen, goading the larger one so it crawled all around, but it seemed to be avoiding the gaping hole in the screen.

I left them be for a while, and when I went back the larger one was out, but the smaller one was still crawling in and out of the screen, around the window well, back and forth – and always avoiding the wooden ramp I had put in. I tried to catch it with a plastic dustpan on a stick, but it was quick, and disappeared into the rocks at the bottom of the well. The next morning it was still there, back in the screen. Our neighbor came over and was eventually able to get it out. He took it down to the flower bed away from the house and released it. There was no sign of the other one, but he did find four dead babies, which he cleaned up for us. Apparently they’d been in there quite a while.


An Essay on Modern Quilting

Jeanne at Grey Cat Quilts shared a video by Rossie of Fresh Modern Quilts (a fantastic group on Flickr). The video is an hour long presentation of her take on modern quilting – terminology, how it’s developed, and characteristics of the style. Jeanne then posted some interesting observations and questions about the content. I started to add a comment and it turned into this essay, so I’m posting it here instead. Be sure to check out the video and Jeanne’s post.

Everything Old is New Again

I do not consider myself a “modern quilter.” I am a quilter, period. I like traditional quilts, and I like modern quilts. I work with fabrics that could be considered modern, and I like traditional blocks. I like the negative space and asymmetry of many modern quilts, and I like the precision of many traditional quilts. I am a member of two (going on three) Modern Quilt Guilds, although none are particularly active just yet. I’m still feeling my way around my quilting style. (Although right now my quilting style is “none.” Gotta fix that.)

If you are a self-described modern quilter, you may disagree with some of my opinions. I appreciate that. I don’t mean to be critical of any person, but I have thought critically of the… let’s call it movement. It isn’t so much because I see things I don’t like, but because I see something I do like, over and over and over. You know how you hear a song on the radio and you just love it, and then the station plays it eight times a day for a month straight and if you hear it again you might have to hurt someone? Yeah, like that.

To illustrate some of the ideas of modern quilting, and to poke at myself and show you that yes, there is a bit of hypocrisy in this post, all of the quilts in this post were made at least in part by me.

Good & Plenty finished

While I have made quilts that were inspired by photos of other quilts, both traditional and non-traditional, I try to be inspired by rather than duplicate exactly. I also strive for the occasional original design, or at least semi-original design, even if it’s nothing more than a new color palette. I understand the appeal of recreating a beautiful quilt, especially when so many modern quilts are relatively simple to make. I agree with Jeanne’s comment, though, that we are being robbed of our creativity at the same time we’re being exposed to new ideas. The one overriding thought I had throughout the video was how similar the quilts looked, even when done by different people.

You know what it reminds me of? Reality TV. First we had The Real World, then Survivor and American Idol and The Amazing Race and Big Brother. For their time, ground breaking shows. Now every network airs shows “about” swapped wives and new models and dancing/singing/talent. Shows about the lives of low-list or even no-list “celebrities” smack us in the face every time we turn on the TV. Few of them have any meaning, any value anymore – it’s all background noise. I fear “modern” quilting is going down the same road. A few creative gems pop up every now and then, but I see so much replication, so much filler.


A big aspect of modern quilting is simplicity, but it’s both beautiful and limiting. You can only arrange basic squares or rectangles so many ways before eyes begin glazing over. Other common themes include negative space (lots of white, although linen and gray are now popular), asymmetry, and bold colors and/or prints. Again, I really enjoy the fresh, clean, funky style. However, I get frustrated when I click on a favorite blogger’s site and see yet another quilt just like the one they made last month. Of course these people aren’t making quilts for my enjoyment, and they have every right to create a quilt that makes them happy. Sometimes we want the satisfaction of completing a project and a simple quilt is great for that. But we also need to work on expanding the boundaries of modern quilting. At what point does “creating” end and “making” begin? Here comes another analogy: When I’m in a hurry and I’m hungry and I just want to get supper on the table, I “make” tuna noodle casserole. It’s tasty and it’s filling and it’s fast. But when I’m in the mood to “create” I make homemade lasagna, with sauce from scratch – even the noodles are homemade. I layer and fuss and enjoy the process. We need to get back to enjoying the process in quilting. (We can thank Rossie for that, too – she’s the originator of the Process Pledge.)

Framing Squares

Traditional quilts are also repetitive, but because they combine elements you see a much larger variety of quilts. Take flying geese, for example. It’s a pretty basic element, but because it can be connected in long rows, in double pinwheels, in circles and squiggles and squares, it doesn’t get old so easily. It is also used as a component of more complex blocks, and you often see secondary patterns. There’s a blog called Modify Tradition (which, unfortunately, hasn’t had anything new since June, but who am I to criticize?!). Their premise is that modern and traditional quilting don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I like this. I think if we can combine the modern aesthetic with the traditional variety, we can expand our boundaries so much further.

Modify Tradition Swap

Jacquie at Tallgrass Prairie Studio is one of those modern quilters that has not put boundaries on her creativity. I am blown away by every photo she posts because she is always thinking, always moving forward. When she makes an improvisational log cabin (I like that term so much more than “wonky”), or even several, you don’t think, “Oh, another one of those.” She plays with color, with scale, with texture, and she creates something new each time. Not long ago, she posted about a reader and new quilter who, while attending a class, was told by a master quilter that people made wonky log cabins because they couldn’t quilt correctly. The reader was understandably discouraged and frustrated. Jacquie’s response included this gem:

If we don’t encourage and welcome new folks, new ideas, we are risking quilting becoming a lost art.

There followed a long list of encouraging, supportive comments (because fundamentally, “encourage and support” is what quilters do). I believe that modern quilters can learn a lot from the traditionalists, too. As I said in my comment,

I believe beginning quilters can really benefit from learning the “rules” and basic traditional block construction and applique methods. Once you understand the how and the why you have a much better base for creativity.

On the flip side, traditionalists need to accept and learn from modern quilters. At least in my area, quilt shops and guilds are heavily traditional. I’m going to bring this back around to Grey Cat Quilts, where the whole essay (should I change the title to novel?!) began. We attended the Madison Quilt Expo last weekend, and were disappointed in the lack of modern fabric options. (She has a great post on this subject.) She made the following point:

Just to be blunt, quilting’s current target demographic, the female retiree is a shrinking demographic. That customer base is going to, literally, die off. … Marketers in quilting have done virtually nothing to woo generations X and Y, and even less to keep those two generations interested in the hobby.

In our area (south central Wisconsin), there are at least nine quilt shops within a half hour drive. Only one carries fabric that could remotely be considered modern. Expand that to 90 minutes and 16 quilt shops and the number increase a bit, but only one of those 16 is primarily modern (and it’s at the farthest edge). I desperately want to support my local quilt shops, but it’s difficult when they don’t support me. Lizzie House, designer of the fabulous Castle Peeps fabric (and daughter of Cherry House who wrote the book City Quilts) spoke at Spring Market about how quilt shops can attract younger quilters to their stores. She posted the video on her blog, and it is AMAZING. She’s funny, speaks well, and makes some very good points. I want to tell all of the stores in the area that they have to watch it. (And then I want to win the lottery so I can go shopping!)

So, if you’ve made it through all the way to here, what do you think? Am I being judgmental? If you say yes, I won’t argue, because I know that particular personality flaw is alive and well in me. Do you lean more toward traditional, modern, or do you incorporate both into your quilting? How so? What do you like about modern quilts? Traditional quilts? What do you dislike?

Why I’ve been missing, part 2

(For the record, I asked his family for permission before writing about this.)
A few weeks ago, my cousin’s teenage son took his own life. Like people tend to do, my first reaction was about me. What could I have done, how did I fail him, that sort of thing. When he was younger, Christian and I had a really nice relationship, although I saw him infrequently. We talked about books and music and he was excited and interesting and interested. As he got older, we talked less. I regret not making more of an effort to connect with him. This kid was bright and funny and engaging, but he was no saint, and I’m sure his issues weighed on him. The funeral was sad, but also incredibly positive. The minister was very open about it being suicide, and very forgiving. He encouraged all of the kids there (and there were a LOT) to talk to someone, even if it is just each other, about their emotions. The eulogy by one of his friends gave me the back of the head smack that I needed. Christian had a wealth of people around him who loved him and supported him. My relationship with him was… well, if not incidental, then very close to it. His mother and grandparents in particular were there for him if he had just been able to articulate his need. I still regret, but without that heavy feeling of responsibility.

His grandmother is part of our Stitch & Bitch group. A few years ago, Christian created a design for school that is essentially a quilt pattern. My aunt brought it to me to draft in EQ7, and I wrote out instructions. We discussed whether she wanted to share the pattern with others, within the family or otherwise. She decided that yes, she would like to share it. In the next few days, I’ll be posting a pattern for Christian’s Puzzle, but for now here’s a peek at his design.

Christian's Puzzle

Why I’ve been missing, part 1

For the past couple of months, I haven’t felt like posting much. Instead of quilting MORE when I’m stressed or worried or sad, I quilt less, and it affects my blogging, too. I’m trying to hop back on the horse and I’ve thought quite a bit about whether to talk about the reasons for my absence. I’ll get back to quilting in the next post (later today), but for now, it’s all personal.

It started with that delicate phrase “female problems.” After waiting far too long, I finally scheduled an appointment with a new doctor. New because my insurance changed and I have to use a different facility. I asked who I should be seeing for this issue and they directed me to an internist (“A physician who specializes in the diagnosis and medical treatment of adults,” according to the Medical Dictionary). Looking back, I don’t think they listened to a word I said about the issues, and just hooked me up with a “regular” doctor. Despite my concerns, the earliest appointment available was over a month away. There followed a long, ridiculously inept period (no pun intended) of taking medication so things would stop so I could have an ultrasound. The hospital called me with the results of the ultrasound – fibroids. Okay, I thought, fibroids are normal in women my age, and I did a bit of reading. Hmmm… estrogen causes fibroids to grow. Estrogen is produced in the ovaries, but also in fat. Aha! A “reason” to eat well, exercise and lose weight! I committed to some serious lifestyle changes. Four days later I met another doctor to review the ultrasound results… and my problems weren’t caused by the fibroids. This is the doctor I should have gone to originally (GYN). She explained how the female cycle worked (this hormone, egg production, that hormone, and when the egg “died” that hormone’s disappearance, triggering a period). If an egg wasn’t released, which happens as you get older, “that” hormone isn’t produced, so it doesn’t disappear, so no period is triggered. Then the weight of the material accumulated over time becomes too much and it sloughs off gradually under its own weight. PROBABLY, she said, that’s what I’m dealing with. But because it could also be something more serious (like the big C), she did an endometrial biopsy that had me swearing – loudly – at her and her nurse. I dropped the F bomb. It was not a pleasant procedure. A week later she called with the results – they found nothing… because all they got was the stuff that was sloughing off. No endometrial tissue. So sorry, have to do the test again. Yippee. Another week passed before that appointment, more swearing, a week of waiting for results and… there’s nothing wrong with me. My eggs are just reaching their expiration date. Don’t even ask me how much I’m going to end up paying because the first doctor kept me on drugs for over a month (and I had to pay for four separate prescriptions!) to stop something that couldn’t be stopped (remember – sloughing off under its own weight), instead of putting me on it for a short time and taking me off so it could trigger a normal period. That resulted in a bad first test, which meant the cost of a second test.

Once that all got sorted out, I decided to keep up with my commitment to healthier choices. I need to lose a lot of weight, and I’ve been struggling to find the motivation. I was doing really well (although in the past week I’ve fall off quite a bit more than I’d like). Then I got a phone call at work.

Continued in Part 2