Wednesday, March 6, 2013

You have to be brave

“You have to choose your combinations careful. The right choices will enhance your quilt. The wrong choices will dull the colors and hide their original beauty. There are no rules you can follow. You have to go by instinct and you have to be brave.”
Whitney Otto, How to Make an American Quilt

In high school I took a sewing class. I nearly failed it. In fact I eked by with a D. The suggested garment to sew was an apron. I chose a blouse, button holes and all, in a sheer material that tore easily. Often the material would gather itself in the bobbin mechanism leaving me to rip it out (ripping the material in the process) you could say I was virtually hopeless as a seamstress.

After my Mother died (when I was 24) my Father gave me a sewing machine. I assume his thought was to save me money in repairs of clothes and perhaps even to help me build a less expensive wardrobe. It gave me proof that my Father never looked at my report cards.

The first quilt I ever made was for my brother. He was going to college and I thought I would whip something together. I never had a lesson. I hadn't a clue. I believe I made a "rainbow" quilt before the rainbow became a symbol of something besides sisterly love. It was crude. My hand stitching showed a lack of finesse and experience. I designed the quilt myself and it looked like it.

One of the next quilts I made was for Glenn. We were dating. I suppose it was a symbol of my seriousness about the relationship. That Christmas he got a hand made quilt from me, and I got a champagne bucket. The gifts, each in their own way, cemented our relationship as permanent.

As time progressed I practiced this skill and the designs I followed continued to become more complex and intricate. When I was a stay at home Mom, quilting became my escape, my release.
I made quilts for our daughters for their twin beds. I made Christmas quilts for all our beds. I made wall quilts. I made baby quilts. I planned in our remodel to turn a closet into a quilting center. I hand quilted them all and got carpal tunnel syndrome in the process! Then I got Cancer.

While battling Cancer I discovered many things that reminded me of quilting.

When you are told you have Cancer (or any other life endangering disease) you feel overwhelmed. Where to start??? Who do I trust? Why is it taking so long? Will I ever make it through? Is all this worth it?

With a quilt, you don't have an idea where to start, but you go to the quilt shop and sift through the patterns. After due consideration you select one and start to look over the variety of colors and textures of the fabrics on display. You find exceptional ones that speak to you. If  one fabric is speaking louder you use that as the one to which the other fabrics will relate. You consult (if you have found the person worthy) with the person working at the shop. Then you have them cut and stack your purchases into a neat little pile, layering it into a bag that weighs as much as a small child. The idea of turning all this material, batting and thread, into the quilt you see in your mind is hard to accept. It still feels like such a long way to go, but you feel better because you have a plan.
2013 Warrior Quilt "Never say never"
Someone tells you you have Cancer. The news has you feeling as if you have no direction. You get on the Internet and talk with friends and the closest of your family. You hear the directions of the Doctor and you set out to find out more. There are many treatments once the disease has been discovered. Some are more aggressive than others. And you realize doing nothing, while being a choice of sorts, is not a good choice, so you select the plan. You gather the people, you prepare your life to start this fight. You envision your head without hair, your refrigerator comes to be filled with nausea preventing foods and healthy choices. You buy a journal. You buy books to entertain or educate. You get ready and then you begin.

2010 Warrior Quilt "Hope Blooms"
Cutting the fabric is scary. You know you only have so much to work with. You realize there are certain directions in which the design is better, and not only that, the strength of the quilt is better. If you make a mistake, and you don't have enough fabric, you may never be able to complete the same quilt you have begun. The fabric you chose could be gone when you go to buy more. And so the quilt will change. But you are brave - you remember mistakes are less frequent if you measure twice and cut once. You are careful with your choices.
For some people it is encouraging to focus section by section, first cutting the center and then moving outward to the border and backing. For other people, the focus on cutting all of one color making stacks of each, ready to turn the actual sewing into more of an assembly line is what works best.

2011 Giants lap quilt
Going into surgery you realize all of this journey will be a matter of steps. First tests, then results, then the surgery, then the treatment, then the recovery. You also realize each of these steps has steps within it. Part of getting through Cancer is looking at the step ahead of you. It's hard to handle the surgery if you are thinking about Chemo. Its hard to think about your life when you are worried about your death. One task at a time, one day at a time, one moment at a time. Breath.

2013 Baby Girl Quilt  "Starry Night"
When you set the pieces into the machine and start seeing the pattern emerge, you are rewarded in knowing you are on your way to realizing your vision. Sometimes you find a certain fabric doesn't do justice to the rest of the quilt and you choose to abandon it in favor of something that will make the quilt "sing". You feel when it is right. You know by the smile that crosses your face that this quilt will be something special.
As you begin the treatment phase of Cancer (usually drugs and/or Chemotherapy, perhaps with a round or two of radiation) you begin to count. 24 weeks. OK I just finished 1 week. Eventually you can look at how many left and see it is fewer than the ones you have already endured. Sometimes adjustments need to be made. You may need additional drugs or different drugs. You are shown that the choices are making a difference as tumor markers recede. You start to recognize that special feeling that you have been holding onto in the darkness as hope. You start to realize that hope has become belief. You start to believe you are going to survive. You are ready to turn the page.

The power point of 2012 Quilt "Circle of Hope"
When your quilt has been pieced you need to give it strength by the actual quilting. You begin stitch by stitch to bind the three layers (top, batting and backing) together. It does no good to expect it to be finished in one sitting. Rather it is wise to focus on one section at a time, knowing in so doing you will finish this quilt and it will be made to survive for years to come. You look at each and every piece and see the beauty in each. You stand back and admire the completed vision. In the end you announce "it was more than worth it." This quilt is a part of me!
Once you stand on the other side of Cancer it may take you awhile to realize what you have done. But when you are ready you will think back on the moments and people it took to get you through. You think of how frightening some of those choices were. Then you take a look in the mirror. What you see there makes you smile. She is stronger and wiser than she was before. You still can feel the love that was added to your life in pieces to form this more beautiful version of yourself. You say a quiet thank you in a way you thought you never would. You realize without Cancer you may have never come to be this person you've become - and in a very very odd way you are grateful.
Please send me the names of your warriors to include with the card that goes with our 2013 Warrior Quilt. Our recipient (young McKenzie) will be surrounded by their strength and beauty. Although donations are not required they are welcome

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