550 flowers.

240 women from four continents made this quilt. I've been wondering if that's actually a world first. It's possible don't you think?

Early in March, I read with shock and tears, that Rachel's long awaited baby girl, Eleni, had been born with complications. When I put the call out for flowers on my blog and Instagram for Rachel and her family, I didn't expect this.

I didn't expect people to jump to their needle and thread immediately, or offer to stitch them to squares. I didn't expect the offers to help, the gifts of thread and fabric or money towards postage costs. I didn't expect the unbelievably beautiful outpouring of people's own stories. Of both grief and hope. Loss, infertility, longing, waiting. You had been here before. You were so thankful for this way to participate. You took up paper piecing for the first time, you chose colours that were meaningful to you, you were not held back by international postage or time constraints.

I never anticipated the depth of meaning this would have for the online quilting community, or for me. How wonderful this has been to watch grow to overflowing (see #flowersforeleni on Instagram), to see what we're like as a group. Lately I've read blog posts about stolen work or undervaluing ourselves. But look! We are generous and creative! We pull together and come through for people. We feel each others' losses and joys.

I certainly didn't expect to receive 550 flowers. It created quite the creative challenge. I realise now, sitting and looking back over the experience, that I really expected to use all of them. If I had my time over, I think I'd give myself permission to use one flower from each person to make a special quilt for the Hausers, and ask for help to make donation quilts from the rest. But instead, I organised them into piles by colour, then pulled out a group of well matching ones, mostly pink and aqua because they far outnumbered the others, for a single bed quilt. I figured the most useful size, long term, would be a single bed size. Perhaps for Eleni herself.

Then I set some aside in a rainbow for the back, and wrote the names of all the contributors on this fabric by Anna Maria Horner. I made the quilt top in my typical scrappy fashion of having all my squares by the machine, and sewing two that looked good together, and then sewing those two into bigger squares, and so forth, till I had 16 really big squares that I laid out on my lounge room floor to check it looked good. And I don't know if it was just late or bad lighting, or the quiet voice reminding me that I was making a quilt representing 240 women to a quilting legend, but I wasn't happy with it. I left it for a day, laid it out again, unpicked some of the squares that were bothering me, replaced them, and then felt much better about it. It's tricky with a quilt you look at in great detail. It's so hard to know if those same ill-fitting bits will stand out to someone else or not. Tim said I should have done the front in a rainbow too. He's so helpful!

I was so thankful for Heidi's, from Buttons and Butterflies, immediate and generous donation of batting, thread and quilting, so that I could ship it to her in the States a little lighter, and then it would be closer to its final home. I can't wait to see what she'll do with this giant.

I can never express how thankful I am for how you all jumped on board with this project. I really think it's one of the most significant things I've ever done. It has been a great source of hope and comfort to me over the last eight weeks, reflecting on the deep and generous beauty in people. I hope it does the same for Rachel and her family as they realign their expectations and routine, and their sense of normal. My friend Jem, who has triplets with muscular dystrophy, says grief in this kind of parenting isn't something you work through and then move on. It comes in waves, with each reminder of difference and loss. And there are great joys too. A different, beautiful view of success, an openness to help and generousity. I'm glad we've given Rachel a quilt (or two!), as a long lasting, beautiful, practical expression of our prayers and support, our cheering them on, and weeping with them. It's a gift for the waves.

Linking up with Fabric Tuesday and Wip Wednesday

a gift

I love handstitching. I love the time for thinking, processing, praying. I love it when Tim chooses scary movies and I have something to focus on apart from the film. I love it when visitors come, or when I have a meeting. When I want to be sewing but also need to listen to Evie's long and convoluted story about the princess and the power ranger. I'm sure I listen better when my hands are busy. :)

I started this quilt two years ago when my lovely friend was struggling to conceive. After a conversation where she had confessed that she couldn't wait till I could make something lovely for a future baby of hers, I thought it would be nice to make something sooner, something that would remind me, while stitching, to pray for health and peace and patience, and a new little one for them.

The pattern is Rachel's Modern Medallion, from Stitched in Color's Handstitched Class and each round of the medallion includes a different handstitching technique. I highly recommend Rachel's classes!

Well the more I stitched, the less I was convinced that it was my friend's style. Isn't it challenging making for others, without completely second guessing yourself? I replaced the centre with something different to my original choice, I chose brighter colours than the earlier rounds of Loulouthi which are very 'autumn'. Still, I was unsure. And then, miracle of all miracles, she fell pregnant! And slowly but surely, the quilt became neglected while I dreamed up fun and sweet baby gifts.

She had stayed in my "I don't know what to do with you" box for about a year, when I found out my cousin, another quilter and Anna Maria Horner appreciator (I like to think I introduced her), found out at her 20 week pregnancy scan that her baby was high risk, his organs weren't forming properly, and she needed to prepare for the worst. At the beginning of my own pregnancy with Finlay, I was devastated for her. I decided the best thing I could do was bring out the quilt again and keep praying.
Following surgery immediately after birth, Naomi's baby stayed in hospital for 2 months before, miraculously, wonderfully, she was able to take him home. You can read her honest and beautiful story here.

I've told a couple of people while showing them this quilt, that I was making this for my cousin.
"She must be a pretty special cousin!" has been the common reply.
And she is special, and I do like her a lot, but I don't think the recipient of a quilt can be valued by the time put into it. Sometimes it feels more like a gift to the quilter, wouldn't you agree? Thousands of kilometres away, little old me with my 3 kids and small house, can do this one thing that's extra special. I used to be the person wishing I knew how I could help, wishing I could do something. Now I can do this. Something that can hopefully, humbly, be a physical expression of all those hopes and prayers and tears, given for that precious little boy. And the much longed for little boy born to my friends last year. And for other dear friends and their wishes for babies and partners and other things that haven't come along as easily as they hoped.

Yes, I do love handstitching.

{inside my head}

  • Recently I've taken to making blocks and listening to TED talks. I'm in the mood for little details. Quick finishes. Small scale. The other day I was listening to this talk by Alisa Vitti, who, among other things, talks about how our (female) cycle and the different hormones at work each week affect the way we approach life and what our strengths are. I have noticed, since making more quilts, how at one part of the month I have more ideas than I know what to do with, and I start them all, because I just want to dip my toes in all of them. Then later, the rush of inspiration has vanished and I just feel like pumping fabric through my machine. I actually would have guessed that my rhythms are opposite to Vitti's, but I'm going to keep a journal anyway, just to find out. Could mean I might embrace starting 10 things at once, trusting I'll finish them all by the end of the month. I'll keep experimenting and let you know.
  •  My current block bonanza included this sweet Ohio Star. A dear quilting friend leant me an old book with traditional American quilts in it. Beautiful. It makes me want to a) make more traditional blocks (though it could just be the time of month! ;)) and b) discover more of Australia's quilting history. I love history. I majored in Modern U.S. history at Uni. I could happily dive into American quilt history and swim contentedly. I buy American fabric, I read American blogs (albeit with an Australian accent!), but there's a little spark of interest growing for my own creative heritage. 
  • It rains in Newcastle for about 130% of the winter months. And it's not just constant rain, it's the kind that comes in the early afternoon, after you've rushed to get your washing on the line because the sun's been out all morning. I started a conversation with Tim about getting a dryer, but it's always been one of his environmental stands. He thinks we'll end up getting lazy and using it more than we need to. I understand this view of humanity. I was brought up with it. But since my grief earlier in the year, and my long, hard road trying to go easier on myself, I've discovered I'm not actually a lazy person. I've stopped beating myself into motivation and I haven't spent my days sitting on the back deck drinking cider, or even browsing Facebook. Go figure! 
  • So I'm spending a lot more time than I would choose hanging out and trying to dry our washing. Earlier this week while I was grumbling about this, and trying my hardest to pray and breathe my way into a more contented place, Tully came into me and exclaimed, "Mum, I love you more than all this washing!" There you go. It's not about how efficiently I can get things done (and despite having toddlers, I still struggle with this!), but about having my eyes and ears open to joy and peace in each moment.

  • Well, I was going write more about this next quilt, but maybe that's enough of the inside of my head right now? I'll wait till the sun comes out again and I can show you the whole quilt and give it the single post it deserves. For now, I'll just tell you that I used Maureen's quilt as you go tutorial, and I'm hooked. I have SO much scrap batting. I mean wadding. I can't even remember which word we use, and which one you do. But I don't mind. I like the reasons why.
So what's been on your mind lately?

five years

It was five years yesterday since I became a mum. We spent the day yesterday celebrating Tully's birthday, but today I've been reflecting on the anniversary. I don't think of it often, because it makes me uncomfortable, the way that supposed-to-be-precious day went from the photo above to the one below.
They say those first moments make all that came before it fade away. Instead, I looked at this little alien and wondered where the heck he came from. 

The alien and I got to know and love each other slowly, rather than experiencing any fierce, instinctive wave of emotion. And if there's one thing I'm thankful for, it's that I decided just to ride it out, be with it, rather than fear that something was wrong.
And the more he's grown up and I've grown up, the more we like ourselves and each other. 
A few weeks ago, Tully exclaimed in a sighing kind of way, "Oh, I just love our family!"
And I realised that I did too. That they didn't feel like aliens to me any more, but part of myself. And I realised that deep down, that's what we all long to feel. That we love the unit we belong to. And that my role was to enjoy him and help him discover all the good parts of himself.

I've been trying to think up a poem for Tully over the last few weeks, but nothing has really been coming to me. Then one of our friends gave Tully "Oh the Places You'll Go!" by Dr. Seuss. Have you read it? We did last night before bed, and it expressed exactly everything I'd love Tully to know and feel about the world.

Here are some snippets:

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose...

And when things start to happen,
don't worry. Don't stew.
Just go right long.
You'll start happening too...

You'll be on your way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
You'll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights...

Except when you don't
Because sometimes you won't.
I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it's true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you...

Somehow you'll escape 
all that waiting and staying. 
You'll find the bright places
 where boom bands are playing...

Fame! You'll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you
win on TV...

Except when they don't.
Because, sometimes, they won't.
I'm afraid that sometimes
you'll play lonely games too
Games you can't win
'cause you'll play against you...

But on you will go
though the weather be fowl...

And on it goes, with just the right tone of realistic optimism, communicating that it's good and right to hope, especially when your expectations are dashed. That the ups and downs are all part of the adventure of life. 

It's great isn't it? And God help me equip him to face life like this. Because sometimes there are unplanned pregnancies, and unplanned caesareans that change life forever. And some surprises will bring unfathomed grief, and others, an adventure you can only enjoy if you dive in, shoes and all. 


A quilt for moving on.

It was in the aftermath of all the change and grief earlier this year, that this quilt was born. In the small, silent privacy of my new sunroom studio. When the repetition and attention and clear, quiet whites and greys, and just a touch of blue were having a tangible effect on my soul.

I had brought out my neutral bucket of scraps, (I couldn't imagine working with colour), fished around for the strips, then grabbed the leftovers from my Children at Play pinnies, and the linen ones, and the 'white on white' prints that I had used for a custom order quilt last year and never looked at again. I think it was the memory of that quilt, warm, calm, traditional, that made me feel grounded. And I wanted to create something like it again.

My first log cabins were very intentional. Each piece sewn and ironed and trimmed with care and design. And then (as I wrote here), as that lost its therapy, I started to chain piece. Then, more recently, as I started to feel more myself, I began introducing more pops of colour. More flat solids and less tone on tone. More modern prints and less care whether it matched.

I finished up all the 8" blocks and laid them out on the floor of my friends' house to ask what she thought. I had planned to make different sized blocks and have them scattered throughout. But the regularity of the squares made such a simple, pretty baby quilt.
Cath said to me, "That's pretty, but the other one you have in mind will be wonderful."
I'm so thankful now for that encouragement. It gave me the extra little push I needed to keep going when I felt like finishing up there. I felt the shift from this being all about safety (which was just right in the beginning) to realising I was in a place again where I could go beyond my natural attention span, or motivation, to create something I really wanted. And it feels good to be here again!

I'm joining in 'Festival of Strings'!

Scrap Attack {String Fever}