Saturday, March 29, 2014

Janie's Quilt

The pattern is Shoo Fly.

          Do you know the best thing of all about this quilt?

          The red squares. When I think of the woman who made this quilt (my great-great grandmother), I imagine her as sophisticated (the color combinations) and outspoken (the red squares and black triangles) and fearless (I have looked at a fair number of old quilts, and you don't see much black in them. But she was not afraid to put black in her pretty, mostly pastel quilt.).

I love the way she combines black, blue, red, brown and purple and makes it succeed.

          The note in my great-aunt's handwriting that was pinned to the quilt when it came to me tells me it is over a hundred years old, and also that it is well-traveled. It came from Nova Scotia to Sundance, Wyoming with my great-grandfather, and then to me in New Jersey when my great-aunt died. It has done more traveling with me; first to California, then to Missouri, and now to Denver. It still looks fresh and gorgeous—and unlike the previous two, no holes!

Look at those delightful wavy red lines! I am very sorry I never knew its maker.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Crazy Serendipity

          I think I'm a reasonably lucky person, but I long ago came to grips with the fact that I am not the sort of lucky who wanders into an estate sale while she's out walking the dog and walks back out with a complete crazy-quilt top.

          Yet that is exactly what happened to me one morning years ago in San Jose. I'm still flabbergasted at my good fortune.

A very talented seamstress did this. By hand.

          I've always wanted a crazy quilt, but never figured I would get one. They are a Relic of Another Age, like antimacassars, and don't just drop serendipitously into the laps of people who aren't actively stalking them. Like most really lovely vintage items, they don't come cheap, either. And yet, I only had to part with $25 to get mine.

          How was I so lucky? Well, it was the only remaining one of several that were obviously complete and I suspect in better condition than the one I bought—I noticed small tears in some of the pieces when I examined it closely. Also, it was just the top. No backing; no binding. I'd need to back and bind it before I could use it. It obviously had never been the pick of the litter. Still, it was a crazy quilt. I'd wanted one forever. I would never make one for myself; I don't possess the patience. Plus it had velvet and silk and funky vintage fabrics. It had butterflies embroidered on it. I wasn't going to let a little wear or the fact that it needed to be finished stop me from possessing it.

This is why, I suspect, I was able to buy it. You can watch some of the pieces disintegrate,
almost in real time. I wonder if they are rayon, which doesn't seem to wear particularly well.

          It is now folded over the footboard of the guest bed. Every time I see it, it makes me so very happy.

Velvet! Silk! Spectacular embroidery!

Butterflies! Music!

Funky vintage fabrics, I love you so much.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Zilpha's Quilt

Elderly, but still loved.

          Sometimes I think of my linen closet as The Home for Geriatric Quilts. My family knows I like quilts, and so, as the old guard goes to that big quilting bee in the sky, leaving their quilts behind, I am presented with those quilts—some of them well-preserved, some of them well-used.

          The one pictured above is an example of the latter. It was made by my great-aunt for my grandfather and grandmother when they married in the early 1930s. When it retired from service covering their bed, it became their beach-picnic quilt. When my grandmother downsized her house in the 90s, it came into my possession—in sad shape. The binding looked like it had been eaten by puppies, and entire patches were gone, and sometimes the batting as well—and the backing was looking more and more theoretical.

          It really wasn't worth saving, but I like old quilts, and it was my grandmother's, and I have a soft spot for lost causes, so I put a new binding on it and undertook to patch it (no small feat), and that gave it another decade of life. At right around the decade mark, our own puppy, feeling a bit bored one day, ate a hole in the center.

          I patched it again, and it has limped along for another three years. Of course, the original fabric continues to deteriorate, and I finally had to give up trying to patch all the holes. The other day, as I snuggled under it for a nap, noticing a couple of new holes, I wondered how much longer it would be before it simply disintegrated. Casey jumped up on the bed and settled at my feet. Both of the dogs love this quilt, too.

          I wondered if I should just face the inevitable bravely and throw it away before it dissolved into a pile of lint, which I might be inclined to keep for sentimental reasons.

          But I love the faded vintage fabrics. I love the random bright pattern that the new patches make. I love that it's too busted-up to worry about trying to keep nice, and so we use it all the time. I love that the dogs love it. I love that the woman who made it was named Zilpha. I love that the naps I take under it are peaceful.

          I love it so much, this faded, battered, pockmarked quilt, that when it eventually does fall apart I will probably collect the pieces and reassemble them on a fresh backing, with new batting—even though I know the futility of trying to rejuvenate fabric this worn-out—just so I can keep on loving it.

A topography of quilt love. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Have Yet to Achieve Sufficient Fail

         The logo illustration that I'm working on continues to be a seething mass of fail. I must work some more on it because the seething mass of fail is not enormous enough yet, and requires more hours of my time to sufficiently convey the sheer, staggering quality of fail for this particular project.

          In the meantime, I feel that watching a video of a geyser (Strokkur, in Iceland) geysing on its own geologic schedule is a far better use of your time than listening to me whine.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Turns Out It Would Have Been Easier Just to Write Something

          I have been slaving in the art mines this week, working on the illustration for a logo. It is a long process, and all I've been thinking about are coffee and books (the subjects of the illo). I had zero ideas for a blog post, but I did have a bunch of cute little sketches of coffee cups that weren't right for the logo.

          Aha! I thought. I'll just take a page from Andy Warhol's book, and make a poster of a bunch of coffee cups in different color combinations. Add a little type. Easy schmeasy. Take me maybe an hour or two.

          I failed to remember the Basic Rule of Art, which is this: Art is long; life is short.

          I comped up the poster I'd envisioned, and it was good. But it needed type. And when I found the words I wanted to typeset*, they needed fewer already-finished coffee cup illustrations and more illustrations of books and happiness. Which did not yet exist.

          A word to the wise: quick-and-dirty illustrations of coffee cups turn out very well when you use the Zen Brush app on your iPhone. Happiness illustrations are similarly successful. However, it is a time-consuming challenge to draw a book, with your finger, on your touch-screen, that actually resembles a book. And of course, you must do it this way because you want the illustration style of the book to go with the style of the coffee cups and the happiness.**

         Anyway, the blankety-blank poster that was supposed to be quick and easy and turned out to be neither is finished. I quite like it.

*Which was not, by the way, the work of a few minutes.
**Before you ask, Zen Brush doesn't make an app for desktop use. I looked.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Checking in With the Bees—The NSA Can Help!

The bees were active this weekend.
          So K has been doing some reading about how to tell if your hives are overwintering okay without actually opening them up and exposing the bees to cold temperatures and killing them. In the beekeeping community, this is frowned upon as poor sportsmanship, not to mention lousy husbandry.

          It turns out you can put a stethoscope against the hive and listen. Hives that are still alive will hum. K thought this was a pretty keen idea, and was all about looking for a used stethoscope until he came across the article that said what you really need to see how the bees are doing in the winter when you can't open the hive is a thermal imaging camera.

          K showed me the article and the pictures and we agreed a thermal imaging camera would be a cool addition to the beekeeping gear. We also agreed that stethoscopes were way too low-tech for any self-respecting modern beekeeper even to consider.

          "So how much do these thermal imaging cameras cost?" I asked.

          "Oh, a couple thousand dollars," K said offhandedly.

          After an extended silence, I said, "You know, high-tech is kind of overrated. We're talking about bees, after all. The last technical innovation in beekeeping was in 1852 when Reverend Langstroth patented a top-opening, movable-frame hive that the bees couldn't cement shut with propolis. I think that the whole point of beekeeping is for it to be low-tech."

          K did that raised-eyebrow-look thing that he does.

          "Plus it's kind of creepy," I continued. "Spying on bees with thermal imaging cameras. It's stalkerish."

          "That's not really a word," K said.

          I ignored him. "Hey, I just got an idea. I bet the NSA has thermal imaging cameras. And I bet when they're not collecting all our telecoms data, they're out thermal-imaging things."

          "Why on earth would they do that?"

          "Sweetie, the motto of the NSA is whatever the Latin is for, 'Privacy Schmivacy.' If they have thermal imaging cameras—and you know they do; that's Standard-Issue Spy Kit—they are using them."

          K rolled his eyes. "Not on bees."
         "Not yet, maybe." I did a quick google ("terrorism keywords") and came up with a list of 300+ words that the government considers as threat flags (not making this up, kids. For the article and list of words, click here.) I chose a few of them and then took out my phone and dialed my dad (our hives are out at his place), putting him on Speaker.

          "Hey Dad," I said when he picked up. "Have you had any standoffs* lately with ecoterrorist gangs of bees wielding biological weapons, leading to a state of emergency?"

          There was a longish pause on Dad's end, and then he replied, cautiously, "Well, there were no biological incidents today. Yesterday, though, there was some exposure to an infrastructure security situation that culminated in a terror attack by a suicide bomber bee. My arm is really swelled up where it stung me."**

          I shot K a smug look. "Give them a couple of days to get a field agent out there and then file a Freedom of Information Act request. You'll have your thermal image without having to pay a dime."

          "You live to take something simple and straightforward and turn it into a byzantine mass of complication, don't you?" he said.

          "Pretty much," I replied.

You don't need thermal imaging technology to tell that this hive is doing very well, thanks.

*Italicized words in this conversation come directly from the Terrorism Keywords list.
**My dad is a master. Give him a few notes, and he'll vamp up a whole song.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


          Recently at breakfast, before I had been fully resurrected by my daily caffeine, K asked me why I'd never used the temporary tattoos he got me for Christmas.*
          "Um," I said, my mind full of grey mist, unwilling to admit that I didn't actually remember Christmas.

The kind of Christmas present every gal should get.

          "I got those especially for you," he said. Accusations and recriminations hovered uneasily over the breakfast table.

          It seemed like my safest move at this point was to go dig out the tattoos, apply one, and get back to my coffee before it got cold.

          Two minutes later, I held out my arm to K.

          He squinted at the letters I'd bonded onto my skin. "God js is the details?" he said, puzzled.

          I pulled my arm back and examined it. "Dammit. I thought that 'j' was an italic 'i.' It was backwards on the transfer. It was hard to read."

          K smirked at me. "Apparently the devil is in the details, too."

Spelling-impaired temporary tattoo.
Thank goodness I'm not a real tattoo artist.


*Yup. We are wild and exciting folk, K and I.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why We Really Have Public Art

Charlemagne and his men. With pigeons.

         I'm a big fan of public art. Don't care if it's awful or mediocre or even outrageously moustached like the example above. Because if it weren't for sculptures in public places, we would all be coated in pigeons, as Charlemagne and his men above were until I approached to take the photo and scared 90 percent of the birds away. Les pigeons, they love perching on things, and I much prefer them perching on things that are not me.

          If there is no art around to perch on, pigeons will happily turn to the next option:

If you stand too still in a sculpture-free public square, pigeons will land on you.

          I actually like pigeons quite a bit. I just feel that being used as a perch is not in keeping with my personal dignity. Not to mention their little pigeon toes can be quite sharp.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Another Airport Rant, With Qualifications

Xólotl: Dios Perro, by Óscar Becerra Mora

          I've spent enough time in airports in the last decade and a half to regard them not as portals to a destination but rather as shrines of despair.

          Airports are not so much about travel as they are about making you deeply deeply sorry you ever chose to step out your front door in search of adventure. Their sole purpose is not to help you get to where you're going but to prevent you from ever getting there, in this world or the next.

          And while they're preventing you, they like to make sure you're fully miserable. I still have nightmares about the underground corridor between the international and domestic terminals at O'Hare. It was a very long corridor, and they played awful music in it every step of the way. Not "The Worst of Disco's B-Sides" bad; but music that was physically painful to listen to. Music that made you long to gnaw your fingers off. Music that had you wondering: razor? or pills? Because making people who have just suffered through 8 hours in coach next to a screaming baby wonder if a simple act of suicide right here right now might really be the best of all the possible options is the reason airports exist.*

          So imagine my surprise when I was recently in the Denver airport and saw this beguiling creature.

I am made of papier-mâché, and I like to snack on TSA agents.

          This guy's name is Xólotl, and he is an Aztec dog-god. You can read more about him here. He is enormous and cheerful-looking and people stop to take many photographs of him as they pass through the Arrivals area. They smile when they see him. You can see them shed their heavy cloaks of airport despair for just a moment.

          He is not, alas, a permanent addition to DIA. Word on the tarmac is that he's making too many travelers happy.

*Or at least the reason O'Hare exists.