Friday, 23 November 2012

Gratitude. Blog 6.

Gratitude in the Garden 

Gifts come in ways that are often unrecognized at first. I arrived from the palliative care hospice to my parent’s house after a sleepless night, my mother’s last, wearier than I have ever been and heavy with an ache that I had never felt before. There was resolve and peace in my father’s arms as he met me- our deep sadness and, yes, our relief, shared. My father said “Go to the garden”. Some time before, a Sunday garden ‘bee’ had been planned by friends to help out during my mother’s illness. My beautiful daughter and I walked the path down from the house to her garden, the path that she had walked so many times. We opened the gate of Tekla’s “Tree of Life” to the sounds of soft voices, children, bees, the wind, the work. As we walked through the rows, I hugged and wept with each friend... some I barely knew but all of whom I was grateful to, both for their support and for their comforting words. The bleeding hearts were in full bloom under the warmth of the May sun, as were my mother’s deep purple tulips and peonies. After sharing our sadness, each of us continued to work: pulling weeds, raking, clipping, turning the dirt, all the while feeling my mother’s presence in the peace of her garden, taking solace in the warmth of her soil. 

Me with bleeding hearts, peonies, and Tekla with yellow Iris

Four More

Four more weeks before I can walk without crutches on my broken foot, four more quilt blocks built. I have reigned in my wild newbie quilting ways, a sightly nagging fear of making all the blocks actually work together. Starting to wonder about, eek, hand quilting versus machine quilting.... does it really matter? Especially when I know nothing about either. And how big do I make this thing? Will I have enough blocks for a queen sized quilt? What the hell is queen sized anyways? More research and helpful hints required! Fixing the sewing machine tension while taking my time to enjoy the process.

The Organ with tubal ligation
The “Organ” block made from a thin t-shirt from who-knows-where, had to use the stiff and somewhat dreaded fusible backing, sewed the labels with baby heads into the block. A nod to my mother’s love of babies, birds, and all kinds of music, even the oftentimes dreaded organ (although I am sure she would have some snide remark about the word “organ” in all it’s other tubular instances).

The Squirrel with pigeons.

The “Squirrel” block, likely another t-shirt from my New York brother with the pictured squirrel atop the Empire State Building. Lots of little annoying pieces but I love the result. 

The adventure of Costa Rica: Pura Vida!

“Pura Vida” from my mother’s second home in beautiful Costa Rica. Pura Vida, a strictly Costa Rican phrase meaning: "plenty of life", "full of life", "this is living!", "going great", "real living", "Awesome!" or "cool!" The ‘sculpted’ figure is roughly placed and will be embroidered onto the block as soon as I learn how to do that as well!

Writer's Block

Last, but not least, the “Writer’s” block (pun intended). My father, a novelist... this is his shirt, I believe, from the Shawnigan Lake writer’s festival, kept for sentimental reasons?... maybe... or just another good thick work shirt. A gracious nod to the writing world, not just my father’s world, but also my mother’s world as editor, sounding board, avid reader, and number one fan of aforementioned author:

An inspiration to remember

I wanted to share a thought from my mother’s dear friend, Ken Hancock, he wrote to me: “thank you so much for sharing this, I remember the healing power of quilting back in the 80s and 90s and how it helped my gay brothers and sisters, friends and families cope with unbelievable loss”. I hadn’t thought about the AIDS quilt ( ) for some time, how it relates to what I am doing: loss, reflection, community, grieving, quilting.  As I sewed these last few blocks, I also reflected on the loss of many gay friends in those terrible times in the 80’s, too soon, too young, life unfulfilled. A remembrance to you: Guy, Pierre, Gordie, and all the others, a sweet remembrance as I sew.

Interesting discoveries

Received a couple of emails solving the mysterious origins of various t-shirts and why my mother kept them. The “Women’s Faces” block (from my blog entry Nov. 14th) was created by dear artist friend Isabelle Roberts. And friend and close neighbour Michelle Marsden created the “Love Your Ocean” (see blog entry Nov. 8th) as part of a local beach clean-up campaign. To those women: a posthumous and vigorous applause from Tekla for allowing her daughter to reclaim your artwork in her honour!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Brooklyn Blog 5.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A block made yesterday in honour of my brother Daniel’s birthday. A New Yorker for over twenty years, my brother gave this t-shirt to our Mother... point to be made, trees DO grow in Brooklyn, it isn’t just concrete and cement sidewalks (with a definitive nod to Betty Smith, author of the American classic novel of the same name). Our mother held life in the big city with some disdain, it was not for her. My brother and I, however, sought out the faster, grittier, noisier realms. Despite distances and differences from East Coast Big City to West Coast Rural Bliss... Danny Boy was always her baby boy. 

Mother and son, early photos and last photo together, a tender moment.

Some (Un)Technical Notes


Making it up as I sew.
I have quickly become a rogue quilter/sewer. It was bound to happen. Careful measuring, pinning, fusible backing, and cutting have gone by the wayside for a more immediate... er... artistry. For “A Tree Grows” I wanted the feeling of trunks and fall leaves (it is November) but also city. I just kind of went at it without a real plan, snipping and slopping bits of fabric about, still without that badly needed rotary cutter. My advice... “Don’t try this at home kids”... sometimes it’s good to let loose a little but this method kind of bit me in the ass... many stitches had to be removed and re-sewn with added bits. 

A cathartic and messy experience, not for everyone.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A Simple Green Stain. Blog 4.

Georgia O'Keeffe, young and old, with Poppy painting from 1927

Our daughter, Rachel, weaves her web around Grandma.


Georgia O’Keeffe


Exposure to art was one of the greatest gifts my mother gave my brother and I. Weekly lessons at the Vancouver Art Gallery from a very early age were essential in her mind. Despite the fact that she was neither artist nor performer: art, dance, and music were always encouraged. When our young children got into her knitting basket and let loose with a giant and intricate web of all her wool throughout the house, a mess through which none of us could move, they were not admonished, instead they were celebrated for their sculptural abilities and encouraged in their art play. A few days before she died, in a moment of lucidity for both of us, I thanked my mother for all the art, the dance lessons, the piano, the attention to detail, all those gifts. Life and art a web... woven, intertwined.

Tekla's poppy, the day she died.
The Georgia O’Keeffe t-shirt, I believe, was purchased while visiting a close artist friend in O’Keeffe’s beloved New Mexico. Desert rocks, bones, skulls, flowers... poppies that burst orgiastically from their pods. I particularly love the fact that there is a stain of green paint across the Georgia O’Keeffe signature on the t-shirt. 
O'Keeffe Poppy t-shirt block.



The Dirt


The Dirt Shirt from my mother's beloved Costa Rica.
Mom in the garden, a celebration of dirt.
The block that I made from the Costa Rican “Dirt” shirt was fast and fun. Dirt: hands in endless dirt, the smell, the goodness, the creatures, the start and end of life... giver of food, flowers, trees then air. Love dirt.  

Woman’s Faces

Beautiful face.
This is the first t-shirt which I did not cut up, instead, I left the image intact. These sad women’s faces showing so many aspects of grieving. An often worn t-shirt with haunting empty eyes, I hadn’t seen the sadness in it all those years my mother wore it. Until now.
Women's Faces... needs a few more patches.


MMMMM... Mother, Mourning, Menopause, Metatarsal, Madness


My left foot: first metatarsal good and screwed.
If life comes in waves, then this year has been a tsunami of sorts. My frankly tiresome Lisfranc foot fracture heals with no great aplomb, just little by little, testing my patience each tiny step of the way (or lack thereof) . I swear to stop reading about bone loss in menopausal women in front of the computer. It does not help 'them bones' to heal. Instead, I crutch my way to my little city garden and take what sun there is and munch on something not yet killed by frost.... recommended vitamins D, K, and F-ing whatever! Am I angry at my broken foot?... hell ya! It’s a good thing that it was me and only me who fixed the ladder when it slid off the roof’s edge with yours truly riding it all the way down (sound effect: ladder crashing). Am I angry that my mother died?... I suppose I was, but anger just becomes a kind of helpless sadness. I AM angry still at her unrelenting addiction to nicotine. That sense of anger and betrayal and disappointment of her endless smoking will never go away. They say that smoking takes ten years off your life. Despite any anger, I could have used another ten years of her. 

Mother does not always know best. 

Thursday, 8 November 2012

A Few More Blocks Completed. Blog 3.

Garlic, Gilroy, and Good Times 


Mom with her prize winning garlic braid
A pungent nod the world’s biggest garlic festival in Gilroy, California,, as I cut up two of my mother’s t-shirts from some of the early years of this celebration of “the stinking rose”. For a number of years, my mother grew garlic as the main crop of her small organic farm. Sometime in late summer, there would be heaps of garlic drying on the deck to just the point where they would they be pliable enough to braid. I would help her with stripping the excess dried strands, cleaning the bulbs and trimming their roots, making a good tight braid and decorating with small dried flowers from the garden, always that heavy but sweet smell of garlic and her careful instructions. She went down the West Coast to the Gilroy festival in California a couple of times in the early 80’s, learning the ways of the true garlic aficionado. Her garlic was small but flavorful, in fact, my mother discounted those large bulbs of "elephant" garlic as tasteless and showy. Bigger is not better. Good, garlicky times.

I am especially pleased with the “how to grow garlic” block. Learning from my nervous beginner experience, I have decided not to trim that block just yet. 

Garlic block number one.

Untrimmed "How to Grow Garlic", lots of little pieces.


"What garlic is to food, insanity is to art." 

- Augustus Saint-Gaudens. 


Love Your Ocean 

Love Your Ocean.
Walks along the shore picking shells, driftwood, spotting terns and gulls, seals and sea otters, my mother never missed a sighting. She had ‘macro-vision’... tiny crabs under tiny rocks... the complete and independent world of tidal pool inhabitants. She loved the ocean, maybe feared it, as all good prairie girls should. Mostly, she respected it. The “Love your Ocean” from a seaside clean-up campaign in 1992 might just be one of my all time favorite quilt blocks... so far.




Mom at 73... barefoot in the sand in Costa Rica.



Some More Things Learned...

Four blocks completed, each tiny piece of fabric individually measured and marked and carefully cut along a thin pencil line while going cross-eyed. I know there’s a better way, better tools... something to do with a rotary cutter. Note to self: get whatever those tools are before going bonkers.

As I Cut and Sew... 

... remembering and grieving, and sometimes I cry, listening to some of the music I played during her last few days... looking through photos to find her in that particular shirt, at that particular time and place. But then, more often, I smile... because my mother would love that I am doing this, she would get it, chiding and teasing me for using those old stained shirts but understanding and appreciating it all the same. 

A shared vision. The art of healing.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

A Rough Patch. Blog 2.

Entwined in Memory


 Photo by my husband Ken Woroner. 
I found one of my mother’s hairs electrostatic-ally stuck on one of the t-shirts that I am using for my memory quilt. Long, thin, blonde-grey. As a small child, I remember pulling at her braided hair from the back seat of the car... camping or driving to the mountains or heading to the prairies, maybe one of my first memories. She never seemed to mind my tugging at it. Later, always in the kitchen, her fine hair caught on her finger while cooking, always cooking... “oh, Tam, get it”... I can hear her now with startling clarity (only my mother was allowed to call me 'Tam'). Hair always in her famous loose bun, strands spilling out as fine as a silk web. She never let it down. 

My First Patch


Drawing and cutting.
I learned from my mother a pride in excellence, doing things well. She was harsh in her attempted perfection of everything she did, touched, worked at. Her pickles were phenomenal, her dahlias gargantuan, her meals were sublime. When my brother and I were very young, she worked her way through university, a top student in a very demanding Masters program in Psychology. She went from nursing, to teaching, to psychology, and then on to organic farming and eco-politics on the small Gulf Island where my parent’s built themselves a new home and life away from the city. 

As I started to put together my first quilt patch (or are they called blocks?), like my mother, I was stressed about my level of perfection and ability, especially as I have never done this before. I started with some research, looking at a lot of quilting blogs and websites. Then I did a little doodling from some of what I saw. As a production designer, drawing is second nature, so it seemed like a good place to start.

My first quilt patch ever. 
For my first patch, I chose a couple of t-shirts that weren’t my favourites, knowing my limitations as a newbie quilter. One from a sandcastle competition in White Rock, B.C. and one from the 'Prince Charming' printing company, both from the early 80‘s and both stained as they were used for work shirts, likely re-staining the deck or carrying sap-filled logs. Maybe just a spill of strong Costa Rican coffee. The stains were irksome at first but then I decided they are part of the history, my Mother’s history, my history. 

The patch is less than perfect but it’s a start.


A Few Things Learned...


  • Do NOT use kitchen scissors normally used for cutting up whole chickens on fabric.
  • The iron, despite what you may feel about ironing, is your FRIEND. Keep it close and at the ready.
  • Fusible interfacing is stiff and hard to sew, use it only on larger pieces of t-shirt fabric. Small strips don’t really need it.
  • Cranky and unused sewing machines, like us all, need a little oil massaged into their workings. 
  • Spend lots of time with patterns, colour and colour choices, different bits of fabric thrown on different t-shirts or remnants... for no other reason than it is fun. And fun is good.

Broken Paws


When I first heard that I had to be off my broken (but fixed) foot for 3 months, I thought I would never make it. Today I am halfway there at six weeks post surgery. Funny how you can get used to anything. I go up the stairs (in our 3 story house) on my knees and I wheel about the kitchen, like a demon, on a rolling office chair that I borrowed from work. I don’t even know how I managed to go to work with this injury but for the grace of an excellent and sympathetic crew, and I am relieved to be finished my contract. 

Our left feet. Woof.
I have set myself up in my home study with computer, ironing board, iPad, sewing machine (dusted off from years of disuse from closet), fabric, brand new scissors (see note above), camera... everything within arms reach. The planning and cutting and sewing of my ‘Tekla memory quilt’ is quite absorbing, keep my mind off my temporary disability. So annoying not being able to just get up and take a few steps anywhere, even a quick bathroom break is an ordeal... I ache to walk again without crutches. (And, no, I shouldn’t complain, there are people far worse off than me... but it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to...)

Finally, I had been suffering tremendous remorse and guilt at not being able to walk our old dog. And, then, a few days ago, he managed to get a large, nasty, deep cut to his paw while chasing critters. Stitches and must stay off it as much as possible and ridiculous vet bills, the dog sleeps near me under foot (or crutch). Both of us with our broken left paws humbly waiting to heal. At least I have medicare.