a stitch in time

i started a new project last night. i decided more than a year ago that i would like to make ada a quilt out of marko's old shirts. i put word out and slowly those shirts that were torn or stained fell into my fabric pile. i procrastinated on the actual making using the perennial "tomorrow" as my excuse, but then the other night ada woke up 3 times in the night from what i suspected might be the cold, and i decided that i needed to get on it, the great shirt quilt wasn't going to make itself. as for where i got the idea, i am not sure if i am reading too many blogs where women seem to miraculously turn something old and worn out into something new and wonderful, but i am aspiring to something, letting the warmth of delusion soothe me. so last night i was here watching the 30 rock premiere and cutting up the first of what has now become several shirts, and i got thinking about sewing and i, our rocky journey together.

i remember the first time i ever saw a quilt. wait, what i mean to say is that i remember the first time i ever SAW a quilt. i was with my brother, aaron, and we were at his friend's apartment. i was still in high school, he had just escaped. it wasn't an apartment that his friend lived in with her parents, it was an apartment of her own (well, with roommates) and it seemed so exotic and wonderful. i remember parts of it now and in truth it was mostly poorly lit and thrift store-ish, but back then it was something. truly, it was. i wasn't there long before i noticed the quilt sitting all alone in the corner. it wasn't even a real one, at least not what you are thinking. it was scrappy and smelled a little musty, mostly it was a mess, but i loved it. the creator had just taken old clothes, and sheets and cut uneven strips, some oddly elongated triangles, or rectangles that narrowed sharply at the ends, and had sewn them together with seemingly zero regard for colour, or texture, or flow. it was a fury of velvet and denim. so uninviting, and yet there was an energy to it that drew me in. i remember sitting a good part of the night staring at the sunken chair it called home. i thought about it later too, weeks and months after i saw it, long past the point in which i forgot the face of the friend who owned the home. it was the quilt that stayed. i was never quite sure why.

when i graduated from university my mom asked me what i would like as a gift. i got thinking about the quilt again, about how it must feel to make something with your hands, to place together all those colours and textures, to lay it all out and seal it with a stitch. i knew nothing about sewing, not one thing, i was a band student, we didn't have to take home ec, but i asked for a machine anyway. i would learn.

i had my machine for more than a year before i even took it out of the box. i was a bit nervous, so much expectation. thinking about a painting, or photograph, or quilt, is quite different than making one. i wasn't a fool, i understood this. as luck would have it though one day i happened upon a small out of the way sewing machine store and decided to go in. there was a lovely old lady in there (she looked just the way you are imagining complete with kittens on her apron) and she told me to come back with my machine and she would show me the basics. i was so excited i think i skipped the whole way home. and so it was in this way that i first learned how to fill my bobbin, and thread my machine, what a foot is and how to alter the tension. i was already making quilts in my head and they were wonderful.

what i didn't count on was all the stitch ripping and uneven rows, the unpredictable shrinkage, broken needles, and jammed machines. sewing is mostly about swearing and rage in the beginning, or at least it was for me. it was hard to see the colours and textures from the tears. i persevered though, through one, two, three full size quilts that were mediocre at best. i am sure none of them exist today, they didn't have what it takes to last. they were given to my boyfriend, my brother and my other brother respectfully. i was glad that each of them liked their quilts but i still felt defeated, they weren't what i intended, not entirely, i wished they had been something more. i wonder if the person who made that first quilt felt the same? i wish i knew where she was so i could tell her that to me it was perfect. to me it was the thing that made me make quilts in my head, even if it wasn't going to last and didn't have a colour scheme. i think she probably would have liked to know that.

i have since gone on to make a dozen or so quilt, but i have yet to make the one that i think is worthy of my dreams. part of it is knowledge, there is so much i don't know and i have never really had anyone to ask*, and part of it is patience and precision, two concepts that are key in sewing, neither of which i have ever been very good at. i don't know what will happen with the shirt quilt, maybe one day i will write about it and then you will think of me as one of those eco-bloggers that are able to reuse everything in their house, right down to their underwear (not really), or maybe i will end up with hundreds of perfect little squares that sit in a box, reminding me of who i long to be, always waiting for the next try.


* i now know kim over at milky beer who is a fantastic quilter, and will hopefully come and show me how to properly bind the shirt quilt, if i ever finish it!


i come from a land of plenty

I am sitting here in my cubicle, the sound of fingers clicking on keyboards tapping me through the morning. The hum of the fluorescent lights a fitting backdrop to the upholstered walls and utility carpet. It isn’t bad though, I mean no one here calls me mom and if they want juice they get their own, or at the very least aren’t expecting me to do it, which is a refreshing change. I have been back here, at work, for three weeks now. If I said the weeks have been long I would be lying, they have flown by. The days seem to end before they begin, it must be the newness, the novelty. I don’t expect that to last.

Being back at work means being back to sitting all day though. Sitting, sitting, sitting and then, once the mood strikes, getting up and fetching a tiny chocolate bar (or three) from the snack bowl, or how about one of those girl guide cookies, it is for a good cause after all! And then I go back to sitting. And so it goes.
It only took about a week before I started to realize that the sitting could be a problem (I bought all those new clothes, in a size 8, I can’t bust out of them yet!), and so last night I hauled myself to the community centre (which is half a block from our new house) for the 8:15-9pm aquafit class. It might have been the best thing I did all week.

I managed to make it through the maze of hallways that led into the change room, wading through dozens of exuberant children fresh from their lesson, past overflowing showers and curtained stalls, finally making it out to the pool. It wasn’t much bigger than a hotel pool, and the lights were all out but for one which shone down right in the middle, like an aqua disco. As my feet made their entrance I was delighted to feel warmth between my toes, it wasn’t hot tub warm mind you, but enough that one wasn’t jarred awake. It was right about then that I realized that the 20 or so people in the water were all over 65, every one of them, and they were all staring at me with looks that seemed to suggest I was maybe in over my head, or at least in a place where I maybe didn’t belong. I hesitated, but only for a moment, I wanted to see this through. What’s the worst that could happen?

As we sat waiting for the class to start I surveyed the crowd. It amazed me how much the dynamic mimicked what you would see in a high school class. There was the old Italian guy that the ladies seemed to take a liking to, he was standing directly under the light, three women laughing loudly at his side. Attentive to his witty words, their body gestures lively. Then off in the corner was an Eastern European man staring him down, jealous that even now after all this time he still didn’t have what it took to make the ladies laugh, or maybe he was sad that he lost it? The asian ladies were off in their own corner warming up with enthusiastic over the head hand claps and loud chatter, happy to be out with girlfriends, so much to say. The asian men seemed more content to tread water while holding onto the side of the pool, large kicks and water splashing everywhere. Then there was me, alone, watching it all take place. At the very least it became clear that any shortfall in co-ordination on my part was likely to go unnoticed.

The instructor showed up and she too gave me a glance, maybe it was a double take, I couldn’t read what it meant. I buckled up and found a spot where I could see her. As she went for the stereo I was imagining traditional Chinese music (a staple of this particular community centre, and rightfully so) or maybe something adult contemporary but upbeat, perhaps a remix? It turns out it was full on techno and right from the get go it was all hands on deck. The moves were complicated and challenging and at one point I think I had to catch my breath. As you might expect the rest of the crowd was mostly just doing their own thing, following along when it seemed possible, walking in place when it didn’t. This wasn’t really about exercise for them, well not in the same way it was for me, it was about getting out and being social. Being able to say you left the house. There were moments when we had to move ourselves from one side of the pool to the other with sweeping side steps and complicated arm moves, the result was mostly people crashing into each other and then everyone staying in one spot out of fear. I moved up, closer to the instructor and wildly side stepped away.

It should be mentioned that the cardio room looks onto the pool. The demographic in there seemed much the same. There was an older man wearing not only a thick fleece hoody, but also a winter parka with the hood up while he pedaled away on a stationary bike. He seemed to be with a companion who rode the bike to his right, he was reading the sing tao out loud as he leaned heavily on his handle bars. I watched them intently as I lunged and arm flexed, a remix of land down under blaring over the system now (ah ha!). It was a scene almost too perfect, too comical to believe. There was even a lady who I suspect to be in her 70’s trying to work the rowing machine. After 40 minutes the wind down started and half the pool emptied, not much interest in strength training I guess. I was glad to be rid of the loud beat of the booming music (although I do like to sing “vegemite sandwich…”) and happy to welcome a little death cab for cutie and radiohead. It would have been relaxing if those ladies hadn’t started chatting again, oh well it’s their class, no need to rock the boat on my first day.

When it was over and the arm floats had been put back in the bin, I decided to try my luck at the sauna. It was a mostly male crowd, younger. I entered midway through a discussion about the Chinese calendar. Apparently, if you are born in the year of the pig it is better to be born between 6-9pm, then you will have a good life, anything in the morning and you are in trouble. I laughed when I heard it, and just like that I was part of the discussion. After admitting that I had no idea what year I was born in I was promptly told I was a rabbit. Very smart and wise is the rabbit, your face is a good face, a nice chin; you will live a good life! I guess good is pretty subjective really, and who am I to say he is wrong, I am not even halfway yet (I hope). Eventually the soothsayer left the wooded room and everyone laughed at his expense. The message was clear, he was a nut. It might be true, but I couldn’t help but say: “I don’t know, isn’t it better to believe in something rather than nothing?” It stopped the crowd in their tracks, and after a pause everyone agreed with nods and mumbles. Of course that opened myself up for a discussion about Christianity, which I should have seen coming considering the crowd, but I didn’t mind. It felt like community, and I liked that.

So what was the point? Maybe that you shouldn’t dismiss a party based on the crowd. Or maybe it's about opening oneself up to new experiences, how pleasant surprises are waiting for us all over the place if we choose to look. I need to do it more often. One thing’s for sure, I know where I will be next Thursday.