Sunday, April 07, 2013

The New Project

I've taken on a labor of love. The quilt above belongs to my closest of friends, Judi, the one I supported during her three months of medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic last summer. It's an original design, commissioned by relatives who live in South Africa, and has been in the works for longer than she would like to admit. A few years ago she got serious about getting it under way, having collected fabrics and researched authentic African symbolism. But like me, she let her art quilting take priority as well as caring for her parents, and it wasn't until her own health went into decline last year that she realized she had to get moving on this quilt. She made good progress after returning home from Rochester last September, but medical issues, pain and weakness continued to plague her. After a return trip to the Mayo Clinic late last December, she was told that the cancer had spread in spite of their treatment meant to keep it in check until a liver donor became available. Game over, as they say, and she returned home with the priorities of getting her affairs in order, enjoying time with family and friends, and finishing this quilt. What you see is half of what will be a bed quilt, pieced and quilted as 2 separate quadrants - easier for her to negotiate than a full-size quilt top. She thought she could quilt these quadrants herself but a sudden downturn in her condition made it impossible for her to manage it, although she continued brief stints sewing and designing the third quadrant. The machine quilting has been taken on by a friend who lives nearby and who has completed several African-themed art quilts of her own.

Alas, between her liver disease and the liver cancer that compounds it, she has not been able to do any sewing since February. I visited her last month, thinking perhaps I could work on it there with her to guide me, but she barely had the where-with-all to talk and enjoy my company. I decided that, if she would let me, I'd just bring it all home and do my best to get the last 2 quadrants of the top together. We went over her mostly completed design ideas for the 3rd quarter, talking placement and dimensions and possible fabric/color choices, and then I packed everything up - an eerie and sad thing for both of us. Now those two completed quadrants are pinned to my design wall as well as the bits of the 3rd quadrant she was able to finish.

I knew this would be challenging, both from an emotional and technical viewpoint, but I was not prepared for the wave of emotion that washed over me when I pulled her working file out last week and started sorting through her sketches, notes and patterns. I've been dealing with the reality of losing her for so long, going through a long bout of depression (which she chastised me for - get to work, she admonished! You don't know how much time you have!), and then holding it all at arms length so I could get on with things and also be strong for her during our weekly talks, and the visit, that it caught me off-guard. I've had my moments of tears, sure, but this hit me in the gut like hearing the news of her diagnosis for the first time about a year ago. Thankfully, the worst of it passed quickly although the residual sadness tied to this task and the situation in general lingers. Yeah, now you know why "persevere" is my resolution word this year.

So where to begin on a quilt that is not your own, whose design is a work in progress and which is emotionally charged to boot? Studying the sketch, I decided to start at the easiest place - sewing these two blocks to each other. Toe in the water.

The zigzag design in this finished section was to be repeated with the same fabrics, so it was the next easy and logical step.

I began sorting through her fabric, looking for the four for this design. This is just a fraction of the fabric stash she amassed for possible inclusion in this quilt, and she sent it all home with me to play with.

She had drawn the pattern to size by hand on graph paper, a method she has always preferred over designing on the computer. The zigzag is composed of 6 unique blocks best sewn using the paper piecing method. Gads, I haven't paper pieced for so long that I had to sit studying this and bashing away at the cobwebs in my brain for a bit to remember where to begin.

After a few fits and starts, I finally got my head around the process, cutting and sewing with only one minor hiccup. Here are the 6 individual units ready for trimming.

And here are the units sewn together, perfect matches everywhere - the definite advantage of paper piecing.

True to form, I got distracted by the trimmings - there be mountains in those triangle castoffs! I'm reminded of the Badlands, if they were crossed with the red rocks of Arizona.  These are set aside now for a future quilt.

Next up, tackling some African symbols in applique. This is part of the technically challenging part as I only have the symbol pattern but no guide for fabric or color choice. Judi's comment when I asked what she had in mind was that all along she'd just been holding up fabric until one looked right. Yes, of course. I do the same thing. So the tricky part is to continue with her vision so the quilt looks cohesive and not like it was designed by two people. I know her and her work so well, I should be able to pull it off. Fingers crossed. 


Connie Rose said...

What an awesome quilt that is/will be, and what a terrific thing for you to be finishing it for your friend. I'm so sorry to hear that her health has declined, despite what she went through last summer. I'm so hoping, as I'm sure you both are as well, that she has time to enjoy the quilt.

Lucia Sasaki said...

Hi Sharon, thanks for posting and sharing these hard moments with us.
I don't have right words to say to you but let me tell you that it was very kind of you committing yourself to finish this quilt.
I am very sure you are going to be very successful and your friend is going to be very joyful for your efforts.

Anonymous said...

Sheila, I'm so sorry that Judi is not on the mend but you must be so glad you took the time to spend with her last summer. The time you spend on this quilt will be of great value to you and I'm happy you are able to be so involved with finishing it up. Much affection - Susan in PT

Sherrie Spangler said...

I am so in awe of what you are doing here. Your work is beautiful, and Judi's planning blows me away.

Lucia Sasaki said...

Hi Sharon!
I hope it is ok to post my comment here but I want to thank you for following my humble 3rd world blog in Portuguese.
As you see, your patchwork skills are a million miles ahead of mine.
Thanks a lot, you made me smile today.

Marjorie Horton said...

This quilt will forever represent your relationship with your friend. It'll be bits of you both, cut up and assembled into 'one'. Blessings

The Idaho Beauty said...

Marjorie, thank you so for this perfect expression, one I had not thought of quite in this way, but which is so true. It is spurring me on and making my task that much more meaningful when thought about in this way.

The Idaho Beauty said...

Lucia, when you mentioned that I was inspiring you to play with patchwork with your books, I had to go see what you were up to. Once I realized there was an on-line translator I could use, how could I not "follow" you? I started right where you are with my patchwork and it's always fun to see what others are doing with the same basic ideas.