Monday, April 24, 2017

Why I'm Making Refugee Quilts

A few years ago, one of my students gave a speech about his journey to the United States.  I've heard many speeches of the same topic, but none quite like this one.  He spoke about how most of his fellow classmates had probably dreamed of coming to the U.S. someday, but he never had that dream.  In fact, he knew nothing of this country prior to his arrival here.  He was a refugee whose country was (and still is) experiencing extreme human rights violations, torture, and more.  He fled to a neighboring country and spent a lengthy amount of time living in a refugee camp there until one day, he was informed he was going to Dallas.  "What's Dallas?", he asked.  Two days later, he was in the U.S. trying to make sense of his new life.  Two years later, he ended up in my speaking class, opening up my world.

This is just one, small story out of countless more I could share about the refugees I have encountered over my past ten years of teaching English as a Second Language.  I have spent considerable time with refugees from four different continents and even more countries.  I have heard heartbreaking stories of violence, have seen fear in the eyes of those so strong, and I have seen images that I will never be able to erase.  But these are things I did not experience; these things did not happen in my reality.  It is impossible for me to understand what it is like to have experienced these things.  So I listen.  And for years, I have been silent about what I have heard.  I have listened and I have cried and I have admired the strength I have witnessed within these humans.  I fear though that I have been silent for too long.  So lately, I have been sharing AND listening because I don't know any other way for us to learn from each other.

I have lived a very comfortable, fortunate life.  One that I am forever thankful for.  A few things have happened to me as I have aged and as I have worked with individuals throughout the world.  I have become even more thankful for my comfortable, fortunate life while at the same time, I have questioned why not everyone is afforded the same hand.  The deeper I dig, the more uncomfortable I get, and I start to see.  It's overwhelming (a phrase I feel I say all too often), and I start to feel helpless until I focus on what I can do within my own world, here and now.

So what do I do?  Firstly, as mentioned above, I listen.  It may seem quite passive and inconsequential, but I've found it's one of the most important things I can do.  Everyone needs to be heard.  Secondly, I'm taking every opportunity I can to help my local refugee population.  While I teach, I try to empower the best that I can.  I trust that learning is reciprocal and that we're both growing thanks to the other.

Recently, I've been sewing to literally give comfort to refugee babies.  Catholic Charities has been collecting baby blankets for the next group of refugees joining our community.  They come with next to nothing.  Imagine, coming to a country to you've never been to with nothing more than a bag.  I hope that these little quilts will provide warmth and extend a positive welcoming I so dearly hope they receive.
This first quilt is a simple improv quilt, built around a block I mimicked from a quilt my mom made when I was a child. The block was made with bias piece scraps so the fabric choices were truly random.  I loved the combination of the colors and was able to find enough scraps to continue to build in the same fabrics.
The second quilt was made thanks to the generosity of others.  An anonymous donor paid for fabrics from Owl & Drum and I was asked to make a quilt with them.  Since the quilts are to be gender-neutral and since O&D is one of the collection spots for these quilts, an owl seemed to be perfect.  I found a free owl paper-piecing pattern, which was both challenging and fun, and built off of that.
Whenever I work on any sewing project, Rio always asks who it is for.  These quilts were no different.  In my answer, I told her that there are some people who live in places that are not safe for them any longer and we're helping give them a safe place to live.  Some of these people come with children and these blankets are for them.  Simple as that.  I think maybe the simple answer is best for us all sometimes.

Listen, learn, and love.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Run Along Now

Today marks the first day back since spring break!  While my spring breaks of years passed usually centered around traveling, nowadays things are a little more low-key. 
For the past several months, I haven't been feeling top notch.  I could go into reasons why but in sum, I've been overwhelmed with life.  There are many why-factors.  I've battled anxiety for a good majority of my life and it recently hit a point where I had to make some changes in my world to properly combat it.  I stepped away from a volunteer position I've held for 15 years, I've been altering my diet considerably (more plant based, less processed foods - thanks sister!), I'm voraciously reading for pleasure (give me your recommendations!), and I've found myself running again after a five year hiatus.  I've been feeling notably better in these past three months.  I'm sleeping better, I feel stronger, my body is shifting (an unexpected and pleasant side-effect!), and I feel more present.

I've never considered myself a runner but I feel like that mentality is evolving.  In my late 20s, I would take Mondo for walks periodically and would jog a bit.  I didn't track my activity but I knew I felt better when I did it.  Then I had Rio and not too long after that, we moved.  I fell out of the habit of walks/jogs and I always found myself lamenting that lack of activity.  But I didn't do anything to change that.  Until recently. 

On New Year's Day (so predictable, I know) I made a point to go on a walk with Brent.  Every day after that for the next few weeks, I would either walk or do a 20 min yoga video (thanks YouTube!).  Something stuck.  They weren't long walks, just around our looooong block with Mondo and sometimes Rio.  I'd walk most and try to jog bits of it.  Then one day when I was leaving the house, I decided to drive my walking route to see how long it was.  It was exactly a mile!  After that, things changed.  I downloaded the Runkeeper app and started paying attention to what I was accomplishing on my little walks. 
I keep surprising myself by my progress!  I decided to sign up for the St. Patrick's Day 5K to kick off this spring break.  The weather was super cold and mighty wet but it was incredibly refreshing.  And I did it faster than I did five years ago!  I felt more prepared mentally and physically, and I feel like I have so much more room to improve which is exciting and motivating! 
 
Another motivating aspect of this change, is Rio.  Literally having her cheer me on and seeing me power through what I've once perceived as obstacles is so powerful.  At the run, she and Brent completed the 1 mile fun run together so we all raced that day! 
I'm hoping I can keep up this momentum and will continue to see changes in myself, mentally, physically, and emotionally.  The rewards are the best when I go on the days I don't feel like going.  I have to remember that. 
And don't worry, I'm still sewing like a crazy woman!  I'm just attempting to give myself better time constraints on it.  I'm finishing up a monumental quilt, I've updated the shop with a few more things, and I recently had an epic fabric sale at Owl & Drum

Oh, and my opening photo to this post?  We bought a kite, walked to a nearby school, and had the best time flying.  I would venture to say it's been 30 years since I've flown a kite.  So overdue.  So much fun.  Perfect way to end spring break.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Improv, Baby, Improv!

It had been a hot minute since I had the time, energy, or inspiration to make a quilt but I righted that wrong with fury and determination just a few weeks ago.

I'll get to the quilt in a moment.

Earlier this year, our new quilt guild president asked me if I would lead a presentation over some aspect of modern quilting.  As a speech teacher, the presentation part gave me no worries but the content...the content gave me butterflies aplenty!  When I stepped back and looked at my quilting work, I felt like the common theme was improvisational quilting so that's what I agreed to talk about.  By no means do I think of myself of an improv expert but I do think I've gained some experience over the last few years, especially with my recent foray into the world of potholders
The more that I prepared and researched, the less qualified I felt to speak on the subject!  Improv piecing is something that I just do, I don't really think about how I'm piecing things when it's actually happening.  It wasn't until I decided to look at a chunk of my quilts as a collection that I began to see their common threads (pun intended) and my style of creating.  It was a fascinating to delve so deeply into this aspect of modern quilting.

So the presentation.  I DID NOT feel prepared on that day to present.  Last week was a shit show, to put it lightly.  I was sick, I was emotionally spent, and horribly run down.  But I did it and I'm SO glad that I did.  I informally spoke for about thirty minutes to a room of approximately forty folks.  There were many that I respect and admire and there were many that I did not know at all.  It was unnerving and wonderful, all at the same time.  It was the highlight to an otherwise crummy week.  If I helped to inspire just one person, then I feel like my job was done.

Back to this quilt.  I had not planned on having a finished quilt to accompany my presentation but somehow, that happened.  During the weekend of our recent inauguration and worldwide marches, I had an overwhelming desire to ferociously make and I went with it.  With my upcoming presentation in the back of my mind, I would periodically pull my phone out and take a progress photo.  What resulted was (from my point of view), a strong, bold, grounded, and vibrant work.
It's not a square!  Or a rectangle!  Sacré bleu!  I'm finding myself wanting to play with random shapes in quilting more and more since the potholder project.  There's something so gratifying about it for me.  Using such a high contrast binding really makes the different shapes stand out.

It's the size of a baby quilt but could also be used as a quilt throw, bed accent, or a funky table runner.  I quilted it in modern straight lines with red, turquoise, and grey thread.  It's pretty sharp, if you ask me.
I backed it with my tried and true - a soft vintage sheet.  You can never go wrong with that.
I've made this quilt available in my shop.

If you'd like to hear me babble about what I learned from the potholder project and the benefits of taking on large projects, I'll be speaking at the upcoming Owl & Drum Stitch Society meeting on February 26th!

¡Hasta luego!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Snow, Reflections, and A Budding Photographer

I had a dream that it snowed epic proportions last night.  This morning when a certain four-year old came bounding in our room, I told her to look outside for snow that we weren't forecast to experience.  To my surprise, she excitedly reported that it had snowed!  The snow-play avalanche of questions immediately followed.  When I finally convinced myself to emerge from the warm safety of bed, I saw the snow myself - a thin blanket only on the patio that looked to be more ice than anything else.  Apparently that was enough slickness to cause Tulsa to halt life so now here we are with a surprise snow day with a pinch of snow on the ground.  I'll take it.
I've spent the last few days reflecting on last year and dreaming about what I'd like to accomplish this year.  There were a few monumental things that happened in 2016.  Rio turned four!  I made a ton of potholders for Philbrook which honestly has felt like my crowning achievement of last year.  I finally made my business its own website.  The kid and I were a leaf/beetle duo for Halloween.  Brent and I celebrated ten years together!  I quit wearing make up, save bright red lipstick, and have been SO happy with that decision.  I also only bought a handful of clothes for myself from big box stores and instead bought secondhand or made my own clothes.  I spent a day as a pin up model, which I hope to talk about here in the near future.  And of course, I sewed my ass off.
For 2017, I have a few goals but nothing huge.  I've already been making an effort to be more physically active and a rogue gallbladder is helping with my dining choices.  I have some definite business goals but those stay in my little notebook this year.  I feel good about those things!  (My shop has been updated with more vintage supplies so if that's your bag, check it out!)
These perfect photos are the work of Rio.  We decided to get her a camera for Christmas as she LOVES to play with ours when allowed.  It's been a great decision.  Seeing the world through her eyes has been nothing less than entertaining and heartwarming.  She took 300 photos on day one. 
Now it's back to snow day bliss.  Until later, my friends.
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