why bother making things


Sometimes I get unlucky (or am too hasty) and find myself spending my precious child-free hours, minutes pulling many many stitches out of something I’m making for someone.  Usually it’s a quilt I’m making and somehow I’ve gotten off-kilter in my haste, or have resolved that while it need not look perfect, it need look a little more perfect than this piece of crap I’m currently holding in my hands.

Usually during this tedious process of pulling stitches out I’m cursing internally or donning a foul attitude and wondering, “why am I even making this in the 1st place?  They probably won’t even like it!”  And, once the stitches are pulled out, I begrudgingly start again, reminding myself with every move I make not to rush things.

Sometimes I wonder why bother?

The other day I was perusing Alicia Paulson’s book Stitched in Time – looking for some inspiration to make something for Orlis’ upcoming birthday.  I came upon a sweet article inside that she wrote about making things:

“The thing about making handmade gifts and giving them to people you love is that sometimes you love what you’ve made more than they will.  Unless you’ve involved them in the process, it’s occasionally inevitable that you’ll like it more than they will.  Even when you really tried to pick the things you think they’ll love.  I think everyone who likes to make things has been there: You spend half the year — twenty six lunch hours, fifteen Saturday nights, and seven fourth-grade soccer games, to be exact — secretly knitting your husband a sweater.  You think of him wearing it Sunday mornings while flipping pancakes, you picture how cool he’ll look in it while he walks through the park with the dog.  You wrap it lovingly, then pass it to him excitedly – Surely it must be the best birthday present the man has ever seen!  And he says, “Oh — thanks…no, I like it!”     Sigh.”

Alicia‘s article got me thinking about my expectations, and what all this sewing, crafting, and quilting is really all about for me.  And the truth is, I don’t know exactly.  I do know the matrilineal lineage on both sides of my family comprises itself, almost entirely, of women who liked to have their hands in motion.  I know, too, that those same women were (and still are) gift-givers in their own rights.  I know that, actually, each and every one of us descends from this kind of matrilineal lineage because there was a time when the only kind of gift giving was the handmade kind — when fruit pies, a jar of pickles, a hand-carved toy, or a new set of hand-stitched doll clothes were the only kinds of items passing between family members and friends during celebration times.  We all hail from less-than-idle hands — and from a  tradition of the giving of things that take time, effort, and creativity.  It is, if we consider far enough back, in each of our bones.  That notion alone gets me feeling romantic all over again about making things and I find my fingers itching for a project.


And while handmade gifts I’ve given don’t always solicit the overwhelmingly elated response I’ve been conjuring in my imagination while I lovingly rip those stitches out to make it right again, I get it too that usually, we don’t really know how much someone appreciates our efforts or likes their handmade gift.  Maybe, for a long time, these recipients don’t know it themselves until years have passed and the item is tattered and worn and ends up in a box of family heirlooms.

Because I think the truth is, on some level we do know.    Our bodies know when they are wrapped up in something handmade.  Our minds and hearts know when there is history present and stories looming in the fibers that bind.  We may not know it to say it, but we know it still — we know it and that’s why we continue to make things.  This I do believe.

By the way, I’ve updated our current reading inspirations in the right margin.  Keep in mind, every single purchase you make from Powell’s Books (via this site) benefits both Powell’s AND Treelife.  thank you!




last days/first days

Apparently cookie-baking and quilt-making (and general disparaging) conjure up the power of the moving gods, because at long last, we made it.

We scrambled to leave, not able to say long, slow heartfelt goodbyes the way I would have wanted.  A very wise friend gave me this advice just before our last-minute going-away packing party, “be sure to cry a lot.  It lets you feel how much you love people, makes uprooting more human, and makes starting anew more open-hearted and authentic.” What amazing advice, and she’s so right, so very wise.   So, I did.  I did cry a lot.  And, I felt how much I love people.  And I felt the intricacies of grieving that are so inherent in moving — grieving what the experience of living in NY was – the beauty, the relationships, the growth, the ways it was a good fit — and grieving what it wasn’t – the difficulty, the disappointments, the setbacks, the ways it was never a good fitOh, to allow all that in.  Tears, indeed.

So, we said goodbye as best as we could, noting the conspicuous absence of some folks, and knowing on some level that goodbyes are just too much sometimes.  My 4-year-old nephew will tell you, “see you laters” are much better.

With every box packed and out of there, and one more night to spend in the empty apartment, we lit a candle and saged ourselves and brought all four elements and 10 years of memories to an old quilt on the floor and had ourselves a little closing ceremony for 2.

We said goodbye.  We remembered.  We did our best to leave the space open for the next inhabitants.  They didn’t make it easy on us, these next inhabitants, and it was the ultimate karmic challenge to extend an energetic olive branch, but in the end, we figured a clean break makes way for goodness on the other side.

We touched down.  We put our feet on the pavement and ascended the steps of our new home with nothing less than total anticipation and excitement.  And, arriving here we are trying to be as gentle on ourselves as we can as we attempt to re-root a little each day, taking note to focus on the most important things first, like ice cream and paint colors, and letting the lesser details (like health insurance and heat) come with time.  We are noticing things.  We are settling into the ease.  We are graciously letting friends help us.  We are learning, slowly, what it means to be neighbors.  We are inhabiting what feels like palacial space compared to our New York apartments of yore, and doing so with nothing but the shirts on our backs, quite literally.  It’ll take the moving truck another week or so to arrive, and in the meanwhile, we’ll don our paint clothes and get to know the corners of the rooms.

For now, we’ll park our shoes where they belong, next to the inviting front porch.  And pretty soon…we’ll actually hang our hats on something.   


the thumb twiddlers

Hello blogreaders!  Just checking in to say hi as the waiting game ensues.  Two months ago I was stomping my feet around the apartment calmly saying yelling, “I’ve had about enough of this waiting!  I can’t take another day!  Let’s move already!”  And here we are, still in Brooklyn, and it’s January 19th.  Touche.  (Modeling Supreme Patience and Perfect Anger Management — two easy checkmarks in my parenting manual.  Ha ha.  But stomping around the apartment really is SO therapeutic.)

So, thumb-twiddlers we have become.  What does one do when the proverbial waiting game seems to mimic all-too-closely the reality of a NYC doctor’s office waiting room?   One bakes cookies and makes quilts, of course.

Orlis and I have decided to take our favorite Brooklyn bakery with us to the West Coast, by mastering the art of the Monster Cookie, along with several of their other unbeatable recipes.  (I noticed in the recipe in this link that she uses chunky peanut butter, which is an adaptation of the original recipe.  I used creamy, but chunky probably makes them even more monstrous.)  This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cookie has so many delicious things in it, you practically have a cookie identity crisis while eating one (or 7).  Is it a peanut butter cookie?  Oatmeal?  Chocolate chip?  Wait, are those M&Ms?!!   We have continued our fall tradition of a weekly soup drop-off, and have added some of these bad-boys to the delivery basket.

And, with so many loved ones getting pregnant these days (or trying trying trying), I have realized it is going to be a year of making baby quilts like never before.  With anxiety in my belly and a bit of time on my hands with which I can not yet do any real packing, I figured I’d better start stockpiling baby quilts for all the little babes coming soon.  The way I see it, the best help I can be to those who are having a little more trouble getting pregnant than expected is to go ahead and put my energy into making a warm welcome gift.

I found this dreamy woman online, Oh Fransson, and immediately purchased a few of her fun, modern quilt patterns.  Guess where she lives?   That’s right — Portlandia.  (Maybe we’ll be friends.)  In the meanwhile, I plan on totally indulging in her terrific patterns in the makings of some very special little quilts.  I started with one called Frames.  Here’s a sneak peak:

Isn’t it cute??  All those oranges, greens, and yellows — how can that not make you smile?

And in this process of waiting and thumb-twiddling and making cookies and quilts to assuage my nervous energy, and snapping a few photos to pop online for you all to see, I am once again reminded of the metaphors surrounding me.  The monster that is this transition and move.  The torturous not-knowing if or when you will ever get pregnant and how to plan your life in the meantime (and how closely that feeling now resembles our current waiting game).  And, what this picture of the quilt-in-process above that I unwittingly titled “half-laid” depicts so perfectly: that so many of our plans are just that.  Half laid.  Sometimes for longer than we may like…bringing out the foot-stomping monster in all of us, and pushing past our limits for not knowing what will happen next.  And there’s not much we can do but throw some more colors on the floor and sugars in a bowl and twiddle our thumbs the best way we know how.