The Year of the Baby Quilt, Part One

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Let’s be honest … this post could also be called “Quilting: Because I Can Never Have Too Much On My Plate!”
No, really: I have a partial post drafted explaining why I think I threw myself into making baby quilts over the past year. I have completed three (if you count the few inches of binding left on one). There are at least three more in progress, and fabric waiting to be cut for another one or two more.

And why? Well, the short answer is, it was a delightfully fun distraction from finishing my MFA application manuscripts. The longer answer is that I’ve rediscovered a joy for sewing that my mother and grandmother cultivated when I was a child.

That post is coming, but tonight I want to share some exciting (and nervewracking!) news. Tomorrow, my latest creation will go live as part of the annual Sari Bari Quilt Auction. I first heard about this a few years ago; my talented and lovely friend Kandyce has quilted with them for three years (here’s her gorgeous latest Sari Bari quilt; it’s worth browsing for her various quilt projects, too). I remember loving the concept instantly: quilters volunteer to receive upcycled sari fabric and turn it into a finished quilt to be auctioned as a fundraiser for Sari Bari. In short, Sari Bari provides freedom for women in India — primarily freedom from sex trafficking, but I’m learning there’s so much more, too. Education, health resources, etc.: there are many ways to be free, and Sari Bari works to “fan the flame of freedom.”

So, this year I finally signed up. Originally I wanted to do two baby quilts OR HEY MAYBE A QUEEN SIZE (let’s pause and laugh about how I thought I would finish a queen size quilt between December and March with my schedule….not to mention the fact that I have NEVER QUILTED SOMETHING THAT BIG YET!). When the fabric arrived, I saw a cool-tone version and a warmer version of each baby quilt emerging.

I got off to a late start with a shipping mixup for my sari fabric. I drastically underestimated the amount of time it would take me to work with sari fabric (I’m not entirely new to sewing, but still new to quilting and had never worked with such delicate fabric for a quilt before). It took twice as long to simply prepare for sewing: the fabric needed reinforcing before I could even cut the squares.

Because I knew time would be a major constraint for me (because hello job and kids!), I settled on my now-familiar half-square triangles.  The quilters are given a bit of freedom to interpret how the quilt comes together; there’s no rule for how to use the sari fabric, per se, though most of the participants create quilts that are almost entirely constructed from the sari fabric. I knew I wanted to have some solid jewel tones to break up the busy prints and help them sing a little more.

I was making good, if slow, progress, most everything was cut and planned, and I only needed one or two more weekends to rock it out after the kids went to bed to make the March deadline.

But then: life happened. And honestly, this quilt was one of the last things I could get to — and not for want of finishing it. In fact, it was almost always the first thing on my mind, and I even woke up a few times to work on it at 5 a.m., getting a chunk done before work. Truthfully, though, the news at Sweet Briar College became all-consuming, at least for every spare part of me that wasn’t already consumed with the hectic world of Toddlerville.
In the interest of time, I combined the colors into one bright, crazy quilt. Just one. A baby size. Nothing crazy, and even that took forever. You may notice this is the first weekend in May, and that the auction is currently live. Well, folks, in the spirit of true transparency: I tied the final knot in the final stitch of the binding last night.

Yep.

Tomorrow, I’ll overnight it to the lovely ladies who are organizing the auction. I’ve already apologized over and over, and they’ve been so gracious. It felt like I would never finish this tiny, tiny quilt (seriously: some quilters made QUEEN SIZED QUILTS and got them in early!! Clearly, they need to teach me some project and/or time management wizardry).

It’s so not perfect. But honestly, I don’t want to let it go: I love the vibrant blend of colors, and I figure someone else will, too (hey, it would make a great bohemian backdrop for newborn photography….hint hint). At the very least, I’m pretty sure my dad will bid on it. I love how cheerful it turned out!

Here’s the thing: even before learning that I’ll lose my job this summer, it was already incredibly sobering to work on this quilt because I wanted to, in my spare time, with a roof over my head and from a place of such relative freedom and ease. I was not sewing for hours per day in inhumane conditions just to bring home a paltry paycheck. I do not have to sell my body to put food on the table for my children. If sewing a quilt can help provide freedom for another mother, half a world away, it is the least that I can do.

So, without further ado: I present my entry in the 2015 Sari Bari Quilt Auction.

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– Love, Mer

(the auction link goes live tomorrow — I’ll edit the post with the link then)

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Writing the next step…

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Last week, I woke up ridiculously early, slipped on a Hope College Alumni sweatshirt, and started writing my personal essay for my low-residency MFA creative writing application. It’s currently in an embarrassing, jumbly state, but it’s a beginning. Next step: finish editing the manuscript essays — I need a range of 20-30 pages, depending on the program. I am close to that page count with two or three essays, but each needs a lot of slice-and-dicing.

All of that to say: ten years ago, I decided against graduate school because I wanted to live a little first. I was burnt out from words and workshops, and not even sure of myself as A Writer. But my writing has slowly started begging for this next step, and it’s about damn time. That morning, I was tired, but writing felt so good.

While writing that morning, Farhan woke up and said it was “still sleeping time.” And then asked me to build a Lego airplane from three pieces in his hands. I did, and he zoomed it around the attic studio. This is what an MFA program will look like for me: waking up before dawn, writing until the kids wake up, then breakfast before we rush out the door to school and work. Rinse, repeat.

I’m ready.

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Lunch workshop with my friend Nell earlier this spring.

 

One of my favorite poems, “How These Words Happened,” by William Stafford, has helped nudge me out of bed (ok, so it only took three years of being taped to my office wall).

Each time I sit down to write, it’s part of a litmus test I’m giving myself: can I discipline myself to write while the kids are sleeping (well, quiet time usually doesn’t involve sleep for Sofia and Farhan, but I can still hope!)? Can I pay attention for any particular essay long enough to not only write the first draft, but edit and revise, too? Some days it’s simply, can I put away my iPhone (games, Instagram, whatever) or ignore the laundry long enough to get a few lines done? If I can do these things enough times to produce an MFA application, it helps give me confidence that I might actually be able to sustain work during the actual program, too.

There is also a whole lot of “what the heck do I think I’m doing!??” in there. Some of this is the usual self-doubt, but there’s also the reality of my busy life with three small kids and a full-time job. But I finally realized that I can’t keep putting this off — there will always be a reason to delay, and I’m not getting any younger. So, I’m doing this madness. I’m taking my own advice to students at Sweet Briar: that cumulative effort adds up, to do a little bit each day toward a larger goal.

Here goes…