Thursday, September 30, 2010

Huppah huppah hurray!

Yesterday I finished the wedding huppah I've been working on for the past several months.  Today I took it to Temple Habonim, Barrington, RI, where my daughter Julia  will marry Marc Katz on 10/10/10.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More tales from a huppah: Ripping it out and starting over

Today I finished sewing on the quilt binding.

Then I ripped out all yesterday's work, hours and hours' worth.

It was frustrating, but it had to be done.  The work was too messy.  True, I was the only person who would ever notice.  But workmanship has become a bit of a sensitive point with me since my first quilt ever was accepted to a juried show this past spring.  After the show, the quilt was returned to me with a pointed statement about poor workmanship from one of the judges.  Until then, I'd known some of the work needed improvement, but that judge's acknowledgment of it carried a sting that I still feel.

After using a seam ripper to remove yesterday's wobbly uneven stitches, I was fortunate to have my neighbor Edith, an experienced hand quilter, swing by and show me how to hand quilt in the places where my sloppy free-motion quilting had been.  So here I am, baby, hand quilting, thimble and all:

Compared to the stitching Edith demonstrated, my stitches are big and sloppy.  But that's okay.  Hafta start somewhere.

I like to listen to a book on tape while I work.  Right now I'm listening to Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Quilting the Huppah: I Faced my Fear, and the Result was a Mess

So what if free motion quilting is one of my fears?  I deserve credit for facing it.

Today, I faced it.  I did it.  And I produced some of the poorest looking work I've done for a long time.

I may get an A for courage, but a C- for workmanship.

This is not going to be an inspiring story of triumph over adversity.  Instead, the experience reminded me of what a vacuum cleaner does.  You know.

To do free-motion quilting, you need a spring-driven jobby like this, called a darning foot.  No problem.
You also need to be able to drop the feed dogs. No problem there, either.

The PROBLEM was this marvel of Swedish engineering, this piece of clear plastic from hell:

The Husqvarna Viking quilting table is supposed to help by 1) spreading the weight of the quilt around, and 2) making the quilt easier to maneuver by elevating the work to the level of the sewing machine bed.

But the Husqvarna Viking quilting table does not help.

It skootches around as the quilt moves, causing my hands on the quilt to skootch around with it, making big loose sloppy stitches in places where I did not want them.  Sometimes it even gets under the needle and breaks the needle.

The result was some of the sloppiest free-motion quilting I've ever done.  It looks so bad, I'm not even going to show you.

I'm reminded of Thoreau's statement:  "We are become the tools of our tools."  It's true.  But it's no consolation. 

I faced my fear, and the result was a mess.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm not letting that get in my way.

That's my artist's statement for today.

If I let the fact that I don't know what I'm doing get in my way, I wouldn't have spent the past few hours sitting on the sandy path down to the bay in a rickety rocking chair with my pastels on a milk crate beside me, applying color to paper, messing up my shirt, and expressing myself about this extraordinary place as best I can.

I had to save this view of this place, and I wanted to do it badly enough that, every time I messed up, like the time I blew the pastel dust away so hard it baptized the paper, I kept going.  I figured out how to cover up my mistakes and go on.  I learned, for example, that an exacto knife can double as an eraser in removing unwanted pigment from textured pastel paper.

How else am I going to learn, if not by doing?

Keep going even though you know the results  might make Grandma Moses look like Albert Bierstadt.  That's my artist mantra for today.  If there's one insight I internalized after six years of following Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, it would be that.

Heaven on Earth

Overlooking Cape Cod Bay, Eastham, Massachusetts

I'll never be a great artist, but when I'm before a sight that resonates within me, I want to say, "I was here.  This is what I saw."

I was here.  This is what I saw.

My excellent pastels teacher, Kristine Sullivan, would not approve of the attention I paid to the weathered wood of this staircase.  Kris, I had to do it.  Something inside told me it was important to record the splintery wood as truly to its splinters as I could.

As I was sketching, the dogs sensed the presence of a nearby canine and shot down the stairs, barking.  They made friends with a golden retriever passing on the beach, did a few play bows, and came back when I called them.  As they parted, the golden retriever saw fit to mark the post at the bottom of the stairs.

This image, and the memory of having created it, have to get me through the winter.

Can you hear the water?  Can you feel the heat of the sun?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Significance of Brtha Kak

Joe Rubin, for the first time in 36 years, did not bake my birthday cake this year.  I volunteered to do it because he's so busy, and because my schedule is so much more flexible.

Our family has been using this recipe since I first saw it in the Washington Post in the 70s, when I was a law student.  The cake recipe was from the Post; the frosting recipe was from my mother, who ticked it off the top of her head without consulting a written word:

 Chocolate Cake with Mocha Frosting

For the cake:
2 c cake flour
2 c sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
¾ c cold strong black coffee
1 c sour cream
½ c butter, room-temperature soft
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
4 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

  1. A couple of hours before you make this cake, take refrigerated ingredients out of the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature

  2. About half an hour before you begin, melt the unsweetened chocolate and let it cool.

  3. Line the bottoms of two round 9” by 1 ½” cake pans with wax paper.  Butter paper.

  4. Into the large bowl of an electric mixer, turn all ingredients in order given.  At low speed beat ½ minute; at medium speed 3 minutes. 

  5. Turn into prepared pans.  Bake in preheated 350 oven 30 to 35 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.  Let stand on wire racks 10 minutes.  Turn out on racks and remove paper.  Fill and frost as desired.

Mocha frosting

9 to 12 tbl butter, room-temperature soft
¾ c cocoa
1 tbl vanilla
¾ tsp salt
4-1/2 to 6 c confectioner’s sugar
6 tbl brewed coffee

Mix by hand or use beater.

This became our family recipe, even before our first child was born in 1982.  Now it's an important, if not THE most important, part of a birthday party in our family.  
When Julia was 6, and asked to draw a picture of her favorite food, she did this:

On the day of Lucia's tenth birthday, September 11, 2001, those over age 10 around the dining room table did not want birthday cake.  We were consumed with shock and grief.  But Lucia got her birthday dinner and her cake.

Now it's my birthday, a date and year which I share with the author Jane Smiley:  September 26, 1949.  Jane has already gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize, but I'm not jealous.  Not at all.  Happy birthday, Jane, wherever you are!

As for my having to make my own cake, it's like this:  Joe Rubin has baked it almost every year in the years we've been married.  I can cut him some slack this year.  Besides, he's making scallops sauteed in vermouth for my birthday dinner.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Quilting the Huppah

This huppah has to be quilted so that the three layers of the quilt sandwich will stay together.  I'll do most of it in simple straight lines, which are easy.  The hard part is that I have to roll the whole thing up in order to fit it through my sewing machine for the machine quilting process.

The opening of the machine is called the throat, I'm told, and it's like a constricted tunnel for the rolled quilt to pass through while part of it goes under the needle.  When I get paid for my commission, which should be around Easter time of 2011, I'm going to put that money toward a sewing machine with a bigger throat.  Maybe I'll call it Deep Throat.

I'm stitching in the ditch, which means I'm sewing the three layers together by laying down a line of stitching in the "ditch" or the tiny declivity of the seam where two pieces of fabric come together. Here, I'm stitching in the ditch to make a little frame around Marc's name and date of birth.

I couldn't do any of this quilting if I didn't have a walking foot.  That feeds all three layers of the quilt sandwich evenly.  Without it, the backing and the top move at different rates.  I learned that one the hard way.  "Walking foot?  Who needs a walking foot?"  Right.  Next thing I knew I had the seam ripper in my hand and I was ripping out lines of quilting four feet long.  The things I learned the hard way are the lessons that make the most painful and lasting impressions.

Walking foot

Next I'm just putting some straight lines of stitching into some of the spaces to hold the whole thing together.  Adhering to the KISS rule here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More Huppah Adventures: The Quilt Sandwich

I have eight days to finish this project.  Today's a lovely day on the cusp of summer and fall, so I'm going to set up my sewing machine on the deck out back.
Task 1 for today:  Sew down all the edges of the grapes, lilies, and leaves on this portion of the huppah:

They're already heat-bonded down with Steam a Seam, but how long does that adhesive last?  If this huppah is going to continue on to be a baby blanket, it's going to be in the wash, so these motifs better be secured with more than fusible bonding material.  I'm going to use clear monofilament in my needle.  And going around all those little tiny edges will be fun!  Yess!

I guess with quilting, like with anything else, you take the drudgery for the sake of the glory.  I hope I feel some glory when I see my work held aloft on the huppah poles at Temple Habonim, Barrington, R.I.

Next task:  cutting the batting to the same size as the backing.  What was I thinking when I bought this much batting?

Cutting the batting to the same size as the batting, using a clear ruler and a rotary cutter:

Fastening the quilt sandwich together with a tool called a Quiltak:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Yom Kippur: WWJD?

What would Jesus have done on Yom Kippur?  Jesus, or Jeshua ben Miriam, as he would have been called, lived and died a Jew, and so observance of the Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, would have been as natural to him as breathing

Not so to me.  Born and raised not only Christian but intensely Catholic, I had no reason to observe Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur until my daughter decided she wanted to be a cantor, took it upon herself to learn Hebrew, converted to Judaism, got herself admitted to cantorial school, and began to work as a student cantor while carrying a full student load at Hebrew Union College in Manhattan.

In support of our daughter, I began to attend Jewish worship with my husband, who was raised as a Jew but long since had ceased practicing, and our two younger daughters, both, like Julia, raised Unitarian Universalist.  At Jewish worship services, I listened to spoken Hebrew recited by those who had been doing it all their lives, bowing and bending their knees on cues known to them but not to me.  I felt like an outsider in a group where everyone else knew the password.  My discomfort ranged from mild to intense.

This year, my husband and I attended Yom Kippur services at Congregation Adas Israel of Sag Harbor, Long Island, where Julia is serving as a student cantor on a regular basis.  

Temple Adas Israel, Sag Harbor, Long Island
Our neighbors, Margie Fine and Rae Tattenbaum, both raised Jewish, came with us.  That's Rae in the photo above.  It took three ferries to get to Sag Harbor from Connecticut.  

The Susan Anne, out of New London, CT

Mashomack, the North Ferry, out of Shelter Island Heights, L.I.

Sunrise, the South Ferry, out of Shelter Island, L.I.

On the way to Sag Harbor, Rae suggested that I look at Yom Kippur as a day of reflection.

Could I do that? 

Throughout Catholic high school, Catholic college, and beyond, I've taken part in formal retreats and days of reflection.

Framed that way, Yom Kippur became understandable.  Too bad I don't know the Hebrew, but I do know a feeling of transcendence, and I got one at that service, watching my daughter pull her tallis, or prayer shawl, over her head, cover her eyes, and reflectively prepare herself for singing the Kol Nidre, the chanted prayer that opens Yom Kippur. 

I decided to take from the holiday what I could as a Christian.

I decided to think about it as Jesus would have celebrated it.

Then as now, Yom Kippur was the most holy and solemn day of the year.  Jesus would have been present as the high priest offered atonement for the sins of the people of Israel, and he would have reflected himself, opening and deepening his relationship with God.

Maybe his meditation would have been something like this one, which I copied, during the Yom Kippur service, from the Gates of Repentance, the High Holy Day prayer book at Temple Adas Israel.  (After I finished copying it, my friends Margie and Rae, sitting in the next seats, suggested that I not write any more, because one does not do any writing on Yom Kippur.  Who knew?  See what I mean about feeling like an outsider?)

But I digress.  Maybe Jesus' meditation would have been like this one I copied:

For what are we?  What is our life, and what our faithfulness?  What is our goodness, and what our vaunted strength?  What can we say in Your presence, our God and God of all ages? To you we pray for the knowledge and strength to live responsibly.

As I'm reframing Yom Kippur, I've reframed Jesus.  He'd become a shadowy figure to me in my adult life, the waspy guy with the flowing golden locks long since a thing of the past.  I married a Jew, we raised our children Unitarian Universalist, and with the richness of those experiences, I've come to view the Christ, the Annointed One, from a different perspective.

He was a human being like everyone else--I'm paraphrasing Teacher, Companion, Guide:  Rediscovering Jesus in a Secular World by Erik Walker Wikstrom--but also not like everyone else in this way: his faith, belief, and trust in God were deeper, his relationship with the divine more intimate, his awareness clearer.  He was so in touch with the sacred as to be one with it.

In that spirit, I've been able to put my arms around Jesus and Yom Kippur, both, this year.  Not only that, but I didn't fast (unlike poor Julia, who couldn't even drink water).  And after a marathon of two hours of Kol Nidre service on Friday night, and three-plus hours of morning services on Saturday, we went to the beach.

Rae and Margie, Sag Main Beach

Joe and Diane, Sag Main Beach, Sag Harbor, Long Island

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Grandpa Ott and September Grapes:  Go, Grandpa!
I planted Grandpa Ott morning glories in my raised bed so long ago that I don't remember when I originally did it.  I've long since turned my raised bed into a silver garden (only plants with silvery foliage or silvery flowers), with no place for Grandpa Ott.  But he still comes back to greet me in the late summer, every year!  With no encouragement from me.  The flowers are so richly purple, I can't bear to pull Grandpa and his vines out of my raised bed, even though he's clambering on the Russian sage and the santolina.

Elsewhere in the garden, the grapes are growing on and around the garage, and the fruit-eating catbirds who live in the Norway spruces behind it are happy.  This grape vine came with the house, and though we cherish it, we don't prune it as we would if we were serious about our grape crop.  We also don't harvest them:  they have seeds.  (I think they're Concord grapes).  But we do eat them, and they're so sweet, with a tiny edge of sour.  And when the afternoon sun hits that vine, the smell that fills the air in front of the garage is Heavenly Essence of Grape.

For my next trick:  Yom Kippur:  WWJD?  As the Christian/Unitarian mother of a student cantor-to-be, I'm on the cusp of Judaism and Christianity. This Friday, family and friends will travel to Sag Harbor, Long Island to see our daughter Julia in action as the student cantor for Temple Adas Israel, in observance of Yom Kippur.  What would Jesus do on Yom Kippur?  Well, he lived and died a Jew, right?  So he'd probly put on his yarmulke and get down there and daven with the best of them.

Here's Julia wearing the tallis I made for her.  Check out the tsit tsit (fringes)--making them, and making them right, was the hardest part.

Here's Julia leading Tot Shabbat on the beach in Sag Harbor.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Wedding Huppah

Wedding huppah dilemma of the day:  recreating the letters and numerals of Julia and Marc's names and dates of birth.  I'm creating the letters in the style of their childhood writing by placing samples of their school work on a light box, tracing the letters onto graph paper, and then tracing them again from the graph paper onto the fabric.  But how to make them permanent on that fabric?
First I tried reproducing them in satin stitch.  After two tries, I got a decent, if somewhat wobbly, Marc Katz.  Thank God for short names.
But what would I do for the tiny curling vowels of Julia's (by comparison) interminable last name?  Who gave her that name, anyway?  (In the unforgettable words of my father, "Are you gonna saddle her with that?)

Solution:  Put the letters onto the fabric with Sharpie marker, using sandpaper underneath to keep the fabric from wiggling.  Questions:  How long do Sharpie letters last on fabric?  Does it matter that the fabric will cease being a huppah and become part of a baby blanket for Julia and Marc's children? 

As with everything else, I'm learning as I go here.  Do any of you sewing experts know better ways to get letters onto fabric?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Banner #1 for United Methodist Church of Hartford

This morning I have the pleasure of announcing the completion of the first of three commissioned banners for United Methodist Church of Hartford.  The three banners together will illustrate the three phrases of the congregation's mission statement:  rooted in God's love, growing in God's grace, and bearing the fruits of peace and justice.  I've just finished "rooted in God's love" and have begun work on "growing in God's grace."  I'm very honored to have been given this commission.