Confessions Of An Imperfectionist, Part 4: Hey, I Meant To Do That

WordPress tells me my last post was #500. Not paying much attention to these things, I just happened to notice, but–mazel tov, me! That milestone’s a good enough reason to carry on blah-blah-blahgging, right?

I’ve written in the past about my imperfectionism as it relates to the arts of baking, music, and quilting. This latter trait came to light big time this fall when the Mate actually commissioned me to make a quilt.

More specifically: a window quilt, something to insulate our sliding glass door in the winter months. Since we heat exclusively with firewood, blocking that giant heat sink was going to save us a lot of logs.

His request happened to coincide with a one-day workshop I took from Grace Errea, on a new method of adhesive applique. Grace’s quilts are jaw-droppingly beautiful, so I thought–aha! Here’s an opportunity to use what I’ve just learned.

Since this quilt would be blocking our view of the sunset over the water (which, admittedly, we only see between late April and September, before the sun moves south)  I adapted one of Grace’s sunset patterns to place just where the sun would be. I chose my fabrics, cut out every tiny, curvy piece, applied the adhesive on the back, ironed the whole thing, and…

Voila? Non. Not quite. See, I had been taught to sandwich my pattern with tin foil before ironing, so’s not to get the adhesive on my iron. But I must have missed the part where Grace specificied which side of the tin foil to place next to the fabric. I chose the dull side. I chose wrong. It stuck.

Since I wasn’t planning on blogging about this topic, I did not take pictures of the resulting disaster. You’ll just have to imagine me peeling miniscule strips of tin foil from the back of my painstakingly-pieced pattern…each pull dislodging the pieces from the adhesive I’d so carefully applied.

When at last all the horrible silver stuff was gone and it came time to sew, of course I found most of the edges of each fabric strip were now misaligned. So not only did I have to try to re-align them while sewing by machine–which I do not recommend if you enjoy all your fingers–I actually had to do quite a bit of hand-sewing to repair gaps the machine could not accommodate.

The result was a wrinkly mess.

Or was it? Here’s where my Imperfectionism came to the rescue. “Those aren’t wrinkles, those are texture,” it said. “Nature’s not two-dimensional! All those rucks just make your scene look more real.”

Go ahead. Look closely. Sigh.

Thanks, Imperfectionism. You’re the best friend I’ve got.

All those wrinkles? Meant to do that. Yup.

The light wasn’t great when we set up our window-quilt, so I only took close-ups. You’ll have to imagine what the whole thing looks like–and now, of course, it’s partially obscured by our Christmas tree. Probably just as well.

But y’know, when you step back…it’s not so bad.

But I’m still proud of my imperfect sunset–or rather, proud of myself for not tossing the whole thing into the garbage! Besides bringing a huge ray of brightness into our winter lives, it’s a darn good metaphor.



Road Trip VI, Days 28-32, in my hometown, Durham, NC: My German Grandmother’s Take on Civil Rights Martyrs

Everyone who enjoys the privilege of time spent with aging parents knows this pattern: touch an object, hear a story. It could be an oil painting or a plate with cows on it; if it’s been held onto for decades, it has something to tell.

This week I’ve been roaming through my parents’ house in North Carolina, touching things and letting them talk to me. I’m especially lucky here, since my paternal grandma, my German Oma, was a sculptor. This house is bursting with her work. Today I’m going to let one of her pieces tell its story.

June 21, 1964. Philadelphia, Mississippi. The bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were discovered buried in an earthen dam.

Chaney, Goodman and Shwerner (courtesy Mississippi Civil Rights and Delta Blues Bookstore)

Chaney, Goodman and Shwerner (courtesy Mississippi Civil Rights and Delta Blues Bookstore)

Actually that’s incorrect. Civil Rights activists Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner disappeared that Freedom Summer, having left their base in Meridian, Mississippi to investigate some church burnings in the eastern part of the state. According to Curtis J. Austin in The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, “The Ku Klux Klan had burned Mount Zion Church because the minister had allowed it to be used as a meeting place for civil rights activists. After the three young men had gone into Neshoba County to investigate, they were subsequently stopped and arrested by Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price. After several hours, Price finally released them only to arrest them again shortly after 10 p.m. He then turned the civil rights workers over to his fellow Klansmen. The group took the activists to a remote area, beat them, and then shot them to death.” It took several weeks for their bodies to be found.

My grandmother, Edith Brauer Klopfer, moved from California to North Carolina in 1965, to help take care of baby me. Thirty years before, she had moved with her husband and young sons from Germany to Philadelphia–temporarily, she thought, to give that pesky Herr Hitler a wide berth. The Klopfers were Jewish.

My parents have not been able to tell me exactly what my grandmother thought of the Civil Rights movement she walked into when she moved to the South. But they don’t need to. This sculpture says it all. She called it Three Martyrs. It’s Chaney, Goodman and Schwermer.

Three Martyrs

Three Martyrs

Most historians agree that, because Schwerner and Goodman were White, the federal government’s response left earlier responses to murders of Black activists in the dust. If you’ve seen Mississippi Burning, you know they established an FBI office in Jackson and called out the state’s National Guard and U. S. Navy to help search for the three men. Freedom Summer organizers weren’t dumb–they had hoped for exactly this kind of attention when they asked for White volunteers.

Austin continues,

After several weeks of searching and recovering more than a dozen other bodies, the authorities finally found the civil rights workers buried under an earthen dam. Seven Klansmen, including Price, were arrested and tried for the brutal killings. A jury of sympathizers found them all not guilty. Some time later, the federal government charged the murderers with violating the civil rights of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. This time the Klansmen were convicted and served sentences ranging from two to ten years.

This is as moving to me as it probably is to you. What moves me even more, though, is thinking of my German Jewish Oma, wielding her chisel to coax these figures out of the wood…figures which still testify, 50 years later, to the darkness from which our country is still hauling itself. Did she think of her homeland and its six million martyrs? Was it a work of despair or hope, sorrow or rage, or honor?

I think it was all of those. I run my fingers over the grooves her chisel made, thinking of her strong arms, and I pay homage to the three, to all they represent, and to her–and all she represents.

Healthy Wealthy–Yes, and Wise Too: My Kind of Philanthropy

In these days of the 99%, it is fashionable to hate on the rich. I’ve done my share of wealth-bashing, even though by most people’s standards I’m way richer than I am poor. But today I want to give some kudos to a kind of wealth-sharing that I’ve been recently exposed to, the heartening kind that reminds one that “philanthropy” doesn’t only work at the grand, Gates Foundation level.

This week I was privileged to attend not one but TWO retreats at the homes of wealthy fellow islanders. Neither of these families was home; both offered their gorgeous, spacious, well-appointed homes freely to our groups (Quakers in the first instance, my writing group in the second). All they asked in return was that we be judicious in our use of water, and clean up after ourselves.

I noticed other similarities:
Neither home is gated. Of course, we live on a practically crime-free island. But plenty of folks here do have gates protecting their homes. Not these folks.

Both homes are full of local art…one of them, eye-poppingly so. Every wall, every piece of furniture is an example of some local person’s craft. Now I’m sure this family appreciates the beauty they’ve filled their home with, but I strongly suspect that their art purchases actually reflect a deliberate embracing of their role as art patrons. “We want to live in a world where artists can make a living,” their home seems to say, “so we’re doing our part to make sure this happens.” Hey, somebody has to support artists, right? And since artists make up about a third of our island’s community, this patronage becomes one more aspect of community membership– on a scale most of us can’t afford, true, but that makes it no less valuable.

I feel safe in this assumption because I’ve watched this family exemplify a way to live with wealth that I’ve never observed before. These folks are more fully integrated into the community than I am: their kids have attended the local school, they’re members of just about every board and organization on our island, and their involvement extends to the kind of physical, hands-on service that puts life and limb at risk. We’re talking way more than writing checks or hosting galas, although they do their share of that too.

Van Gogh

This family also happens to be wonderful friends of the environment, setting aside large chunks of their land for preservation, and working tirelessly on legislation to protect our sensitive island habitats (time that I myself could be spending instead of, say, blogging).

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in progressive taxation. I happen to think that Good King Wenceslas could have been Great King Wenceslas if he’d set up dignified employment for the poor in his kingdom instead of just feeding that one guy. But I find it heartening to step away from the Us vs. Them thinking that tends to permeate our media (whoever Us and Them may be).

Not asking for political diatribes here–in fact, please don’t!–but just wondering: what examples have you seen in your life of generosity? Have you observed it more in “haves” or “have-nots”? What’s your definition of philanthropy?

Imperfectionists Unite!

auction quilt

SO not me. (courtesy normanack, flikr commons)

I have started making quilts. But I am careful NOT to tell people I’m a quilter.

Quilters choose patterns, or design their own. Quilters pay careful attention to color contrasts. Quilters cut cloth into little tiny pieces. Quilters MEASURE the heck out of those pieces as they stitch ’em together. Then they measure some more, because, to quilters, like carpenters, precision is everything.

I’m a lousy carpenter. So I never thought I’d make it as a quilter either, and I never tried. Till I discovered landscape quilts.

Landscape quilting is just what it sounds like: you create a landscape, like a painter, substituting appliqued cloth for paint. The effect can be as realistic or impressionistic as you choose. Me, I’m all about the impressionism. Who cares if that flower has eight petals in real life? On my quilt, it gets five, and it’s still pretty.

...or four petals. Who's counting?

…or four petals. Who’s counting?

Another way landscape quilting is like impressionist painting is in its wonderful, inherent sloppiness. Who cares if my stitches are uneven, or if I miss an edge here or there which might fray? Nature’s full of ragged edges, weird curves, asymmetry. It’s a gorgeous slop-fest out there! Too much precision = unnatural-looking landscape…or so says I.

Nice and sloppy, just like nature.

Am I making a virtue of necessity? Cheering myself up for being lazy, not to mention bad at arithmetic?

You betcha. But hey: I’m quilting, aren’t I?

Isn't it gorgeous??

Isn’t it gorgeous?

THIS is what I’m shooting for (someday!) These three come from Nancy Zieman and Natalie Sewell’s book, The Art of Landscape Quilting.

Yup, it's all cloth!

Yup, it’s all cloth!

I'll never be this good, but I can dream, right?

I’ll never be this good, but I can dream, right?

So what’s your version of landscape quilting? What’s something you have NO patience for, but have found yourself a better way around? Maybe you’ve discovered an ingenious way never to empty the cat box? Or a recipe for croissants that doesn’t involve sticking the dough back into the fridge every half-hour? Don’t you feel smart? Let me hear from you!