Thursday, January 10, 2013

Copy and waste

Coach and I sit screen-to-screen across the kitchen table like the MacBook version of Battleship.

Tap.  Scroll-scroll.  Tap...  


"What's the matter?"


We both go back to work tomorrow.  He's a little fussy.

Tap.  Scroll-scroll.  Tap...  


I flick my eyes across the bough of his laptop.  He just glares at the screen.

Tap.  Scroll-scroll.  Tap...

"@#%*&^! Mac."

"HEY!  Not in my house!"  

It's not the word that bothers me.  You just don't diss the Mac.

But for Coach, whose school district just made the switch?  Evil incarnate.

"How come when I copy THREE pages from one document, it becomes FIVE in another?"

Mental eye roll.


"Is the font the same?"


"Are the margins the same?"


"Did you click on that little clipboard icon to preserve the original formatting?"

Wait for it... Wait for it...



"My work here is done."

I shut my laptop and strut to the sewing room feeling pretty good about myself.  The sun is shining.  The birds are singing.  Right up to the moment I flick on the light.


Judge not, my friends.  Copying is harder than you think.


At Christmas, my Mom gave me a bag full of clothes.  Mostly polyester pants and sweatshirts with birds on them.   But among the mess was a dozen or so shirts from her days working at the courthouse.  Mom loved her job at the courthouse.  Typing out warrants for the district attorney, she was right in the thick of things.  All the gossip, the murder, the trials and intrigue.  Mom had a front-row seat.  She couldn't wait to come home with the latest dirt to pre-empt the Fox2 News.

"You'll never guess who was arrested today!"

Unfortunately, a mild stroke (and a hefty dose of cliquish ageism) forced her to retire a few years back.  As a result, she has fixated on that point in time.  She scours the paper for names we should recognize.  She cranes her neck in church to spy on the judge.  She treasures anything that ties her back to that life.  So you can imagine my surprise when she presented me with her entire collection of casual-Friday workwear, "State's Attorney ~ County of St. Clair" embroidered on the chest.      

"I can't wear these, Mom.  They're two sizes too small."

"I know," she says, "but I can't give them to charity.  What if some drug dealer buys them all up and sneaks into the courthouse?"

See?  I told you.  The Mama with the Drama.

The shirts are a combination of fabrics:  pique, fleece, knit.  In decidedly less-than-modern colors.  Like chambray blue with antique gold embroidery.  I thought I'd like to make her a quilt, a way for her memories to literally keep her warm.  But, not some floppy t-shirt quilt.  And, how to hide the fabrics?

Then I remembered this quilt, by the amazing Ashley of Film in the Fridge, and thought,

Rainbow Plus Scrap Quilt, by Ashley of Film in the Fridge.

"YES!  I have a plan."

I should say right off the bat:  I. Love. This. Quilt.  It's everything a quilt should be.  Crisp, yet subtle.  High-contrast, without feeling stark.  Happy.  I love the way the gradations in value give the plusses a three-dimensional feel.  I love the transparency of the piece, the movement, the richness in hue.  Everything about this quilt feels right to me.  Right down to the wavy stitches.  So, I set out to make Mom a scrappy quilt of her own that would incorporate the logo from each of her work shirts.

Shouldn't be hard, right?  Look at this stash:

That, my friends, is a fat lot of fabric.  Surely I can create enough scraps to replicate this beauty.  I say "create" scraps, because I don't really have any.  Of any decent size, at least.  So, one by one, I pull fabric after fabric-- some of them my treasured favorites-- and cut pile after pile of individual squares.  My whole winter break.  Between baking the cookies and wrapping the gifts, every spare minute.  Pull the fabric, press.  Cut, fold, repeat. Working through my Excel spreadsheet of requisite blocks, one plus sign at a time.  They look happy together, my little stack.  Cheerful and gay.  They even camouflage the work shirts.  Everything seems headed in the right direction.

Until I put them together.


I mean, WOW.

How is that even POSSIBLE?  The lights were on, I wore my glasses.  How can it possibly be that bad?

I can't even LOOK at it, I get so mad as I compare it to the original.

First, the scale.  Ashley's blocks are 2" square.  Mine (would) finish at 4.  Her quilt measures 36-inches on the longest side.  Why-oh-why do my idols insist on teasing me with baby quilts?  I am not a baby.  I do not have a baby.  When I fall in love with a quilt that I absolutely must make, why does it turn out to be the size of a bathmat?  I'm a big girl.  I married a big guy.  Quilts should be functional.   Keep your feet warm AND cover your head.  Or heck, I don't know.  Maybe cover a bed!  (My regrets, Dr. Seuss, but I am seeing red).    

Changing the scale, of course, means that even in cases where I used the same FABRICS, they'd never FEEL the same as the ones in her quilt.  Prints that read graphic and bold for her become flat pseudo-solids in larger proportions.

And, while we're at it, can we talk about the fabric, please?  If I'm going to reproduce a quilt, I want an exact replica.  "Designer" fabric and all.  But, honest to God...  Who can afford it?  I'm not an uber-blogger.  I go months without writing, have no delusions about striking it rich with my pedantic ravings.  So, how come it chaps my hide when "complimentary" bundles of the latest lines seem to rain down on the rest of the world?   "Look what Anna Maria Horner sent me today!  Her entire spring line, and keys to her Prius!"  Hyperbole Police, I know, I know.  But, STILL!  I'm a good Catholic girl.  I try not to covet.  But Flickr and Blogger and Twitter and Pinterest tease me...  They lure me in!  The more I see, the more I want.  Not to create, mind you.  To copy.  It's embarrassing, really, how many bundles of fabric I've bought in the past year in the hopes of recreating someone else's quilt.  This one.  And this one.  And THIS one, too.  When did "my own thing" cease to be enough?  What exactly has happened to me?  My answer came last night while prepping my lecture for nursing chem:


It doesn't seem that long ago that I stocked up on fabric at Wal-Mart super sales.  Not because I liked it.  Because it matched.  That Wedgewood blue floral that "went with" Dad's equally-sad recliner?  As a chemist with no innate color sense, "match" was a very big thing for me.

Next came Hancock, Hobby Lobby, Joann.  Then, an honest-to-God quilt shop.  It was about that time I discovered the Modern Quilt Guild.  No chapter in St. Louis, but I lived vicariously through everyone's early favorites.  When we finally got The Guild in town, my very first meeting introduced me to the Who's Who of designer fabric.

I had no idea.

Once in the guild, the stalking began.  Not just the big names.  My fellow members, too.  I liked to sew, but these women were amazing.  So much more productive than I was.  Soon, quilting wasn't enough.  There were pouches and mug rugs and aprons to make.  Blocks-of-the-month and online swaps.  I realized pretty quickly that the big names became big names primarily by starting blogs.  That day, Miss Stash Would was born.

But, alas...  Life is hard.  My job is hard.  Or, at least, hard for me.  I work a LOT outside the home.  Most nights-- truth be told-- I work there, too.  I can't keep up with the big-time bloggers. (I can't keep up with my dishes).  I can't homeschool my kids as they set up forts beneath the fantasy long-arm in my basement.  Still.  My type-A personality rears its head, whispers, "Maybe, just maybe, if you play your cards right, you could start something new and change your life."  People online do it all time time, right?  But now, I know more, and a blog won't be enough.  You have to host a giveaway and force people to follow so you can "up" your burgeoning readership.  You have to get sponsors.  You have to get MORE sponsors.  You have to write a pattern.  You have to write three.  Then print some cards and go to Market.  Publish a book.  A magazine.  Teach for Craftsy.  Start an Etsy store and design for Spoonflower and create a ruler that ends up as Oprah's Favorite Thing and before you know it, your children (Fons and Porter) are writing a tell-all memoir outing you for missing their dance recital because you were so strung-out from your all-nighter hand-stitching your binding to the back of a quilt no one ever asked you to make in the first place that you fell asleep in your macaroni and cheese at the office Christmas party.

I know I'm not alone.  I know it's a continuum.  I see friends gear up, get published, close brick-and-mortar stores and venture out online.   I see friends with active blogs slow down over time when they decide other things are just more important.   I know it's human nature.  All part of evolution.  But some days, I look at them all, and feel like I'm failing.  It's hard to resist that rush of excitement when we briefly brush shoulders with those names that we recognize.  Maybe we all crane our necks in church to spy on the judge from time to time.  If we're lucky, the thing about evolution we never forget is that it can't happen without change.  If you flawlessly copy that one single gene over and over again, nothing new would ever appear in this world.  Just a single point mutation is all it takes to change and make us new.  Simply put, we've got to do our own thing, never mind what everyone else is doing.  Otherwise, we forget all the unique, individual traits we bring to the gene pool.

So, enter and exit the race as you see fit.  You'll get no judgment from me.  For me, it's time to stop moving the goal posts and just enjoy making things.  Write about the not-so-modern pillow I made for my friend.  Buy fabric at Joann, "real" Kona or not.  And someday, when I'm feeling up to it, redefine Mom's quilt.  Not as a flawed and garish copy of something I love, but my own interpretation for someone I love.  Just one more step in the evolutionary process.  


  1. Freakin A-Mazing...just like I thought it would be. You my Dear have a gift, and can I just say I don't see anything wrong with the quilt that you made. I want to cross that big ol'Mississippi and give you a big ol Hug! Stay true to what you know, that's all that matters.

  2. I REALLY identified with your post, not the blogging part because I don't have one but pretty much everything else. I thought I was the only one obsessing/stalking/copying (in a good & non-threatening way of course!). I was even doing a bit of a happy cry but laughing at the same time by the end of the post. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Lynne, I like your version. I am impressed with how well you were able to match the colors and patterns of the original. More importantly it has elements that make it your own. It is designed to suit your needs. As a scientist, you know that it is not the replication of the data but the experiment gone awry that leads to the new discovery.

    I have always been somewhat uncomfortable with the modern quilting/blogging push to use the right line, the hot fabric, the big name pattern. Yes, I appreciate the aesthetic vibe of modern quilts. I have learned to truly appreciate using quality fabrics. I have enormous respect for pattern designers. There are times when I appreciate being able to grab a set of coordinating fabrics without thinking too hard.

    And yet the roots of quilting are more personal and more frugal than today's modern commercial enterprise. Back in the day, we didn't have to have Mrs Jones' skirt, we used gramma's and were glad there was enough of it left to make blue flowers instead of brown. Those quilts tell a story, a very personal story, about the quilter and her life and times. Are we trading the true fabric of our lives for the selective world of the blog? Is that a legacy?

    I am with you. I'd rather celebrate the making.

  4. Lynne you are amazing. Amazing for posting this, but above all amazing in the things you make! I remember my first guild meeting, and YOU were the first person I met. Your chemistry bag is still one of my all time favorites from our guild show and tell.

    I personally love your version of Ashley's quilt! It's gorgeous! Put it away for awhile, and when you take it back out conveniently LOSE the picture from Ashley! If everyone made the exact same thing, this world would be a dull place. And I agree with you about the sponsored blogs too. I am envious of them until I think about what they have to do to continue getting sponsors. They have to make things they might not like to tote fabrics from stores that sponsor them. Don't get me wrong I would love me some free fabric too, but my family and life is more important than blogging 20+ hours a week.

    OK, I am off my soap box now. Take care lady. I'll say it one more time, although I should say it 100... YOU ARE AMAZING! And I still swear I know you from before the guild. That still bugs me to this day. :)

  5. I really like your quilt top with the bright colors. I think you are being to hard on yourself.

  6. as a person newish to blogging -- I to have had many of the thoughts that you put forward here about sponsors and keeping up with the number of quilts that I see being put out but some of the bloggers that I follow. Many of these people don't have full time jobs outside of the home (let me tell you I could put good use to that 2 hours a day on average I spend in the car driving back and forth to work) and many of the projects are much smaller than the average quilter makes for a real size person. Sure I can whip out a baby quilt on a Saturday or a throw size on the weekend but I don't get anything else accomplished and I miss out on seeing people I care about. in a few of the blogs that I have been reading I was astonished that some of them don't do their own quilting (hand, free motion or long arm) well that cuts a great deal of time off the project right there -- there are a few blogs that I stopped reading because of the level of self frustration that I was experiencing. I am not a line buyer, nor do I know the names of most of the fabric lines and some of the girls in my modern guild look sideways at me because of this (you know the one I'm talking about). I shop based on what I like and what is pleasing to me regardless if I base a quilt off a piece from Joann's or something that I got from a quilt shop and this in turn adds to the gene pool of creativity. your projects that I have seen look great and I hope that you can find encouragement in yourself to press on with your mother's quilt because I think it looks great and know that she would greatly enjoy the new life that you have brought into her memories.