Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sylvia's Stars

Here's a look at Sylvia's Stars, the first quilt I made for my grandaughter. I started it as soon as I knew she was coming, before I knew who "she" would be. As I worked on it, every single patch, every strip, every stitch, was invested with all the love and hopes and dreams I have for this new person. Many of the fabrics are my own, which (since I am so stingy with the fabrics I dye and print and stamp) makes the quilt even more "special", at least in my mind.

Making a quilt for a new baby isn't what it used to be. Babies now are not supposed to have quilts (or bumper pads, or pillows, or soft stuffies) or any other loose bedding in their cribs, since it is believed that these may contribute to SIDS. God knows that I certainly would not wish a SIDS tragedy on any family, but I question whether a strong, healthy, vigorous full-term baby is likely to be adversely affected by having a quilt tucked over it.

Nonetheless, that is the recommendation that responsible parents follow. So as a responsible grandmother, you know that the baby will not have as intimate a relationship with this love-invested quilt as you might secretly wish; you of course are building a whole universe in your head, where the baby spends hours of its young life looking at all the shapes and colors, and bonding with the quilt, unable, perhaps, to even fall asleep without its warm & comforting presence, accustomed to feeling the love that seeps out of its fabric...and then, someday, unfolding it from wherever it has been lovingly tucked away and bringing it forth for its own first baby, telling that child how special the quilt was "when Mommy was a baby", and .... Well, you know it's not gonna happen like that - if the poor kid isn't allowed the comfort of a handmade quilt in its bed, you'd probably be better off just buying it a good book or something.

But you make the quilt, just as if its every stitch can actually bring all the love and goodwill you bear for the new little one right straight into her being. Quilters make quilts. That's what we do. Even if the quilt spends its life tucked away on a closet shelf, we are compelled to make it as if the child's survival itself depended on it. The making itself brings us pleasure, as it allows us to indulge in many happy hours of dreaming as we work on it. Whether or not it ends up snuggling the dear little baby is almost irrelevant - the process itself helps to make tangible our love, to solidify it in ourselves as we wait for the baby to emerge.

Besides, there are other uses than as bedding for a quilt. Here is little Sylvie, 4 months old, reading on a quilt my mother (Sylvia's great-grandmother!) made for her.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Here's Miss Sylvia at 2 weeks, playing on her quilt.
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Sunday, August 29, 2010

She's Here!

Sylvia Rose Bargar, named for her two maternal great-grandmothers, arrived safely in this world on Monday, Aug. 23, 2010, at 11:34 AM. She is my first grandchild, and the world is now an even more amazing place because she is in it. Sylvia's parents - formerly known as my son Matthew and his wonderful wife Naomi (you can see and read about the wedding chuppah I made for them just last year if you go back to June 2009) - are rising to this new challenge, working beautifully together with the baby to get their newly-configured family up and running; it is a splendid and strangely gratifying thing to see. Not to even mention ridiculously cute!

Isn't she beautiful? Seriously, is she not a most perfect example of perfect perfection? Every cliche in the book rises at a time like this: miracle, blessing, bundle of love, gift from god, joy, grace made whole in this world, and on and on. Strangely, I am free to experience these joyful feelings more at her birth than I was at my own children's births. Perhaps it is because I am not myself walking into the terrifying unknown realms of new parenthood this time around, or because I am not trying to do so while simultaneously recovering from battering labors, a twin pregnancy, C-section deliveries, and facing all the mystifying and almost-always at least temporarily uncomfortable changes in my own body; I have made that scary journey, and come out the other side with all 3 children safely, now healthy, strong, happy, and compassionate adults living their own lives. I was lucky; nobody starved, or was homeless or unclothed or broken, or fell into the frightening pitfalls familiar to all parents. Heck, they even still love their parents (although they've lived most of their lives with their parents in two separate-but-equal households) and each other - a bonus!

But Sylvia Rose is just a golden nugget of pure joy, who sits as happily and as lightly in my soul as a warm ray of sunlight. That she is in this world is pure miracle, and I am free to just enjoy her. I can make things for her and give her clothes and books and anything I am able to give as she grows, and plan fun outings, and dream of a happy future with her, but her survival is not dependent on me. I can make whatever crazy outfits I want to for her, but the pressure of having to be the sole provider of everything she needs isn't there. Her food isn't coming from my breasts. She has a safe car seat (her parents even have a car, unlike me when my children were little!); her parents have cribs and changing tables and bouncy chairs and swings and diapers unlike any yet invented when I was a young mother; she has onesies and footies and hoodies and crazy hats and all kinds of fun stuff both frivolous and vital; when she grows bigger and the Boston weather turns cold, it is not my job (though I will jump in gladly if I am needed) to be sure she has a toasty snowsuit. I have been the mother on whom all these hourly, daily, yearly, needs fell, and I know how much weight the needs can bring and what it can do to a soul. But here I am now, "just" the grandmother, with not only the joy of seeing my child's child but with the lightness of spirit that comes from knowing that Sylvia's parents will do exactly everything that needs to be done. I proved competent when it was my job to be the parent, though it was certainly never easy and the outcome was never assured, and now I know that Matthew & Naomi will do the same.

I know, I know, all the threatening, scary dangers are still there, as they were for my own children, as they are for every soul born into this life; the faces of those dangers may vary, depending on the circumstances of any given child's birth, but there is no shortage of perils to be faced, no matter how privileged or well-loved the child. But Sylvia has arrived, safely and lustily, equipped with a perfectly-functioning set of baby-skills: she is unbelievably cute, she has a perfect suck-swallow reflex (sorry, I was a lactation consultant, so it's the first thing I assessed), she wakes and opens her eyes and acts adorable, she nurses regularly with great gusto and proficiency, she poops just like she's supposed to - in other words, the evolutionary survival skills that make babies acceptable despite their frequent loud needs and utter disruption of the formerly-known world are all working in her favor. She is born into everything she needs: the unquestioning love of a rather large family (the first of the next generation!), highly competent parents who are amazingly financially stable (unlike my own children, who were born to loving but unemployed hippies), a strong network of support with a wide variety of skills & talents (artists, medical personnel, computer wizards, librarians, social workers, many others), in a country where freedom, liberty, and justice are at least theoretically prized values, in a socioeconomic class where most Americans aspire to be...in other words, she's got it all. I think of Paul Simon's lyrics:

Never been lonely, never been lied to,
Never had to scuffle in fear, nothing denied to,
Born at the instant of church bells chiming,
Whole world whispering "Born at the right time"

So there sits little Sylvia, the focus of so much good stuff. And here I sit, with the thought of her warm little weight perfectly resting in me, and I know that it is good. She is equipped to make it - no, to triumph! - in this world, her parents love her and will do whatever they need to to keep her safe and healthy and happy and maybe even wise, and I have nothing more to do than love her. This is joy!

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Terra Cognita - finita!

Finished - unless I decide to re-do the binding; I am trying to pass it off as an "organic" finish for this most organic of pieces, but in my heart I know it's just the worst job ever. This serves to demonstrate the eternal truth of the wisdom that says "never undertake any even moderately dicey sewing job when you are sick and not thinking well". Next time I will just live with my impatience and put the thing aside for a better day! But I like this little piece anyway - it speaks to me of land and earth and growing things, and certainly imperfection is the ultimate in organic growth!
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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Terra Cognita

An exercise in curved strip insertion turned into a strangely familiar landscape. We are such creatures of this earth, I almost think it is impossible to create anything, any image, that is not largely inspired by it.

I have not yet quilted this little piece - this is just the start. Its wintery cousin is currently in the works: snow, peeks of sky, trunks standing stark against the white, two flashes of red that might be cardinals.
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

For my brother John

It's way too easy to forget that the menfolk deserve to be honored with the work of our creative hands and minds; I rarely find myself thinking, as I'm making a quilt or other fabric piece, "Oh, my brother (or father, husband, son, etc.) would love to have a bright, festive, handmade objet d'art , made just for him, by me, with love in every stitch!" I don't think I'm much of a sexist, but I usually think more along the lines of something useful as a gift for the menfolk, with a function beyond mere visual delight or - god forbid! - sentimental value. I guess a part of me places both fabric and sentiment squarely in the realm of women - wrong again, I know...

But here it is, a small art quilt made just for my brother. (A very badly photographed one, in this case - you gotta trust me, this baby is rich and beautiful in the flesh!) The photo transfer in the center is an old B&W shot of me, the big sister on the left, and my little brother John, the dazed-looking little guy in the muddy snowsuit. Probably around 1957 or so. I remember the day this was taken, and I can still feel the weight of responsibility that settled like that navy-and-white houndstooth checked scarf over my head as I was "in charge" of my dopey little brother, probably for all of 5 minutes or so while my mother wrestled the stroller in or out of the front hall. I can still smell the faintly animal must of wet wool snowpants as they dried later, draped over the radiator, and taste the icy slush I sucked from my wet woollen mittens. Remember that chapped red ring you'd get around your wrist, where no matter how well mittened and cuffed you were when your mother wrapped you up & sent you out to play the cold snow would seep in anyway? Clearly, I grew up long before the days of polarfleece, goretex, or moisture-wicking long-johns! Our snow gear was wool, our boots were rubber, our underlayers were cotton, our skin was inevitably cold and wet and chapped, and we didn't care a hoot - we assumed that playing in the snow was fun, and so it was!

I hope John won't be offended by the rather saggy, droopy depiction of him in this photo - it wasn't his fault that his baby-green snowsuit (hand-me-down, of course) was filthy - he was still at the wallowing on the belly stage of life. Hell, I had probably dragged him up & down the patchy front yard on his stomach and told him it was a special treat - I was just that kind of big sister!

I love this picture, because to me it captures something true and touching about our childhood. This little quilt is embellished all over its surface with bright metallic threads, stitching, and beads, but none of that shows up well. Much of the fabric is my own hand-dyed and -printed cloth, which I am trying to learn to actually cut up and use in my work, instead of just hoarding it in ever-more-glorious heaps and piles. I hope that John will like it, because I dearly love him, even though we like to pretend we're all gown up now. (Well, in the reality of my family, we don't actually try too hard to be grown-ups - and we're all the happier for it.) I will give it to him this weekend, when "all of us" - me, my sister, and brother, and my parents - will gather to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday. Which is a whole 'nother blog posting, one I will no doubt be too lazy to write.
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