Tag Archives: grief

The Clip Files, Intro

The support and love that readers offered here moved me profoundly. Thank you! I’d considered turning comments off for the announcement that my sister had died and I’m glad I didn’t know how! Locally, friends have stepped up with legion acts of generosity. Flowers. Dinners. Errands. Packing up the apartment. Prayers. The word that I hear in my head this week to describe friendships is: MIGHTY.

My sister had many compulsions, all of which added up to a disordered life and her premature death at 64. She’d been incapacitated physically for most of the last ten years and morbidly obese for nearly the entirety of her adult life.

Her need was bottomless, her rage explosive, the triggers countless. There were many times over the last nine years when I didn’t think I would survive her. But I offered up a battered loyalty.

Relating to my sister was so crushingly difficult that the demands placed by her remaining mess feel very nearly trivial.

Her clip file, however, poses special problems. For one thing it’s huge — the equivalent of ten banker’s boxes? Fifteen? It’s hard to tell yet, because I keep finding more.

The collection was housed in boxes that lined the walls and spilled into her teensy living spaces. Also in cardboard lids, recycled Kleenex containers, drawers and scattered on table tops. Bills and medical statements mixed in. Foil packs of albuterol buried. While fetching her things (coffee, lunch, address book), I constantly tripped over some box or other. Consolidation, not allowed. I felt a constant, smoldering resentment of all her fucking paper.

So here’s one of many contradictions: how could a visual person, a former artist of some promise, someone still interested in images of nature, interior design, archeology, ancient religious iconography, ALSO be a person who let her living space look like a literal dump?

(For the first three or four years in Salem apartment Number One, at the outset of every visit, my sister would make the same cheery-but-shame-filled queries: “Doesn’t it look better? Can you tell I’ve made progress?”

Me: nearly speechless with disbelief, sputtering some lame agreement).

So you’d think I’d be standing at the recycling bin, chucking it all with a flourish. A big exhalation of relief. Garbage at last! But here’s the second contradiction: I’m not.

The above assemblage represents just a third of the images she pulled while at the nursing home. She couldn’t sit up. Had no scissors. Knew she was dying. But she kept at it.

As for myself, being a collage artist who also sometimes uses images as writing prompts, I view these papers as a treasure trove.

My sister’s legacy.

The second they assume an ugly weight, which might be tomorrow, I’ll recycle.

But not yet.

Nitty gritty for Hearts for Charleston Quilt


NBC News

Does thinking about the nitty gritty offer relief in the face of the unthinkable? Perhaps.

This link provides short bios of the victims: NBC News.

nbc news

Nine victims of the Charleston church shooting. Top row: Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton Middle row: Daniel Simmons, Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders Bottom row: Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson          Via Facebook and Getty Images


African Christ – work in progress

I am rethinking the stitching of names onto the squares. Hold off on that for now, please. I think they might look better embroidered on strips that go all around the edge of the assembled nine block, rather than on the hearts or strips themselves. Some of the names are quite long and I don’t want them to get lost.


This weaving method is simple. Some of the genius variations that Jude Hill has created are listed in links toward the end of this post. I encourage you to take a look at just a quick sampling of her work– even those of you who have been following her.  The method here is hers, the tricks are learned from her. The artistry will be all yours and mine — I hope!

Jude teaches two basic approaches. You can lay your strips on top of a backing cloth and weave (which is what I will demonstrate), or you can ‘anchor’ an uncut cloth to a backing with a single row of stitching, then cut that top piece into strips and weave into that.
IMG_9745The finished area should measure 10″. Please leave at least 1/4″ all round, or more, for flexibility at assembly.

I have chosen light and dark blue for a checkerboard affect, because symbolically I think that speaks to the intersection of people of different colors. In a checkerboard, each hue has equal weight. It is harmonious. So, I like that here. You are welcome to go in another direction. IMG_9717

It is easier to start in the middle and work toward each edge in turn.start in middle and work to one edgeLaying a ruler or piece of cardstock on top helps keep things from moving around too much. When you approach the edge, the strips won’t want to stay folded back, so you might want to use a weight. A ruler is good. Here I use scissors.

To turn the square when you are done going in one direction — slide something firm underneath, like a plastic placemat.
IMG_9728Then rotate and repeat process.IMG_9730

IMG_9739Then, pin. I use a lot straight pins, knowing I may get stuck. As Mo pointed out yesterday, it might mean bleeding into the cloth. I can think of no better cloth to offer our blood to. But the point is (no pun intended), you may want to use safety pins. I find them too fussy.

Then, to adhere the layers with thread, it is up to you whether you want to do a LARGE BASTE, an INVISIBLE BASTE* a la Jude, or just dig right in and start stitching — across and down, in matching or contrasting threads. A woven square this large will flop around quite a bit without a lot of basting, so I will do a fair amount.

For both the basting as well as the initial finish stitching, it helps to have a firm work surface — one that a needle can encounter without you worrying. If you have a glass top table, that works. I have been using a laptop lap desk that a friend gave me. It has a hard plastic surface and is the right size. Once the layers are integrated enough, you will be able to lap quilt without these concerns.

The heart can be a color of your choosing. Except for the red, the ones I have shown are a little too big, covering up too much of the weaving. As mentioned earlier, I will use traditional applique (with turned under edge), but you may use raw edge applique.


Any fabric is good. I like, though, that so many of you have indicated that you plan to use indigo. This will unify whatever other fabrics come in, making it easier for me to trust this, the way one trusts a potluck. Just please do me the favor of selecting fabric that a needle will easily stitch (i.e. no batik!! no jean-weight denim.)

DATE: August 31. Email me for my address when it comes time.


So much inspiration from Jude at Spirit Cloth! It would be impossible to overstate how much I value this generous, extraordinarily talented, ever-evolving and yet humble and curious, artist.  Here are just a few samples from her blog: ‘one step further‘, ‘weaving sanity‘, ‘just corners and squares‘ (this post includes a YouTube video), ‘creative growth‘, ‘some old moon‘, and ‘lining things up in December‘.

Here are a few of my weavings created after taking one of her online classes.
tops for sachetsreturning to 'treasure map' idea, this time with star map and red X's marking the spotIMG_5845I’ve archived some of the heart pieces I’ve made or photographed on flickr, here.

People stand outside as parishioners leave the Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Sunday, June 21, 2015, in Charleston, S.C., four days after a mass shooting at the church claimed the lives of its pastor and eight others. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

People stand outside as parishioners leave the Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Sunday, June 21, 2015, in Charleston, S.C., four days after a mass shooting at the church claimed the lives of its pastor and eight others. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

* Invisible baste is when you grab just a teeny knick of fabric on the top and let most of the thread between stitches run underneath. That way you can leave the stitches in when you are done, even if the thread is contrasting.

Specs done in a hurry

IMG_9738Specs in a hurry — how else can they be done by someone afflicted by (graced with?!!) ADD?!

But seriously, running off to final of 16 dog obedience classes, then I’m making lunch for one of my favorite people whose birthday it is today, then I have to babysit a delivery window (we are finally going to replace the rotting deck rails, and YES, with a rot-proof composite) and then it’s the Newton, Mass. Charleston Vigil at 6:30 at City Hall. So, a more detailed ‘how-to’ post will come tomorrow, not today.

But the quick answer to when and how big is: 10.5 inches square, nine strips across and down, a heart about 4″ across, and August 31 deadline.

Mo, I realized shipping from Australia adds time, so if this feels too tight, l’ll work with that.

I was going to ask for as much indigo as possible for obvious reasons, but people are already volunteering. So there will be a lot of indigo. Whatever else gets mixed in will work, I’m sure. I made my strips 10″ long and used nine each way of unequal length, but you are welcome to use more or less.

My heart is going to be traditional applique (meaning edges stitched under), but rough edge is okay, too. My heart currently might be a little bigger than I want. I’m guessing about four inches across would be good. I want to embroider a word on my square too — this is optional. At first I thought I’d stitch it across the heart, but now I think I’ll stitch it in the woven section.

A few extra squares are welcome!

Jack’s gifts to me — One

atop-graveMany thanks to the kind readers
from all over the world
who took the time to stop here and offer their condolences.

I mean it. The outpouring truly has meant a lot to me, partly because it would no matter what, and partly because this has been an unusually solitary week with K. in China and the boys running in and out (mostly out).


added to “River House” quilt last week

Tending the grave? Wishing for heaven? The passing of my parents did not produce these responses. But Jack’s death has. I suppose this difference is further testament to the kind of love we feel for our pets. I haven’t wanted there to be a heaven since I was in my “pious phase” (that was second grade, during which time I fervently wanted to be a nun — mostly for the rosary beads and gilt-edged missals, I’ll admit — clearly, another story). This week, though, I was cottoning to the idea of eventually reuniting with our dog. Of being the recipient of his ‘help across’. I found myself uttering the cliche farewell, “See you on the other side, sweet Jack!”

There will be a number of posts about the gifts Jack has given me, but I’ll end here with one of the most immediate ones — lying under the catalpa tree this week, with my spine resting on the earth and my face oriented skyward, my heart softened as I watched the late summer sun move through the catalpa branches. Illuminating the undersides of its giant leaves. Glaring across the picket fence. Then disappearing. The acknowledgement that I still reside in this sensual world — this achingly beautiful world — while he does not, made me sad. But the fact that I was pausing to notice such beauty, and was marveling with fewer defenses than usual at how fleeting it all is, were things I could thank Jack for. And I did.

Under the catalpa


Jack last week

Jack died on Monday.  After a month of being pretty chipper with a good appetite, he really declined on Sunday.  He could hardly walk.  We knew it was time. The prednisone prescribed for the lymphoma really gave us another entire month with him.  He came on two trips with us (Wellfleet and the White Mountains) — trips that we would have hired a dog sitter for and left him home, had he been well. Those were wonderful trips, with so much quiet time together.

last-supperOn Monday, after I cooked up about a pound and a half of bacon, I brought him to the vet. Actually, I scheduled a home visit first but when I heard the price ($500), decided we would do the best we could to make one last trip to the vet tolerable. And, they were wonderful. I brought a big bag of bacon – which meant no muzzle was required. He growled and snapped once, but then put his head in my lap and let himself be ministered to.  It went so fast. I think he was gone before the needle was even retracted.  After awhile, we bundled him in his blanket and some pink shot silk that I had brought along and brought him home.  We buried him under the catalpa.


emptyEven though we used this quilt in the car for the ride to the vet, I put it back. It helps me somehow, for it to be there, even though he isn’t.

Jack was born in Puerto Rico and abandoned at the age of two. He was left tied to a fence for a couple of weeks. Someone took pity on him and brought him food now and then until a shelter on the North Shore rescued him and we were lucky enough to find him. He weighed 17 pounds and was a nervous wreck.

jack-17-pounds It took me a while to understand that he was terrified of cameras.  Eventually, I think because I invested in a decent camera and learned to use a manual setting where no flash was required, he got over that.  And, I’m not sure he ever figured out that phones have cameras (I’ve barely figured it out).  But because of that, we have very few pictures of his ‘middle years’ with us.

jack-early-daysHe wouldn’t let anyone touch him for a long while, and then only on the top of the head for a long time after that. Finally, his haunches were allowed.  I loved the fact that he eventually let me rub his belly.  At first, too, he made no sounds at all. For a couple of months, we actually thought he might be mute. But he came along.

april-2006 He was a hefty 32 pounds for most of the last several years. He groaned when my husband gave him the special neck scratch. And he was so devoted to me. Followed me from couch to chair to bathroom and back again. In fact, I didn’t close the downstairs bathroom pocket door all the way, because he wanted to be able to poke his head in. Whenever I left the house, his primary occupation was waiting for my return.

morningThis past Christmas.

is-that-a-cameraAt a time he was still afraid of cameras.


relaxingWe are missing him.