Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Fire Quilt Finish

It feels very surprising to finish a quilt with an almost 2 week old in the house. And something in me feels cautious sharing it here. Like we're breaking all the rules of chaotic life with a newborn. Like I'd be communicating that we're breezing through and I'm a total pro at this mother-of-three thing.

A few weeks ago, I was telling Tim that I felt like I was living as if I had 2 weeks left to live. That everything would end (and also begin) when the baby came. Life as we knew it, my self as I knew her. But in reality, I'm getting just as much sleep as when I was heavily pregnant, I'm thriving in the cooler Autumn temperatures, and my mum, sensing that I was getting twitchy after my fairly sedentary caesar recovery, has been pushing me back to the sewing machine.
"Sew! I'm only here this week! Make the most of it! Here, let me take the kids for a walk." Isn't she wonderful?

So while she's looked after the washing and the kids, I have spent the last few days feeding, snuggling, and stitching. I'm not sure what I'm going to do next week. But it's been a lovely reminder that life has not ended. It has in fact, continued, and I am still me, still needing to make space for colour and solitude when I can, in order to breathe.

 I've had this quilt-as-you-go quilt top sewn up for a while, made from squares generously sent to me from all over, when I put out the request about a year ago after my friends' house burned down. My friend Jodi and I sewed the squares together in bigger squares of four, basted them to scrap wadding, quilted them, trimmed them and arranged them into this light-to-dark composition. It took forever. But it was a great way to have 2 people make a quilt. And Jodi is a great person to make a quilt with.

 This week I asked another friend to come around and help me baste it, and then I spent the next couple of evenings tying it together with grey wool. I used an Ikea single doona cover, opened out, to back it, and yesterday managed to bind it, wash it and dry it, ready for our first family venture out of the house with a newborn. I figured Tim and Caitlin wouldn't mind us christening it as well as taking photos. A queen size quilt makes a great size picnic blanket!

And isn't it beautiful? Such a vast array of prints, styles, colours. All brought together so wonderfully (if we do say so!). I'm so thankful for a generous international community that is quick to jump in and participate. Thank you. I was truly humbled.

The venture was much more what you'd expect of an outing with a newborn. Fussy baby, excited children, local fish and chip shop closed much earlier than we got there. See? Not winning at everything. But we are having fun, mostly. And the colourful quilt and sunset over the city make up for the rest.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

a quiet welcome

A caesarean is a very clinical, impersonal way to bring a baby into the world. We sat in a surgical waiting room, stripped down and dressed in hospital gowns, lined up in beds waiting for various operations. The man next to me had travelled a long way for his surgery. His wife came and wished me all the best and he was wheeled away. The man across from me had his cancelled due to high blood pressure. I prayed my blood pressure was normal.
Soon, we were moved to the 'little room of needles' just outside the operating theatre. It's my least favourite place, though the staff were so fun and friendly. We joked about middle names. Tim asked questions about needles. I asked him to stop. I sang a song to Tim about a spider and a fly so that I didn't faint while they put the spinal block in. I sang it quietly so that I didn't distract the anaesthetist. And by the time he was done and I was lying back on the bed, my legs were warm and heavy. It's the strangest feeling.

Tim had been checking in with me throughout the day about The Name. We had narrowed it down to two.
"Feelings on the name?"
"Yep, I think I'm settled, you?"
"Yep. Me too."
The conversation went like that every time. It's fun to have little moments like that, fun and intimate and understanding, that make you realise how much you love a person, that give you a side to your relationship you don't see often, maybe just a few times in a lifetime.

I was wheeled into theatre. Vomited. They gave me something for my blood pressure. I started to feel normal again. Well, as normal as you can knowing you're about to undergo surgery awake. I did feel excited. And terrified. I did enjoy the solid knowing, "Today I am going to meet you!" I did remember the awful recovery last time. I was incredibly thankful my mum had offered to take the big kids home with her so I could come home from hospital to a quiet house. And that Tim's mum had spent the week with us cooking and cleaning and letting me rest, letting me finish her quilt. (!)

Our baby was born around 12:30. She came out with a small cry and went back to sleep. And they lay her on the table, wiggling her purple body, giving her oxygen so she would take a deeper breath and expand her lungs. It would have been terrifying if it wasn't for the constant reassurance of the midwife: "This is really normal! She has a very strong heartbeat! She's just gone into shock and we need her to have a big cry!"

Cry Baby!
Her bird-like squawk filled the room and finally she was brought to my chest where I held her awkardly. I couldn't lift her with all the wires attached to me, to see her face, but I was so glad for the hospital policy which allows her to rest on me, skin to skin, after she's born. She lay there quietly and I spoke to her softly.

After miscarrying this time last year, I felt like I'd been pregnant for 15 months. I can't describe how good it felt to have this girl in my arms. And how that relief and thankfulness and affection has grown more as the wires were removed and the morphine wore off.

We named her Finlay Lucy Florence. Finlay meaning 'fair warrior', Lucy after my dear, creative, generous, tenacious friend, and also meaning 'bright'. And Florence? Well that was some colourful decoration just for me. A name I'd loved since reading about Florence Nightingale years ago. Florence means 'flourishing'. Naming a third child is challenging! And in the end I had to let go of all my concerns about style (it's so different to Eve!) and gender (it's traditionally a boy's name!) and just go with our favourite.

After 2 days in hospital, we came home to a beautifully empty house. And in the quiet, I think I just spent 3 days looking at her. And talking to her, singing, nursing, falling asleep on the sofa with her on my chest. I have never taken my babies in like I have taken her in. It has been deeply warm and calm and intimate. And today, when the noise returned, wonderful and homely though it is, I hardly said hello to her. It was all I could do to remember when she last fed. And when she squawked from the bedroom today during the kids' rest time, I thought, 'Oh, that's right, you're here now! And you're awake!"

And all through the day I have reflected, that though a planned date and a cut belly seem so far removed from the design of childbirth, the opposite of intimacy, this time it allowed me to organise what I needed - family who live away to help at the right time - to make it a truly intimate experience.

And her quilt? Finished just in time, 506 hand-stitched voile hexies, backed in Anna Maria's Loulouthi Flannel, and hand-quilted. I'm so glad I did this. It took several times longer than I expected and I would never have pushed through for any other reason. I feel like I have now been initiated into my craft - my first baby since becoming a sewist. My first completely hand-stitched quilt. Our own family heirloom.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Baby Bouncer Cover

Tully and I made a baby bouncer cover! I wasn't really sure if I was going to attack something like this before the baby was born, but yesterday, while cleaning out my room, I had another look at it, realised how simple it would be and asked Tully if he wanted to help me.

Tully chose the fabric, which we just cut with a rotary cutter around the outside of the original. It was so great doing a project with Tully where precision doesn't matter so much!
Then, using thick polyester wadding and a navy and white striped back, he quilted the small sandwhich with Auriful 12wt variegated thread in purple, orange and yellow. It's super thick and fun, a spool I'd had for a while, because I always quilt in safe white. All it takes is sewing with a 5 year old to pull you out of your comfort zone! And this ended up being the perfect choice for this project!

We added a sleeve to the top half at the back and a big tab that attaches with velcro down the bottom and then bound it all with some strips I already had in my stash of scrap strips. (Please excuse the slightly disturbing camera smile Tully insists on these days!) I attached the binding to the back and stitched it on the front. I love the finished look it gives it!.
I haven't decided yet about some kind of seat belt. Maybe I'll just unpick if from the old one and attach it to the new?

Then finally, I let Tully choose a little stitched design to add the the feet of the rocker. It's his favourite thing to do, and always the first thing he asks for whenever we sit down to sew together. They're hard to see, but there's some cats, leaves, boats, cars, maybe a couple of others. Then Evie, who had otherwise stood next to us happily while we sewed, on the condition she got to press the 'scissors button', insisted on having her baby doll in the photo. She happened to be exactly the same size when she was born. Gosh, they grow, don't they?

Monday, 24 February 2014

Hello Petal Layer Cake Quilt

Another quilt on the pre-baby list done! Another one not for us or for baby, but for my oldest friend who turned 30 this month. Slowly but surely I am getting through the list for others (ok, maybe not so slowly, I'm just impatient!) and then I'll spend the last couple of weeks making what I can for the baby. It makes me glad I've been handstitching the hexie quilt for my little one because I'm enjoying working on it each evening.
In my last post, I wrote about taking short cuts to help me get these quilts finished. I bought this Hello Petal Layer cake for my friend's quilt so I could sew it up quickly with minimal cutting and no time choosing colours (even though that's usually my favourite part!) While I was deciding what kind of design to make, I was really drawn to Rachel's Penny Patch quilt and Blue Elephant Stitches' Granny Square Quilt. I love the 2.5" squares in both and I considered for a while adjusting the pattern for either to work with a layer cake. In the end, I just couldn't bare chopping those little girls' heads off and came up with this design to make the most of the mix of basic prints and illustrations.

 I split my pile of 42 squares into three piles:
- Prints I wanted to keep completely intact.
- Prints that could work cut into 4.5" squares, and co-ordinating basics to match each one.
- Prints that would work cut into 2.5" squares and basics to match each one.

First I worked on the pile that would be little postage stamp (2.5" squares) blocks. I cut the first 10" block into 4 x 2.5" strips. Then repeated with the co-ordinating print. This makes two identical blocks.

Sew them together, 4 strips for each block, alternating in print.

Cut these into 2.5" strips across the grain.

Sew them back together like the picture above. Continue this method with the rest of that pile of 10" squares.

Then, onto the pile of prints for 4.5" squares. Cut 2 x 4.5" strips from the 10" block. Then cut 4.5" squares from those strips. Repeat with the co-ordinating print and sew 2 identical blocks together like the picture below.

The final blocks need to be trimmed to 8.5" square.

Once you've sewn/trimmed all your blocks (they should all be 8.5" square), work out your desired layout. I like that this layer cake came with 42 squares, making an easy 6x7 block layout. Sew together in rows, then sew the rows together.

I was so tempted to really heavily quilt this, but kept mysef in check with the limited time I have available, and went for a simple diagonal design.

I backed it with this numbers prints again, even though it didn't go perfectly. 150cm wide is just too easy for a single quilt back, exactly what one looks for making a quilt 35 weeks pregnant!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Cutting Corners

I'm starting to feel that I made my pre-baby make list when I was a little less pregnant. I really had forgotten this feeling of mad nesting, without hardly an ounce of energy to complete any of it! Only 4 weeks today till we finally meet my sweet baby. The hours we spend together in the late hours, when she (or he) wakes up, the moment my body touches my bed, it feels like we already know each other. But I'm still dying to see them. To hold them tight and safe. (And to see if the red hair that runs in Tim's family has finally come through the genes. PLEASE!!)

In the last couple of weeks we've had some sad tragedies (and much hope) with babies in my family, which have pushed me ever more to the sewing machine, but also made me more impatient for the arrival of ours. I've added more to my list, yearning to make for them as the only way I know how to express my prayers and hopes and sadness. But I'm also having to go easy where I can (photos on our washing line instead of at the beach, binding the quilt on our bed before I finished quilting - I'll finish it one day) so that the time before baby is spent meaningfully with the kids, keeping back the chaos rather than inviting more in.

Someone close to me lost their baby at a surprising and heartbreaking 14 weeks pregnant, while on a family holiday. And after having a cry and sending a message, I went to my fabric stash and pulled out these colours. I chose the yellow/mustard for a feature wall in their lounge room, blue for peace and comfort, and then after all was cut, I decided brown (the colour of their sofas) and a hint of purple (maybe for hope?) would bring extra depth and beauty. I hope with the coming Autumn and Winter, that this quilt will bring warmth and comfort.

I cut  6.5" strips of each colour, and the cut those into these 45 degree triangles. (Do they have a name??) Once the top was sewn up randomly, I used my new go-to backing, this 150cm wide numbers print from Ikea. I bought LOTS when I was down there last, and it's making that last part of the quilt finishing go just that bit faster.

Seeing this quilt drying out on the line, before I'd even snipped all the loose threads, made me so glad I dove in. It's one of those rare experiences (for me) that the finished product gives the feeling I was aiming for. And that's such a treat with a simple design and limited time.

So I ordered some Anna Maria Horner linen and velveteen this week to make single cloth cushion (pillow) covers rather than patchwork ones for our new sofas. We bought new sofas rather than made them. I think I'll skip a border on my Modern Medallion quilt for my cousin, and maybe simplify the hand quilting. The hexie quilt for the baby will probably be more cradle size than cot size (and maybe finished after the birth!). And I used a layer cake for a super quick quilt top for my friend who turns 30 this weekend. Cutting corners doesn't always come naturally to me. Things should be made to their full potential or original design! But they will still be beautiful, and more (or just as) importantly, finished. And if it means I have a little time for detours such as this quilt, that makes it worth it.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

First Day

The last two days my Facebook news feed has been full of adorable little uniform - clad five year olds starting school for the first time. It happens every year, but this time has felt particularly poignant because Tully is not one of them. After two years of thinking, talking, reading, weighing up, here we are, officially not sending our five year old to school.
And this post is absolutely not a comment about those other five year olds and their families. They, many of them my close friends, know what's best for their families. But today, especially, with its absence of uniform and lunch box and out-the-door-by-nine, I am particularly peaceful and thankful for our decision.

Tully and Eve wake up and play well together most of the time while I sleep in. It's taken me most of this pregnancy to be ok with not trying to get up before them, but I'm at the uncomfortable stage where I eventually, fitfully fall asleep around 2am. Tully gets them both a little yoghurt and piece of fruit, first breakfast, and then when Tim or I get up, we make a big batch of porridge. I'm so thankful I can get the rest I need.

After breakfast, it's tidy up time. Last year, when I had pre-school and daycare, I wondered how the heck I was going to cope without my child free days. Surprisingly, I'm actually finding it easier without them! Not having 3 or 4 days a week where we have to be out of the house early means we've developed a new routine of tidying the house every day, all of us together. I have never been so underwhelmed by housework. I'm hoping this routine will hold us in good stead when the baby comes in just 7 weeks (!) and I'll be asking them to do some of it without me.

While we tidied, the post lady rode by. The person who lived here before us (nearly 5 years ago) was a travel agent and never changed her address with certain travel magazines.  The kids are convinced these come for them (which works in my favour with all the packages that arrive for us!). Tim and Tully had a flick through over morning tea, chatting about different destinations around the world, while I went to an antenatal appointment. I'm so thankful Tim's PhD has him choosing his own hours. He does usually 'go to work' at the uni, but he can stay at home and be with the kids when I need him, and study in the evenings.

Then, at 11, we started some sit-down work. We read a Beatrix Potter book together on the couch, then some phonics. I wasn't going to use work books for Kindergarten, but Tully felt so left out when everyone was talking about going to big school at the end of last year, that I bought them for him to make it feel official and real. He absolutely loves them, partly because they're right at his level, and partly because I sit down with him.

The post lady's delivery brought up a discussion about where the mail comes from and how the post system works, so after lunch and a rest, we made cards for each other, so we could post them in the red box down the road, and have them arrive back in our letterbox.

My number one goal this year is to nurture a peaceful home. I never thought that could be synonymous with newborn, caesarean, PhD, homeschool. And believe me, the heat and discomfort has me failing often! But today, as we came and went as we needed, as we worked at things that interested us, as we paid no attention to the clock, as we organised our day around our needs, and not those of a big institution, it confirmed what I hoped for as we weighed up this big decision. This is peace for us.