Jeepers Peepers

Peeper in full peep, courtesy of National Geographic
Peeper in full peep, courtesy of National Geographic

To quote the erstwhile Pooh, today is a great big blustery day! Cold, chill, the type of wind that just makes you feel like you could spread your wings and be lifted aloft.

But last night, on my 56-step commute from my house to my studio, it was still warmish (for April) and calm.
And I heard the true, sure sign that spring is here—peepers.

We have a lot of wonderful wildlife that shares our riverside abode and a little later in the season, we’ll be nearly deafened (in a nice way) by singing toads.

But peepers, they’re kinda the new amphibian on the block around here.

Though I can’t prove it, I believe these little mites are immigrants who washed up on our stretch of the river after Hurricane Irene. They share a love of the same environment as the toads—shallow, protected waters with ample plant life and mud for wallowing so it’s not surprising that they hung out after that storm.

I’m so glad.

When I was a little girl, there was a swampy area behind our house, bordered by a small field and the railroad tracks. During the spring, we fell asleep to the music of peepers, a sound I grew to love as a child.

So when I stepped outside my door and heard that choir, I stopped to breathe in the earthy aroma of the land in a sprinkling rain and listen until I was ten again.

Walking Through Woods on a Sunny Morning

This time of year, we are reminded how much we depend on the bounty of trees for the beauty of Vermont.

Everywhere we walk in the woods, careful to avoid the places that are still wet, last year’s leaves cover the ground. Curled and brittle, our shoes help compost them, making them part of the soil that nurtures the plants we’ll enjoy from now to when the leaves come back down again.

Coltsfoot flower
Coltsfoot flower

The tiny, sunshine faces of coltsfoot are among the very first plants to appear on the forest floor. At this time of year, they don’t bear any chlorophyll producing leaves, preferring (for their own ancient reasons) to turn their blossoms to the sun, now unblocked by a canopy.

Daffodil pushing up
Daffodil bud bidding for attention from the sun

The same holds true for our gardens as the snowdrops then the iris reticulata and now the daffodils jockey for their share of the growing warmth before the larger plants take over.

We’ve all been remarking how strange a spring it’s been so far, especially after such a deep, frigid, everlasting winter. We didn’t have anything even close to an ice out on the river. We had a melt instead.

The dirt road reports indicate that the tire-sucking mud we usually get did not transpire.

Though the frost heaves have been remarkable.

Our protests to the contrary, we humans don’t care for change that much, at least not sudden change. But suddenly, “our weather” seems less like our own than usual.

Which makes the coltsfoot and daffodils just that much more welcome.

Getting the Most Out of the Tiniest Scraps

Coasters made from crazy quilt squares
Coasters made from crazy quilt squares

I think that every quilter, after a while, grows to love one part or one type of quilting more than others.
For me, it’s become scrap quilting.

For the uninitiated, scrap quilting is not limited to using existing scrap. You can certainly do that but it is not the only way to scrap quilt.

The term can also refer to any quilt that’s made from a large number of fabrics. There are some patterns that just lend themselves to mixing a bunch of everything in one color way or one shade from light to bright or dark.

The result is always interesting to look at because you never know what seemingly strange combination of fabrics surprises you with their contrast or blend.

Then there are crazy quilt squares.

I maintain a hierarchy of scraps according to size. I keep strips that are two or two-and-a-half inches wide in one location. Scraps that are largish in another location. And odd-sized, smaller scraps in another location.

I use the latter to flip-and-sew crazy quilt squares from time to time.

These squares pile up (I only make them one at a time because doing a lot of them would be, to me, tedious) and have used them in all sorts of small projects.

Like these coasters that I made for my son’s fiancee, Jessica.

It was her birthday on Monday, and she’s long admired a set of these coasters (the prototypes) that I made for myself.

So now she has six of her own.

I cut the backings for these two-and-a-half inches bigger than I need, quilt them in a spiral with some batting, and then bring the backing up to the front for the binding.

Once the crazy quilt squares are made, they go quick. And the coasters absorb spills or the dewy stuff that gathers on a cold drink on a hot day. You can fling them in the washer and dryer without constraint.

And no two are ever alike. Which is part of the fun of scrap quilting.

Can I See a Show of Hands?

Denise finishes a quilt top
Denise finishes a quilt top

I heard a lot of stories during our Piecing for Parkinson’s day last Saturday.

Maureen, who I wrote about on Monday, brought two friends to sew with her in honor of Maureen’s mother who died of a rare form of Parkinson’s last year. This is her friend Denise who’s holding up one of the two quilt tops she finished that day.

The next photo is of Frances who drove from Sunapee to sew in honor of her husband who also died of Parkinson’s disease last year.

Frances finishes a quilt top
Frances finishes a quilt top

But the story I want to tell you today is about a couple named Nancy and David.

I met them three years ago at the kickoff event for the Parkinson’s Comfort Project when I spoke at a conference sponsored by the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

David learns to cut fabric
David learns to cut fabric

Nancy has Parkinson’s disease. Before she did, she was a quilter, a quilter who loved hand work. She brought me a small book of photographs of her quilts that day. They were beautiful.

When Nancy heard about our Piecing for Parkinson’s event, she had to be part of it. When the couple first arrived at Quail Hollow where we were sewing, she pushed her walker slowly around the room to soak in all the fabric and motion and color.

Then she sat down near met Her husband placed a large piece of floral fabric in her lap that had been donated to us earlier in the day, and she spent 20 minutes just stroking it over and over.

David was ready to pitch in. He doesn’t sew but he doesn’t know how to cut so I set him up with a mat, rotary cutter and ruler.

After a while, Nancy said she’d like to do some hand sewing. I’d been binding a donated quilt off and on all day so I asked if she would like to take it over. She did so I threaded a needle for her, and tied a knot. Then I draped the quilt over her lap, gave her the needle, and she smiled.

The relationship between those two people was a marvel to witness. David is quietly attentive, making sure Nancy has what she needs without hovering over her or making decisions for her. But you can see him silently grieving for the losses that his beloved wife has sustained.

Nancy stayed until we were nearly done cleaning up. She stitched maybe ten inches of the binding, and I could tell what a struggle it was. But she was so content.

Watching her, I was forcefully reminded that I am fortunate to have hands that work, that can pat my dog, caress my husband’s face, make quilts or soup or bread or plant a garden or write a book.

The next day, David emailed me to thank me for welcoming Nancy. I asked if we could give her a quilt. Since she was a quilter herself, she may not want one of ours.

But he told me that she gave away the quilts she made so yes, she would treasure a quilt from us.

So we’re off to make a quilt for Nancy.

And that’s why we do this.

Dear Jane

Jane reading a pattern
Jane reading a pattern
Jane sewing at Piecing for Parkinson's
Jane sewing at Piecing for Parkinson’s

PfP-Jane finished a quilt top for web
In the quilting universe, there’s a Civil War era quilt that’s renowned for its amazing beauty and complexity. It hangs once a year at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont and it was made by a woman named Jane Stickle. Among quilters, it’s referred to as the “Dear Jane” quilt.

Well, in my quilt guild (Northern Lights in Lebanon, NH), we have a couple of Dear Janes, one of them being Jane Buskey who came bearing her sewing machine and a pattern to our first Piecing with Parkinson’s day.

We had fabric to start the day and then a woman showed up with four bags more so we had PLENTY of colors and patterns to choose from. So Jane got to town on this oversized chevron quilt.

From top to bottom, you can see Jane at the beginning of the day familiarizing herself with the pattern then sewing at her machine (we were all loving that great sewing table she found online), and then sharing her finished quilt top.

Love that pattern! And loved having Jane be a part of our special day.

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.