Saturday, March 22, 2008

Snow Bunnies

Yesterday morning, I woke to icy snowflakes pelting the windows. By noon, the snow plow had made two trips down our street. And even though the “Winter Storm Warning” was canceled later that evening, the plows made one final pass, dropping a precautionary load of sand and salt on our icy roads.

The Easter bunny may wish he was a snowshoe hare when he delivers treats to our neck of the woods. Such is Spring in Chicagoland.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

This is my brain!

Do you remember that 1987 anti-drug campaign with the fried egg? You know the one: "This is your brain. This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs." I wondered if I could find a similar metaphor to illustrate how MS affects the body. I did; this little quilt represents me ~ me with MS.

Let’s say those dizzying squares of psychedelic fabric are nerve cells in my brain or spinal cord. Some of them have been damaged by my body’s own immune system. The resulting scars or lesions impede the messages my brain sends to other parts of my body. Sometimes these messages (the black sashing strips) get garbled; sometimes they don’t get through at all. In other words, my brain might want to quilt, or walk, or eat soup with a spoon, but if the message can’t reach the appropriate muscles to perform the task, it ain’t gonna happen!

See those wonky quilt blocks? They represent symptoms I deal with every day: numbness and tingling, poor balance, weakness in the limbs, muscle spasms, fatigue, sensitivity to heat, loss of bladder control. Just as each of these quilt blocks varies a bit from the others, my symptoms vary from day to day. Not only are they unpredictable, they also differ from those of someone else with MS.

Let’s see, how can I tie in that big purple border? I know. Those strips symbolize everyone who supports me: family, friends, doctors, therapists -- all vigilant caregivers who manage my daily needs. Their love surrounds me and frames each challenging day of my life. If you’d like to become a member of my support team, please consider making a donation to the National MS Society HERE.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Feeling Wonky!

This is MS Awareness Week and several of us bloggers/quilters/MSers have joined forces to increase awareness of Multiple Sclerosis. Our goal is to inform and inspire by sharing our stories and our quilts in a fun way.

Block Party
37" x 51"
machine pieced and quilted
© Diane Burdin, 1997

The mid 1990's were a particularly stressful time for me. Since stress aggravates MS, I’m not surprised that it lead to my first serious exacerbation, a curious numbness and tingling in my arm that lasted for months. Over time, other unusual symptoms began to appear: fatigue, dizziness, depression, all of which my doctor attributed to stress. His advice? Slow down. Make a concerted effort to relax. See a therapist!

Meanwhile, some friends had organized a quilt challenge. I joined in, hoping the creative exercise would help me relax. Typical of these design challenges, the theme fabric was a hard to use print,  a wild "op art" pattern that made me dizzy if I looked at it too long. That became the theme of my quilt -- feeling "wonky."

It was the perfect opportunity to try Gwen Marsten's liberated piecing techniques for constructing wonky quilt blocks. I started with houses:

My first attempt wasn't nearly wonky enough.

Now I was getting the hang of it. No right angles here!

I tried a church with stained glass windows and a wonky sun.

Here's our house, with William peeking out the upstairs window.

Once I'd made enough blocks for a little neighborhood, I arranged and rearranged them like pieces of a puzzle. If a block was too small, I added to it. Several house blocks, for example, were enlarged by adding trees. If a block was too big, I simply trimmed it down.

For interest, I scattered bits of theme fabric throughout the quilt and also included other types of blocks -- all "liberated" versions of traditional quilt patterns: log cabin, nine patch, flying geese and stars. 

The thing about making a quilt this way is, you never have more than a general idea of how it will look when finished. Much like Multiple Sclerosis, it's hard to predict the course it will take. When faced with a challenging fabric or a challenging symptom of MS, the strategies for coping are much the same -- add a little something, trim a little something, adapt, change the plan. Chances are, you'll still create something beautiful.

Friday, March 7, 2008


This may be the best opportunity, in what remains of our Midwestern Winter, to post this poem. The forecast for tonight is 3-5 more inches of snow, and for now at least, I'm feeling like this poor desicated little leaf:

Last Leaf

One withered leaf still clings to its barren branch,
Though winter’s wind is harsh and frigid cold
Should free the fragile stem’s tenacious grasp.
What keeps it clutching to a lifeless limb,
When its green and supple beauty is long gone?
Perhaps the memory of its verdant past,
Or fear of the uncertainty to come.

© DJB, 2004

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Folk Hearts

     I had a sentimental moment the other day ~ an inexplicable outbreak of tears while listening to my favorite radio station, WBEZ Chicago Public Radio. Some of you are NPR fans familiar with programs like "This American Life" and "Prairie Home Companion." It would be perfectly understandable for Ira Glass or Garrison Keillor to evoke an emotional response. But I was listening to "Car Talk" ~ a call in show dealing with auto maintenance (I have no interest in cars or maintaining them, but the show is pretty amusing).
     A woman called in, asking for advice on upgrading her van. Hosts Tom and Ray inquired about the size of her family and what features she wanted in a new vehicle. She had a 19 year old daughter who was away at college and a 17 year old son in high school. When the hosts replied that she could get by with a smaller van because her daughter was gone and wouldn't be coming back home and that her son wasn't far behind, I just lost it.
     Hearing my sobs, my husband brought me kleenex and asked what the heck was wrong. I was so choked up that I could barely answer. I kind of gasped that I was having an emotional moment about the boys (he kind of rolled his eyes and made a quick exit).
     For the past couple years, I've been mentally preparing myself for the "empty nest." We've raised our sons to be independent and have encouraged their decisions to pursue their passions, to attend college far from home, to travel abroad, to spend time with girlfriends and their families. We don't want to hold them back. The best thing they can do for us is learn to take care of themselves. It's time. I understand that ~ intellectually. Emotionally, however, I need some convincing.
     Perhaps my health scare has made me more sensitive and needy. Maybe my hormones are out of whack or I need a stronger antidepressant. It's possible that random acts of violence in schools and on college campuses (including a murder at my son's university just this week) have heightened my sense of helplessness and vulnerability. Please, all you empty nesters out there ~ tell me this gets easier!
     This is the last of my heart quilts, made to teach hand applique. It incorporates lots of techniques for preparing the hearts: plastic templates, freezer paper, fusible web, basting around cardstock templates, cutting directly from fabric. It also uses different methods for stitching hearts: needleturn, buttonhole stitch, reverse applique. The quilting is done with perle cotton.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Applique Hearts

There were some really bad looking fabrics in the early 1980's when I made this quilt (or maybe I had really bad taste). Many of my early projects look so dated now. There's no need to check the label for a date ~ those calicoes scream 1980!

Quilted Heart

Quilted Heart
12" x 12"
click photo to enlarge

This is a sample piece, used for classes I taught on hand quilting. Students made a similar piece, while learning the basics of marking a quilt design on fabric, layering and thread basting the quilt "sandwich," using a quilt hoop, wearing a thimble and practicing the quilting stitch.