“I Decide.” My “Calendar Cat” Quilt Gets A New Name

The title, my signature, and the date of my quilt.

I knew we’d have to quit when it got dark.  I joked that I was glad it was the fall, if it were summer I’d be picking up old roofing shingles and throwing them in the dumpster till 9 pm.

I was 22 and newly married.  My husband and I were fixing up the big Victorian house we lived in. It was split into four apartments and we moved from one to another renovating them, as well as working on the outside of the house. It was how we spent all our free time.

I joked a lot back then.  It was the only way I knew how to be heard without getting angry, without getting into an argument.  Something I did anything to avoid.

I wondered what it would be like to go to a barbeque on the weekend as my friends did.  What it would be like not to feel the pressure of having to scrape paint off the molding in the dining room before going to my full-time job from 3-11 pm.

Back then, I didn’t know I could have told my husband that I didn’t want to work on the house all the time.  I didn’t know that I could decide how I would spend my time.  And as the years went by, and I finally spoke up for myself, it no longer mattered.  The die had been cast.

My husband and I knew the script too well and we didn’t deviate from it.

21 years later after getting separated from my husband, I was standing in my studio at Old Bedlam Farm and felt a flutter of my heart, a swelling of excitement in my chest.  It was as if I’d been emptied out, like there was space between my bones and my skin, waiting to be filled with possibility.

And I had the realization that now I would be the one deciding how I would spend my days.

I got to choose how I would make the money I needed to survive, where I would live, and how I would spend my free time. I got to decide when to get up in the morning, when to eat lunch, and when to stop working.

I felt, for the first time in my life, the responsibility for making my own decisions.  Something I’d been terrified to do up till that point.  Actually, I was still terrified but also exhilarated.   And I found that taking responsibility for myself made me less afraid than I’d ever been, to make decisions both big and small.

I was finally free.  Free to make the decisions and choices that would determine my life. Free to make good choices and bad. Free to screw up and try again.  Free to take full responsibility for how I chose to live my life.

And now I make those decisions everyday.

Dedicating myself to my art and starting my business was my first good decision, as scary as it was  at the time.   Marrying Jon, who knows me and supports me was my second.

When I’m in my studio making a quilt or potholders, I get to choose which piece of fabric goes where.  I’m not following someone else’s rules or looking to anyone else for legitimacy. I get to decide if my art is good or not.

If work needs to be done around the farm, if it’s something I can do and get satisfaction and enjoyment out of, I’ll do it myself.  Otherwise, we hire someone else to do it. And if I stay up till 9 pm blogging or working on a fabric painting, it’s because I want to do it.

So on this day, when it’s been leaked that the Supreme Court is most likely going to overturn Roe v. Wade, it felt appropriate that I would be finishing up what I have been calling my Calendar Cat quilt.

A quilt that speaks to the expectations and restrictions put on women throughout time.  But also, of women fighting back.  That part is evident in the image of the mason jar that I drew to go alongside the hand-embroidered cats doing their “women’s work”.

The mason jar is not only used for canning but is part of a device called the Del-Em, which women can make themselves and use to perform safe early-term abortions.

For me, the mason jar has become a symbol of a woman being able to make the decisions in her life that are best for her without the interference of any other person or institution.

This is why I’ve changed the name of my quilt from Calendar Cat to I Decide.  Because that’s what it’s really about. Those big decisions and those everyday decisions and women breaking free of the constructs of society to be able to live their own lives.

I Decide
One of the three mason jars I drew using my sewing
The vintage hand embroiled cat doing the Tuesday ironing
The back of I Decide.  I Decide is sold.


Backing and Tacking My “Calendar Cat” Quilt

After a morning of mailing out potholders and catching up on my emails, I got into my studio to work on my Calendar Cat quilt.

I didn’t stop to take pictures during the process, after getting delayed on Friday with the fences, I wanted to get a much done as possible this afternoon.

I’m halfway through the tacking, and should have it all done by tomorrow. I have some ideas about what I might be working on next. But I’m much too superstitious to write about them.

The back of the quilt when I first started tacking it.   I’m tying it with pink and teal yarn.

Almost Done Designing My Cat Calendar Quilt

I worked on my Cat Calendar quilt today and almost finished designing it.

After I added the blue patchwork onto the bottom of the quilt, I decided the top piece I had sewn on didn’t work as well anymore.

So I turned it upside down and trimmed the strip of blue print fabric.

Then I added the plaid onto the sides, extending the top piece of old quilt top and the blue patchwork on the bottom.

The last thing I’ll do is put an edge of blue and red around the whole quilt. I began laying it out this evening.  I’ll finish it tomorrow.

My Cat Calendar Quilt is sold.


My “Cat Calendar” Quilt Continued…

Sharon’s fabric drying on the line

I kept looking at my Cat Calendar quilt, then to my stash of fabric to see what it needed next.  But I couldn’t find it.  Nothing I tried was right.

Just in time,  Jon texted me and asked me to read the piece he had just written.  It was the break I needed.

Not only did I get a good laugh from Jon’s blog post, but on the way back to my studio I saw the boxes of fabric that Sharon sent me.  I was planning on washing them but hadn’t gotten to it yet.

It’s happened before that just the fabric I needed was sitting in a box that hadn’t made it to my studio yet.

I went through the fabric and pulled out some pieces that I thought might work.  When I brought them back to my studio, it had happened.  That solid piece of red was just what my quilt needed next.

So I threw the fabric in the wash and headed into the woods with Fate and Zinnia.

I don’t usually take a walk on Bellydancing days, but as soon as I crossed the Gulley Bridge (which was covered in a few of inches water) I saw how I would use the red fabric and a long piece of an old quilt top that I had in my stash.

I hung out the fabric just before I started writing this.  It’s a sunny and windy day, perfect for drying clothes.  As soon as I finished writing this  I’ll get the red fabric off the line and iron it dry.

Then I’ll see if the idea I got in the woods will work.

My “Cat Calendar” Quilt And The Mason Jars

Cat Calendar quilt

As I was working on my Cat Calender quilt, I kept thinking this can’t just be about cute cats. And they are cute, but they’re also doing all that traditional “women’s work” broken down into certain chores on certain days.  It made me wonder who made up these rules about when to do what.

I also thought that the cats, except for the Saturday one eating her breakfast in her pajamas, didn’t look like they were very happy.

Being a woman who was expected to become a secretary until she got married and had kids, I might be projecting my own discomfort on these cats.  The idea of having a preordained schedule for how a woman is expected to spend her days, makes me squirm.

I was hoping to at least slip a little irony into the quilt, maybe by my choice of fabric that surrounded the cats.  But it wasn’t happening.   So I put the cats aside not sure what to do next.

Then I read an article in the Atlantic called The Abortion Underground,  by Jessica Bruder.  In it, she writes about the Del-Em.  It’s a medical device perfected by Ellie Rothman in 1971 before abortions were legal.  Women could make it at home using plastic tubing, a syringe, a rubber stopper, and a mason jar.

It’s safe and even less invasive than how most early-term abortions are being done in medical facilities today.  Rothman went around the country teaching midwives, and any woman who wanted to learn, how to make and use the device.

I found the article fascinating and empowering. This was only one part of the “underground”, but suddenly, the mason jar took on new meaning.

I’m missing Wednesday and Thursday on my Cat Calendar.  But on one of those days, those cats must have been cooking and canning.  Suddenly, in my mind,  the mason jar became a symbol of a woman not only being able to feed her family but being able to make the decisions in her life that were best for herself.

The idea of combining the mason jars with the Cat Calendar quilt made my heart beat faster.  It’s a good idea and just what the “cute” cats need to be more than just an old way of thinking about women and their place in society.

So, using my sewing machine,  I drew three mason jars on the extra linen that I had cut away from the cat embroideries.  Then I pieced them into my quilt.

I did hesitate about bringing the abortion issue into my work and onto my blog. I try not to be divisive.  But I’m also not going to censure my voice or my art.

One of the three mason jars in my quilt

Kitty Calendar

Kitty Days Of The Week

Jonne sent me these embroidered Kitty Days of the Week.  They’ve been sitting in a box in my studio for a while. I also have some embroideries with women doing similar chores on the same days of the week that Bev sent me.

I remember my friend Mary Kellogg talking about doing laundry on Mondays. I think she even wrote a poem about it.  (I’ll have to find it.)  But except for my Amish neighbors, these house cleaning rituals seem to have vanished (thankfully) with modern conveniences.

I pulled out all the Days of the Week embroideries I have and had a good look at them,  wondering how to use them and if they all belonged together or would be used for different pieces.

I settled on working with the cats or at least starting there.

It was a challenge because there’s so much white space and I didn’t want the pieces to look boxed in.  So I sat down with my Gee’s Bend book for inspiration.  When I saw a quilt that had lots of white fabric and each piece bled into another piece of fabric with a lot of white, I knew that was what I wanted to do.

The flowered table cloth had all the right colors and a good amount of white between them.  When I laid it next to Tuesday’s kitty, I saw that “ironing board shape” and filled the diagonals in with the fabric that is a pattern for Amish dolls.

I saw shapes around the rest of that cat that seemed to work with the images too.  Most of the kitties don’t look too happy with the work they’re doing, or maybe I’m projecting that on them. Except for the Saturday cat, who I distinctly saw with an arch around her.

I’ve never sewn a curve like that before and I considered not doing it.  But nothing else I pictured would do.  So I watched a video on YouTube on how to sew a circle.  It was helpful, and as you can see it worked.

Those little cats, working so hard,  taught me something new.

There were five cats in all.  This is where I’ll leave today.  I have to get ready for Bellydancing and have just enough time to post my selfie with Biddy.


Catching The Spring Sun

When I knelt down on the edge of the marsh, at the bottom of the pasture, and saw these blades of grass with their icy collar, I knew I wanted take their picture.

Then, when I moved slightly to left, the sun came shining through them, like one of those massive, ancient stone calendars, their openings aligned with the seasonal sun, that are found all over the world.

The calendar I use hangs on the wall and tells me that tomorrow is the first day of Spring and that there’s a full moon.  I read in the Farmers Almanac that this only happens about three times in a century.

Jon and I are going to celebrate by having a bon fire, just as we did for the Winter Solstice.  (I’m hoping he’ll make hamburgers and we’ll eat them around the fire again).

I started gathering wood this morning.  There’s plenty of branches lying around from the winter winds.  A good clean up and burning of the dead wood.

That works literally as well as symbolically for this renewing day.

Sheep Break Out

Constance slipped past the gate through the five-strand wire fence to get into the back pasture.  You can see Suzy trying to follow her through the fence on the left.

It was not how I planned my morning.  When Jon and I got home last night, we closed the side pasture where the sheep had been grazing while we were away. They ate the grass down so now we’ll let it grow up again.

This morning I gave the sheep hay but they followed me to the back pasture and before I could even open the gate Constance slipped through the five-wire fence.  Suzy started to follow her, but once I had the gate open she decided that was easier.

While the sheep grazed I went back to the barn to muck it out, visiting a bit with the donkeys who were still eating hay.

About ten minutes later I thought about how easily Constance slipped through the fence and went to check on the sheep in the back pasture.  Asher, Issachar and Socks were on top of the hill by the pine tree, but the rest of the sheep were nowhere in sight.

So I walked the fence line and saw that the mesh fencing I’d put up a couple of years ago in front of the five-wire was down.  And there were the rest of the sheep on the other side of the fence on our neighbor’s property enjoying their very green grass.

These are the same neighbors who freed Kim when she got stuck in the fencing a few weeks ago, so I knew they’d understand if they looked out their window and saw the sheep grazing.

I looked down at Fate who was looking up at me eagerly and thought about Red.  Without a dog who could get the sheep back, it was up to me.

So I stepped over the fence onto my neighbor’s property and called to the sheep.  To my surprise, they came running.

They followed me to the fence, but once I went over it again, they turned back to that green grass.That’s when I knew I needed grain.

I called Jon who was in the house and told him that the sheep were out.  He was getting dressed and said he was on his way out.

I went back to the barn and filled a bucket with grain.  I shook the bucket and called “here sheep, here sheep” as I walked back towards them.  Once I got to the fence in the back, still shaking the bucket, the sheep came running.

Again they all stopped at the fence, looking at me, but not coming any further.

So I backed up, and when I did, I  got my feet tangled in the mesh fencing that was laying on the ground.  But by the time I got my boots untangled,   Biddy and Kim had come through the fence and were sticking their heads in the bucket of grain.

Now there were five of the eleven sheep on our side of the fence.

I knew the sheep on our neighbor’s property weren’t going anywhere.  There was too much good grass.  So I shook that bucket of grain, and the five sheep followed me back to the barnyard.

As soon as I got the five sheep into the barnyard and closed the gate,  they started calling to the sheep who were not there with them.

Then, the six runaway sheep started calling back.

Sheep are smart enough to know there is safety in numbers.  They don’t like to be separated.  As long as they can see each other, even if there is a fence in between them, they feel safe.  But that had changed for the six sheep who were now on unfamiliar ground and separated from the rest of the flock.

Within minutes, I heard, then saw the rest of the sheep come running.  I opened the gate just enough to let them through.

That was when Jon showed up.  He kept an eye on the sheep while I went to the barn and brought back some temporary fencing and baling string to shore up the fence that Constance originally got through.

So instead of spending the day, putting up pictures from our trip and working on my Calendar Cat Quilt, I’ll be spending it putting up some new fencing.

I also have potholders to put up for sale in my Etsy Shop, but that will have to wait too.

This is the only time of year the sheep show any interest in breaking out of the pastures.

This afternoon I’ll open the north pasture for the sheep to graze for a couple of hours.  From now on we’ll be doing rotational grazing.  The sheep will graze a couple of hours twice a day in each pasture.

Since the sheep have tasted the spring grass, they’re not interested in hay anymore.

But they do have nice round bellies from five days of continuous grazing while we were away. So it’s not that they don’t have enough to eat,  they just want more.

And I can’t blame them.  I had my share of lobster when we were away and if it was as easy as slipping through a fence to get some more, I’d be doing it too.

Making Collage Animal People At The Mansion

It must have been six months ago that I got the catalog from The J.Peterman Company in the mail.

As soon as I looked at the drawing of the dress on the cover I knew what I wanted to do. The dress looked like something from the 1950s and was drawn to look as if someone was wearing it, even though there was no person.

Kind of like Claude Rains in the movie The Invisible Man.

From the moment I looked at the dress, I imagined it with an animal’s head and boots.  This is why it took me so long to do this project at The Mansion.  I had to collect photographs of animal heads. Then I had to get arms and hands and shoes.

I was able to get heads and hands from the catalogs, magazines, and calendars we were sent in the mail.  But shoes were a problem.

So I decided we’d make our own.

I cut templates of shoes and boots out of boxboard that could easily be traced around and cut out of pretty paper.  Then it was just a matter of the people who came to the class of making choices, making shoes, gluing them all down on paper, and adding any kind of background they wanted.

June and her Giraffewoman

June was the first to glue a giraffe head onto her dress.  She started laughing when she did.  That got us all laughing.

Lucy’s Humming Birdwoman

Lucy color-coordinated her hummingbird with her dress and shoes.  Then she added some purple raindrops

Art and his very cool Wolfman

Art was the only man in the class.  I thought he might show up, so I made sure to have some men’s clothing.  Art cut his boots out of paper with a photo of a mountain. Then he took the paper that was left over, (which strangely was the perfect shape) and used it as a background behind his Wolfman.

Ellen’s Birdwoman

Ellen had her elegant Birdwoman walking through a field of purple flowers.

Claudia wth her Koala bear woman

When Claudia saw the dresses I had cut out she said they were like paper dolls.  I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.  I’m sure that was part of the appeal for me.  Today I found out that Claudia and I share a love of paper dolls.

Jane drawing on her collage

Jane had her own take on the project.  She loves to paint and draw, so she glued down some of the pieces from the magazines but spent most of her time drawing around them. Jane has a whole vocabulary of marks and lines that she works with in her drawings and paintings.

Although they often look abstract, she can explain them the same way someone might explain the meaning of their poem.

This was one of the funniest projects I’ve ever done at The Mansion.  We all got a kick out of seeing the animal heads on the clothes and matching them with the oversized shoes and odd hands.

I think the immediacy and playfulness had a lot to do with why it worked so well.  I want to keep that in mind for when I go back to the Mansion to make more art next month.

I Found Some More Green Bird Fabric

The green birds were on the bottom of pile of fabric that Nancy sent to me.  I still haven’t sorted it all out yet, but the birds jumped out at me today when I was considering making some potholders.  I made four potholders using the same fabric last week and they all sold to one person.

So now here are a few more for anyone else who might want them.

The Ball Jar was from my quilt “I Decide“.  I didn’t end up using it in the quilt and found it too in another pile of fabric.  I decided it would make a fine potholder.

Full Moon Fiber Art