Archive for August, 2009

A few weeks ago I spent the night at my son Pete’s house. This was a first, and it was only the second time I’d been there. The first time was for the crab feast two years ago. (If you look at the last shot of the crab feast and compare it to the photograph below, you’ll see how much thinner I am now.)

In the guest room was a beautiful but badly worn throw pillow. Because my camera was in the shop being repaired, I had only my Flip video to use for showing you the state of the pillow.

As you can see, the stuffing was coming out at the bottom. The blue yarn cording was scuffed and scraggly. The gold metallic plate threads were broken in several places, with bits of gold thread hanging loose. The bugle beads were dull. And the whole pillow was covered with pet hair and dust. I offered to repair it and brought it home with me.

Here is the restored pillow.


I removed the stuffing and the tattered blue cording, and opened up the bottom edge completely. Fortunately, the blue soft cotton yarn I found online is a very good match with the light blue flowers. I got rid of the metallic gold thread of the border, replacing it with DMC gold metallic pearl in chain stitches exactly the same length as the original stitches.

The gold flower centers were unevenly stitched in the same gold I’d removed from the border, so I took them out and replaced them with satin stitches in the DMC metallic pearl. The dull gold bugle beads had been attached with black thread. To give them some glitz and glimmer, I ran a fine Kreinik gold cord through them.


In this close-up detail, you can see the new gold centers in the red flowers and you can see the difference in the light now reflecting from the bugle beads.

Karin’s mother bought the pillow some years ago in Europe. She thinks it came from Romania. It certainly is Eastern European folk art in style. The stitching is well-done satin stitching in soft cotton or wool yarn. Because the surface has been somewhat scuffed, I can’t be sure. The fabric is black wool twill.

It was fun to work on repairing/restoring this pillow, and I’m still enjoying seeing it in my room.

Now here’s a shot of the whole family at Pete’s house that Saturday night I spent there.

Click on it to see it larger at Flickr.

Luke, on the left, is now at Reed College where he matriculates this week. Pete with Noah is on my other side, then Michelle, who’s a junior at SUNY Purchase College, and DIL Karin

Happy time with Pete’s family.

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Though I still don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t stop. Now I’m adding curving lines of feather stitch in spaces between patches—patches of fabric and patches of stitching around wrapped rings and over sequin waste. For these lines I’m using strong values of the dominant hues—red, green, and purple in #8 pearl cotton.

Connecting the patches

See the purple bit hanging from the bottom left? That’s a silk scarf that I plan to use for a border. (See, there is some planning going on.)

This is the wildest, most chaotic needlework I have ever done. Improvised. It very much represents the way my life has been since around April—wild and weird. After 17 years of solitary, sedentary life, I’m bursting with energy and going off in many directions. It’s as though I have ADHD. Whereas I spent the past many years reading, studying, stitching, and meditating, now I can’t sit still, can hardly read for any length of time, and I stitch only for an hour or two, and not every day.

During the 11 years we have lived at Charlestown, I loved everything about it except the food, which I deal with creatively at home. But I had no knowledge of the culture of Charlestown, what the resident population was like. The only Charlestown residents with whom Ernie and I have socialized are Gloria and Esther. Now I’ve tried out some of the many activities and events offered here and I’m meeting people.

Oh my goodness! What a discovery! I feel as though I am living among my parents—the very people against whom I rebelled and from whom I fled in the 1960s. They’re all here! White, suburban, Republican, homogeneous, and mostly women who were homemakers and volunteers, not “career women”, as they were called in the 1950s when I was growing up. I don’t mean everyone, of course. This is simply the general impression I’ve gotten as I’ve come out of my room into the community. It lacks diversity!

In meetings this week, I’ve made some more discoveries: firstly, that I am not alone in my perception of Charlestown’s culture. The Community Resources Manager told me that the population here ranges in age from 60 to over 100—three generations, in effect, living here. Further, she said, newer and younger people moving in are finding it not as hospitable a community as they had expected. Not that people aren’t friendly and helpful; they certainly are. But that their interests and, said Mary, “way of thinking” are so different from the newcomers.

Well, those differences can only be exacerbated as baby-boomers start to move in! There was such an immense cultural shift during the 1960s and 70s that the generational differences are much greater than in earlier eras. These thoughts were reinforced in a meeting I had with our campus television channel staff. They have already observed the disconnect between the dominant culture at Charlestown and that of some new residents. Although we’ve been here for 11 years, I qualify as a newcomer. I’m just getting to know Charlestown. What I’ve realized is that I have to make Charlestown hospitable to me, and for people more like me. Mary said there is a “hunger for it” but that people have not taken the initiative to make changes.

As I adapt to my recovery, struggle with my abundant energy, and work at creating a satisfying and different life for myself, my life feels chaotic: exuberant, full of potential, and joyful but at the same time, unorganized, random, strange, (did I already say “chaotic”?) and therefore, not yet satisfying. It’s messy and it’s vibrant.

Some new things I’m doing:

  • visiting in the Care Center two people with dementia and taking one of them to church on Sundays;
  • praying the liturgy of the hours every Monday with my new Roman Catholic friend, a long-time contemplative Christian who is also interested in Buddhism;
  • organizing Charlestown transportation for season subscribers to Center Stage and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which I hope will lead to the formation of groups that attend together;
  • hosting the leader of a Tibetan Buddhist meditation center for a showing of the video of his pilgrimage to India’s most holy Buddhist sites; and
  • preparing to teach two courses: Fabric of Survival and Playing with Stitches (to be described later).

Of course you know that I swim half a mile every morning, walk several miles a day, and do the shopping. (When I returned from walking to the Giant and back with my groceries, the security guard at the Charlestown entrance told me I should not be down there so late –8:45 p.m., by myself. Who knew that our shopping center was dangerous?)

I feel the way this work looks—vibrant and messy. Unsettled.

Connecting the patches

P.S. It’s now 9:05 p.m. here. I posted this a few hours ago. I’ve just come back after walking for 40 minutes, two miles.

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Since posting about Baltimore album quilts, I’ve been working on preparation for a course I’ll be teaching in the fall. I wouldn’t call it teaching, but that’s how the folks at Elderhostel refer to it. We have our own Elderhostel Lifelong Learning Institute here at Charlestown, and during its first year, over 800 people enrolled in courses that were offered. Most of them were taught by residents and staff.

For the next semester, I volunteered to do a show-and-tell based on the fabric art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz. You can see her extraordinary art here. Following is the course description I wrote for the catalog.

Course Title: Fabric of Survival

Brief Description: When Esther Nisenthal Krinitz was 12 years old, the Germans invaded her small village in Poland. Only she and her younger sister survived the Holocaust and emigrated to America. At age 50, Esther felt the urge to create images of her story of survival for her daughters. Although she lacked drawing skill, she did know how to sew and embroider. Over the next 20-some years, she created 36 large fabric works of art, depicting her experience. I would like to show you photographs of the works with her narrative and tell you about the techniques she used in creating these beautiful works.

I will project the photograph of one of her works, followed by some shots of details. I’ll read her own words, telling the story of each work, and I’ll talk about how she created each one.

Here’s one photograph to whet your appetite. Esther meticulously stitched her words at the bottom of the picture. This is applique and embroidery. Its title is “The Nazis Arrive.”


I have a book written by her daughter with lots more information about Esther to add to my careful study of her work. The CD of photographs I have does not show the photographs in the sequence I want to use. Consequently, it’s taking a lot of time to practice getting the right photograph on the screen when I want it. And writing my script is also time-consuming.

On Saturday I’ll be shown how to use the computer in the classroom to project the images, and then I’ll spend plenty of time practicing with that technology. (Allie, you can relate to this.)

Do go look at Esther’s fabric art. You will be astonished and moved. How could she create such life-affirming, joyful works of art, having survived the horrors of the Holocaust?

Meanwhile, I have been doing restoration work on an old Romanian embroidered pillow cover belonging to my daughter-in-law Karin. More about that when my camera comes back from being repaired.

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