Sunday, July 10, 2016

Quilting After Brain Injury

My brain injury had a very strange side effect. I could not stop making things. I became an artist because I couldn't follow directions anymore. Because I was left with language processing problems, sequencing and memory deficits, impulsivity, and poor organizational abilities, using a pattern was virtually impossible.

My process is haphazard. For art, this seems to work well. I spend a lot of time looking at pretty pictures and fabrics. I use my iPhone to take tons of photos of stuff I see that looks cool. I play with my materials creating odd textures or just cutting fabric and sewing it together.

For years I have been promising my daughter I would make her a quilt from her old t-shirts. I think she gave up hope a long time ago. She told me once that she didn't think there really was a t-shirt quilt, that it was just something I said to get her t-shirts and throw them in the trash. It's like that farm where parents say that pets go to because they don't want the kids to know the dog died, she said.

Well, it was not a lie. I saved them and for her 30th birthday (What!) I made a quilt. But it was REALLY hard. During the whole sewing process, I realized that despite all my deficits, I still have one of the best qualities anyone can have. IMHO. Perseverance! Stick-to-it-iveness! Stubborn determination!

I am writing this before I even finish the quilt because I want to remember what I did. I want to remember not what I did right, but what I did wrong. I want to record my problem solving method.

So here's how I did it"
  • spent a lot of time researching how to make a t-shirt quilt
  • quickly rejected the idea of trying to cut rectangles and match seams 
  • eventually rejected all methods I could find because they involved measuring, writing, and planning
  • decided to wing it
  • chose batting (fleece) with iron-on adhesive on one side so I could iron the pieces as I went along
  • arranged the cut up t-shirt pieces on wrong side of the fleece so I had to pin down all the pieces
  • picked the whole thing and carried it to the sewing machine
  • tried to sew pinned pieces to fleece 
  • stopped after one row of stitching because the pieces were curling up and shifting around
  • moved to the couch and tacked down all pieces by hand with long strands of thread
  • noticed there were places where the pieces did not meet
  • took out all the pins and machine sewed all the pieces down despite gaps
  • hand sewed patches over the gaps
  • pinned the backing onto the quilt with safety pins (because I forgot AGAIN that there was iron-on adhesive)
  • watched a video about free motion stippling a quilt
  • started free motion quilting from one side of the quilt to the other in rows because that was what the video recommended
  • did one row that way and then forgot what I was doing
  • remembered rule about quilting from the center so I did that
  • alternated between the two methods in a chaotic fashion
  • sewed with the t-shirt side down so I could see the stitches but broke a needle when it hit a rhinestone
  • moved all the safety pins to the top side so I could see any rhinestones
  • started quilting with the top up but could not tell where I had already quilted since the stitch I used to sew down the patches looks very similar to the quilting
  • remembered that there was iron on adhesive on the fleece so I didn't need pins
  • realized how many times I needed to switch gears
  • marveled at the resiliency I've developed and decided to blog about the process
  • ironed on the back and continued to quilt
I'm back to finish this post. I couldn't publish until after my daughter's birthday. I finished the whole quilt in a week and on July 2nd she was surprised and happy to see her favorite shirts from 10-20 years ago.
This is a terrible photo. The quilt looks very cool in person.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Grieving again

I'm in mourning again. Unlike being forced to leave my job which was a personal, this loss was not personal.

Over the last two years, I developed a routine. I traveled by subway three times a week to a bright sunny studio to work side by side with other artists. Continued participation was contingent upon my prescience at one session a week but I went to all three as often as I could. It felt like I had a job. It gave me purpose. But is was work that I could do. I could make whatever I wanted and leave whenever I wanted. Cleaning up on time was always a struggle but I got through it. Social interactions were minimal and I often wore headphones to drown out noises that grated on my nerves. It was the ideal environment for my specific disability. I don't want  to describe (although I know I have throughout this blog) the difficulties I encounter interacting with other people.

I admit that at first I clashed with the director. He threatened to kick me out more than once but I grew to respect and appreciate him. I wasn't friendly with everyone there but little by little I got to know them. I learned people's names and we said hello to each other. There were a few of people there I loved being with and we laughed a lot. I am not good at having friends and I'm okay with that now so our relationship was limited to the time we had there. The consistency of traveling to a place and creating next to other artists fulfilled so many of my needs. I think everyone needs to feel accepted, included, and valued.

Last month HAI closed abruptly. We had one day's notice and a window of a couple of hours to go in and collect our supplies and artwork. There was no time to say goodbye or ask questions about what was going on. It was devastating. New York Times Article

Yesterday we a had a "reunion" of sorts. Our leader said it was a living art piece. We got together at a small gallery studio space in Brooklyn. (A terrifyingly unfamiliar and journey by subway and foot). We sketched and then we talked and then we sketched some more. I cried, really cried for the first time since the closure. I hadn't realized how much it hurt. I expressed what I haven't been able to tell my husband or daughter or even my therapist what it means not to have HAI in my life. We will meet again but it will probably never be the same. I am sad.

(Just an aside, I don't "need" to talk about it nor do I want consoling words to cheer me up. The cure for what ails me since my brain injury is mostly to be left alone. This doesn't include my daughter who is my love and my life.)