Thursday, September 21, 2023

From this life to the next

Written in May, 2023:

I've flown to Las Vegas 3 times in the last 2 months, all to sit by the bedside of my 92 year old Aunt Sue as she moves closer to death.  The 1st time was a last-minute flight after a fall and a broken hip, when death seemed imminent. When I said goodbye, I cried and she cried and we thought it was our last time together.

The next 2 times,  death was still imminent,  but I've grown to love this time with her.  I enter into a bubble, in the assisted living home.  It's a place where everyone who lives there has lived their lives:  worked in their careers, raised their children, gone through the hustle and bustle and worry and stress of life.  They're now just, well, waiting, for the next chapter.  If they're strong enough, they wheel, or slowly walk, and see their neighbors, or go outside to sit and listen to the birds, or sit for a meal in the dining room.  If they're not, it's a bed and sleep and some tv or some music or just lost in decades of memories of life.  If it's the worst, there are no memories.

I met 91 year old Norma, who is a Cherokee Indian, from Oklahoma.  She told me when she was young she went to the Pow Wow in Albuquerque, in full regalia.  Now, she doesn't see too well, and her daughter visits her when she's not traveling for work.

I met a man who worked in accounting in Boston.  Our visit was brief and I didn't get his name.

I met Ken, who lived across the hall from Aunt Sue, and would check on her as he went down to the dining room for dinner.

And my Aunt Sue, who was an elementary school librarian and a lifelong athlete.  Because of her, I love to read, and have a mean tennis backhand and swim like a fish.  Because of her, I love to travel and see new places.  Because of her, I am lost in a good book.

She had a hard time, the last decade, as her body started to give out.  She rarely rested in her life.  Walk, swim, golf, tennis.  Becoming elderly and full of pain and her body weakening made her afraid, and thus, angry.  It was a hard time for all of us 4 niece and nephews, who were her family.  Hard to love her sometimes.

And then, the fall.  The broken hip. The acceptance.  This is the last chapter.  She's ready to go.  There's no fight left.  And what remains is just peace.  And gratitude.  And lots of sleep.  And an occasional smile or chuckle.  (especially when I took my diary from when I was 9 years old and read it out loud to her)

I take knitting.  I've made 3 washcloths.  Given 2 to her, just because they're bright and a small square to hold, a pop of color.  A quilt may be brought next.  Something small in size and bright in color.

I am her namesake.  One of the stories she told me frequently over the phone in the last few years was that she was the 1st to hold me when I was born.  She helped my mom, her sister, raise us 4 kids.  (I joke that I'm her favorite, but secretly I want that to be true)

She is between 2 worlds now.  She sometimes knows I'm there and sometimes thinks I'm my mom.  She asks me where someone is, and I remind her they've passed away.

And that's alright.  I have the honor of spending time with her while she prepares for the next world, in peace, with memories, with love.  She is dearly loved.  It's important that she knows that.

Update/July 2023:  She passed away June 8, 2023.  My brother was by her side.  I asked him if I could FaceTime when he said it was near.  I cried and told her I loved her and my last words to her were "I'm your namesake.....I'm your namesake."  She passed from this world 20 minutes later.

I made a bag to hold the box that holds her remains.  We will gather in September in Alabama, where she retired and lived for 30 years.  In the deep South, she was known as "Miss Sue".  My siblings and I will spend a weekend together with her remains - celebrate her at a mass, visit the bay, eat at her favorite places and be together there one last time.

The bag is made from fabrics that reflect her time on earth:  playing tennis, golf, books, travel.  It started with the dimensions my brother sent me of the box containing her remains:

I choose some of Reut's hand echo printed fabric for the lining:

Update/September 2023:
And then we 4 all met in Alabama for one last time with Aunt Sue:

At the Fairhope Library

In a rocking chair in her last assisted living home in Fairhope. 
(There were 2 ladies rocking in the other chairs.  One said to me "I knew Miss Sue")

With Bucky, the renowned bartender at the Mobile Bay Grand Hotel, where she worked

At the Sunset Grill in Fairhope, where she was with us all at the center of the table and we bought her a beer and toasted her and shared memories.

And then we packed her in my brother's suitcase, where he took her to Pittsburgh and laid her to rest with her parents at the cemetery where they're buried.  I'll visit that place one day.  And I have the bag, stitched with fabric and thread and lots of love, and a memory of our final goodbye to our dear Aunt Sue.

And we 4 scrappy Kauffman kids will always be thankful for her presence in our lives:

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Binah Waite Williams - The Fabric Journey

Why her?  Why her work/this artist?  I’ve known Binah for about 8 years - seeing her at a mutual friend’s gatherings.  I was both drawn in and intimidated by her.  Drawn in to her rich storytelling voice - it lulls and hooks me.  Beyond the voice, though, are the stories.  Many stories.  What I admire most about her is her curiosity about anything and everything.  She just dives in to learn more about something that intrigues her.

Intimidated?  A bit - her wisdom, her wealth of knowledge.  Her knowledge about Black history.  Intimidated as a white woman - will she look down on me? (no)  Will she think less of me?  (no)

I haven’t lived her life, nor she mine, but what I respect about her is that there are no pre judgments.  No pretentiousness. She is a gifted, inquisitive artist and her art flows from the world around her, both present and past.  Goddesses, rivers, slavery, West Africa, Black history in New Mexico.. - the stories of the history pour out of her through her art and her voice (literally, that voice.  It will draw you in).  I was compelled to bring those stories, that art, to Hip Stitch, so you, too, can know Binah, and hear her voice.

We began our journey from art to fabric at a Mother’s Day brunch hosted by our mutual friend Dagmar, in 2022.  A conversation, followed by a text or phone call every few weeks.  I visited her at the home she shares with her husband Gordon, in early November 2022 to see her artwork in person and narrow down what pieces we’d put onto fabric.  On that chilly day, she made me hot chocolate and told me stories, and I took copious notes and took a few photographs but knew then I wouldn’t be able to re-tell in any way what she had in her to share.  Stories of Black history, stories of her life growing up in New York..  Those are her stories to tell, so I won’t try to retell them here.  Though here are a few highlights of her words to me:

Cloth is sacred, the symbols, the making of it.  It conveys a message.

“We are in a time of great light”

“Are you connected to your world?”

The process is more important than the outcome.

People don’t think of the process in this culture.

Pieces of art, hers and Gordon’s individually and together.  Here is “Coyote Medicine” that they made together during the pandemic:

And Gordon?  He, an artist himself.  Next time you’re in our store, admire the shelves running along the length of the store that hold our color way - yep, he made them.  Here he is working on a pair of shoes they created together:

We parted ways that day, hoping maybe the fabric could be ready to go by the new year.    Not yet.  Maybe February?  Not yet.  Strike-offs, color adjustments, communication with the printing company, resizing images - on and on.  And here we are, ready to go.  And I think Binah would agree with me that the journey til now has been worth the wait.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

The F bomb and other thoughts.

Written this past winter:

 Upon slicing my finger with a rotary cutter, JUST as I was embarking on some sewing time as my creativity was calling, a few expletives came out of my mouth:  Fuck.  FUCK. 

(The f-word, in my opinion, is one to be used somewhat sparingly, to make it stick.  Not, as many use it today, in every other sentence.  It’s a strong, forceful word.  Used when it’s used, it conveys its strength.  Anger. Hurt.  Rage.  Frustration.  Or, as customer Julie said “I swear like a well-educated sailor")

Anyhow, my creativity retreated and the next 30 minutes were spent rinsing, applying pressure, taking the pressure off and realizing more pressure was needed, then finally, wrapping and bandaging and settling in for some much needed sleep.

I sought urgent care the next day, as our sewing technician Jeremy recommended after changing my bandage and seeing it.  After an hour and a ½ and 3 tries at places, I gave up and said the word again:  Fuck it.  (And contemplated asking my niece, who’s a vet tech and has given many animals stitches, to do the job on me.)

So, with the help of my husband that night, liquid bandage was applied by him as I sat on the edge of the tub taking deep breaths so as not to faint as I held the cut together while he glued.

(Why am I sharing the following gruesome picture? Because LOOK at the afghan behind my hand and then LOOK at the same afghan about 40 years ago behind me Christmas morning as I excitedly open my new record player! My grandma crocheted it and it still is like new - that's how our quilts will be in 40 years, right?!)

All is well now - the cut is on the mend, antibiotic ointment and washing and bandaging continues.

While at work 2 days later, though, I’m grimacing with occasional pain from the cut, my limited use of that finger, my arthritis in the base of my thumb, and then a damn PAPER CUT while putting a customer’s fabric in her bag (damn bag).  Winter is taking its toll on me.

I realized this happens to me every year at this time.  My skin is dry and I slather on cream all day and it doesn’t seem to help, my hand aches, I’m pushing through many days until I can snuggle up under layers of blankets and one homemade quilt and sleep.  November and December, and most of January, are fine.  I love getting out my hand-knit sweaters and wearing them, sitting by the fire and reading under a warm blanket, drinking hot tea and hot cocoa.  But by February, the cold has seeped into me.  My joints, my skin, my emotional endurance.

I’m grateful for creativity.  It gets me through.  Whether I pick up knitting needles, hand embroidery, or my rotary cutter, I’m soothed by the work of creating.  And then, in one moment, probably feeling rushed to create, I’m out of commission for a few days.

Today, the bandage came off, the liquid adhesive is doing its job, and I pick up a sewing needle and work on birds - Sweet Little Birds.

So, folks, slow down in your sewing - be patient, use your rotary cutter slowly and deliberately. Wounds heal, but they can knock you off your creative streak for a bit.
And use the F-bomb sparingly, so when it's delivered, it packs a punch.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Survey says....!

 Just like Richard Dawson, (for us older folks), or Steve Harvey (for you younger folks), we've surveyed our customers and it's time to share the answers!

What skills do you hope to develop this year?  The top 5 answers were:

Paper Piecing

Time Management

Garment Sewing

Free-motion quilting


With runner ups being: color theory, curves, machine embroidery, binding & art quilting

We're happy to see this and know we either already have classes in place to meet your needs or are working on helping you develop some new skills!  (time management is something we ALL are in the same boat together)

What would compel you to recommend a store to a friend?

The overwhelming response was "customer service", with runner ups being variety of fabric, fast shipping,  good lighting, and help with your project from staff.

Why do you shop at Hip Stitch vs. other stores?

Our 'vibe' was a common answer.  You love the modern/unique fabric.  Great selection of grunge.  Friendly, approachable staff.  Now THAT we do have!

(and the absent student on the day of class pictures:  Ellen:)

Lastly, thanks so very much for taking time out of your busy lives to respond.  It's important to all of here that this is YOUR store.  All of our staff see their time here as a service to you - that's what makes your/our store special.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Healing after death - healing from creativity

Today is the 9 year mark since my friend Ellen died, much too young. 

She was a beautiful human being, both inside and out.I became friends with her through Hip Stitch - I taught her sewing and she taught me

to be a better person.She left 3 small children, who are now teenagers & preteens, and I think about them,

and Walt, her husband. 

A few months after she passed, Walt came by Hip Stitch and gave me many of Ellen's fabrics.  I held onto them dearly as a memory of my friend.  Lisa, a friend who worked at the store, made me this quilt some time later from those scraps:

I cherish it to this day.

Here's Ellen with Rosanne and Claudia at the 'old' Hip Stitch:

I met Helen this week, who came to Hip Stitch for the 1st time with her 1st quilt. 

As we talked, I teared up.  She worked on the quilt while she was caretaking her father, who was dying. 

She would come to his home and sew the blocks together, and it made him happy. 

She told me he passed away almost 20 years ago, but she couldn’t until recently take out the quilt top

to finish it without crying and grieving her father. 

And then one day she could work on it.  And she finished it. 

And she felt a bit the joy her father felt about the quilt.

I teared up because memories of the summer of 2016 came flooding back - when I was my mom’s caretaker as she was dying of ovarian cancer.  How I’d travel from home to her apartment to work, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  I had my mom’s train case to carry all my toiletries, and the zipper finally wore out.  So that summer, as she slept more and more and I was there just to be in the room with her, I got out her sewing machine and sewed a new train case.  And every time I use it, I think of that summer.  And the grieving becomes less and less - it never goes away, mind you, but the joy and the good memories become stronger and the tears aren't as frequent.

Why do we create?  We create to heal, to make memories, to tell someone we love them, to share our talents and ourselves with others. We create to remember.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Reflections on 2022

 2022 ended for me with art on doors.  My daughter Claire, who creates like there's a fire that can't be extinguished in her soul, painted some of our interior doors.  They're just doors - inexpensive, old, inside doors.  I figured, if/when the house is sold someday, that's an easy swap out, right?

So 2023 begins and new doors open.  We at Hip Stitch made the decision to close for a 2nd day each week, for a number of reasons, but time to rest, plan, create were a few of them.

The last few years have been a roller coaster of running a business.  It's time to calm the waters, right the ship, and sail on with calmer weather.

Part of that goal for me as the co-owner of this business is finding my footing of what IS Hip Stitch.  

*A huge, carry everything fabric store?  Definitely not.

*A take a number, ignore you when you come in because we don't have time for you?  Nope.

*A club where you'll only get niceties if you know us and we know you?  Gad no.

*A place where you'll feel embarrassed to ask questions because you feel you'll be judged?  Definite NO.

It's been almost 15 years that I've been at the helm of this ship.  I've grown, I've learned, I've been put in my place and humbled and learned humility and laughed until I peed my pants and made lifelong friends and had help for my depression from the community that supports and lifts me up by shopping at Hip Stitch and asking me how I'm doing.  I'm a very lucky girl.

So, at the risk of making those dreaded 'resolutions' that we've all done at one time or another in our lives and then been disappointed in ourselves when we've failed at them:

In 2023, I plan to teach more.  

In 2023, I plan to listen more.  

In 2023, I plan to work just a bit more on my passion for social justice and how Hip Stitch can be a vehicle for that.  

In 2023, I plan to nurture friendships more.  

The word more doesn't have a timeline to it, or a concrete set of objectives.  I'm going to be more gentle with myself, and forgiving, and continue to begin each day by saying out loud, "It's a new day"....which if you ask my daughters, they occasionally get a text from me in the morning with that message.

(Won't you join me on this journey?)

Some of the highlights from 2022: 

(also known as a photo dump)

Having 2 local artists jump on board with my co-owner Steve and I and our dream to produce fabrics unique to Hip Stitch while showcasing artists & their work to our customers.  Victoria and Tammy took this plunge with us and it was quite fun - we hope to continue with them and having one more artist we're on the verge of having her fabric printed!  

(lesson learned:  everything takes 3 times longer than we expect)

A once-in-a-lifetime trip to Mexico on behalf of Hip Stitch w/Reut & Ginny:

A once in a lifetime trip to Gees Bend, Alabama:

A daughter who had her heart broken and went on a
solo backpacking trip to Europe. 

Steve & I accepting the NM Business in Ethics Award.
(I didn't pass out from public speaking - win-win!)

A new son-in-law!  They are simply beautiful, these 2.
(neckties made with Hip Stitch fabric....just sayin')

A new son-in-law who quilts!

A sweet flower girl whose dress I loved making, almost as much as I love these girls.

The 4 of us, on the day that we
became the 5 of us.

Crafting with children = happiness.

My friend Heather and I seeing
each other after too long, at the wedding.
Heather co-founded Hip Stitch with me. 
I am so very lucky to have her in my life.

So, let's fling open a new door and get going through it, shall we? 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

A tale of 2 sisters

 I am the baby; she is the oldest.  We have 2 brothers in between.  She is 6 years older than me, so naturally, she looked after me.

Here she is, wiping my drool, (or so I thought for all these years, until I looked more closely and I think she was probably reaching out to the cat in my lap):

Here we are in the glory of the 70s:

And at her high school graduation:

And then we entered adulthood and marriage and jobs and raising children and came together and fell apart and came together again.  One thing has remained constant:  she is my protector, my cheerleader, my guide in so many ways.  She's the smart one.  She's the bossy one.  She's the wise one.

And so for her 60th birthday this summer, she threw a party, and all 4 of us siblings were together for it.  The 1st time we were all together since our mom died.  So it was extra special, given that the last 2 years were ones of uncertainty about anything.

I had bought the Mountain High quilt kit from Stitch in Durango, CO - LeeAnn, the owner, is a friend of mine and her shop received the Top Shop Award for Quilt Sampler:

 LeeAnn's  quilt made the cover of the magazine, and it made me swoon.  I bought the kit (this was April 2021), and started to chip away at it.  It was still an immensely busy and stressful time for me at Hip Stitch, but working on this project soothed my stressful days.

It wasn't intended for Gretchen from the start.  I didn't know who or where it was going.
(If you know me, my gift giving and remembering special days are hit and miss.  
It's not one of my prouder characteristics.)

But as it evolved in the making, the clarity in the recipient came into focus.  Gretchen has lived in Denver for 30 years, but for a stint in Seattle.  She is a mountain girl - she's fit, and healthy, and hikes and skis and does so many more outdoorsey things than I do (not jealous, not at all)

Mountain High came together, and of COURSE it was for Gretchen.  That's a no-brainer. 

Happy Birthday, big sister.  I love you.

She sent me a picture of it in her house, with the red leaves on the maple tree right outside the window: