This past fall I had the honour of working on projects that broke my heart, while at the same time filling it with a sense of purpose.
Most of my projects, as you may know, are memory quilts. Clients are consistently excited and happy. If this is you, you've likely saved your children's clothing, sometimes for years. You store them in boxes and bags, culling down to a manageable amount, visiting and re-visiting them again and again. You've searched extensively for someone to make your quilt and eventually found me. Sometimes you contact me right away, sometimes you wait. And when we begin our project together, it is an experience that bubbles with anticipation.
Memory quilts are full of eagerness and joy, of love and sentimental memories, of dreams about tomorrow and the desire to never forget yesterday (if you've had one made, I'm sure you'll agree).
Memorial quilts are quite different.
Memory quilts are made with someone's first clothes.
Memorial quilts are made with someone's last clothes.
I won't pretend that these projects don't have a huge impact on me. I feel a strong sense of connection when I'm working on my quilts and working on a memorial quilt brings up all sorts of personal memories and thoughts on life and loss. I feel deeply for my clients. I feel deeply in general. So it goes without saying that their stories become a part of who I am. And I am grateful for that. Grateful to have the opportunity to provide some solace to people in their grief by creating something they can use to wrap themselves in the memories of their loved one.
When my grandma died most of her clothes were donated, but I asked my mom to put aside some pieces for me. I wasn't sure why at the time, I just felt like I had to hold on to them. To be honest, it was more like I couldn't let go of them. Her belongings were my last physical link to her. They mean a lot to me. I know it can't be possible, as they've been washed and years have passed since I lost her, but her clothes still smell like her. They bring me back in time and I can feel her when I look at them and hold them and smell them. They bring me some small bit of peace. They wait for the time when I'll be ready to make a quilt out of them for myself. And I look forward to that day, so that I too can wrap myself in a love I have not forgotten, and that I miss desperately.
Until then, I check in on them from time to time and count myself lucky that I get to do something for others that is so meaningful and fulfilling.
What have you held on to to remember?
After a long stretch I'm happy to say this quilt is completed and ready to go home.
This quilt will be making its way back to California within the next few days. I'm hoping it makes it there before some special little girl's birthday. Wouldn't it be a lovely gift?
This quilt has some beautiful little details, like these flowers. They were hair bows that meant a lot to momma, so I took them apart and created flowers for this forest. I was hesitant to add them in after I had completed the trees, as I enjoyed the stark look of the forest, but I'm happy momma decided to keep them in the design. They add a soft touch and some lovely colour to the forest. I also used some white trim at the base of a few trees. It definitely softens things up.
The forest panel is made up of different layers of trees. I used baby clothes to create the birch trees by piecing a number of small strips together. I used a lighter shade and darker shade on either side to create a bit of dimension, replicating a feeling of shadow and light.
The brown trees were made with a small amount of supplemented Joel Dewberry woodgrain in bark. I love this fabric (like love, love, love, love it) and wish I had more because my small stash is now depleted (if anyone has any they'd like to send me I would happily hoard it). Definitely worth emptying my stash to create this custom quilt.
The black trees were made with jersey from items included by momma.
The background behind the trees was made with a mixture of baby clothes and supplemental fabric. In this case, momma wanted the quilt to blend in with the current decor of little girl's room. To do this I looked at photos and matched some supplemental fabrics to the same colour scheme. I ended up using another Joel Dewberry fabric (herringbone) as a sashing around the custom panel and as the binding.
The central custom kokobaru panel is framed with a few different types of fabric. Very thin layer of herringbone, followed by Cotton and Steel XOXO in ghost, which I also used for the back of the quilt. The outer edge is made of squares created from shirts with images on them. A mixture of clothing from little girl and momma and poppa make it extra special and tells the story of their lives together.
I named this quilt "Seeing the Forest for the Trees". The saying that someone 'can't see the forest for the trees' denotes that they're missing the big picture because they're caught up in the details. I believe this momma is quite aware of the forest.
I think that sometimes (maybe even often) as parents we can fall into the trap of focusing on the 'trees'. We can get so tied up, in the day to day and the missed sleep, the shoes that you just bought last week that don't fit anymore, the meltdowns, the untouched dinner plate, and so on, that we can forget the big picture of it all. How quickly they'll be feeding themselves, walking on their own, dressing themselves and before you know it they're driving the car (eek! I'm terrified of that day and thank I have some time to prepare for it). All this to say the time is passing faster than I would like. I'm a big savourer of moments.
I likely take too many pictures and I know I've saved way too many of my kids clothes for the quilts I'll be making them. I know how precious this time is and I try to hold on to that. I'm not always successful, but it grounds me when I need grounding.
would much rather have too many memories to hold onto than too few.
I think my clients generally feel the same way. Hence 'Seeing the Forest for the Trees'.
For those who know me this won't come as a surprise. I love taking photographs. Like, when I say love I mean I have a serious love for taking a good photograph, capturing a memory, a moment in time. It is probably one of my favourite things to do. It's taken me 20 years, but I've finally seen the light. It's time to jump in to doing what I love.
This love affair dates back to high school. As soon as I graduated I bought myself an enlarger (thanks to my Great Aunt Lil). I remember driving into the Henry's in Toronto to get it and the supplies I would need to continue making my own photographs. Ya, we're talking about the days of film and chemical baths. My beloved enlarger lived back and forth between my parents laundry room and the unfinished basement until the time came to pack it away. It still lives somewhere in the recesses of my parents crawl space. Poor forgotten enlarger.
The times have changed a lot since then.
Back then I didn't know how to get started. Now I've already started a small business.
Back then it was just me. Now it's me and a partner, and 2 zany dogs and 2 beautiful babies.
Back then I was afraid of what the future would hold. Now I'm living in that future and I gotta say, I'm pretty darned happy.
Now is the time of my life.
So there will be some changes here at Kokobaru. Don't worry. I love what I do, and will continue doing custom memory quilts and toys. It's just time for me to jump into offering my photography as a service as well.
While talking with my partner the other day I finally realized what it is that I really 'do'. It hit me. I would say 'dawned on me', but it really felt more like it hit me right in the chest. I deal in memories. All the work I love to do deals with creating or curating memories in one way or another. And so Kokobaru will continue to branch out. I currently focus on handicraft work (in the form of custom memory quilts and toys), creative consulting (a little known secret is that I do educational and interpretive program development and training...if you've attended a birthday party at the Museum of Nature, that's my work) and I will be adding photography to my scope as well. I'll be putting together a portfolio, figuring out a revamped website, or possibly a new website specifically for photography. There's a lot to sort out. Either way, I'm pretty excited about the future.
Never in my wildest, nor tamest dreams did I ever picture the life I have. I gotta say it's a lovely surprise to look around and see where I've ended up. Maybe it's because I'm edging closer to 40 or maybe it's because I feel so loved by my partner and children and the good people in my life, but for whatever reason, the paralyzing fear I used to have of the future seems to have been replaced with an appreciation for the now.
Can't really ask for much more than that now can I?
So here's to jumping in.
I'd love to hear about a time you've 'jumped in', or maybe a time you didn't and wish you had.
Maker of things. Lover of colour and texture and contrast. Thinker & creator. Daughter, sister, partner, mother, friend. Mighty woman.