A Quilt for Ben

This fall, I started working on a Scrap Vomit quilt using the small bits of fabric that I had been finding in my stash, mostly to see if I could do it. I was also preparing for the Something Out of Nothing presentation that I was going to do in November.

First, I cut and cut and cut strips out of my stash. The straightening cuts would end up in piles on my floor, and even those were fun to look at.

I happened upon fabric combinations that inspired me, but didn’t allow myself to act on those impulses. I was on a mission.

While cutting up my fabric stash, I found a lot of treasures. I found the last remaining pieces of some treasured fabrics from early quilts that had been lost in the fire, and I cut all of those treasures up into strips and squares for future projects. I can’t enjoy them if they’re buried in my fabric stash, so I want to try to get them into quilts where they’ll be loved again.

Progress was exciting to watch. I have a nasty TV habit on Tuesday nights in particular, so I would take my little box of squares and pins down and watch my ridiculous amount of TV (NCIS, NCIS:Los Angeles, and now Person of Interest has sucked me in), pinning squares together.

Pairs would turn into strips…

…and then strips into blocks…

…and before I knew it I had enough for a large throw.

And most of the components of another quilt built already too. I pressed all of the seams in alternating directions.


I discovered with the odd number of squares in each block, this meant that the quilt top lies incredibly flat, even with all of the potential stretch added by the seams. My accuracy improved greatly with the matching of all of the seams, and it was really a fun exercise.

Naturally, Friday helped a lot with the construction process. As always.

My favorite aspect of this quilt is how I can look at it and have lots of little memories. Most of the squares in it have been in other projects — quilts, outfits for the girls, bags, gifts, all kind of things I’ve made.

The only struggle I had with it was what to DO with it. It’s not a traditionally “beautiful” quilt, although it’s beautiful to me because of all of the memories in it. The colors are brash and loud and rowdy, since the main colors were chosen from what I had on hand rather than being purchased with a harmonic outcome in mind. It would be great as a picnic quilt, if we were prone to picnicking. We aren’t. It would be a great sofa quilt if we didn’t already have a stack of them. So I was conflicted. I wanted to finish it but I didn’t know for whom I was making it.

And then I was talking to my friend Jenny over the Christmas holidays by text message. Jenny lives in Minnesota, and her 12-year-old son wasn’t feeling very well. As the holiday break went on and Ben didn’t get better, she and her husband got increasingly concerned, so they finally took him to the hospital on New Year’s Eve. He had a lesion on his back that wasn’t healing and his cough was getting nastier and nastier. He was admitted to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis and what Jenny and James and their family went through for the next two weeks is nothing short of horrific. Ben was in the ICU for pneumonia, and tested for everything under the sun. Doctors were flummoxed — they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with this child. Ben was put in isolation because they feared tuberculosis or some other highly transmittable disease, and Jenny said that at times it felt like they were on an episode of “House.”

And then, after two weeks of test after test after test and biopsies of the lesion on his back and lymph nodes in his armpit, Ben was diagnosed with Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma. It’s rare, more common in males, and there’s a treatment plan that involves 7 courses of chemo and lots of time in and out of the hospital. Ben started chemo while still under sedation, and didn’t know he had cancer for a full week of his treatment for it.

And I suddenly knew for whom I would finish the quilt. This was Ben’s quilt.

Jerry and I went out to lunch a few Saturdays ago and got navy blue flannel for the backing, since I knew it would be soft. I layered it on the floor in front of the TV while watching “Downton Abbey” on the 19th of January.

Then I quilted flowers in an all-over meandering pattern on it. These would be flowers that would last and last, unlike many hospital flowers. And they would give the quilt a soft texture that would be nice to touch as Ben looked around at the different fabrics in it.

I used a variegated gold fabric for the quilting because the yellow and blue that would be visible on the back are his school colors.

Friday “helped” with the quilting, too.

I chose a black and white animal print binding because early on in the diagnostic process, I had suggested to Jenny that Ben was a “zebra,” in hospital terms. My dad has always said that when doctors “hear hoofbeats,” many think of zebras when they should really think of horses — most illnesses are just simply horses. But Ben actually WAS a zebra, which was all the more confusing.

Initially I was a little concerned that a zebra print binding would be a little too loud for the quilt, and then the absurdity of that idea made me laugh. Really, Elaine?

Tango helped me with quilt testing as I was hand-sewing the binding down.

And even Tucker, our recent impulsive acquisition, got in on it:

And then it was finished. Before school one morning I rushed outside and took photos of it on the fence before I put it in the washing machine.

It was a little windy. And navy blue flannel is a lint magnet. Super.

After it was washed, the texture was amazing.

It went from my dryer into a 3-gallon Ziploc bag without touching any more surfaces in our house.

And then I shipped it to Minnesota and held my breath. I told Jenny it was coming because I knew that they’d probably have to sign for it since I insured it.

Ben was just starting his second round of chemo when it arrived, so it was able to keep him warm for the first few days of that process. He and the hospital chaplain apparently played a memory game trying to find the same fabric in multiple places on the quilt almost immediately after it arrived. (Photo by Jenny Puzzo, used with permission. Ben’s wearing a hat that was sent to him the same day by Sarah Fleming. It was a great day for care packages!)

My hope is that Ben will feel the thousands of people all over the world that are wrapping him in prayer when he feels this quilt around him. And my hope is that Jenny will know that it is to be used, even if that means it gets worn out from all of the washing. If it gets worn out that means it has been well-loved and that’s the goal for any quilt, in my opinion. If you wear it out, I’ll make another — and next time in a color palette of Ben’s choosing… Although I do have to say that a “scrap vomit” quilt is quite hilarious as a chemo quilt.

(Funny story — for some reason I got it in my head that there are 49 blocks in this quilt, so in my card to Ben I mentioned that there are 2,401 squares in it. Nope. There are 25 blocks of 49 squares each, so 1,225 squares total. This math teacher stinks at arithmetic. This should not be a shocker to any other math teacher. I realized my error less than 5 minutes after leaving the quilt with the good folks at UPS.)

I included more zebras on the label on the back.

We’re all praying for you, Ben!


2014 Q1 FAL (Finish Along) projects

Okiedokie, here goes. I’m going to participate in some internet peer pressure.


These are the projects that I think I can finish this quarter and where they currently stand:

1. Celtic Sherbet Mystery. I will remove the anemic green border, replace with the pink that Friday the Quilt Inspector is pointing to, and layer and quilt it. The pink and backing have been ordered. I need to get batting for it.


2. Scrap Vomit. It has been layered and is ready for quilting. I haven’t decided what color I’m going to quilt with yet but I think I’m going to go with a variegated thread in red, probably. Dunno. I’ll decide when I sit down to do it, I suppose. Quilting will be very simple. The backing is navy blue flannel. Yummy!

3. Entropy. I have a backing made but I don’t currently have enough batting to layer it unless I piece chunks together, which I don’t want to do. So I’ll go get some batting or order some batting soon. Anybody know of a sale on cotton batting?

4. Fibonacci Squared. Layered/basted, marked, ready to quilt. Terrified to start. Need to just DOOOO EEEEET.

5. This one. Why it’s not done yet I do not know.

Scrappy Trip Around the World #2, using Amy Butler's "Love" fabric line

Scrappy Trip Around the World #2, using Amy Butler’s “Love” fabric line


Apparently I will need to get on the quilting machine and off of the piecing machine. Allrightythen.

Celtic SHERBET Mystery

Every year, Bonnie Hunter does a mystery quilt pattern between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. This year, the mystery quilt was entitled Celtic Solstice, because she designed it during the summer solstice while she was in Ireland, and we’d be working on it during the winter solstice. I have been getting stash builder packs from Pink Castle Fabrics for the past 6 months, so I decided to use four colors plus the “low volume” fabrics as my neutrals, instead of the colors that Bonnie Hunter used — mostly because I don’t have very many greens, yellows, or blues in my modern fabric stash yet and Bonnie’s mysteries are always much more successful when they’re super scrappy.


Mom had the Tri-Recs ruler set, and I didn’t, so I waited until week 2 to start. Chevrons! These took a while to do. Jerry was watching a lot of Dr. Who that weekend so I sat with him and marked and pinned and cut and pinned chevrons while watching Dr. Who.

Prepping Chevrons


I love how they came out, and started daydreaming about a whole quilt made this way, with different color chevrons down the length of the quilt.

3.5″ square unfinished
100+ chevrons finished and ready for week 3!


After I finished the chevrons, I borrowed the Tri-Recs rulers from Mom and got to work on the Week 1 clue.

Catching up on Week 1

I even took a box of supplies to school and pinned while students took exams at the end of the semester. It was a mindless activity that I could do that allowed me to look around the room frequently, and be instantly available if a student had a question.

Activity box prepped for school

The Week 1 units required a pretty significant amount of precision so I ended up having to rip and re-sew a few of these so that they’d end up the correct size and not have chopped off points.

Done! Finally!


Week 3 was half-square triangle units with half of them made into pinwheels, so that was a pretty easy week to do. Week 4 was Christmas, and she kindly let us do simple four-patch units for that week. So I was caught up before Christmas, which was fantastic. Here are all of my units from weeks 1-4, anxiously waiting for week 5’s clue:

So pretty!


Even the cuttings during each step were pretty — I loved collecting them in a pile and just admiring the salad I had just created.

Someone on Instagram thought this really was a salad. Or a pasta dish.


The Week 5 clue came the Friday after Christmas, and then the reveal was posted at midnight on New Year’s so I didn’t get a chance to post progress photos of week 5 before the reveal went up. As soon as I had a few of the Week 5 units, I grabbed other parts and assembled the quilt blocks on my cutting table according to the reveal.

Celtic Sherbet Mystery, no?

I’m in love! This is so extraordinarily girly for me — Helen even came into my sewing room and squealed with glee when she saw it on the table like this. I rarely work with pink, so to have pink be the driving color in the quilt is quite a change for me. She thinks this is for her. It’s not, but I don’t really have a specific plan for it at this point. It just makes me really happy.


Once I knew what it was going to look like, I started assembling blocks. This requires lots of pinning so that I don’t chop off points.

Units pinned into rows

and still more pinning:

Rows of units into blocks, and starting the assembly of the pieced border


And here are the first 7 blocks up on the wall.

Sneak Peek!


I’m so excited to see this one come together, partly because it’s been a whirlwind and partly because it’s so outside my usual comfort zone for colors. I’m very glad that I broke into my stash of modern fabrics, because that’s something I had been reticent to do before now. I guess I didn’t want to deplete it while it was in its infancy? But I’ve had a blast working with these bright, clear colors… I did bring in some pink batiks for the four-patch units because I was afraid I was going to run out of pink otherwise — we still had more than one week to go in the mystery and if another step had pink in it I was going to be down to the dregs and possibly run out. Turns out I didn’t need to do that, but I had no way of knowing.


I will probably have the quilt top assembled in the next week or so. This was a really fun project! I don’t know that I’ll dive in so fully to the mystery next year, since I was too determined to stay “caught up,” whatever that means. It did drive Jerry nuts because he’d ask, “which quilt is THIS one?” when I came into the room with my little box of parts and pins, and when I told him he’d roll his eyes at me. But I did exercise my piecing precision and get inspired by the process of making something so very scrappy. I have already designed another quilt that is similar in construction but will be totally different in appearance. I’m not sure when/if I’ll get to making it, but it’s fun to dream anyway!


If you want to see how different this quilt looks when done in different color schemes, go to the Week 6 Link-Up and take a look! It’s pretty inspiring to me to see how color choices and placement can completely change the overall appearance of identical blocks.