Wednesday Working – Starting Labyrinth Quilt

The weather here has still been not so good so we’re still doing indoor activities. Last week Heather and I attended a quilting class at the local sewing center and now we’re working on our quilts. The class is a total of three days and so far we’ve done two of them. The final class is in a week. The first step is to cut all the strips which I’ve done. There are a lot of pieces for this one and here they all are stacked and labeled on my cutting table:

That took a long time to do, but now I can start sewing the strips together. The first step is to add some triangles to the ends of some strips:

These are stacks of five for the main block type. I still have some dark strips to add the end triangles to before I can assemble the first five blocks.

That’s it for this week. I hope to have a completed set of blocks by next time. If you need me, I’ll be at the sewing machine.

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As The Writer Writers #2

This time I’m sharing something I’ve written for the monthly church writing group. This month the prompt is “Trees.” Here’s my take on that simple word:

Trees, Semiotics and Reader Response Theory, Oh My!

When I think of trees my mind naturally turns to semiotics and I can’t help but also ponder reader-response criticism.  Now let me just clarify that I’m talking about Ferdinand de Saussure’s theories that he referred to as semiology and not Charles Peirce’s semiotic model which uses signs, object, and interpretant.

Of course this means that I am also thinking of my favorite literary theory, reader-response criticism.  I know, I know, many of you are thinking that if I prefer Saussure that I surely must be an advocate of Derrida and practitioner of deconstructionism.  No, while I understand the importance of the work and its importance in a post-structural world, I find that Derrida’s deconstructionism just leads into nihilism, despair, and excessive wine drinking.

But I digress …

The story really begins in fall 2005 when I was sitting in a class on literary theory at San Jose State. The class room was on the second floor of Sweeney Hall and looked out over the campus and a large clump of tall trees.  It was mid afternoon and our professor asked us to think about a tree and make a small drawing of a tree.  I drew a badly shaped redwood tree.  Our professor then went around the room asking the eleven of us who were still awake what tree we’d drawn and why we drew that tree.  Turns out the each of us had drawn a different kind of tree – some were conifers, some deciduous, some tall, some short, and all with a special memory.  One woman described a tree from Poland where she grew up and how that tree was part of her special childhood memories.  I love to hike in redwood forests and have many memories of trails along the forest floor.

It should have been obvious, but at that moment it dawned on me that the word, “tree,” has many different meanings, implications and emotional impacts on people based on past experience, culture, and language.

This is where our professor started her lecture on semiotics.  Simply put semiotics is the study of sign processes and meaning making.  It is a study that can get complex, but in its simplest form we talk about the signified and the signifier.  Take our word “tree,” that is a signifier, it has a written form and a spoken form.  The sound, “tree” invokes a memory in our heads that is referred to as the signified.

If I say tree, you form a picture of a tree in your head.  This is how language works for humans.  There is a signifier that corresponds to a signified.  There’s no real logic here, it just a set of agreed upon sounds, signs (written words or pictures) that mean something to other people.  Of course, different languages and cultural groups have different sets of signifiers and signified pairs.  For example, Spanish language speakers decided that the word for tree is, “el arbol.”  In the UK “chips” is what American’s call “fries” and American “chips” are call “crisps” in the UK. I think the French refer to fries as just weird.

Here today, we’ll hear many stories about trees and one each different.  Each varies, each is different as each of us has had different life experiences and have encountered trees differently.  If you grew up in the desert a tree might mean shade on a hot day, while someone from the Pacific Northwest might think of logging or firewood.  Saying the word tree, requires more words, more signifiers, to fully explain your idea of a tree to me.

That’s reader-response criticism.  It’s just a theory that says that a meaning of a text, whether it be a book, story, essay, poem, … is largely created in the mind of the reader.  I can write, “tree,” but is the reader who forms a picture of a tree in their mind – a picture based on the reader’s knowledge, teaching and experience with trees. Sure a writer can narrow down what is meant by “tree,” by adding more words that both the reader and writer have the same understanding of.  This is where misunderstanding enters the world.  If we truly want to be understood, we need to work to find a common ground between us and them, me and you.  It is in our shared experiences where true mutual understanding begins.

Many years ago I was interviewing for a job as a software release engineer at a video game company.  The basic job was to take the work of a large group of engineers, designers, and artists and combine all of these pieces into a single product that our customers could download to their game consoles and enjoy an adventure.  Part of the interview was with a panel of three engineers.  They asked technical questions, asked how I’d solve certain problems and finally one engineer asked me what I thought was the hardest part of my job.

I replied, “Communication. The job is technically easy, but all the parts must work together and be ready at the same time.  This requires that I have to clearly communicate deadlines, expectations, and when things go wrong, I have to approach teams and individuals to get things fixed.  There are hundreds of people here, and I have to make sure that all understand me.”

This answer confused them a little so I gave them my professor’s exercise of drawing trees.  They humored me and drew trees.

The Japanese engineer drew a bonsai tree.  The American engineer drew a pine tree.  The British engineer was the last to answer and seemed reluctant to show his drawing.  I gently pressed to see and assured him there was no right answer.

His answer: A computer file directory tree.  Nothing to do with the living thing we call a tree, but rather an scientific term that refers to how data is organized like a tree with branches and off shoots.  That I said is why my job can be difficult and why people can misunderstand even simple requests – not everyone sees things the same.

And I got the software engineering job because I had a degree in English and understood how language worked.

Think of a tree.  That thought might lead to somewhere unexpected. 

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Friday Wisdom – Plumbers

Well, if you read my last As The Pizza Cooks episode, you’ll know that I’ve been having plumbing problems. Turns out that I know a lot about plumbing so here we go:

Did you know that plumbers, garbage collectors and economists all have one thing in common? Yes, they all deal with gross domestic product.

My plumber said he just donated blood and it was a draining experience.

Do you know what kind of dreams plumbers have? Yup, pipe dreams.

What’s the one vegetable all plumbers hate? Leeks.

Name a bad habit plumbers never have: Biting their finger nails.

Skepitc tank: A room full of cynical plumbers.

How many plumbers does it take to change a light bulb? None, you need an electrician for that.

My plumber said that he’s always exhausted when he gets home. Plumbing is draining work.

Did you know there is a holiday for plumbers? Yup, Sink-o-de mayo

Did you hear about the plumber who had a near-death experience? He saw his life flush before his eyes.

This morning there was a tap on my door – my plumber has a weird sense of humor.

Did you know that ducks make bad plumbers? They leave your waterfowl, the bill is on the front end, and they have excessive plumber’s quack.

Did you hear about the shoe store manager who called for a plumber? He told them he had a clog in the drain.

I tried tap dancing today, but I slip off, fell in the sink and broke my ankle.

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Wednesday Working – First Quilting

The bad weather has kept us indoors so I’ve been doing quilting and writing. On the writing front I’m preparing a couple of batches poems to submit. I’m focusing on a few of literary magazines as well as a number of on-line sites. I’ll let you know if anything gets accepted. On the quilting front I’ve moved from piecing to quilting. Quilt projects go through three stages: Top piecing, quilting and then binding.

Quilting is where you add the batting and a back to create the quilt sandwich. I decided to practice on a sample piece:

This is the practice curvy log cabin I made a few months ago. I chose a simple straight line pattern using a walking foot for this. It looks better in the picture, but I am happy with this as a first try. It’s a bit tricky to do this and lots of things to remember. One thing I’ve always liked about quilting is that this pattern you see on the front can also be seen on the back:

It’s a little hard to see in the photo, but you get the idea. This becomes an interesting point when selecting a quilting pattern – it needs to look interesting on both the front and back. Typically the backing of a quilt is just a single piece of fabric.

Finally, here are the fabrics I’ve picked for my labyrinth quilt:

The class starts tomorrow so I’ve spent the morning collecting my supplies, winding bobbins and gathering stuff together.

That’s it for this week, if you need me, I’ll be in class.

Posted in quilting | Tagged | 27 Comments