First Quilting Projects

I have just recently learned to quilt and completed my first project. This twin-size bed quilt is made from pre-cut fabrics. Pre-cuts come in sets of patterns and colours that go together. This one is by Moda Fabrics and it is called Salt Air. I got a “charm pack” (a set of about 40 5-inch squares) and a “jelly roll” (a set of 2.5 inch strips, each about 40 inches long) and made this Jelly Charm quilt. I learned about this pattern watching the wonderful videos on YouTube by the Missouri Star Quilt Company, starring Jenny Doan. I also took an online class at Craftsy with Joan as the instructor. But really I did the class for confidence and fun: I learned pretty much all I needed to know watching videos.

So this quilt consists of one block pattern that is sewed together in rows of 5 blocks. The centre of each block is a charm square, and I used the jelly roll strips to make a border around each square. It was fun figuring out which fabrics to pair with each other. Then I had to arrange them on a work surface to decide on where each block would be placed. I eventually want to build a “design wall” – a vertical surface onto which you can place or pin blocks to plan out a quilt. But for now I use an old white bed sheet laid out on our bed. The border and back fabrics were chosen from bolts of fabric within the Salt Air collection.

After putting together the top (“piecing”) I had to “baste”, which means put together the three layers of the quilt. I had to use my kitchen table, which wasn’t big enough, but I made it work. I used safety pins to hold the three layers together (top, batting, and backing) and then it was time to quilt!

This is what I was most looking forward to. I was inspired to begin quilting by reading Leah Day’s blog, the Free Motion Quilting Project. The design I chose for my quilt is called Spiral Knots. It was an easy pattern for my first time, and I thought the spirals went well with the patterns in the fabric. After many trouble-free practice sessions I was dismayed after doing a full quarter of my quilt to see that the stitches beneath were loose and I had to unpick it all. Turns out I’d forgotten to adjust the thread tension when I switched from my piecing foot to my quilting foot. I won’t forget to do that again! Otherwise it was so easy and I really have to give Leah Day credit for her wonderful videos. After watching her for ages waiting to get my own sewing machine it was really easy to pick up and do it myself.

I was really happy with how this quilt turned out. It will be for my daughter when she gets her own room (in our current tiny home there is too much clutter and cats and messy little brother in the kids’ room and I don’t want this quilt to get stained and ruined).

My second project is a quilt I’m making for my mother as a Christmas present. It uses a selection of lovely batik fabrics in a Jelly Roll. It is proving more difficult but only because I keep changing my mind about how it is going to look!

But I took a break from that quilt to work on a special project for charity. A local family, who are not known to me but are known to a few families in our homelearning community, are going through a difficult time. Their 9 year old daughter has leukaemia and must go to the mainland for therapy. The family needs to raise funds so they can be there with her for the few months it will take. I made a table runner out of a charm square pack of lovely Christmas fabrics, and am donating it for their silent auction. I decided to quilt with a simple stippling pattern since I didn’t want to make any mistakes. I was really pleased with how it turned out and am looking forward to building up a collection of seasonal table runners for my future dining room.

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Good-bye Unschooling, Hello Eclectic Homeschooling

From the very beginning of our homeschooling journey I have identified as an unschooler. Since that term gets bandied about a lot on the Web, what I mean by that is I have completely trusted in my children’s innate drive to learn, to acquire the skills they need as they live and explore life, with myself playing a supporting role as facilitator and cheerleader.

For the first few years it worked as expected, but as my daughter has gotten older I have begun to notice gaps appearing in her learning. There are certain subjects in which she is significantly lacking in knowledge despite the fact that these are things she encounters as part of daily living. It’s not just that she doesn’t know these things, because that could be easily remedied. It’s that she actively resists learning about them, to the point of getting quite combative if anybody remotely suggests such knowledge or skills might be useful.

I have also noticed over the last couple of years that the variety in her life has diminished to the point where this past year she engaged in very few structured activities outside the home. Instead of the normal increased diversification one expects as children grow and mature, I have seen a significant narrowing of focus and limiting of experience that has caused concern on behalf of myself and my husband.

These issues can be explained by what I have learned about autism over the past eighteen months since I first realized that my kids might be “on the spectrum”, as they say. My daughter has very rigid ideas and points of view, with lots of black and white but virtually no shades of grey. Topics that, for whatever reason, she deems unimportant fall completely off her radar such that she not only fails to focus any attention on them, she will go so far as to actively and vociferously avoid learning anything about them. Such a way of thinking can be a real handicap if the child is allowed to entirely dictate the path of their learning.

Then there is her social anxiety which, like many “Aspies”, was not present during her younger years but developed as a result of years of failed attempts at socializing. She now avoids crowds or groups of any kind which means she refuses to join any clubs, classes, or group activities even when the topic is one she is interested in or even passionate about. Despite having a wonderful homeschooling community around us she is a part of it in name only.

How I got here is a common story among parents whose children have developmental disorders: waiting for her to grow out of it (or into it, as the case may be) and then waking up one day to realize she wasn’t doing either. Instead, things were getting worse. The gaps in her knowledge were growing and her social life was shrinking. It was time to take a critical look at my approach to homelearning.

It has been very hard for me to accept that unschooling is no longer a good fit for our family, let alone the consideration that it may never have been in the first place. But that is where I find myself now. I am not one to dwell on past mistakes and “what-ifs”; I prefer to take the lessons learned and move forward. I most definitely do not think any less of unschooling, and I know it to be a wonderful way to raise confident and motivated learners: I’ve known such children and have watched them grow and thrive over the years. But I think I can say now that when it comes to autistic children it is possibly not the best fit and I’m now convinced that it’s specifically true when it comes to my own children.

This has been a huge mental shift for me and it has taken some time to process it all. In a way it has felt like losing my religion. Like saying good-bye to beliefs that provided me with comfort and security but no longer fit my reality. Or voluntarily leaving a community, albeit largely a virtual one, of which I felt I was an established member and a respected voice. I have even felt as though I have been going through a sort of grieving period.

But after some heartfelt talks with my husband, establishing a new set of goals for homeschooling and approaches to meeting them, I now feel that I have emerged from this process. I am fully embracing the fact that we need to change the way we homeschool, and I’m even excited about it. That is part of why I decided to start a new blog, because it represents a rather significant shift in how I self-identify as a homeschooling parent. The term “unschooling” doesn’t apply anymore. I’m thinking that “eclectic homeschooling” will be a more appropriate description. And in case you are wondering why I feel the need to adopt any particular label it is because there are so many different ways to homeschool that it really helps to have some basic descriptors for the sake of discussion.

So what is eclectic homeschooling and, more to the point, what is that going to look like for our family? Probably the biggest change is that our children are no longer going to have complete autonomy over their learning. My husband and I (but still not the government) are going to decide what we think is important they learn and know. Some of it I will be in charge of presenting in the form of “project time”, which will combine sessions of my choosing with their chosen projects or activities in a regular, scheduled period of “sit-down” time. For other topics we will be enlisting the aid of a specialized tutor/SEA (Special Ed Assistant) who will be working not just on filling gaps in knowledge in a way that is fun and engaging for the kids, but also teaching them life skills along the way. The kids will still have choices, particularly when it comes to how they learn a given topic. But I am going to set and enforce the agenda. I cannot allow their disabilities to cheat them of experiencing life to the fullest. If Nature’s process has been thwarted, it’s up to me to set it right.

My daughter is going to have a harder time with this than my son, who has already learned over the last year of autism therapy that sometimes choices are far more limited than you would like them to be, and sometimes you have to do things even when you are not wildly passionate about it (with autism there are basically two settings: madly enthusiastic or vehemently oppossed!). He is still young enough that gaps in his learning are not apparent. But I intend to avoid having him end up where his sister is now.

There is definitely going to be an adjustment period for all of us, and I am going to need a lot of support to manage it effectively, but that is (in part) what their therapy teams are for. But I also know that once the new normal is established, it will become expected and uncontested, and that’s the part I’m looking forward to. Because, the fact is, I love learning with my kids and being a part of their learning and lately I have felt shut out from that process. So here’s to a new learning year, and an exciting new path for our family!

Hello world!

It’s that time again – time for me to start a new blog.

I do this when I feel I have reached a turning point in my life.  In this case it isn’t something tangible, like having a baby or moving to a small town. It’s more about an attitude shift, making positive changes to the way I do things. I’m hoping that a new blog will help reinforce the mental image of a fresh start.

In addition, blogging is no longer as big a priority for me as it once was. I’m taking on new hobbies that satisfy my need for personal fulfillment, leaving less time for writing. Maintaining more than one blog has become too much for me, and I’m not as interested in creating and maintaining an online community devoted to a particular subject. Now I just want a place where I can record my thoughts and engage in the kind of verbal processing that helps me work things out in my mind. This blog will be more personal than my previous ones.

All this is to say that here I will cover a mish-mash of topics that may or may not be of any interest to anybody. But at the very least it will be a way to share with friends and acquaintances the things that are going on for me in this wonderful journey we call Life.