Urban Chickens #2, Design Decisions

It turns out that I’d not have had enough fabric for the 3 1/2-inch square version I mentioned before (here) either. It was a math error from the beginning of planning. I would have enough with the new solids and using the backing fabric for the front. But I’d lose the blended look that I’d had in mind originally. Not the end of the world, but . . .

I also liked Louise’s suggestion to make bird blocks different from the pattern rather than making all squares larger. However, the repeat was too close for 6 1.2-inch squares. Ah, but 5 1/2 worked fine. And 10-inch finished blocks would also work well. And I could get 42 3-inch squares from each fat quarter instead of 30 1 1/2-inch squares. And that made a big difference.

The big ah-ha came when I realized I could make all the “chickens” the same color instead of following the pattern’s color plan. (Michele Freedman’s instructions are here, in case making the block interests you.)

So I made 3 x 4 piece blocks and a bunch of “chickens” to test layouts.

1 plan A

Plan A

I didn’t make the total number, just enough to test, so use your imagination to fill in the upper left. I was a little afraid that Plan A would be too dark, so also tried another layout.

1 Plan B

Plan B

It didn’t take me long to decide I liked Plan A; Plan B was just too pink.

So I made 20 more teal “chickens” and started assembling.

1 urban chix 2 top

41 x 41

It amazes me how regular the triangle blocks tended to be even though I  was going for “wonky.”  I had to consciously think “left,” “right,” “skinny,” “tall,” “squat,” as I made the blocks. I found it easier to cut white rectangles instead of working from a strip as in the directions. Some were 2 inches wide, some 3. Some 4 inches long, some 4 1/2, some 5, the latter for the sharply angled “chickens.” (I will get quite a few 1 1/2-inch squares from the trimmings.)

And the back.

1 urban chix 2 back

I’d asked for only a yard of backing fabric because I  wanted to use as much of the left over fabric as possible in piecing the back. And I did well. This is all that was left of the Marble Tan “Picnic” prints.

1 left overs

I used 5 fat quarters of the prints, 1 3/4 yards of white, and about 1/3 yard each of Paintbrush Solids teal and verbena. I will use an additional half-yard of either of the solids for binding.

On to pin basting and quilting. (One way to keep tops out of the to-bee-quilted black hole is to have a deadline. )

Linking with Let’s Make Baby Quilts.



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“Bird brain,” Compliment or Insult?

The Genius of BirdsThe Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Animal intelligence fascinates me. Thus I’ve read about crows and Archie the African gray parrot, surprised to learn how much birds know. So glad my book group chose The Genius of Birds,  which surveys many studies, adds more bird species, and discusses the intelligent and the seemingly less intelligent. (She prefers words like “cognition” to lessen anthropomorphism,)

Ackerman looks for correlations: stress, absence of stress, long childhood, short. She looks at brain size and early on rejects it for number of neurons. Then later on she reports on studies that correlate traits and their absence with brain size without comment. It deserves comment.

Early chapters seem heavy on theory, and I almost lost interest. However, with “Technical Wizardry” the balance shifted to anecdote and summary of studies, and I was back on board. I found the chapter on vocal learning and area “dialects” especially interesting (maybe related to my prior interest in linguistics). Next to catch my attention was the chapter on mapping and the various theories about how it works.

I also appreciated the author’s comments about our tendency to be interested in mental activity that is like human thought, though the she says that mapping , so different from human orientation, is gaining study.

The ending chapter is especially timely with its discussion of climate change as a challenge to bird behavior–timing of migration, of nesting etc. Some birds will probably adapt quickly enough, some will not.

Throughout, the author is careful not to oversimplify, to note remaining questions, partial theories needing fuller development, and differences of opinion.

Worth a read while waiting for fabric to arrive.

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Squishie in the Mail

I got my fabric for Let’s Be Sew-cial. Thank you Paintbox Studio Fabrics!

picnic fabric

It is from the “Picnic” line by Marble Tan for Paintbrush Studio Fabrics. Plan A that I submitted was to make a child’s quilt, 40 x 40 or 60. And to use the Urban Chickens pattern that I used a couple years ago. Remember it?

Urban Chickens--finished top copy

And if it interests you, here is the pattern link.

The pattern calls for 3 1/2-inch squares. However, I want to leave the bird whole, and that will require cutting 4 1/2-inch squares. (Size of motif is not something easy to judge from online photos.) Now you would think that enlarging a piece and thus making fewer blocks would end up balancing out. But it doesn’t seem to be doing so.

So Plan B.  I’ll order a couple Paintbrush Solids to mingle among the prints.

Stay tuned.


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On the History of Racist Ideas in America

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in AmericaStamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This definitive history starts with Aristotle and a few other ancients that the Founding Fathers would have read. And it surges on to the present (at the time of writing). In spite of the multitude of sources, Kendi succeeds in making the welter readable. That readability, Kendi accomplished by creating a frame and relentlessly keeping that frame in front of readers. He divides the ideas into three groups:
“A group we can call segregationists has blamed Black people themselves for the racial disparities. A group we can call antiracists has pointed to racial discrimination. A group we can call assimilationists has tried to argue for both” (2). And by Kendi’s definition, racist ideas are those that posit one race as superior to another; hence, both segregationist and assimilationist ideas are racist ideas.

His project is made more complex because one person’s thought can exhibit all three in either different speeches/writings or even the same piece. And people can change. For the most part Kendi led me through the maze; however, the W.E.B.DeBois section was least easy to follow. I think that may be explained by two things: it was the longest section, and the nuance had to increase as the complexity increased.

Two points he made really shifted my thinking: First, the distinction between hating Whites and hating racism and the problem when commentators treat them as equivalent. This helped destroy some claims of reverse racism. And second, the problem with explanation as a solution: After discussing how proof of Obama’s birthplace did not end the birther controversy, Kendi says, “[Birther ideas] were not started out of ignorance, so why would they go away out of knowledge?”(494).

In the Epilogue Kendi speaks of strategies for antiracists. It was a whirlwind section that made me want more detail. I am hoping to find the detail in his How to Be an Antiracist.

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A Novel

Well the plan was to move to lighter reading; however, “novel” doesn’t always imply lighter, especially in dystopian fiction about a second civil war.

American WarAmerican War by Omar El Akkad

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In spite of the title, the war serves only as backdrop to the story of the Chestnut family and especially to one of the fraternal twins, Sarat. This is announced in the novel’s prologue: “This isn’t a story about war. It is a story about ruin”(7). One reads to find the multitude of ruins.

The same prologue tells some of the end in a broad way. This is a narrative structure I find appealing, leading me to read more for how something happens than what happens. Meanwhile, there are plenty of intermediate steps where the relevant question is, What happens next? Another similar device is interspersing “quotations” from various news items, trial notes, and memoirs between chapters. There is a good balance of the two strategies.

I found the pacing of the novel amazing. It starts with six-year-old Sarat playing with honey on the wooden floor and quickly introduces the war background, the bureaucracy, climate disasters, and the family’s poverty. The family faces increasing tension in this setting, but also normal childhood adventure is interspersed. Sections of the novel are 5 years apart, allowing for condensation. Then comes an abrupt shift from living in wartime to participating in war. And imprisonment with torture. (This is not a spoiler: the torture is foreshadowed in the prologue.) The point of view changes from first person of the prologue to third person for the first 2/3 of the novel; the last third returns to first person, but it is not clear whether it is the same narrator. The first person portions provide immediacy and reflection as it is an older narrator reflecting back on events.

There is a map of the US in 2075 that shows a portion under Mexican rule. Although I would love to know how and why, it isn’t told. Nor is it necessary to the novel. Necessary changes are told: portions of land under water, the quarantine of South Carolina because the north had dropped a virus so deadly that the whole state had to be walled off. This walling off of disease is one of several points where it was a stretch to suspend disbelief. Another was that only four states would resist giving up use of fossil fuel and secede. Another was that race was not an issue, Sarat being of mixed race with black features in contrast to her fraternal twin, Dana.

Most of the characters were well developed and likeable. Even those who turned out to be unlikeable, started out in better terms. I found myself always empathetic to Sarat, her decisions always being clearly motivated.

In short, it is a good read on a harrowing theme.

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A Book on Ageism

This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against AgeismThis Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ageism is an important topic. The first two chapters chart that it exists and why it matters. The next chapters trace misinformation about aging and studies that refute that misinformation: memory, health, sex, working. Next comes a discussion of delusions of independence, of ways to be dependent yet retain control. The overall organization is good.

Within the sections, it felt like a random list of studies. It could have used more transitional clues. In one case the list went from studies she disagreed with (no clue given of disagreement) to a study that contradicted the previous ones with no signals to guide the reader.

Another small quibble: Although Applewhite explains her need for new terminology, I wasn’t fully convinced. And every time “olders” came up, it was jarring. (And I have no problem with being called “old.”)

Two other areas where I have mixed feelings: Applewhite discusses how we each contain all the ages we have been, and that is a good insight. However, to derive from that the idea that maybe we should not tell our age seems to reinvoke the ageism of not telling our true age. The other is about all people identifying as “an older person in training.” In general, this seems a good tactic, especially for younger people. It seems to take some of the “Other” aspects away from Old people. My only caution is that as we get older and still use it, it seems to contradict that we are now old (even as it acknowledges our getting older). Still, that aging is a continuum is an important insight.

On to what I liked. “Aging means living” and all the insights around the idea. The chapter on death and dying–first delinking it from aging into its own section. Second, clarifying the difference between “right to die” and “duty to die,” the former an important thing enabling a letting go and the latter an ageist thing based on misunderstandings of aging and the view from inside.

The strongest point Applewhite makes is her quoting Jane Fonda’s saying that age looks better from inside than from outside. She makes the point early on and elaborates about individuals looking ahead with fear and being old and finding pleasure. It gets reinforced at the end of the book when she looks at what society says about aging Vs the individuals’ experiences of it.

It is an important book on an important subect.

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Still Reading

It seems books that I thought would be well spaced when I requested holds have been all becoming available close together–not quite all at once, but no breaks. Sewing will keep; due dates won’t. I have read more than I have reported here (Through Dakota Eyes, The Handmaid’s Tale); let me know if you want to hear about them.

One comment on  my post about White Fragility was a suggestion of people to follow on Instagram. So I did.  And on one of them was a suggestion of four authors more to read on racial justice. One I had already read; I have placed holds on two of the others’ books.  I won’t neglect the fourth. This is the first that has become available.

So You Want to Talk About RaceSo You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an important book.

Oluo starts most chapters with an incident from her black  life, then adds history and theorizes from there. The vignettes allow for deeper empathy than anything else I have read on racial justice. The history and theory help with understanding the systemic nature of racism.

The book is mostly addressed to white people. Occasionally, where relevant, Oluo explicitly addresses people of color. Mostly, issues affecting black and brown people are addressed, but there is one chapter featuring Asians, where she discusses the “model minority myth” and its harm.

The book is divided into fairly short chapters, many on topics likely to come up if one chooses to discuss race with white people. Oluo offers some lines of reasoning as starters for handling the issues in discussions. Some chapters address current terminology from racial justice theory: intersectionality, cultural appropriation, microaggressions. Others discuss fears, like that of saying something wrong or being called racist. And more.

It ends with suggestions for action to get readers beyond reading and discussing. (Luckily I can keep reading while beginning action.)

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