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Signature Memory Quilt: Notes, Ideas, and Thoughts on a Retirement Gift

This month, one of my favorite library coworkers is retiring. I decided I needed to make a quilt for her as a retirement gift. I wanted it to be a sort of memento to represent all of her years at the library, personalized by as many coworkers as possible. At first I thought of gathering favorite quotes from coworkers about books, reading, libraries, friendship, memories. I imagined formatting them all in Photoshop and then having them printed on cotton and…it seemed that would be lovely but overwhelming, and coupled with the fact that this coincided with me transitioning to working full time and, yeah. I abandoned that idea.

Instead I started with this sketch:

Signature memory quilt sketch

So, my basic idea was a center panel of books, with rows of book spines, some of them of printed fabric, some of them signed by coworkers.

And here's how it ended up turning out:

Signature memory quilt front

I cut a bunch of 7.5" x 2.5" strips. I was working with a vague idea of how it might all actually come together, so I estimated I would need 50 6"x7.5 squares, (2 printed strips surrounding one white one with the signature(s) of coworkers). I ended up needing way more, which I added to the sides of the center panel. I think I ended up with 75 signed strips.

I made the books in the center panel using the Book Nerd pattern from Angela Pingel.  It is a paper piecing pattern and these blocks were super fun to put together. I changed the pattern by enlarging it overall and then making the books wider. For these books, I tried to pick fabrics that both represented things my friend loves (the ocean, sewing, books, travel) and fit into the general scrappy-pastel color scheme. The fabric with images from Utah was a last-minute discovery from Joann and I was so happy to find it! (Even though I don’t, I confess, often use fabric from Joann, as the last time I did the result was a dye-bleed disaster.) I meant to make two rows of five books but the addition of the spines on the side meant I just had room for three.

When I finally got everything ready and put it together, I did have to take away some of the colored strips to have space for all of the signature strips. I was planning on the quilt being 60" wide but it ended up at 64" (ish), which is close enough. It took some scootching and some of the spines are trimmed down, but I think that’s OK because of course all book spines aren’t the same width.

One of my friends who also quilts, and who also used to work with us at the library, made the five appliqued squares: two plants, a lamp, a cup of tea, and a framed picture. That kind of square is NOT my forte so I was so happy to have her addition. I think they were the perfect finishing touch to bring everything together.

A few process tips for making a signature memory quilt:

  • Prewash the plain cotton you want people to sign. This will help the ink saturate the fabric more deeply.
  • Use a high-quality cotton. I used Kona Snow for mine. Avoid fabric that has much obvious texture as it will make the writing bumpy—the smoother the better!
  • Use NEW markers. I used Micron Pigma pens because I have two quilts my mother-in-law made for my boys, and she signed them with these markers. Dozens and dozens of washes later, her signature is still there. You might have some lying around, especially if you do other crafts, but get new ones for the quilt. They write so much easier and darker when they are new.
  • Heat set every block before you sew them all together. The heat will also help set the ink.

I backed the quilt with this fabric. Isn’t it perfect!!! (Another confession, I might’ve made the whole quilt simply because I wanted to use THAT fabric for a friend who loves books as much as I do.)

Signature memory quilt back

It’s called Book Shelves, by Caitlin Wallace Rowland/Dear Stella and of this writing it’s still available. I got mine at Hawthorne Fabrics. 

The quilting was done by Sew Shabby quilting. I was worried about this part because I thought the words people had written would be covered by the quilting. She arranged it perfectly, though, so you could still read all of the words. She has a lovely wool batting so I had her use that. It’s light and fluffy and I love it!

This was the first time I’ve made a memory quilt like this. Some things I learned:

  1. I was pretty terrified when I washed it that the signatures and notes would fade away, but most of them were OK. I had a variety of pen thicknesses, but if I do another quilt like this I will only have .5 and .8 pens. The thinner ones did get a bit harder to read when I washed it. I also learned that fine-tipped Sharpies are OK for this kind of project.
  2. I had the 6 x 7.5 squares already sewn together, so the left and right seam allowances were already taken care of. Even though I told people to write at least ¼" from the top and bottom, a few people bumped into the seam allowances. Next time I’ll draw pencil lines on all of the signature strips to help out with that. Also, I had a spare piece of the white cloth for people to practice writing with the pens, which I think helped. Writing on fabric is not like writing on paper!
  3. I wanted to collect signatures and notes from coworkers who don’t work at the library anymore, as well as current ones. This was a lot of mailing, worrying about mail, and one that didn’t get back in time. I definitely did NOT allow enough time and it was a little bit stressful in the end to make sure it was finished by the time of the retirement party. But, it was really fun to see and communicate with people who I hadn’t in awhile.
  4. I was surprised at how many people were very reluctant to write anything more than their name. I tried to just give them space so I wasn’t reading over their shoulder when they wrote. I also told them it was SO not a big deal if they messed up. That’s what seam rippers are for! I also encouraged them to not worry about their handwriting. As long as it is legible, it is great!

I got to give the quilt to my friend last Tuesday. I think she loved it and I hope it helps her remember how loved and valued she was at the library. And how much she will be missed.

(And, I have to say: I’m pretty proud of myself for getting an entire quilt finished while I was also working full time and recuperating from surgery. I can do difficult things!)

Book Review: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

I felt fine. No; I felt like I’d woken up after a long sleep and had a good workout in the fresh air and a really nice stretch and was now contemplating with interest the idea of a hearty lunch. Sitting on edge in a classroom for hours surrounded by fluffy peeping freshmen waiting for one mal to pop out at me: nightmarish. Summoning a river of magma to instantly vaporize twenty-seven carefully designed attacks at once: nothing to it.

Last graduateThe Last Graduate, the sequel to A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, picks up right where the first book left off. We are still in the Scholomance with El and her burgeoning friendship (minus a few seniors) and she must immediately begin working on surviving her senior year. (No summer holiday at this magical school.)

I think writing in interesting ways about second books in a trilogy is one of the hardest things to do. You don’t want to give any spoilers for the first book and you don’t yet know how the third book will end things. (Although: I have my suspicions!)

So instead of writing much about the plot and characters, what I will say about The Last Graduate is how it spoke to something I have been wrestling with in my current life.

The recent dissolution and/or alteration of one of my longest-held relationships has made me question every aspect of myself as a decent, functioning human being with value to the world.

So reading more of El’s adventures, as she discovers that some of her “evil sorceress” traits might actually be helpful? Well, that gave me a pause in my self-loathing. It made me take a little breath and ease up on berating myself; it found me some space to question whether I am the abhorrent problem or if this is something else.

And that is something I love about reading speculative fiction. Sure, it’s all a made-up, impossible world, but the good ones aren’t just about magic or fairies or doors between worlds. They are about how wherever you find yourself as a human being, you are a human being (even if you are potentially able to destroy the world with your evil-sorceress panache). And, in this case, figuring out how your true self can (or cannot) interact with people you want to trust.

Plus it was just a good story, and El’s machinations for saving other students, her process of learning how to work with other people within the scope of her own El-ness, gave me a sense of courage I didn’t have before.

And that cliffhanger!

I’m excitedly anticipating the end to this trilogy this autumn.

Book Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

She says it's too easy to call people evil instead of their choices and that lets people justify making evil choices. Because they convince themselves that it's okay because they're still good people overall inside their own heads. And yes, fine. But I think that after a certain number of evil choices, it's reasonable shorthand to decide that someone's an evil person who oughtn't have the chance to make any more choices. And the more power someone has, the less slack they ought to be given.

Deadly educationI’ve been anticipating Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy since, oh…spring of 2020 I think. (Masks & hand sanitizer & nose swabs & terror & sweet, sweet anticipation of a favorite author’s upcoming release all combined!) I didn’t, at first, realize that it actually would be a trilogy, but once I did I reluctantly decided to wait a bit. I just get annoyed with starting unfinished trilogies and then having to wait and even eventually reread the first book so I understand the second and…

And thus I didn’t read A Deadly Education until last month, when I was lying around with stitches and an elevated foot (yes, again, sigh). Because then I could immediately start in on The Last Graduate and only have to wait until September for the third book, The Golden Enclaves.


This trilogy is set in a world where some people are wizards, and once they are old enough, they begin attracting the attention of evil, destructive beings, and so must be sent to school to learn how to fight the beings, control their power, and hone the use of mana, which is the energy that magic comes from.

El (short for Galadriel) has been prophesied to be a dark sorceress capable of destroying entire enclaves (the places where the wizards live). Her mother, however, is a benevolent witch who has taught her to examine things from different angles of morality, and so El is fighting hard against her own nature. She is cranky, difficult, and solitary, as she didn’t grow up in a wealthy enclave but in a small house with her mother in Wales.

At the Scholomance, the students can ask for spells from the nether that surrounds the building, and if they have enough power or energy, they receive them, but they are customized to each student’s magical strengths. So, for example, when El asks for a spell to light her room, which she receives is one for eternal flame (responsible for burning down the Library at Alexandria); everything the school (which is sentient to some extent and responsible for all of the actual teaching) does reinforces her potentially-evil nature.

The severely divided class structure complicates El’s problems, because—as  she’s not an enclaver—she doesn’t have an unlimited source of mana but must create and store it on her own.

She’s a loner just trying to survive a school full of creatures trying to kill her while she struggles to subdue her powerful nature.

When Orion Lake, the school’s hero, saves her from a Soul-Eater, the rest of the students start to think that they are dating, and slowly El gains some social capital. Friends, even. Which is good because the influx of evil creatures and terrifying monsters seems to be growing.

This book had a surprising spark for me. By principle, I avoid novels that focus on characters with wealthy families. Which maybe isn’t fair of me, but it’s just not something I enjoy, the escapes of the rich and powerful. I can relate much more to the underdog, the character who comes from a place of poverty, the unpopular one. The one who has to scrabble.

This book made me push back against that tendency. It made me wonder about myself—am I a reverse snob? Prejudiced automatically against the wealthy, unable to feel compassion or empathy for them because of my own bitterness?

El herself has to learn that the wealthy kids from enclaves, who come armed with literal vats of mana, spellbooks passed down through families, and instant allies—they aren’t completely selfish and uncaring (at least, not all of them).

She has used bitterness, meanness, and aloofness as shields, and when she starts to form relationships she has to figure out how to be more raw in the world. More vulnerable. Even with the wealthy enclave kids.

I’m not sure everyone will enjoy this book. The storytelling style is very interior, deeply within El’s perspective, and while she is so vividly drawn I feel like I’ve met her (maybe also because we share more than a few traits) she isn’t always a pleasant, fun lens to view the world through. It is heavier on description than dialogue and has a lot of inner monologues. None of which are negatives for me but I know not everyone will love that style.

Sometimes it’s easy to be disappointed by a favorite author’s newest offering, especially when you’ve prolonged for so long the turning of the first page.

But I was not disappointed. A Deadly Education was a perfect companion for a couple of recuperating-from-surgery days for me.

Ten Things I Loved about Being a Reference Librarian: A List

Today marks my last day working as a Reference Librarian. Monday will find me full-time in the library’s Programming department, where I am excited to learn new skills, interact with new coworkers, and have new experiences.

But before I leave Reference, I just want to write this list:


  1. Talking to patrons about books. In more than 14 years, I never got over the thrill of a stranger asking me for a book recommendation and the feeling of helping them find just the right thing. Over the years I have had so many great conversations about books, literature, genres, poetry, the publishing industry, ebooks vs. print books, audiobook narrators, recipe books, self-help books, graphic novels. How books can change your life. If it’s OK to not finish a books. The book that made me want to throw it across the room. What kinds of books teenagers should read. Why books aren’t rated and why I don’t think that should change. Recently, book banning and censorship. Someone’s favorite book from the third grade. That I got paid to talk to people about books is just astounding.
  2. Seeing people’s reaction to the library’s art. We have an amazing collection and people respond to it. My favorite is a sculpture called “Incoming.” Some children are terrified of it,
    Incoming sculpture at the orem public library
    One view of the sculpture.

    some find it fascinating. Some just giggle because he’s naked. Children’s responses were my favorite, but I also loved talking to adults about it. Often they would say “Oh, it’s The Thinker!” No, we definitely don’t have a Rodin in our library. This piece is about war and it is a companion of mine. I do tell it hello most days I’m in the library.
    Incoming sculpture at Orem Public Library
    The view of the statue from my desk. Amazing how the color of the stone shifts!
  3. A patron who loves poetry as much as I do, or one who WANTS to learn about it. A patron who discovered Margaret Atwood because of The Handmaid’s Tale and wonders if I could tell her what to read next. One who hopes we might have quilting books? Someone in awesome Dr. Martens who notices my flower ones and then we spend twenty minutes talking about boots. Someone who just happens to ask me (I don’t work in media for a reason!) if the library has an alternative music CDs. These very personal connections are the best.
  4. Library stories. I’ve shared a bunch on my Facebook feed over the years. My favorite might be the time a little girl came into the fiction section, took a big, appreciative sniff, spun around in her dress, and said “Oh I LOVE the liberry. It is my very favorite berry.” (The child who warned her brother that librarians in basements are actually witches is another good one.) Not every shift had a story but a lot of them did and I loved getting to experience them.
  5. Favorite patrons. I don’t know if there’s a rule somewhere that states you can’t have favorite patrons, but I don’t care. I do. I got to see one of my favorites, a patron who is in her 80s but seems more like early 60s, always put together and very intelligent about books, this week. She’d been ill with COVID and I was so happy to see her back again. I think other, more loquacious and outgoing librarians than me have a bigger fan base, but I have six or seven patrons who I’ve developed a lovely library friendship with.
  6. Developing our library’s book group collection. This was something I inherited pretty quickly after I started working here. First I just managed the reservations and then I started doing the collection development (meaning I decided which books to buy). This assignment worked with my strengths so closely. It gave me an opportunity to interact with patrons in other ways (many of my favorite patrons are book group users), to use my writing skills (I also created the discussion guides), and to look at books from a unique perspective. I fought really hard to be allowed to keep this collection when I switched departments but I lost that battle, and I’m still very upset about it.
  7. Walking with books. This might seem silly. But I loved that I got to just walk up and down shelves loaded with books. To be among books. Surrounded by them. Reading isn’t just sort of a little hobby I have. It’s integral to my very identity, and so I don’t love books just as mechanisms for getting to a story, but for the books themselves. The covers, the smell, the heft, the type. The spines all lined up on a shelf.
  8. Quiet shifts at the desk. People always say “Oh, you work at the library! It must be so peaceful there.” Truth is, it is often the very opposite of peaceful. I have had patrons scream at me, tell me I’m stupid and worthless, shout across the floor to get my attention. Couples have arguments in the stacks, people talk loudly on their cell phones. They cough and sneeze, snore and, yes, fart. (I pretend not to notice.) Often there’s a phone ringing and a patron who needs help printing and another one who wants to complain about taxes or inflation or what a disappointment Joe Biden is. (Sorry, you picked the wrong librarian for that conversation.) All at the same time. So my introvert self deeply appreciates the quiet shifts when the library is slow and I can work on whatever projects I had, in peace, surrounded by books.
  9. A display shelf. This is another thing I will desperately miss, my staff favorites display. This is where I put four or five of my favorite books, making sure to rotate through everything that I loved. Not everyone wants to ask a librarian for recommendations and this was a way to connect with people who didn’t want to talk. I loved that I could influence what people decide to read without ever even talking to them. Since my tastes lean eclectic and unusual, it felt like being a champion for the books that likely wouldn’t get checked out much. A way to kind of pay it forward for my favorite authors and the work they do. Plus, a couple of times patrons in the wild recognized me: “Hey! I know you from your library shelf! I read [insert random title here] because it was on your shelf and I loved it!” (I generally do NOT love being recognized by patrons while not in the library, especially the problematic ones, but that interaction is OK.)
  10. “Always put the most important thing last” is a basic tenant of good writing, so this one is number ten: My coworkers. Not all of them have been my friend or mentor, but the majority of them have. There is just something about working with book people when you, yourself, are a book person. I mean. Two librarians talking about books together? It can get gloriously intensely booknerdy. Plus, when you love books you look at the world in a different light. Many of my coworkers have been, to borrow Anne Shirley’s words, kindred spirits. They were the best part of a job that held a lot of goodness.

Here’s to the ending of one chapter and the start of another in my career as a librarian!