If you are a regular reader of the GloryQuilts blog, or if you know me “in real life,” you know that my fabric stash has become a real burden to me. If it wasn’t all neatly sorted and labeled, I would have to accept the “hoarder” label, but the fabric was out of sight and didn’t interfere with my daily life. Strangers visiting my house would never know about it. I could even show them all the Rubbermaid totes in the attic, and they would just say, “Wow, that’s a lot of fabric!”
I’m not stupid. I know how I got to this point. We had many very lean years in our life, when fabric purchases were simply impossible. Like a woman who lived through the Great Depression, I can’t bring myself to throw out something that is still in perfectly good, useful condition. It just piled up. I had remnants. Sometimes I cut up discarded clothing. People who knew that I quilt often gifted me with fabric scraps or even yardage, and I am grateful for their generosity. I was able to make many items out of scraps, especially from 2” strips, because that was how I saved most of the smaller scraps. I sold those items or gave them as gifts, used them as pattern prototypes, or kept them for my own home.
Intermittent Reinforcement is a term usually associated with gambling. People will keep feeding quarters into the slot machine if they are rewarded periodically with a small tinkle of coins. Lights flash, bells whistle, and the gambler feels justified. The phrase has other applications and is descriptive of my attitude toward my fabric stash. I knew I had a ridiculous amount of fabric – even non-quilting fabric – but every so often, someone wanted something specific and I was able to provide it. When a granddaughter wanted a certain costume made of powder blue knit fleece with a red and gold brocade cloak, I had it all, even to the pearl beads and supplies for a crown. When someone wanted some gray felted wool for elbow patches, I had it. Costumes for a community theater production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, with 20 elaborate dresses? No problem. Got it covered. It made me feel good to be able to provide these things, especially when I couldn’t afford to contribute financially, and it justified my stash.
Then there was the simple sense of obligation. I had the fabric, and I couldn’t throw it out, so I had to use it up. I sewed and sewed, mostly with those 2” strips. I sorted them into colors and styles, trying to make fabric selection and planning more efficient. I made everything from potholders to queen-size bed quilts with 2” strips, but my stash never got any smaller. I am pretty sure that those things were multiplying at night, in their boxes in the attic.
In spite of all my justification, that guilt and the growing volume of strips (and other fabric) became an increasing burden to me. One day, about a month ago, a wild thought occurred to me: I could toss the whole thing in the dumpster. I instantly felt guilty and a little scared. I had been blessed – entrusted – with this fabric and shouldn’t be thinking of rejecting it. I sewed another wall quilt from 2″ strips.
This week, my parents came to visit us. My mother taught me to sew, about 45 years ago, and she is currently a member of Knitters and Stitchers, an organization that makes quilts, garments, hats, scarves and other items for various charities locally, nationwide and overseas. I visited one of their weekly meetings and enjoyed it very much. They listen to a devotional message, share prayer requests and updates, pray, and enjoy fellowship while they work on different projects. It’s a ministry of the New Hope Church near Minneapolis. They always need donations of supplies. In the past, I have unloaded yarn and baby quilt tops (more burdensome items that were low on my list of to-be-layered-and-basted-and-quilted-and-bound jobs) on them. This time, I asked my mom to take some of the quilting fabric.
I didn’t just dump the whole load on her. I sifted through 2” strips, saying things like, “This one is pretty. I’m keeping this one. This is ugly. You can have it. This one is beautiful, but the motifs are too big to be used in strips. It’s yours. This one has sentimental value: I bought it in Germany. Please take it.” (We left Germany in 1988.) She patiently sorted with me. We spent at least six hours on it, not including the trip to Walmart to buy totes so she could take it all back to Minnesota with her.
We went through all the totes full of 2” strips as well as the totes for Christmas fabric, novelty prints, Americana calico, and yarn-dyed homespun plaids. There were plastic boxes of flannel squares and strips, too. In the end, I completely emptied five 18-gallon totes and one 10-gallon tote. In addition, several totes that had been crammed to the bursting point are now only partially full.
As her pile of boxes and plastic bags grew, I decided to weigh them. Before they left this morning, I did the calculations. While I am amazed and overwhelmingly relieved to be released from the bondage, I feel slightly ill that I had accumulated such an obscene amount of unwanted fabric.
Are you sitting down?
I happily gave away 143.5 pounds of fabric.
There are 3.75 yards in each pound of calico, so that converts to… (still sitting?)
538 yards of fabric
At a conservative estimate, 500 yards of that was in 2” strips. If those strips were laid end-to-end, they would be 10,000 yards long. Or….
5.7 miles of 2” strips. Unwanted fabrics, mostly in lengths of 12” or less.
I still have an attic full of totes, all neatly sorted and labeled: corduroy, corduroy scraps, denim, old jeans, denim scraps, flannel, juvenile flannel, dark bottom weights, satin glitz, lace glitz, bright plisse, tulle, upholstery… but the quilt fabrics were my biggest albatross. I feel so much lighter and more enthusiastic about sewing than I have in a long time. I have the added blessing of knowing that someone will use those fabric pieces to make pretty and useful items for people who will be glad to receive them. God is good that way… lifting the burden and freeing me from the guilt I would have experienced if I had ever been brave enough to throw them in the dumpster.
I hope Mom comes back soon.