I Lost 143 Pounds

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.

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The Prettiest Quilts are Made for Autumn

There are pretty quilts for every season and occasion and decor, but the rich colors of autumn are my favorites. My favorite autumn quilt is a Maple Leaf quilt with beautiful autumn colors. I didn’t limit my palette to greens, browns, golds and reds; I used purple and blue and black, too. It hangs on the wall behind my dining room table or on the back of the couch if I feel like hanging a different quilt in the dining room.

Yes, I do have enough quilts that I can rotate the quilts I use to decorate seasonally.

autumnleaves

One sign that I love autumn quilts: I very seldom have any for sale. I want to keep them!

Do you like autumn quilts? Christmas quilts? What are your favorite?

 

Just a little more folksy

You may recall (scroll down if you don’t) that I was having trouble finding a good variety of rustic beige prints and plaids for my scrappy 9-Patch quilts. Some of the shirts and fabrics I picked up were a little more white than I wanted, so I used a good old fashioned tannin bath for darkening them. It wasn’t complicated: I put 8 or 9 tea bags into a pot full of water, tossed in the fabrics and let it simmer. Then I rinsed the fabrics. And rinsed them. And then I threw them into the washing machine and dryer. After that, I ironed them. I assure you.. that color is set.

I did not dye every piece of those fabrics; I will use some of each fabric in its original condition and some of it dyed.

Yes, I have heard that the tea will cause my fabrics to start to deteriorate in 35 or 40 years. I also read that coffee won’t cause any problems for at least 75 years, but now that I have a Keurig coffee maker, I didn’t have any coffee grounds available for experimentation.

Efficiency in Upcycling

After reading yesterday’s blog article, a friend asked me how to get the most fabric from a shirt. She knows this is a particular skill of mine: pinching pennies until they turn into dollars. I may not have grown up during the Depression, but I’ve always been attracted to stories about the Westward Expansion period and other tales of resourceful survival. In the book “Five Little Peppers and How They Grew,” the mother saved and re-used basting threads. That has stuck with me for 40 years.

NO, I am not a hoarder. YES, I do use it all eventually, or I pass it on to someone who will. NO, I do not save basting threads.

The process of harvesting usable fabric from a shirt is the reverse of sewing it together. You disassemble it so you have the largest possible flat pieces of fabric. You can cut the shirt apart with scissors, but I prefer to use the rotary cutter.

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The last step of sewing a shirt is the sewing on of the buttons, so they come off first. I like to use a sharp seam ripper to remove them quickly, sliding the point between the button and the fabric and cutting the threads there.

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Don’t forget that some shirts have collar buttons, buttons in the sleeve plackets, and a spare button or two sewn on the inside of the shirt, at the bottom edge of the front placket or side seam. You don’t want to miss any of them, especially if you are using a rotary cutter and might run into them while you are cutting!

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I save the buttons, looped together so I have a full set when I need one.

5-21-2014 shirts b

Lay the shirt on the cutting mat and cut off each sleeve along the armhole sleeve. It’s okay if you don’t get it perfectly on the seam all the way around.

5-21-2014 shirts d

Cut up the side seams and open up the shirt as shown. Cut off the collar first, and then cut along each shoulder seam and the back yoke seam.

5-21-2014 shirts c

Lay the sleeves out as shown and cut off the cuffs. Don’t worry about the cuff placket, if there is one. Then cut the sleeves open by slicing off the seam. You don’t need to reach inside to cut it open; just cut the seam off as shown. Cut the front plackets off of the two front pieces.

You now have the pieces you originally used to make the shirt – two fronts, one back, two sleeves, a yoke (actually two layers), front placket(s), one collar (and maybe a band), and two cuffs (and maybe cuff plackets). I toss out the collar and front plackets, but I can cut strips from the cuffs and yoke.

If the shirt has a pocket, you may be able to pick it off neatly with a seam ripper and use the fabric underneath. I was able to do that with this shirt, but it doesn’t always come off without leaving marks.

5-21-2014 shirts f

This shirt – Eddie Bauer size Medium – yielded 14 -8” squares for my Nine-Patch quilt and plenty of 2” and 1.5” strips for my strip stash. The actual waste is minimal. I am sure a creative person with more spare time would come up with a use for it!

Mrs. Pepper would approve!