A few days ago a friend loaded the back of my car with bags of fabric. They came from the house of a woman who had recently died and my friend thought that I should have them.
Today I spent part of my day sorting through the bags and washing the fabric. As I was taking the first load out of the dryer and folding it, a few small printed pieces caught my eye. They all had a worn and faded feel to them, some with tiny holes. There was also a hand stitched quilt square. A brown leafy fabric checkered with a red and white print. Most of the other fabric seemed like it came from the 70’s and 80’s, but these looked older. They reminded me quilts from the 1920’s and 30’s.
As I went through the other bags I started to get a feeling for the woman who owned the fabric before me. She saved everything. There were left over pieces from where she cut out patterns, some of them so small and oddly shaped I couldn’t imagine ever using them. There were pieces of material that had been cut from clothing and saved. The pant leg of a pair of red pajamas with white stars and an orange skirt with the pockets cut out. There were upholstery samples with the faded cardboard tags still stapled to them. I’ve been given boxes of material where the paper pattern is still pinned to the fabric, the blouse or skirt never sewn together. But nothing was unfinished here. I found only one threaded needle forgotten in a piece of black and white material. Then there were the bundles of fabric, like small gifts, tied with a thin strip, usually of the same fabric. I want to keep them wrapped up, they seem to have so much potential.
The bags of fabric reminded me of a story my friend Mary Kellogg told me. When she was cleaning out her father-in-laws basement after he died, she found a box filled with string labeled strings to short to tie. Why keep something that seems useless today? Maybe because you believe tomorrow it might be all you have. I usually tend to believe that when you get rid of one thing you make room for something else, but I didn’t grow up poor or during the depression.
So when I got to my studio I didn’t even think about it. I pulled those small faded scraps of fabric from the pile and started piecing them into potholders. I cut up the brown and red quilting square knowing when I used it all up I’d be done. In my thread drawer I had 5 or 6 spools with such small amounts of thread left, it was hardly worth threading the machine with them. But like the woman whose fabric I was sewing together, I hadn’t thrown them out. I used them all up making the potholders.
I felt like I was tying up some loose ends. These scraps of fabric wanted to be together. They called out to me and I did right by them. They came together so easily as if someone or something was working through me. With absolutely no doubts, I knew just what to do.
I didn’t know the woman whose fabric I’ve been washing and folding and sorting through and now sewing, but I feel like I know something about her now. She was industrious and practical, creative and determined. And I have the feeling that my friend was right, she wanted me to have her fabric.