We’ll resume our regularly scheduled programming after the New Year begins. In the meantime, I’m re-sharing the Chronicles that have meant the most to me over the past year. This story was inspired by what a quilting friend left behind when she passed away a year ago this month.
What do you do with the creative paraphernalia that someone else leaves behind? And how does that make you look at your own stockpile of unfinished projects?
Those are the question faced by three friends in Carding, Vermont this week.
Please share the Chronicles with your friends, neighbors, co-workers and family. The more, the merrier, eh?
Edie Wolfe sat back with a sigh as she finished her to-do list. Nearly, her cocker spaniel, pricked his ears up with anticipation. In his experience, his human took walks for two reasons—to serve his daily needs or because she had something to ponder.
That airy sound she’d just made had a pondering quality to it so maybe…
“It never seems to get shorter,” she explained to her dog as she carried her empty tea mug to the kitchen sink. “There’s always so many projects to get done, so many chores to do before winter freezes us in place, so much…”
Her phone’s ring tone cut Edie’s sentence in two.
“Hey, it’s Ruth. I just got a call from Fred Makepeace,” Edie’s friend said. “Genevieve died yesterday morning.”
“But she was at the guild meeting two nights ago,” Edie protested. “She looked fine. What happened?”
“Heart attack, I guess,” Ruth said. “Fred woke up in the morning. Genevieve didn’t.”
The air hung word-free on the phone between them for a long moment as their familiar world rocked gently around them.
“Oh my, and they just finished that big quilting studio for her last year,” Edie said, “and she was so excited about it. That is not fair, so not fair.”
“Yeah, Fred wants to know if we’ll go over to the house to help him figure out what to do with her fabric stash.” The two friends sighed as one. “Will you come?”
Edie looked at the long to-do list now lying unattended on her table. It was so tempting to say no. Going through someone else’s creative paraphernalia felt like an invasion of privacy, like going through someone else’s underwear drawer. But she wouldn’t leave Ruth to face it alone.
“Sure, of course. Should we ask Agnes to come too?” she asked.
“Yeah, the more, the merrier, I guess,” Ruth said. “I told Fred we’d make it over tomorrow morning, if that works for you and Agnes. Does it?”
Genevieve Makepeace had been a quilter for longer than just about anybody else in Vermont. She had made her first patchwork project when Jimmy Carter was President, long before the quilting industry could count its worth in billions of dollars, long before there were shops dedicated just to quilting fabric, long before 16 million other people decided to take up fiber arts as a hobby or vocation.
Before she retired from school teaching, Gen made only five or six quilts a year. After retirement, that number shot up to five or six quilts a month. Everyone in her guild understood her voracious appetite for new fabric, and it had been a long time since any vacation she took with her husband didn’t include stops in quilt shops or shows.
So Ruth, Edie and Agnes thought they were prepared for what they were about to see when Gen’s daughter led them to her Mom’s sewing room.
“I hope you folks can help,” she said as she swung the door wide open, “Dad and I are just overwhelmed.”
Edie felt a chill jog across her shoulders as she turned in place. The longest wall in the brightly-lit room—floor to windows—was covered with a drawer system of large metal baskets suspended from slides that connected to one another. Each basket, about three feet square and a foot deep, was filled with fabric.
Most of it was sorted by color—blues, greens, reds, browns. Some of it was sorted by fabric pattern—stripes, dots, florals, geometrics. One whole group of baskets was filled with batiks, another with flannels, another with children’s fabrics.
The opposite wall was covered with bookcases, each of them groaning-full with craft books, art books, the thrillers that Gen had loved to read for pleasure, and history.
“Either one of you have any idea where to start?” Agnes said. Ruth and Edie shook their heads while they took in the task ahead of them.
“There’s no way any of us could incorporate this into our own stashes,” Ruth finally said. “I’ve been trying to reduce my fabric for a couple of years now, and it’s finally beginning to show. I don’t want to leave something like this to my daughter.”
“What about that place over in New Hampshire, the one that buys inventory from closing stores and remnants from manufacturers?” Edie suggested.
Agnes and Ruth nodded in unison. “I like that idea,” Agnes said.
Ruth dropped her purse on a nearby chair. “I suppose we should start by figuring out how much yardage is in here so we can give them some idea of what we have.”
“Okay, let’s pick a basket and measure it out, piece by piece,” Edie said.
After a bit of hemming and hawing, the three friends chose a basket in the middle of the wall. It was filled with all sorts of striped fabrics, mostly in blues and greens.
“How much do you suppose is in here?” Ruth asked as she and Agnes lifted it to Genevieve’s cutting table. “Ugh, I don’t know why but I am always surprised at how heavy this stuff is.”
“I’m not sure…thirty yards maybe?” Edie said. “I’ll keep a running total if you two measure, is that okay?”
In a matter of minutes, the friends established a system, Agnes unfolding, Ruth measuring, and Edie adding up the yards. And then, just as they reached the bottom. Agnes gasped.
“Oh look at these old crazy quilt squares,” she said as she lifted up a small pile of fragile, embroidered fabric patches. “Where do you suppose these came from?”
Edie smoothed one of the squares with a gentle finger, lingering over two small holes where moths lunched together at some point in the past. “Wasn’t Genevieve’s mother a quilter? I wonder if these were hers.”
“Oh, just look at the embroidery,” Ruth said as she spread them out.
“A lot of work went into these,” Agnes said. “Don’t you just love the herringbone stitching?”
“I remember my grandmother doing that kind of work,” Edie said. “Look, there are enough blocks here to make a quilt top.”
Agnes shook her head as she looked around the room. “How many unsewn quilts do you suppose are in this room?”
“Well, I can tell you that there’s enough in this basket alone to make a bunch,” Edie said. “There’s seventy yards of fabric in this basket alone.”
“And how many baskets are there?” Ruth asked, starting to count. Agnes joined her, starting at the opposite end of the wall.
“Forty,” they said together.
“That’s 2,800 yards of fabric,” Edie said, shaking her head. “And I’ll bet she’s got scraps stored somewhere as well as other stuff left behind by her mother.”
“All unsewn and unfinished,” Ruth said. “That’s a lot of projects to leave behind. A lot of making left unmade.”
“And now it will be sold or given away or used by someone else,” Agnes said.
Edie thought about her untouched to-do list at home, and then about her own closet full of half-finished projects. What would her son and daughter do with all her stuff?
Sell it? Give it away? Throw it away? Diana enjoyed quilts but she had no interest in sewing. And Daniel wouldn’t have a clue about what to do.
And her friends? Edie glanced from Ruth to Agnes, knowing full well that their closets were just as full as hers. They all shared the same love of making. The problem was—what do you do with what you make?
She suddenly felt the full weight of the fabric that Genevieve had left behind pressing down on her shoulders. Too much stuff, she thought, we all have too much stuff.
“You know, I suddenly feel the need to go home and sew,” she said to her friends. “I vote we contact that store to see if they would be interested in buying Gen’s stash. I’ll be happy to make the call.”
Agnes nodded. “That’s as good a place as any to start.” She stroked a yard of silver and pale blue striped fabric, perfect for making holiday gift bags.
“You should take that,” Ruth said. “To remember Genevieve.”
“Yeah, I think I will.
Edie reached out to touch a soft green and beige piece. Its stripes had centers of gold thread. “This is lovely,” she said. “Gen had exquisite taste.”
Ruth picked up a yard of turquoise stripes that reminded her of the sea. “Maybe I’ll take just one,” she said. “For Genevieve.”
Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find a short story in your inbox every Thursday morning along with food photos and recipes from the Crow Town Bakery (on Fridays), and other green peak moments from Vermont (Mondays and Tuesdays).
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The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):