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This week’s story was inspired by and dedicated to all the folks who participated in a great fundraiser for ovarian cancer research, the Teal Mini Swap organized by Beth Helfter of Eva Paige Designs. Together, the talented folks who joined in raised over $4,700 for this important cause.
Human beings are masters of many things, not the least of which is procrastination.
When faced with a deadline that’s a month away, most folks won’t make a move until the must-be-done-by date is a week away.
And then there are some folks who wait even longer.
Carding’s mail carrier, Ruth Goodwin, wasn’t as bad as some when it came to putting things off. As she often told her friends: “I like to have at least five minutes to sit back and appreciate what I’ve made before I give it away.”
But it had been such a busy month. In a joyous moment approaching rapture, her daughter got engaged to “the right man,” a fact that brought a grin to Ruth’s face every time she thought about it.
It took a lot of time for Ruth to make sure that everyone who needed to know did know about Sarah’s engagement, particularly her ex-husband, the man known locally as the “Good Dentist.” Ruth especially liked the part when she informed him that he would, indeed, be financially responsible for their daughter’s wedding.
In Ruth’s view, it was only fair because Sarah had been ignored by her father all her life.
When he protested, Ruth administered a bit of arm-twisting, threatening to tell his current wife—What’s Her Name—about his current mistress—Whosit. And since the Good Dentist was already supporting three ex-wives, he couldn’t afford a fourth.
On top of the engagement news to spread, Ruth was taking three classes at the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts—one in shibori-style fabric dying, another in advanced embroidery techniques, and a third in calligraphy. Ruth had never allowed herself to take three classes at once but when she looked ahead at her fall schedule, her calendar appeared to have enough space in it.
That turned out to be a serious miscalculation.
And now, on top of everything else, Ruth had a teal problem, as in how on earth was she going to make a mini-quilt to be mailed on Monday when it was already Saturday night?
When her friend Edie Wolfe asked her to join the Teal Mini Swap to raise money for ovarian cancer research, Ruth said yes without even thinking about it. It was such a good cause, one that never got enough attention—or funding.
The rules were simple—every participant paid $15 to participate with $5 to cover the costs of postage and paper and $10 to support research. Once the participation deadline passed, the swap organizer, Beth Helfter, paired folks up, mailing out contact information and a small piece of teal fabric to everyone. So someone in Ontario could end up with a partner in Florida while someone in Texas might have a partner in Vermont.
Then each partner incorporated the teal fabric in a mini-quilt or a mug rug to swap with the other. Pictures of all the minis appeared on FaceBook when they arrived at their destinations, and when Edie showed her the pictures, Ruth had to admit their beauty was breathtaking.
She wanted hers to be breathtaking too, and breathtaking takes time. But somehow the minutes of September dribbled away, and she hadn’t sewed a stitch.
She fingered the teal fabric as she sat at her sewing table. Its pattern was softly swirled, and easily matched with other colors. But as she stared at it, all of Ruth’s breathtaking ideas burst like soap bubbles.
With a huge sigh, she dropped the fabric on top of her machine, and turned to her odd-block box to rummage for ideas.
Every crafter and artist has one of these, a place where things that are useless-at-the-moment but too-good-to-throw-away are kept. For woodworkers, it’s pieces of cherry or a cherished burl. For knitters, it’s tiny leftovers of favorite yarns. For quilters, an odd-block box could contain a single block made to test a pattern or squares left over from a long ago quilt or the last bits of a favorite purple batik.
“There’s got to be something I can use in here,” Ruth muttered as she paged through her collection.
Now here’s something you need to know about quilters and their odd-block boxes (or bags or totes)—these collections function like scrapbooks. A bit of leftover orange binding can bring back memories of a shopping trip with friends. A stack of white circles may be left over from a frenzied Christmas-present making event with a child. A square of flannel from a shirt may encourage memories of a lost Dad or brother.
It didn’t take long for Ruth to be lost in her own fabric reveries, leaving her teal problem unsolved.
She was just about to shut the box when her fingers flipped up a small patchwork heart. When she rummaged it out from the bottom of the pile, two more hearts came with it.
“Andrea,” Ruth whispered. “I haven’t thought of you in a long time.”
Among quilters in the Corvus River Valley, Andrea Karlsen was a legend. A tiny woman with the briskness of a January cold snap, Andrea had played a key role in the formation of the Carding Quilt Guild back in the sewing wilderness of the 1970s when nobody made quilts much less talked about them.
At that point in time, there was no such thing as a quilt shop, no quilt shows, no quilt classes or even teachers. And the fabric…Ruth shuddered at the memory of the loosely woven, too-often synthetic, blah colored stuff on a bolt that talented women such as Andrea had endured before somebody recognized there was money to be made in high-quality, colorful cotton fabric.
As she smoothed the three hearts out on her sewing table, Ruth chuckled over her favorite “Andrea story.” It was about making her first quilt, crafted without a pattern or any idea how much fabric a quilt needed.
Andrea had finished the quilt top and was shopping for something to use for its back in the old Woolworth’s store in White River Junction.
“The only thing they had that was remotely acceptable was this wretched dark orange stuff,” Andrea said. “But I wanted to finish my quilt so I picked up the bolt, and brought it to the counter to have it cut. The trouble was, when they asked me how much I needed, I had no idea. But ten yards struck me as a nice round number so that’s what I bought.”
Now Andrea’s first quilt was small so she had a lot of the godawful orange stuff left over.
An awful lot of it, in fact.
It sat in her stash cabinet ignored, unloved, and alone while Andrea helped form the Carding Quilt Guild, served on the committee of the first Carding Fair and Quilt Show, and taught at the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts as its first quilt teacher.
In fact, the orange stuff didn’t resurface until the members of the guild decided to do an ugly Christmas fabric swap. Everyone put a quarter-yard of fabric in a wrapped box, all the boxes were placed on a central table, and each participant chose a box not her own.
As you can imagine, the quarter-yard of Andrea’s godawful orange stuff got the biggest groan of the evening. As a matter of fact, it got the biggest groan the Christmas after that and the Christmas after that.
By the fourth Christmas, guild members watched carefully when Andrea arrived, noting the wrapping paper she used because nobody wanted to get stuck with her godawful orange stuff. But as soon as she knew her box had been noted, Andrea slid a second, unnoticed box onto the table. She knew she’d take the first package home but the second one…well…that one always went home with someone else.
Ruth took home three of them.
When Andrea finally moved into an assisted living apartment near her daughter, she proudly told her friends that she had only one yard of the godawful orange stuff left.
Ruth offered to dispose of it lest anyone else suffer as she had.
The patchwork hearts on Ruth’s sewing table had been among the last blocks Andrea made for her fellow guild members before she moved. As luck would have it, they were the perfect complement for the teal waiting for Ruth’s attention.
She glanced at the clock. It was late but she decided to sew anyway. She could sleep some other time. Now she had a deadline to meet, and a dear friend to remember.