If you are a creative type—a painter or gardener or woodworker, knitter, mechanic, cook or whatever—you understand the obsession that a quilter has with fabric.
With all of the amazing fabrics made now—from hand-dyes to batiks to brilliantly colored prints—it’s difficult to remember that the whole do-it-yourself phenomenon is only about a generation old.
Yep, thirty years or so.
Which is about the same span of time that digital technology has been creeping into our lives with its irritating promises of eliminating the need to make anything by hand.
Personally, I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
Anyway, I digress. Let’s look in on Edie Wolfe and Ruth Goodwin as they attempt the impossible—resisting temptation.
They did it every year, Edie Wolfe and her friend Ruth Goodwin. Usually right after they’d both spent too much money on fabric during the Vermont Shop Hop.
“Really, we’ve got to use up some of what we’ve got in our stash,” Ruth would say as she struggled to find more space on her shelves for the batik fabrics she didn’t bother to resist because they were on sale.
“You’re right, you’re right. I know you’re right,” Edie would say.
And they’d make that solemn quilter’s promise to “not buy any more fabric until we use up a lot of our stash.” But the promise was usually made over wine and easily forgotten the next time fabric went on sale.
This year was different, however. It was the death of Genevieve Makepeace that did it.
Among quilters in Vermont, Genevieve had been something of a legend. She started quilting back in the 1970s when concepts such as “quilt shops” and “quilting fabrics” were more or less unknown. When she moved off this earthly plain, Genevieve left behind more than 3,000 yards of fabric, all of which was sold to a wholesaler.
Believe me, that made everyone in the Shades of Emerald Quilt Guild sit up and count their own yardage, and think about how their families would cope with all their unmade projects.
Ruth and Edie decided that if they made a big production out of their annual promise and did it in public, they just might stick to it.
So when their guild got together for the annual post-holidays potluck supper, the two friends stood at the front of the room and made a genuine, sincere, heartfelt promise not to buy “any new fabric for a year.”
Off to the side, Agnes Findley collected dollars from the other quilters as they placed bets on how long the promise would last. The pooled money would be donated to a local food pantry while the winner got bragging rights.
January slipped by. Then February and March. As far as their quilting compatriots could tell, neither Ruth nor Edie joined the annual quilt shop hop.
“Do you suppose they’re going to make it all the way to the end of the year?” they asked one another, rather amazed by the two women’s willpower.
But…but…but…April can be such a challenging month. It’s way too cold to garden and yet the sun is strong enough to heat a car’s interior up into the uncomfortable range. In the hills where folks in Carding like to hike, frost is still coming up out of the ground, making the pathways a treacherous patchwork of deep puddles and slick, half-frozen mud.
And traveling by motor vehicle on anything but an interstate is a lot like driving a bouncy castle because of the frost heaves.
Cabin fever is real in April in Vermont.
Finally, Edie just couldn’t stand it another minute, and decided that frost heaves or no frost heaves, she was going to do a spring reconnoitering of her favorite charity shops. It’s always best to do that when you’re not looking for anything in particular because that’s when you always find something.
So she bundled her cocker spaniel, Nearly, into the back seat of her car and headed west on Route 37, happy just to drive with her windows rolled down a little.
First stop was the Re-New-Ables store. This was a particular favorite of Edie’s because it’s where she found her favorite bang-around fall/spring jacket. It was a favorite because no matter how dirty it got from gardening or hauling wood, the jacket came back refreshed from a trip to the washing machine.
Once inside, Edie idled in the glassware section of the store, caressing everything in the color blue. A small vase, perfect for a single rose, found its way into her basket.
Next came the tightly-packed racks of clothes. You had to be very patient and persistent here but Edie was rewarded with a silky black skirt and two lovely summer blouses, all three items on sale from the already-remarkably-low prices.
Last but not least was household goods—mixing bowls, utensils, a few appliances (mostly disappointing waffle irons), casserole dishes, and a huge pile of fabric.
Edie did a double-take. Was it really yardage? It was, all cuts of a yard or more piled on top of one another.
Was it any good? As any quilter will tell you, low-quality fabric can ruin a quilt. Sometimes it bleeds but most often it stretches out of shape, and that has an impact on every piece of fabric around it, skewing a whole block or quilt top.
Tentatively, half hoping the fabric would prove to be useless, Edie plunged her hand into the pile.
She smiled at the smooth, firm feel of good quality cotton.
The fabric on top of the pile was a rather uninteresting green, too muddy in color to do much of anything for or against a quilt top. But just underneath it was a sturdy dark red with a repeating small figure in black.
Edie glanced around. She was alone. The red piece slid into her shopping basket.
She flipped the next two fabrics over, both very dark brown, in order to inspect a large folded offering of swirling black and white interspersed with oversized red butterflies. It was dramatic, yes, but as a backing for a quilt…well, it would be perfect.
Time slipped away as Edie plunged deeper and deeper into the pile, filling and then over-filling her shopping basket. She was in the midst of assessing a yard of bright yellow solid when a voice made her jump.
“Ha! Caught ya!” Ruth said.
Edie whirled around to see her friend, four full bags at her feet, grinning the grin of the deeply satisfied.
“Oh uh. Hmm, hi Ruth.” Edie felt blood rising to her cheeks as she looked down at her soon-to-be-acquired pile of fabric. Then she noticed the four bags at Ruth’s feet.
They were all filled with fabric.
“Yeah, I got here before you,” Ruth said, splaying her hands wide and shrugging her shoulders. “I was just heading out to the car when I saw your Toyota. I figured you’d find this pile. Need a hand getting to the bottom of it?”
Edie laughed. “If you wouldn’t mind.”
“No problem. You’re going to need a second shopping basket.”
“Or a truck,” Edie said as they plunged in together. “I do suppose that next year’s another year, am I right?”
Ruth sighed. “If at first you don’t succeed… At least we’ll find out who won the bet.”
You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted,Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Light in Water, Dancing, will go on sale on June 15, 2018. And yes, it will be available on Amazon.com.
You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.
If you would like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.