The Great Teacup Challenge: A Carding Chronicle


TeacupQuilters the world over use their love of patchwork to support good causes and provide comfort to people in need all the time. They are a generous tribe.

Many of the quilters in Carding include the Great Teacup Challenge in their annual charitable efforts. It raises money for ovarian cancer research.

Ruth Goodwin has participated for a long time but this year, she just can’t seem to get started.

But then she rummages in her scrap box looking for inspiration. Let’s join her to see what happens, shall we?

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.


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 got to inform 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 verbal arm-twisting, threatening to tell his current wife—What’s-Her-Name—about his current mistress—Whosit. And since the Good Dentist was already paying alimony to three ex-wives, including Ruth, she knew 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 at her fall schedule back in August, her calendar looked like it had enough space in it.

That turned out to be a serious miscalculation.

Because now Ruth has a teacup problem as in how on earth was she going to make a mini-quilt that featured a teacup to be mailed on Monday when it was already Saturday night?

When her friend Edie Wolfe reminded her about the Great Teacup Mini Swap to raise money for ovarian cancer research, Ruth was as enthusiastic as she always was. 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 going to cover the costs of postage and paper and $10 to support research. The deadline was September first and once that passed, the swap organizer, Edie’s sister Rosie, paired everyone up with each member of a pair making a mini-quilt with a teacup for the other by October 20th. 

As the teacup quilts were made and mailed, pictures of them appeared on the Great Teacup Challenge website to the collective oohs and aahs of the group.

Now Ruth prided herself on her quilt designs and she wanted her teacup mini to be breathtaking.

But breathtaking takes time and somehow the minutes of September and then October had dribbled away and she still hadn’t sewn a stitch.

Ruth chose and fingered several different fabrics as she sat at her sewing table but to no avail. Her angels of creativity had fled the scene. Finally she turned to her scrap box to rummage for ideas.

Every artist has a scrap box of some kind, a place where things that are useless-at-the-moment but too-good-to-throw-away are collected to be used at some unknown point in the future. For woodworkers, scrap boxes are filled with pieces of birds-eye maple or cherished walnut burls. For knitters, it’s usually scraps of favorite leftover yarn. For quilters, scrap boxes are filled with bits of beloved fabric, test blocks and leftovers-from-quilts-past.

“There’s got to be something I can use in here,” Ruth muttered as she pushed and pulled her way through her collection.

Now there’s something you need to know about quilters and their scrap boxes. Not only do they hold odds and ends of fabric, they hold memories. A bit of leftover orange binding can bring back memories of a shopping trip with friends. A stack of white circles can be a reminder of a frenzied Christmas-present making event with a child. A square of flannel from a shirt recalls a lost Dad or brother.

It didn’t take long for Ruth to get waylaid in fabric reveries while her Teacup Challenge problem faded into the background.

Discouraged, she was just about to shut the box when her fingers flipped up a small piece of godawful purple fabric.

“Andrea,” Ruth whispered. “Oh my. I haven’t thought of you in a long time.”

Among quilters in the Corvus River Valley, Andrea Karlsen had been 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 that talented women such as Andrea had endured before somebody recognized there was money to be made in high-quality, colorful cotton fabric.

The godawful purple reminded Ruth of her favorite “Andrea story.”

Way back when, after a lot of trial and error, Andrea finally finished her first 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 purple stuff,” Andrea would tell her audience. “But it was the only vaguely acceptable choice if I wanted to finish my quilt. The trouble was, I had no idea how much fabric I needed. Ten yards struck me as a nice round number so that’s what I bought.”

Now for those of you who don’t know, ten yards is a whole lot of fabric, far more than you need for a quilt backing. Of course this meant that Andrea had a lot of the godawful purple stuff left over when she finished her quilt.

That fabric sat for years in the back of her stash cabinet while Andrea helped organize the Carding Quilt Guild, served on the committee of the first Carding Fair and Quilt Show, and became the first quilting teacher at the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts.

In fact, the purple stuff didn’t resurface until the members of the guild decided to do an ugly Christmas fabric swap. The idea was simple—everyone put a quarter-yard of fabric that they didn’t like in a closed bag then all the bags were placed on a central table and each participant chose a bag not her own.

As you can imagine, the quarter-yard of Andrea’s godawful purple got the biggest groan of the evening. As a matter of fact, it got the biggest groan at the Christmas fabric swap after that and the one after that.

By the fourth Christmas, guild members had started to watch carefully when Andrea arrived, noting the size and shape of her paper bag. But as soon as she knew no one was looking, Andrea switched the bag she brought with another containing the godawful purple.

After a while, every member of the guild owned a piece of Andrea’s godawful fabric.

When she finally moved into an assisted living facility near her daughter, Andrea proudly told her friends that she had only one-half yard of the stuff left and Ruth promptly offered to throw it away.

Ruth sighed as she rubbed the fabric between her fingers, thinking about her friend. Then she straightened up in her chair as a new idea struck her.

“It’s not about brilliant ideas,” she whispered out loud. “It’s about friendship.”

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, a dear friend to remember, and a tiny bit of god-awful purple to use in her mini-quilt.

I’m so glad you’ve stopped by to enjoy this Carding Chronicle . Please share it with your friends and be sure to subscribe.

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