And Then There’s February: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Quilters stash

If you have a hobby—model trains, drawing, vinyl record collecting, cooking—you can appreciate how difficult it is to resist adding to your stash, the boxes and piles and shelves full of stuff that interest you or that you keep “just in case.”

Well, believe me, quilters are no different. Why don’t we join best friends Edie Wolfe and Ruth Goodwin on a sunny day in Carding, Vermont as they succumb to 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 was 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 for mere pennies on the dollar.

Believe me, that made all the quilters in Carding, Vermont 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 their 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 money from the other quilters as they placed bets on how long the promise would last. The pooled money would be donated to the local food pantry while the winner got bragging rights.

January slipped by and then Edie and Ruth got through Valentine’s Day without buying anything red or pink. As far as their quilting compatriots could tell, neither of them had made plans to join the annual quilt shop hop planned for early March.

“Do you suppose they’re going to make it all the way to the end of the year?” they asked each other, rather amazed by the two women’s willpower.

But…but…but…the end of February is such a challenging time. It’s way too cold to stay outside for long and yet the sun is strong enough to heat a car’s interior. And everyone’s getting tired of wearing heavy coats and boots.

Cabin fever is real in Vermont.

Finally, Edie just couldn’t stand it another minute, and decided that icy roads or no icy roads, she was going to do a reconnoitering of her favorite charity shops just to get out of the house. It’s always best to do that when you’re not looking for anything in particular.

So she bundled her cocker spaniel, Nearly, into the back seat of her car then headed west on Route 37.

First stop was the Re-New-Ables store. Though out of the way, this used-goods shop was Edie’s favorite. Her preferred bang-around fall/spring jacket had come from Re-New-Ables. It was something of a miracle jacket because no matter how dirty it got from gardening or hauling wood, it always came back refreshed after a trip to the washing machine.

Even though she had plenty of glassware, Edie idled in that part 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 waffle irons that had never worked very well—the older ones always did a much better job), 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 can 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 when she touched 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. There was no one else nearby. The red fabric slipped into her shopping basket.

She flipped the next two pieces over, both very dark brown, in order to inspect a large folded offering of swirling black and white interspersed with oversized 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 a bright yellow print 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, and she looked down at her soon-to-be-acquired pile of fabric feeling more than a little embarrassed. Then she looked at the four bags at Ruth’s feet.

They were filled with fabric.

“Yeah, I got here before you,” Ruth said, splaying her hands wide. “I was just headed out to the car when I saw your Toyota. I figured you’d find this, too. Need a hand getting to the bottom of the pile?”

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…”

Sonja Hakala lives on a river in Vermont and is the author of the Carding, Vermont novels and an upcoming mystery, The Education of Miss Ruby Royce.

The Carding, Vermont novels, in order of appearance:

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Light in Water, Dancing

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