Tag Archives: quilting

Projected Outcomes

old-crazy-quilt-block-for-webWhat 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.

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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?”

“Sure, sure.”

**************

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).

If you enjoy the Carding Chronicles, please share them and encourage your friends to subscribe to this website. And please review the Carding novels wherever and whenever you get the chance to talk about books. Your opinion matters more than you can imagine. The more folks who share Carding, the more books I get to write, and the more you get to read.

The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Interior Decoration

American Patchwork—edited by Sonja Hakala
American Patchwork—edited by Sonja Hakala

Back in 2006, St. Martin’s Press accepted my proposal to edit a group of stories by quilters. American Patchwork: True Stories from Quilters is the result. Published in 2007, the 65 stories in this collection range from the sad to the funny and back again.

One of my earliest contributors was a woman named Judy Bowden who lived in Strafford, Vermont. In the years since then, Judy became a friend, first through our mutual love of quilting (a hobby she picked up in 1971), and then through a love of books, travel, and the lure of ancient sites such as Stonehenge.

Judy died just before Christmas last year. Her deep, rich laugh and radiant smile are missed. This week, I wanted to share the story she wrote for American Patchwork in her honor.


After a close relationship of almost twenty years, I married and moved into my new husband’s home. Before the wedding, we had agreed that I could redecorate the interior of his home from “men’s dorm-style hodgepodge” to my preference of “antique French country with lots of color.” I have a background in many diverse fields, including interior design, so you can imagine how anxious I was to get started.

For the first few weeks of married life, we slept beneath an unzipped sleeping bag that had serviced as his bedspread for many years. That old and torn sleeping bag was just too much for a new bride but I knew it would take months for me to find the time to set up a work space to make my own quilt, and I just couldn’t wait that long.

So I purchased a lovely bargello patchwork in pastels of blue, rose, and white, complete with matching pillow shams.

And then I waited for him to notice what I had done.

I waited for two weeks but he never said a word. So I thought maybe he didn’t like it or thought it was too feminine, though he hadn’t objected to my Teddy bears. Finally, when he didn’t pick up on the hints I was dropping, I led him into the bedroom and asked if he noticed anything.

He looked around and after a while, he said, “No, I don’t smell anything.”

I gulped and pointed to the quilt. That’s when he finally realized that his old sleeping bag was missing. He assured me that he liked the bargello patchwork, and then asked if I’d made it.

I responded, “Of course, last night while you were at your meeting.”

I should explain that my husband is clueless about quilts and honestly has no idea how long it takes to make one. But this is not necessarily a fault, because he also has no idea about the size of my fabric stash (packed away in boxes) or the money I have invested in fabrics, quilting supplies, etc.

And I don’t intend to shock him with that information.


The next Carding Chronicle will be published on February 5. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.