Thursday, January 12, 2017

January's LFH--On Fabric Obsessions and New Years Resolutions

Changing the fabric of my life
By Dorcas Smucker
Register-Guard columnist
JAN. 8, 2017

My New Year’s resolution is to get rid of my fabric.
Well, some of it, at least, like the mauve prints from the 1990s. And I won’t throw it away, God forbid, but maybe I can use it up, sell it or give it away if I find a deserving home.
I have been looking the other way and humming distractedly for quite some time now, pretending not to notice as my fabric stash has multiplied like mice in dark totes in the attic and expanded in my sewing room, swallowing cubic feet of space, spare rotary cutters and skirt patterns.
After all, I have plans for every piece. A summer dress, a tote bag, pajamas and many, many quilts when all the kids leave home.
Fabric keeps, you know. My cottons will wait until I’m ready.
When I purchased them, each piece whispered to me, promising vast stretches of time in some vague future, time to plan and pin and cut and stitch something useful and flattering and full of delight. “Take me home,” the fabric said, “and in your busy life I will magically create more time. Time for me.”
We have a deep friendship, my fabric and I, and we share so many sweet memories. These ’90s florals came from that lady who was selling her mother’s estate — a whole house full of fabric and thread, shocking in its magnitude. I promised I would never become such a hoarder even as I filled two WinCo bags with yardage for the church sewing circle. And just a few pieces for me.
This cute elephant print came from a store in Thailand, where the fabric rolls stand in the suffocating heat like clustered forests with tiny paths between, and a little old man follows you around with scissors and a meter stick. Best of all, most of the fabric is only 68 baht — just over $2 — per meter.
To be honest, I’ve tried to get rid of fabric in the past year and even sold a few pieces on eBay and a few more to women in a Mennonite group online. Leftovers from 1998 sold in 15 minutes. “In the big communities in the East, everybody wants a dress that’s not like anyone else’s,” my sister Margaret explained.
So, some lady in Pennsylvania would soon be wearing a dress with big burgundy flowers and ruffly dark green leaves. Bless her heart.
I sewed baby blankets and dresses and tote bags.
For Christmas 2015, I made 38 layered hot pads to use up my scraps. When I finished, I had more scraps than ever. With math like this, surely the only answer was to pick up more fabric in the well-organized craft corner of St. Vinnie’s on Division Avenue.
So I did.
My mother used to say that if you like to sew, fabric finds its way into your life. She seemed to think it had a magnetic force, and she was helpless before it.
She seldom bought new fabric, and in her long life she made innumerable quilts, dolls, dresses and toys, plus countless comforters for the church sewing circle to knot and send to Romania. Yet when she died she still had dressers full of fabric, boxes in the attic labeled “wool for rugs,” bins and barrels and shelves and totes laden with calicoes and knits and plaids.
I am so much like her.
Mom liked to tell the story of when she and Dad were visiting relatives in Kansas, and Aunt Bertha told Mom she’s started piecing quilts.
Mom said, “Oh, that’s wonderful!”
Bertha chuckled a bit guiltily. “I’m starting to collect fabric. I have an awful lot already.”
Mom laughed sympathetically. “Oh, I know how that is!”
Bertha then pulled open a dresser drawer and confessed, “Just look here. I have a whole drawer full already!”
Mom pretended to be amazed.
When she told us the story later, we laughed and laughed.
When did I first suspect I might have a problem?
Was it when I wrenched my back tripping over a milk crate of fabric on the floor, or when I dug through totes and drawers, unable to find the red-checked gingham I needed to finish a Christmas present?
Or was it when I bought another piece of red gingham at MECCA in Eugene — that alluring shop with floor-to-ceiling shelves of colorful donated fabric — and then found the original in the attic, a week later?
Or was it when I stood in my cluttered little sewing room and had a brief panicky sense that I was the miller’s daughter in a room full of straw that I would have to spin into gold, and it couldn’t be done?
Mostly, the message got through on Jan. 2 when I walked into my chilly back pantry, glanced at the shiny aluminum pressure canner on a high shelf, and thought, “Hey! I could store fabric in that! It would be mouse-proof and everything!”
Wait. Really, Mrs. Smucker? The pressure canner?
I had a problem. I was addicted. The fabric had lied to me, and none of my pieces came with a magic coupon on the back for two free hours of uninterrupted time.
How convenient that this revelation came just as the new year was beginning — as everyone knows, the best time to start a new way of life and break free from old patterns.
My friend Pauline isn’t so sure about New Year’s resolutions. “Why not change when you need to change instead of waiting for the first of the year?” she says.
Pauline is an organized person who makes detailed menus every week, so she might not understand how I live life.
Another friend, Debbie, said, “We need strong motivation to actually change.” And Rebekah added, “Like desperation. ‘I can’t go on like this.’ ”
I was more frustrated than desperate, but maybe that would work just as well.
“I tend to put my head down and keep going without thinking about whether or not this is actually working,” I told my family. “And New Year’s is a good time to evaluate.”
They agreed, cautious about appearing too eager to donate at least some of my stash to the Mennonite Relief Sale.
Ben said, “I think resolutions can be good, but they need to be measurable goals.”
Jenny agreed. “It doesn’t work to write down, ‘Be kinder.’ ”
At age 17, she is so disciplined that she writes her New Year’s resolutions in her journal, remembers where they are, finds them at the end of the year, and evaluates her progress.
She did pretty well last year, she reported, adding that she always writes down one resolution that she knows for sure she’ll keep, just in case she doesn’t do so well on the others.
Last year this resolve was “Don’t smoke.”
All right then. Specific but manageable goals.
1. Don’t buy any new fabric this year. Unless I need a new dress for somebody’s wedding. Or backing for a quilt. Or it’s free.
2. Turn all that flannel into baby blankets for the pregnancy center. Well, most of it. Save a piece or two for pajamas for Jenny.
3. Sell fabric on eBay or give it away. At least the pieces I can bear to part with.
4. Don’t start new projects until the old ones are finished. Unless the girls need new dresses for a wedding. Or I need a birthday gift for someone.
And finally, a resolution I can keep for sure:
5. Slip to my sewing room in spare minutes to plan and snip and stitch, to drape my beautiful fabrics over my hands, to coordinate their vibrant colors and to hear their whispered promises of simple happiness and plenty of time and infinite creative possibilities.


  1. I chuckled inside as I read your article, and tried momentarily not to think very hard about what I have in my fabric totes! =)

    ~ Susanna

  2. You totally spoke my language here. I love to sew too, and I love fabric. The time to actually do the projects is elusive though. Sadly.

  3. I had to read this twice to make sure I didn't miss anything and because my life might lack laughter these days. Such a perfect picture of my past, though I never eyed my pressure cooker with similar wonder. Thank you.

  4. I hear you, Mrs. Smucker, I hear you. I finally gave all the beautiful flannels I had collected to the women at church for a service project that involved making receiving blankets for the NICU at the local hospital. They said they could use as many as we donated, but they were not expecting us to donate as many as we did! Anyway, even though I knew it was for a good cause, it was hard letting the fabric go....

  5. This was good for several out loud laughs. Not at your expense, however. I wish we lived closer because I'd absorb any fabric you had to give, except I don't have the freedom either for the projects floating around in my head. Sarah

  6. I love your last paragraph.

  7. Thank you for the laugh. And if you can spare any that would make into pretty dresses, I'll buy it. :)

  8. Hi Dorcas... My name is Danielle. I was blessed to hear you speak in Indiana yesterday. I think my last name should be Smucker too because I speak my mind, sometimes to a fault. My friends say they like that about me, but it can get me into trouble sometimes. My last name is actually Yoder and I'm told that you are second cousins to my husband, Lyndon. (John and Betty's youngest son). I would have liked to meet you in person, but didn't get the chance. I like fabric too. I think the road to good intentions is paved with it. We have 9 children ages 16-6 months. Two of our children are adopted from foster care. I will be looking to read more of your writing. God bless you! You were a big blessing at the retreat!

  9. Quote that I saw on facebook: I don't hoard fabric. I just shop faster than I sew.