When you can’t let go

My projects were coming along, so in between cutting fabric for one quilt and clearing off the remains of another, I looked around again at things in the sewing room that I can live without. This turned out to be less of a good idea than you might think.

When the kids went off to college, my husband made them clean their rooms. Not that I hadn’t tried for many years to get them to clean their rooms. My best year was when they were addicted to Power Rangers and they had to make sure beds were made and floors were tidy before they could watch TV. We lost ground after they developed taste. In any event, while cleaning their rooms they discovered all sorts of things they could live without.

I discovered that I couldn’t, so I rescued them. First on the list was Godzilla.

I used this little guy as a model when I put a fire-breathing Godzilla on a quilt for Evelyn Judson’s Progressive Party project. She had a tame little cityscape quilt that she wanted spiced up. By the time I got it, it already had King Kong, so of course Godzilla was the next logical step. Evelyn loved the quilt, so how could I let go of the toy that has such wonderful memories? I snatched it from the give-away box and now it lives on my shelf.

The kids’ stuffed toys also pulled at my heartstrings. I did end up letting them give away most of their Beanie Babies. I saved a couple of the cute ones, but those are in boxes, waiting for the kids to have homes of their own (as opposed to apartments for which we cosign). The bigger toys, however, practically begged me to reconsider. This shark, for instance.

How could I say no to that face? So, it’s on the shelf, too, next to the stuffed toys my husband bought me when the kids were born so I wouldn’t appropriate the ones people gave them.

The last toy I found belonged to my husband.

It’s one of those perpetual motion things. I bought it for his desk, but now there’s no room for it. He was ready to give it away, or even throw it away, but I was not. I might be able to give it away now if I knew it was going to a good home, but so far I haven’t found one, so there it sits, on the shelf with all the rest of the stuff I can’t let go.

As for me, I gave up trying to clean and went back to the fabric. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be less sentimental.

The Tote Bag Secret Burial Ground

I reclaimed tote bags this week. It’s not the Battle of Marathon, but it is a victory all the same. Much of my organizational scheme relies on tote bags (which is why my sewing room looks the way it does).

Many of my totes are dedicated. There’s the guild meeting tote, which is actually a basket. It holds a pillow for those hard folding chairs, my name tag, sharing, and information about the latest projects for my friendship groups. There’s the embroidery tote, which holds the crazy quilt I’ve been working on for the last five years and the embroidered fabric boxes I started with the scraps of the crazy quilt. There’s also the embellishment tote.

This tote holds bags of silk ribbon, couching threads, and special beads I’m saving for the perfect project. I put them here so they wouldn’t get lost in the boxes and bags of regular embroidery threads, and beads. Sadly, for the much of the past year the flamingo tote was hidden behind a stack of books. I unearthed it while moving the piles, and now I can’t remember what all those perfect projects were for the contents of the bag.

At the same time I unearthed this tote –

This is could be a purse, or a brief case. I remember buying it – and some of its sisters – for Christmas gifts. I’m pretty sure the reason this one is still with me instead of stashed on someone else’s shelf is because it’s purple.

Then there are my go-to totes. My Asian fabric tote is perfect for business-type events. The bag is roomy enough to hold binders and supporting documents for the meeting, a book or small hand-work project in case I arrive early, and enough CDs to provide music for the trip. The reason this is a great meeting tote is that I can’t put it away with stuff in it. The bamboo handles would snap on the hook if the tote isn’t empty, so I have to take out all the binders when I get home. This doesn’t guarantee that I’ll type up my notes in a timely fashion, but it helps.

Finally, there is my favorite project bag.

This tote was a gift from a friend who knows me well. It was made in India from honest-to-goodness snack bags. It’s bright and shiny and rustles when I walk. No one else in the guild has a bag quite like it, so if I put it down someplace it will find its way back to me. It is surprisingly roomy and amazingly strong. While I might imagine myself as a raw silk bag with ivory handles and an antique clasp, in my heart I know that if I were a tote bag, the snack bag is what I would be.


The next Challenge Group assignment is on the theme of home. We can do anything we want – home as house, home as country, home base (as in baseball), home is where the heart is. Coincidentally, the next all-guild challenge is on the theme of home and hearth. I love having overlapping projects, so I started thinking about what I could do, and how much fabric I could use up (especially the fabric already in piles on the cutting table).

Some of the piles are animal prints, which gave me an idea – I could do a quilt on animal homes. Better yet, I could do a series of small quilts on animal homes, which would eliminate the problem of mashing up fabrics that really do not go together. I’ve made quilts like that before – juxtaposing patterns, colors and themes – to greater or lesser success, but I’m always happy to make life a little easier for myself.

At any rate, in thinking of the various animal homes I would attempt, the idea of bird nests leaped to the top of the list. There are so many different techniques that could be used – some of which I even know how to do – and the possibilities for embellishment are most enticing. Then I looked around the sewing room and realized why the bird nest idea really grabbed me.

I live in a nest.

To be precise, my creative spaces are nests of nests. For example, I have a basket of Halloween fabrics waiting for my attention.

Will a hobgoblin hatch from here?

As you can see, the basket is a nest, and I’ve nestled a spider pin in the collection.

Then there is the nest of “these really belong together” fabrics.

A clutch of cloth

The pile grew too large on the cutting table – it kept falling over whenever I tried to work – so I put it in a lovely purple folding fabric box. A nest.

Then I looked at my writing desk. Imagine my surprise to find that it, too, is a nest.

I used to call it a fort, but I like the connotations of nest better. So now I know what home really is to me – a place to weave my dreams, with bright shiny objects tucked in at random. A nest for those whose wings are of imagination, not feathers.

Collections Revisited

In searching through the stash this week, I came across several small collections – fabrics I thought would go nicely together but that didn’t add up to enough yardage to make a quilt. As often happens, once I realized I had these collections squirreled about, I started noticing them again.

To be specific, I started noticing my space stuff. Now, you might think that having made three space-themed quilts already this year I would have reached my quota. Not so. I could probably make enough space quilts for a one-woman show and still have things left over for a couple more.

These buttons, for instance:

In the right light, they look like little Star Trek communicators. My first thought was to make costumes, but the kids are too old to have their mom dress them up for Halloween. I could make one for myself, but I’m pretty sure my husband would enlist my friends for an intervention if I hinted at wearing it in public.

Putting them on a quilt is OK, as is just keeping them in the sewing room. Which leads me to the two other items, my tribble, and Star Trek the Telephone.

The tribble was a gift from another quilter and Trek fan, I think. Either that, or I gave her one and kept one for myself. I don’t remember when or why it arrived, all I know is that is occupies a place of honor near Star Trek the Telephone.

This was a gift to my husband which I appropriated with his blessing. The red lights flash when a call comes in, and instead of a ring you get the “red alert” alarm from the old TV series. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to hear anyone. That didn’t keep me from using it for many years, but I have a functional phone next to it now (but, yes, the Star Trek phone is still plugged in so I can hear the alarm).

I had hoped by this time in my campaign to clean the sewing room I would have fewer collections – fewer piles – but at least now I see why that might be difficult. Sometimes the items in the collection just can’t be used but, like Star Trek the Telephone, I can’t bear to part with them. Other times the items can be used but, like the buttons, I’m not sure I could get away with it. So, they stay in the sewing room, both taking up space and giving me endless delight.

Random Scraps

The Progressive Party is undertaking a grand experiment this time. Not only will we be passing our projects from person to person, we will be passing around a bag of fabric in the opposite direction. Each month members will receive a work-in-progress from one person and a bag of fabrics that was chosen by someone else. The object is to see what beauty you can pull out of whatever comes your way.

Lest you think we are merely torturing ourselves, we each agreed to collect 20 pieces of fabric, no less than 1/4 yard each, with a good mix of lights, darks and mediums.

I haven’t pulled out the 20 pieces that I’m going to send out into the world, but I have decided what the beginning of my project will be. We’re doing row quilts again, and I have some pieces left over from another project that are too good to toss.

I have no idea what the original project was. I don’t recall finishing it, so perhaps some day I’ll unearth the unquilted top and can compare it with what comes of this Progressive round.

Preparing for this project made me notice all the other random scraps that I have scattered around the sewing room, waiting for me to remember them.

There’s the frog square, for example.

I read an article about creating stars with strips. The technique is to sew two long strips on the diagonal, trim, and use as a border for a center square. It’s actually a lot of fun, but as is my habit when I learn a new technique I practiced on whatever was at hand. If it works, great; if not, well, the scraps were two inches from the trash basket anyway.

The thing is, I really like the frog. And I don’t have any more fabric just like it. Which isn’t to say I don’t have any frog fabric. Not only that, I have a series of frog quilts. The last one is called, “Yes, More Frogs. Deal With It.” But I don’t have any more of this frog fabric and I’m not sure I want to spend the time or money acquiring it. Still, I like the block and someday I’ll do something with it.

The same is true of my Tower of Scraps.

There is an experiment in paper piecing, little bits left over from trimming, one pulled from a packet, and some just separated from their own kind. At the time they went up on this section of the batting wall I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do with them. The idea is long gone, but the Tower remains. I’d like to think of it is a testament to the power of creativity, but if I don’t do something with these scraps soon, I’m afraid it will just be a testament to my inability to throw things away.

Uncovering Treasures

Having a monster collection of unquilted tops can be a godsend sometimes. I earned many brownie points for donating a quilt to a fundraiser, and giving the committee a choice of tops. This is the one they chose:

The top has been waiting years for a good home, and finishing it for a silent auction seems a reasonable way of finding one. And if the winning bidder is looking for a drag-around blanket for the grandkids, well, I don’t need to know.

As well as uncovering quilt tops, I found some other treasures lurking in the piles. The first was a small picture frame. I have no idea why I bought something that size, except it was gilded and cute. I have no photos that small, but I did have a leftover logo for the California Writers Club. I made a sheet of photo transfers of the logo for magnets for the board of our local writers association, and thought I would make something for me. Since I have way too many magnets on the fridge already, I cut the transfer fabric to fit the opening and slid it in the frame.

Frame - 4" x 5" Opening - 2" x 3"

I also found some applique initials that I bought for my kids, and realized that with very little effort I could make make gifts to fit in the other frames that clutter up the sewing room (I tend to buy them on speculation, the same as I do fabric). Then I unearthed an applique patch that I know I bought because it’s red, and decided I should really make a practice piece before I start on the kids’ presents. This is the patch:

4" x 5"

I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, but I’ve got plenty of frames and lots of fabric scraps, beads, threads . . . you get the idea. It’s one more step – out of a million, no doubt – on the path to cleaning up by actually using some of the treasures I’ve collected.

Places I Should Never Go

I went to the office supply store. That’s as dangerous a place as the fabric store, or the book store, or the candy store downtown that makes its own fudge, right there on the premises and it smells like heaven . . .

Anyway, I went to the office supply store for pens (for a gift, not for myself – like my father, I have a collection of pens that will last until the end of the next ice age). While I was looking for the pens, these brass hinges leaped off the shelf into my basket.

I’m not sure how I’m going to make a quilt with hinges, but I thought about all those lovely quilts with three-dimensional elements hiding other treasures. I could also use the hinges to make my clutterflies actually fly – or at least flap.

The next thing to leap into my basket was a package of carabiner badge reels. I’ve always envied quilters who could hold their scissors on a ch√Ętelaine, because whenever I’ve tried it (and I have), the scissors fall out of the holder or get snapped back way too fast for safety or do something else to prove this isn’t a good idea for me. The badge reel, however, might be a good solution, especially if I can clip it to something else not attached to my body, just in case the retracting mechanism is more powerful than it looks.

The idea of clipping the carabiner to something else gave me an idea, so I put a package of badge clips in the basket all on my own. A woman in my quilt guild hangs her name tag on a beaded necklace, so why not make a beaded badge holder? If this works, I might even make a bunch of them for unsuspecting friends and family members. Think of the bead boxes I could empty!

In the meantime, all this talk of fudge has me ready for a visit to another store I shouldn’t go to, ever.

Clutterflies and Banners

The first clutterfly is done. It’s simple, with no embellishments. One block doesn’t use many of my orphan strips, but it’s a beginning. The piece is large enough to stand alone as an art quilt (once it is bejeweled and beribboned), but small enough to combine with several more for a child’s quilt.

I thought about making a banner with it. My neighbors often put up banners for different holidays, or for no reason at all. It might be fun to make my own statement.

My kids never did the soccer thing, so I escaped soccer banner duty. Nevertheless, I have made family banners. My niece considered joining the Marines, and I was concerned that the Corps didn’t know what it was getting. My family doesn’t take orders well. Our clan battle cry is “You and what army?”

Since we have an assortment of Celtic ancestors, I decided the family needed a dragon banner. Then I thought, why not have the battle cry in Gaelic? How hard could the translation be?

Well, that’s a more interesting question than you might imagine. My friend Chris Taylor has a niece in Wales, so I asked her to find out what the translation would be. She told me my question set up a village-wide debate. Turns out there really is no Gaelic equivalent to “You and what army?”

They did come up with two alternative battle cries – “You and who else?” and “So you’re going to get your granny?” I decided to make a banner from both.

I made banners for my kids and my brother’s kids. I’m not sure they’ve had the desire to display them, but mine are in my sewing room, reminding me that getting feisty is a fine family tradition.

Asking and Receiving

Some days, it really does pay to ask for an opinion.

I had the latest project for the Progressive Party friendship group on my design wall. The quilt is about starry skies and fireworks for Guy Fawkes Day (November 5). Since there are already rows of many stars of different configuration, I wanted to make a row with one exploding star. The pieces of my addition waited at the bottom. My husband walked by, and I asked, “What do you think of this idea?”

He said he liked the color choices I had made for the star points. Then I showed him the fabric I would consider using for a shock wave, if I ended up making one. He looked at the quilt again, then told me that if I wanted to do it, I needed to cut the star I had made in half and insert a narrow strip extending just beyond the last set of points.

As soon as he said “cut the star” I knew he was right. I had been thinking of ways to put the shock wave around the exploding star because I could not consciously allow myself to think of cutting apart something I had already made. But that was the best solution to the design problem.

When it actually came time to slice the strip, the one where the points miraculously came out right, part of me balked. I had to take a couple of deep breaths and whack away. Then I sewed in the shock wave strip, and my leap of faith was rewarded.

The strip is exactly what I want it to be. It looks good on the project. And I learned another good lesson – asking is good, receiving is better, but accepting the gift is best of all.


This was a set-back week for cleaning. I had to drag out another box of scraps for some kits. I’m still sorting them, and I refuse to show you the mess on the floor because it is just too sad.

To make myself feel better, I decided to finish up a top that needed one tiny strip on the border. I ran out of fabric just shy of the end, but was certain there was something in my stash that I could substitute. I was wrong. Since I had an appointment downtown, I thought I could risk a quick run into the fabric store to see if there was a complementary fabric on the shelves. I knew I would only have ten minutes to get from the parking lot to the fabric store to my appointment down the block. How much damage could I do in ten minutes?

What a silly question.

While looking for an appropriate substitute for the border fabric, I found some lovely beiges:

The top one will go in a project I’ve planned for some Egyptian-themed fabric that I’ve collected over the past ten years. The middle piece is a good background. The bottom piece has tree names printed on it, which will go well with a project I’ve planned for the tree fabric I’ve been collecting for the past fifteen years.

While I waited at the cutting table, I glanced over and saw these:

I am a sucker for pink and green. I have a pink and green Christmas quilt, and a pink and green Japanese crane quilt. Don’t ask how many tote bags I have with pinks and greens waiting for the perfect project, because I honestly don’t know.

Then, just as I thought I was in the clear, I saw these:

I have no idea what I’m going to do with these, but I couldn’t leave the store without them. Yes, the bottom fabric is of pink flamingos. I’ve been collecting pink flamingo items for years, too. It started as a joke with one of my quilting buddies, but has escalated to the point that I’m even buying pink flamingo jewelry:

At least I’ve never worn it. But I still bought it.

The scariest part of this expedition? I made it to my appointment on time. Never ask how much damage you can do in a few short minutes – you can do a lot.