The Empty Spot

There are times when the universe laughs at you, not with you. This is one of those times. I actually did a lot of cleaning this week, but the sewing room looks worse than when I started.

My plan was to take a small box, fill it with Easter decorations, and put those decorations in the cabinet with the Christmas decorations. My husband insists this isn’t really cleaning, just moving piles. However, I knew from the beginning that not all the decorations would fit in one small box – the remaining treasures would either be sent to the children if they were in good condition and thrown away if they weren’t. Thus, I would free up some space in the sewing room, downsize a little, and have the decorations in one place so I would actually be able to find them.

Well, I started out well enough, which is a wonder given that the decorations were squirreled away in various parts of the sewing room. This is most of what I found:

The sorting went better than expected. Everything I wanted to keep fit in my one small box, and the rest was sorted into two piles for kids, and one pile for that Great Easter Basket in the Sky. Then I turned to tidying up the boxes I had taken apart looking for the decorations. This is some of what I found:

So, there I was, faced with the reality of organization – open boxes at your peril. Yes, I cleaned up one thing, but many more things tumbled out and demanded attention. At the moment, I have piles that need sorting on top of the cutting table, empty storage bins under the ironing board, and a bag of trash ready to go out to the garbage can. Oh, and I have one empty spot on the shelf, and no idea what to put there.

Psychic Cleaner

Quilters like to think we are good with details, but my eye often fails me. The other day I was driving and saw a sign that read Psychic Cleaner. My first thought was “I have got to get me one of those! My sewing room will be done in no time!” Just as I was preparing to cross two lanes of traffic to make an illegal left turn, however, I noticed that the sign referred to two businesses, not one. They shared space, side-by-side, in a mini-strip mall.

This isn’t the oddest combination I’ve ever seen – that would have to be the small town in West Virginia where the liquor store is next door to the police department – nor is it the first time I’ve misread a sign or headline. There was the time that I read “Developer Indicted for Reality Fraud” when in fact he was indicted for realty fraud. Usually I get a good chuckle at my own expense and move on. Sometimes, however, the error is too good to forget.

And so it is with Psychic Cleaner. I tried to imagine how one would psychically clean a space. How could you battle the evil imps of clutter? Is there an incantation for banishing the bad witch of the scrap bag? Where would you release the spirit of the ghost of projects past?

I couldn’t figure it out, so I did the next best thing – it became a quilt title.

Psychic Cleaner

This is a quilt I made from the leftovers of a dresser scarf for my mother. It is a more appropriate name than you might think, because she likes the dresser scarf so much she wants me to make a smaller version for the nightstand, from the same fabrics. Understand, she lives 3000 miles away, and I didn’t make good notes about what fabrics I used. Also, had I not been cleaning the sewing room for this blog, I would have no idea where the scraps could be. But I knew where the top I made for myself was hiding, and I actually folded the fabrics I used in Mom’s gift and put them away where they belong, so I will be able to make the smaller version for her. Assuming I don’t need to disassemble this piece to complete the new project, I plan to have it finished for the next guild quilt show. And yes, it will be entered under the name Psychic Cleaner.

Quilt Notes

Notebooks and scratch paper rule my life, because I need to make copious “notes to self.” I write lists about what errands need to be done and what deadlines are approaching. I make notes about dinners I should make and books I want to read. Naturally, I sketch ideas for quilts I want to create.

Here’s the thing about all those notes – they have to go where I can find them again. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. Last week I wrote about finding fabrics I had forgotten, but that’s not all I found. I also discovered a shelf of quilt notes.

My daughter made the shelf in shop class. It was supposed to be a wine rack, but never made it that far. She wanted to get rid of it; I rescued it from the trash and put it in my sewing room. The bottom is filled with fabrics I thought would go well together. The top is filled with ideas for new projects.

I’m not sure when I started stashing quilt notes there, or why I forgot them, but forget them I did. Not only that, I started stashing quilt notes in other places (I unearthed a stack of notes this morning). So here’s the dilemma – and the reason why my sewing room is in such a state: how much time should I spend sorting through the old notes, knowing it comes from the time I have to make new quilts?

That question may be unanswerable, but I can at least tell you what I did – I hauled the notes out and started going through them. Yes, it takes time that I could be sewing, but it also clears out a little more space. Or will, when I finish going through the notes and put them all in one place, using a better system so that I don’t forget them again.

And that laughter you hear is the universe itself, shaking its head at my unshakeable belief that I one day I will be organized.


I was on my hands and knees trying to dislodge some treasure or other from the piles under the shelves, and I actually looked at what was in the nearest plastic storage box. I have four of them tucked against the far wall. I thought I had put fabrics from unfinished dressmaking projects in those boxes, so imagine my surprise when I discovered a box filled with solids, two with scraps, and one with lace.

You must understand, I haven’t used solids in any quantity for years. To unearth such a collection when I thought I had used up the last of them ages ago was more than a surprise; it was a revelation. Who was this person? Clearly it isn’t me now.

Unearthing the Unexpected

It was also clear that the person who kept all those itsy-bitsy scraps in the next two boxes isn’t me. Did I honestly believe I would do enough applique to justify saving 1″ scraps in no particular order?

I didn’t even bother taking a picture of them. The reasonably large pieces went into the box I keep under the window. This is the box I turn to when I want some scrap squares for random 4-Patches. The shreds went straight into the trash basket.

The solids are going to community quilts, where they will be used and loved, and the laces stayed put for the time being. That gave me three empty storage boxes, which I actually filled with the unfinished dressmaking projects that I thought were there all along (don’t ask me where I found those projects).

Some day I will reach a tipping point, where the sewing room will be sufficiently organized that achieving my goal of a tidy work space will be guaranteed. This is not that day, but it’s close. We must savor our victories where we can.

Return to Fort Longshore

I find progress comes in a spiral, not a straight line. At least that’s what I told my husband when he pointed out that Fort Longshore was back. “Didn’t you already unpack this area?” he asked.

The short answer is yes. The complete answer is more complicated. I picked up some extra fabric for the kits I create as part of my quilt guild’s community outreach program. That meant I had to find a place for it in the kit stash, which is separate from my own stash.

In the past, I have stuffed the extra boxes in any corner that would hold them. This week, I sorted through as much of the new fabric as I could in one afternoon, consolidating it with what I already had. When the afternoon ended, I repacked what was left and rebuilt Fort Longshore.

It looks like I’m making three steps back to go two steps forward, but in actuality I have only gone one step backward and three steps forward:

Step One – I sorted the fabric immediately.

Step Two – As I sorted, I separated out pieces that I knew would go together well, and wrote down what pattern I thought would work. When I finally got back to cutting kits I didn’t spend half my time trying to remember what I planned to do.

Step Three – I kept a clean (okay, cleanish) work space. My stress levels went down, I worked more efficiently on the projects with deadlines, and I got back to the kits a full day sooner than I expected.

I suppose I should tell my husband that he was right. For years he has been telling me about the value of a tidy, organized work space, and for years I have resisted his advice. I insisted that I worked better with lots of color and texture around to inspire me. While it is a true statement, perhaps I don’t need to be inspired quite so much. That’s what I learned this week, anyway.

The Joy of Vacuuming

The path from the door to the window is clear. I won’t say clean, because there is still a lot to do, but I vacuumed all the way to the piles against the far wall this week. That hasn’t happened since Easter. Of 2008. Maybe 2007, it’s hard to remember.

This is what I started with:

I justified leaving the boxes in the path as long as I did by saying they were part of my agility training. If I could get to the fabric drawers without knocking everything on the floor, then I was still in good condition. That’s what I told myself.

But the truth, as we all know, is more complicated, and this week I decided I would have to clear out the space. I discovered I could consolidate the boxes, since for the most part they held fabric. I put some of the books on my magic shelves, which again defied the reality of finite space. The other books will be given away soon. The dribs and drabs on top of the footstool were the hardest, but I actually found other places for most of that stuff.

And this is the result:

When I showed my family the cleared path, I was asked if it really counts as being clean, seeing as so much of the stuff just went to other places in the sewing room. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that some of the piles in other parts of the room did grow – but only a bit! I didn’t just shuffle, I consolidated. Nevertheless, I won’t take credit where none is deserved. So, next week, we will return to Fort Longshore.

The Intervention

There is a reason we have Weight Watchers, AA, and the whole wingman thing. The buddy system works.

I pulled out a basket of stuff – that’s the only way to describe it – and it brought me to the brink.

As you can see, there is an unopened packet of chalk, art stickers, books, and confetti. I have no idea why they ended up in this basket (I suspect because it was there). I do know that at some point I had a great project in mind, but that time has come and gone.

The confetti gave me the most trouble. The last time I remember using confetti was for my daughter’s third birthday. She’ll be 25 soon. That means that I have kept the left-over confetti for over two decades, moving it from one place to another; upstairs, downstairs; inside, outside.

I tried to be stern. “Self,” I said, “you haven’t needed confetti for 22 years. Let it go.”

Then I remembered my daughter’s birthday, and how I made paper cones filled with confetti. The day of the party I led the guests to the backyard, handed each child a cone and told them to run free. And they did. They shook the confetti over themselves, over each other, over the dog. They whacked each other with the cones, squealing and giggling. When the cones were empty, I had them twirl around until all the confetti was out of their hair and clothes, then fed them cake.

As I searched desperately for the strength to let the past go, my husband walked into the sewing room and found me clutching the confetti. He looked at the bags, then at my face, and said, “You’re failing, aren’t you. Throw it away, you don’t need it.”

“I might,” I said, “I could use it to decorate a gift basket.”

He shot me The Look, and said, “You’re going to give this to someone you like, knowing she will never, ever see the last of it? She’ll open the basket and the confetti will go flying everywhere, and she’ll be vacuuming it up for weeks.” Then he took the bags from my hands and tossed them outside in the trash, warning that if he caught me running after the garbage truck the next morning we would have words.

Today is trash pick-up; the garbage truck took the confetti. Not only is it gone, so is the other stuff.

The basket now has a new function. I call it my “Why are you keeping this?” container. Anything that doesn’t have another place will go in the basket. At the end of the month (or when the basket is full, whichever comes first), I’ll evaluate each item and throw away what I don’t need and what no one else can use. And if my willpower wavers, I know who to ask for help.

The Reality of Finite Space

For the past few weeks I have been rearranging my treasures. I put the Christmas-related items, including all of my moose and reindeer, in a cabinet in the garage. We just installed those cabinets last summer, and one has three shelves dedicated to Christmas stuff, so I’m not really poaching on someone else’s territory (or, as my husband likes to call it, being a space invader). That freed up some real estate in the sewing room closet, so I moved books from the shelves over there.

Here’s the mysterious part – the shelves are no less packed than they were before.

The Magic Shelves

My husband has mentioned once or twice that there is such a thing as finite space. I thought he was teasing me – science tells us that space is infinite. If unlimited room is good enough for the universe, who am I to quibble? Still, I do understand that some things just don’t scale down, so I thought I would behave as if the reality of finite space applied to me.

Apparently, it doesn’t. Since my shelves are just as full as they were before, I can only assume that somehow my treasures found themselves a loop, perhaps similar to the slideshow loops on websites storing photographs. Take one thing out, another appears in its place. Magic.

I’m not quite sure how to respond to this discovery. Somehow, I don’t think Scientific American will be interested in publishing it. For the moment, I’ve decided to continue taking things off the shelves and see if new treasures continue to appear. If they do, perhaps I’ll tackle the pesky issue of finite time.

Adrift on the Ocean

If wisdom is knowing what to do next then I’m in trouble, because I have no idea what to do next with the mermaid panel.

This is what started it all

Since I had two complete panels, I decided to keep one in reserve and split the other into three sections. Next, I added some blocks left over from other projects and a few separator strips. The border would come last, when the center section told me what it wanted. I auditioned fabrics, leaving the winners up on the design wall for a good week to make sure I liked them together. Things were looking good until the very end, then . . . disaster. What looked fine at first fell apart like a curdled Hollandaise.

Since perseverance is a virtue, I soldiered on to the border. With so much in the center, something simple seemed the most appropriate – two strips of the same blue, the first narrower than the second, separated by an interesting fabric that complemented the mermaid panel.

Sometimes perseverance is overrated. By the time I got the first blue strip attached, I knew the border would do nothing to improve the piece. Maybe it will become back art, but for the moment it is tucked on top of the unfinished tops pile.

Not what I had in mind

The remaining mermaid panel is also tucked away in a pile, waiting. I may not know what to do next, but I know what not to do, and maybe that will be enough to spark an idea that will really work.

Creeping To The Future

My family wants me to join the 21st century. I should have realized their plot the year my husband gave me a Roomba – my own personal, private robot. Last year they gave me my very first cell phone (I’m not exactly an early adopter). This Christmas they gave me a Kindle.

It isn’t that I hate technology, it’s more that it delights in terrorizing me. I’m very fond of my sewing machine – an ancient, non-computerized Viking; the other machines, not so much. I only know two or three buttons each on my camera and calculator. The cell phone has proved very useful (although I still haven’t mastered texting), and the microwave and I are on very friendly terms, but the other machines in the house prefer it if I just ignore them.

Still, I’m determined to make friends with the Kindle. I love books, and although I doubt I will ever stop buying the real thing, I know that e-books are the way of the future. Also, I can keep my own novel on the Kindle in case I meet an agent (for the record, the working title of the novel is Death By Chenille, I wrote it with my friend Ann Anastasio – other part of Broken Dishes Repertory Theatre,, and it is a science fiction story about quilters saving the world).

I thought I would try to win the Kindle’s favor by making it a gift. It doesn’t need to be kept warm, so a quilt wasn’t necessary, but it does need to go places with me. As it happens, I needed a project for the Santa Bears fabric. And thus was born the Kindle tote (it is the Pixeladies Yamaguchi pattern, just in case you want to make one of your own):

Bears for Books

So, here I go, creeping to the future, trying to keep technology happy – and at arm’s length – with old-fashioned needle skills. It may work, it may not, but it’s worth a shot.