Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Material Girl

"If I stitch fast enough does it count as aerobic exercise?"

I suppose I should have expected it. I let my guard down. I thought I was stronger than Joanne's siren song. Believing I had tamed my demons, I wandered into Walmart, for a zipper or some thread. I can't remember what it was now, but it seemed important at the time.

Perhaps if I'd just said "NO!" made an abrupt right face and headed for automotives I would have been okay. But I have enough experience with 12-step programs to know that once I stepped foot in the craft section, i.e. yarn, scrap-booking supplies, and fabric, even if it was just for one spool of thread, I was a goner.

When I quit smoking, all those years ago, I was told, and ultimately proved correct, that one is only "a puff away from a pack a day." I was smoke-free for twelve years before that fateful night, around the bridge table, where I was commiserating with fellow Navy wives about our seafaring husbands. "Hmm," I wondered to myself, "how can it hurt to just take one little drag?

Sure, at first I coughed and sputtered like the congested engine on my old VW camper/van. Sure, my first thought was "yuk!" But anyone who has ever crossed into the no-man's land of cigarette addiction knows that the first burning drag, if followed by a quick hit of some kind of alcoholic beverage and shouts of "Mar-Y, Mar-Y"* is just the first of many cough-filled, sleepless nights when the only friend left in the world seems to be the Marlboro Man.

But I digress.

Throwing away my cigarettes was, clearly, a piece of cake compared to my fabric addiction. Three years ago I sold off my fabric stash, quilting books, patterns, threads, half-completed projects and secret longing for a Gammil long arm quilting machine. My desire for acquiring fabric had far surpassed my ability to cut it up into little pieces and sew it back together. The space I had allotted for fabric and quilting in a small apartment was quickly overrun. In my case, "Mary's choice" became not which child to give up but which calicoes to keep and which batiks to kiss goodbye.

It wasn't easy. In fact, my fabric demons might have conspired against such a sale by putting the wrong apartment number on the flyer I sent out to my quilting co-dependents. But the day finally came when the fabric was all but gone. I kept a few sentimental pieces with hopes of one day making a wedding quilt for my granddaughter, who at the time was only ten! Okay, okay, I know ... old habits die hard. However, after rubbing pieces of fabric across my face to feel the luxurious weave and smell the tangy aroma of the formaldehyde used to set the colors, then gently laying my last piece cloth in the hands of a fellow fabric-holic, I thought for sure I was "free at last!"

Another 12-stepping piece of advice is "Change your playmates. Change your playgrounds." In other words don't hang out where you are going to be tempted to fall back into old patterns (Log Cabin? Churn Dash? Lone Star?) of behavior. So I quit going to guild meetings, quilt shows, and fabric stores. I used manufactured spreads to cover my bed. I channel surfed right by Alex Anderson 's quilting room on the TV. I walked through my days quilt-free.

I can't say I was completely happy every day, but the intense desire to sleep under a handmade quilt lessened. Like most addicts in the beginning stages of recovery, I traded one vice for another. I began thinking of myself as a writer instead of a quilter. (It never really dawned on me I could be both - not either or!) I tried to fill the empty spaces where my fabric once lived with journals and writing manuals.

Then it happened, on that fateful day, I walked into Walmart and bought a yard of this and a yard of that before I even realized what I was doing. It was as easy as being in a donut store, pointing to the rows of warm, sugary, mouthwatering delights, telling the woman behind the counter, "I'll have one of those, and one of those." When I got home I assured myself, as I lovingly washed and ironed and folded the cloth, that I would make ONE quilt in honor of Josh and Jessi's wedding and be done with it. How was I to know I'd have two more relatives get engaged in the course of the year? How was I to know there would be babies to sew for?

And so it began. Like other powerful longings that cannot be kept in check, in the last two weeks I've found one reason after another to return to the scene of the crime, not just one Walmart, but every super store on this side of town (not to mention the new black hole for fabric addicts, The Olde Green Cupboard) almost every day for a week. Is it the lure of finding a coordinating piece of fabric in the exact shade of green that drives me? Or is it the smell and feel of the fabric that comforts me? Am I motivated by desire to do good in the world by clearing racks of clearance fabrics to make room for the new? Or am I simply weak willed?

I'm not sure I'll ever know the answer to these questions or the many others that are likely to follow. Right now it doesn't really matter for I know there is one more Walmart out towards the beach, and I'm hoping that I can find what I'm looking for there. It's a maroon/pink/green paisley-ish print with just a hint of gold.

Ahhh ... gold - that's it. My desire for 100% cotton fabric is not unlike a miner's panning for the proverbial "Eureka!" nugget of gold. Even if I find the mother lode, I suspect there will always be one more place to look ... and buy. But for now, with enough yardage for FOUR quilts in my beginner's stash, my "jones-ing" has quieted some.

Sew long, I've got some quiltin' to do!
Merry ME

* I do not mean to infer that my friends encouraged. No doubt they considered me a big enough girl to make my own life-threatening decisions. There is, however, the group mentality, that seems to make a vice okay if doing it enmasse. Perhaps this is why the quilting bee has been a popular form of entertainment for women for centuries.

P.S. Yes, Wendy that is a total of about 3 1/2 yards of Pink Panther fabric!


Anonymous said...

Well well WELL! I have to say that as a recipient of one of your stunning quilts -- which was probably the most glorious of our wedding gifts -- I am completely thrilled to hear that you've once again been bitten by the bug, Mary! It's a wonderful addiction, at least for those of us lucky enough to reap the benefits. I say, "YEAH-HOO for YOU!!!"
(and US!)

Anonymous said...

I second that motion! And fully support this new/old addiction. I also like the pairing of the blog and the quilting -- it lets me see the fruits of your labor and hear the stories and inspiration that went into the prize.

Wish I had the pink panther fabric for my sewing class next week. It'd make a fine pair of pajama pants! And that's right, Merry Me readers; I am my mother's daughter and I do not know how to use my sewing machine. We'll see if we can change that starting next week...

This is a fine, fine addiction to have, I say.