Assimilating it

Mal | Home,Organizing | Friday, April 10th, 2009

The beginnings of assimilation

My creative output has whittled down to zero this week as I’ve worked to assimilate my mother’s generous gift of fabric stash.

I live in a small 1-bedroom apartment and this gift means I’ll probably have to re-arrange all of my furniture. I need to buy new shelves to hold the fabric, and have spent every night since the wedding ironing, folding, and sorting. I have to spend time with each fabric piece and ask myself if I will really use it, if it’s worth keeping, if it should also be given away or (in many cases) just tossed.

Fabric to be folded

Once┬áthis folding and sorting and re-arranging is done, I expect my creative output to go up — way up. Until then, though, there is something psychological and primal for me in trying to assimilate my mother’s cast-offs. My life has always been colored by her mental illnesses — my childhood needs eclipsed by hers. Most of those rifts have been repaired by now, and we largely enjoy a positive adult relationship.

I just have to remind myself, until new shelves are purchased and the couch is moved and the old stuff discarded, that this infusion is a gift — a great and generous gift — and I am lucky to have it. I am lucky to have her.

Most of this fabric is not modern or trendy. Would you still be interested in blog giveaways? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Beautiful post. Sounds like you had to do a lot of maturing at an early age, and although it may have been very hard at times growing up, it is obvious from your loving words that you have chosen to use your experiences with your mother to become a woman of great compassion and wisdom.

    Comment by Victoria — 10 April 2009 @ 10:23 am

  2. Well said by Victoria. It’s not always possible to heal those experiences with our Moms. Going through another one with mine just this week. I try to speak with love and grace but I think she has too many years of unexamined stuff to hear rightly. Just love ‘em where they are. :)

    As to the *fabric*, I don’t like trendy. I look at the antique quilts of a hundred years ago and see how the prints have stood the test of time. I get fabric from the freebee table at guild and cycle it through, new-to-me in, not-so-new-to-me moved out to someone else. It soothes the desire for fabric without spending any money.

    Comment by Leslie — 10 April 2009 @ 11:11 am

  3. Love the colours, for me it is a feast to look at these lovely fabrics. You are so lucky. So much fabric, you can learn to quilt or make large paintings from these beauties. Here is a link for some inspiration for a painting.
    I know it is a lot of work but it is worth the effort.

    Comment by Elizabeth — 10 April 2009 @ 11:29 am

  4. i’ll bet there are more treasures there among the “not modern and trendy” than you may think at first glance. i think you should hold onto it and see what comes out. :-) it’s a beautiful gift and to turn it all into something beautiful would undoubtedly by constructive.


    Comment by julochka — 10 April 2009 @ 3:12 pm

  5. Those colours look delicious. This seems a gentle, healing way to be with your mum and find order and beauty in what she has given you, here and elsewhere.

    PS: Blog giveaways are always popular ;-)

    Comment by Emma — 10 April 2009 @ 4:10 pm

  6. Wow. If I only had my mother’s stash… How can fabric come with such loaded memories? I guess that’s why we quilt!

    That folded stash looks so inspiring, I think those “Emotionally loaded” pieces should be made into a quilt for you to keep. What better way to share, weep, love, remember , release, let go, and move forward under…A home made quilt.


    Comment by V — 11 April 2009 @ 7:28 am

  7. I agree with Leslie’s comment about the fabric choices in vintage quilts. To me they always look like they shouldn’t work but they just do.
    Please don’t get too overwhelmed by the fabric surge, quilting almost eats fabric up!!

    Comment by aneela — 13 April 2009 @ 3:36 pm

  8. I’m very sympathetic to sadness and mother issues – my mother thought it would “spoil” me to hold me or pay any attention, so that’s left me with a whole other set of issues. Not spoiled.
    The fabrics are beautiful though – and as others have mentioned, it’s very good to have a mix of vintage years in your stash. It gives a quilt soul.

    Comment by Lainie — 13 April 2009 @ 4:00 pm

  9. Wow, Lainie: you could be one of my (four) siblings. No holding, “I love you,” recognition of needs, nothing except basic custodial care from either parent for any of us. Impatience with any injury or illness, telling us it was our fault we got hurt/ill. As soon as I, the oldest, learned to read (3 or 4 years old), I was assigned to read to the others. Mom never was interested in us as people, either then or as adults. Sometimes it’s just not gonna happen, is it?

    However, I always looked up to my teachers, most of whom were terrific women. There were (just) a few men along the way, too, as teachers. I’ve also had a few terrific women friends, and some of them had great mothers–women of warmth and intelligence–so I know, at least intellectually, that these good relationships are possible. I have a quilter friend who is sufficiently older than me to be my mother’s age, and she and I get along just great! We met through quilting but have so much more in common….

    The “mother’s stash” question is difficult. My mother sewed. A lot. But no one knows what happened to her fabric. Not one of us has a scrap of it. To know that your mother picked certain fabrics from among the ones available would be (at least for me) nice, but to recognize that they cannot physically fit into your living space is rare indeed. My experiences as a prof. organizer and as a teacher have shown me how rare it is for people to recognize *and act on that recognition* that there just isn’t room for it all.

    I have learned where people (both clients and friends) can off-load their “abundant abundance” to make it easier on them by knowing that their possessions can *and will* be of assistance to others. Mal, the owner of this blog, is offering us a chance to help her off-load the abundance which has just avalanched into her life.

    I’ve been active in my guild’s Children’s Quilts program for 15 years or so. These kids don’t care whether the fabric is trendy or weird; many of them are so young (infants, toddlers) that the quilt itself is an “unconditional” item–they need it, they get it. Unconditionally. At-risk, foster, battered, abandoned, HIV+, born drug- or alcohol-addicted–so long as our program liaison knows that the quilts are going to kids in these kinds of categories, she supports it and the rest of us do, too. I would be interested in fabrics, a few for myself, but more for the Children’s Quilts program.

    Comment by Cynthia H. — 14 April 2009 @ 8:18 pm

  10. You have so inspired me to get organized in my small space Thank you for taking the time to do such a nice piece about your mother. My mother and grandmother were quilters. I have joined a quilt for Linus group and am finding I can let go of fabrics I don’t have an attachment to for their projects.

    Comment by Sue P — 19 February 2010 @ 6:33 pm

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