As 2008 wound to a close, we decided to put our house on the market. Our youngest child was heading off to college and we figured moving to a smaller house would help us accelerate our retirement savings as well as make our nest feel a little less empty.
In January, we called our realtor and enlisted a small army of quick-fix craftsmen to putty and paint and clear all the cobwebs. While they were wielding their paintbrushes and spackling knives, we got busy giving stuff away.
Minivan loads of books were hauled to the local library, closets full of clothes were donated to a resale shop and the proceeds of a garage sale turned into seed money for our daughter's move to New York City.
As the time for the first open house drew near, I became even more ruthless about giving things away. Looking at the dozen large boxes of quilting fabric in my sewing room — hoarding, much? — I decided it was time to let it all go.
I'd been collecting quilt fabric for nearly 20 years, ever since I took up quilting when, as a young mom with three small kids, I needed a housebound creative outlet. Over the years I became proficient in the cutting and sewing skills necessary to make a quilt. But over time, I realized that I what I loved most about quilting was the fabric.
Juxtaposing the colors and patterns of quilt fabric puts me into a meditative state that few other creative endeavors can replicate. Some of my happiest moments have been spent in a fabric store lining up "fat quarters" (quarter yards of fabric) and watching the candy-ribbon layers of color stack up.
But like most quilters, I found that no matter how inspired my fabric selection in the store, at home there was always some fabric that didn't end up in the quilt. The pale yellow dot that seemed perfect against the periwinkle check drew too much attention in the overall quilt composition, or the gray-green stripe that I thought would ground the entire project seemed too muddy alongside the fuchsia toile.
Fabrics that hadn't made the final cut languished until they found their way into subsequent projects. Most never saw the light of day again.
So for years I kept all those leftover fabrics and mined my boxes occasionally to supplement new projects. But as I prepared for this move, I tried to focus more on where I was going than where I had been and realized that I hadn't really quilted much in the past few years. It was time to part with my past.
I remembered that an expert quilter friend had offered to teach a group of young women at our church how to quilt. I called her up and offered her my fabric stash, telling her that her new students were welcome to it all and whatever was left over could be tossed because I was "Moving On."
Lo and behold, those twentysomethings took every scrap of fabric. At first, I worried that they would feel obliged to use my dated, mismatched piles of fabric rather than create their own fat quarter sunset packets. But as the class progressed, one budding quilter after another told me how grateful they were for the fabric. "Come to our final class," said the teacher. "You'll be amazed at what they've done with your gift."
As I walked through the classroom door, I saw the walls covered with beautiful quilts that were unfamiliar to me.
And yet, there was the aqua border fabric I'd used for my own daughter's baptism quilt worked into an effervescent "Ninepatch" by a young bookseller; a funny poodle print that had been part of a school fundraising quilt became a key element in a black and white "Pinwheel" from Pixar illustrator. The orange-red plaid from a sister's Christmas gift now warmed a new mother's "Bowtie" baby blanket and the gold and purple metallic African print from a quilted table runner now anchored a marketer's dramatic "Roman Coins" bedcover.
To see my scraps turned into these vibrant quilts and to know that letting go of my clutter had helped turn these women into quilters was quite remarkable. I felt like Jacob Marley breaking free of his chains — I could stop hauling around all those old scraps and know that they'd been put to good use.
In the meantime, the house wasn't selling. We decided to take down the "for sale" sign and enjoy our "market-ready" house, including the sewing room that had been swept clean of the ghosts of projects past and future.
All that cleared space got me thinking about quilting again. I ventured into a The Quilter's Inn in Danville, a quilting supply store, for the first time in years and I got lost playing with fabric.
I came home with a stack of jewel-colored fat quarters and turned them into a modern Amish-inspired quilt to take to my son when we visited him for Parents' Weekend.
Before packing the quilt in my suitcase, however, I brought it along to the new quilters final quilt class as my show-and-tell contribution. As we admired each other's work, I let them know that giving away all my fabric wasn't just a gift to them; it had helped me find my way back to quilting.
Kathryn Loosli Pritchett lives in the East Bay and writes about home and garden design. E-mail her at email@example.com.