She Who Dies with the Most Fabrics...
My happy place? It’s in a textile salesroom, particularly amidst shimmery, slick chenilles. I could spend an unabashedly long time petting the silky nap of each and every color – because aubergine does feel different than cerulean. The colors are a feast for the eyes, and textures are tactile teasers! If you think you’ll play it safe by looking for a simple, neutral beige - forget it! Even beige has too many fab options. When there is a good sale, you’re in bigger trouble. You can’t go home empty-handed because “it’s such a great deal, I gotta have it!” You just never know when you are going to come across that perfect project for it.
Right now, I have quite an investment in fabrics of many different colors, patterns, and weaves. But the truth is, I really don’t care if the perfect project ever comes along for any of them, because I really love my bolts of fabric and would prefer to keep them forever. Uncut.
Is this normal?!
Well, surely it must be normal because my mother also has her own very fine collection of fabrics. Over our weekly lunch of soup and sandwich (before our upholstery work), I conducted an impromptu interview with her.
Me: So Mom, do you mind if I interview you?
Mom: What about?
Me: Your obsession with fabric.
Mom: I don’t have an obsession.
Me: Yes, you do. You have, like, at least a dozen bolts in my old bedroom closet and how much more stuffed in dressers and boxed up in storage? If that’s not an obsession, I don’t know what it is.
Mom: It’s a contest.
Me: A contest?
Mom: Yes. She who has the most fabrics when she dies, wins. It’s a fact.
Me: Is that so? Well, you are definitely in the running.
Mom: Of course. I plan to win. Just not anytime soon.
Me: Could you tell me about the first few fabrics you ever bought just because you had to have them?
Mom: All that I have, I had originally bought with a purpose in mind; for whatever reason, I changed my mind and would buy something slightly different. Mostly at that time, once you’ve purchased, you couldn’t return a cut piece. I don’t think anyone starts out wanting to have a fabric collection. They have a specific project in mind, and they either don’t get to it or change their minds. It’s really hard to resell a fabric and get back anything close to what you originally paid.
[True about a lot of things!]
Me: Didn’t you take samples home?
Mom: Oh, I did often. Let me tell you about Mim’s closet. [Interview hijacked.] Mim and Pip lived in a Victorian house. Its gable end faced the street, and it had a storage closet under the eaves. And every time my sisters and I went to visit them, we would wind up in the closet. Mim would say we’d be “phooeying,” or snooping around. There were so many things to see. She tucked all of it away in such a tidy manner. I remember a giant jar of white buttons she’d taken off old shirts before tossing the shirts. The same for zippers, lace, and fabrics – things she had salvaged off other pieces, had leftover from other projects, or had purchased. There was a woolen mill in their town of Granville. In the mid to late 40s, the mill sold items to the public, and Mim would buy things from there, too, and tuck them away – some still with their original sales tickets.
From her I got a lavender, floral cotton lingerie bag from the 1910s or 20s with lavender ribbon to tie it closed. She also gave me floral barkcloth piece (I think stored that in my steam trunk) and a green satin with a peacock design.
Me: [My feeble attempt to regain control of this interview.] Didn’t the “Silk Mill” in Orange also sell fabric?
(Fun fact: American Silk Mills in Orange, Virginia, was the nation’s largest manufacturer of silk for parachutes in World War II.)
Mom: They were only open for a short while after we moved to Orange. I bought a few things there, but they only had a small sales room of remnants. At that time, the only place to really shop for fabrics was Fabrics Unlimited, north of Charlottesville. In fact, that’s where I first heard: “She who has the most fabrics when she dies, wins.” Since I was a frequent customer, I became familiar with the sales clerks and we’d joke about my many visits.
Mom and I finished up our turkey, bacon, and avocado sandwiches (on toasted multi-grain) and went to work in the shop.
Mom also became a frequent customer of Joe and Maria Price’s place – the Fabric Emporium in Warrenton, Virginia. After 40 years of business, Joe and Maria permanently closed their shop doors, and it wasn’t without a bang! Starting with their retirement announcement in October, they began the process of clearing inventory of fabrics, décor, fixtures, and supplies with weekly deep discounting.
On the final day of business for the Fabric Emporium, even when Mom wasn’t feeling 100%, she was determined to go back for the last time. We journeyed to the shop and entered into the zoo. The shop was a flurry of five-dollar fabrics flying off the racks and store employees racing here and there. Ladies lined up at the cutting table, and the salespeople unrolled, cut, and rolled yardage as speedily as possible. In other parts of the store, decorators were consulting with their clients over the phone – blocking their stacks of fabric selections with their bodies and shooting piercing looks to any approaching forager.
My introverty self was getting a little overwhelmed by the commotion. With my own selection in hand, I made my way through the line. While other ladies were ordering dozens and dozens of yards, I was tickled with my modest selection of only a few yards. And Mom? She got a few more for herself, too. She's still winning.