Flannel Follies




The first autumn chill was in the air, and my Darling Wife shivered. "Brrrr," she said. I didn't respond. "Brrrr," she said again.

"You don't look cold," I said.

"I'm not cold now," she said. "I was cold last night."

"It was cold last night," I said.

"So," she said, looking at me as if I should know what she was going to say next.

"You have enough quilts on the bed," I said. She had enough quilts for every bed in the neighborhood.

"Flannel," she said.

"Flannel sheets?" I asked. We already had enough flannel sheets for an Arctic winter--and we lived in Southern California.

"Flannel quilt," she said.

"Oh," I said.

"I have those bundles of fat quarters we bought three years ago," she said.

"We?" I asked. "We bought?" She. She bought.

"I'm going to make a quilt with them," she said.

'That's nice. It should keep you warm," I said.

"They're just fat quarters so I can't make anything fancy," she said. Usually, that meant she wanted yards and yards of fabric, but she continued and proved my thoughts of her fabric greed to be totally wrong.

"I'm just going to see what I can make out of them. I've never used flannel before."

"You'll make a flannel quilt out of them," I said. She could. She would.

"I'll try," she said.


The next morning she went through her chunks and hunks of flannel, separating them, sorting them, arranging them by color and design then rearranging them by design and color. She did that for two hours before she came down to breakfast and told me she was having trouble.

"I'm having trouble," she said.

"What kind of trouble?" I asked. I was cleaning up the dishes from MY breakfast, having known enough to eat before I starved to death waiting for her to come down. I once waited eight days for her to plan a quilt before she came down to breakfast. At least, it seemed that long. Quilters that I know can go for days without eating or sleeping when they are absorbed in their quilting. Actually, she is the only quilter I know like that.

"I don't have enough of any one kind of fabric to make any design that makes sense," she said.

"Make one that doesn't make sense," I suggested.

"That's a good idea," she said. "I'll make a warm quilt and not worry about what it looks like."

"Warm sounds good," I said.

"What do you know about flannel?" she asked then.


"Flannel," she said.

"It's soft fuzzy cloth," I said.

"I know that," she said. "What about prewashing and running and shrinking and stretching and sewing?"

"Ask someone else," I said quickly. I wasn't about to become entangled in a flannel discussion.

"I will," she said.


She didn't stay for breakfast. She ran upstairs to consult her books and magazines. Later in the day she visited two quilt shops and fabric stores and asked for advice. "Prewash and make sure the flannel is colorfast," she told me as she carried her flannel to the washing machine.

"I thought as much," I said. She just looked at me a moment and hurried along.

"The reds might run," she said as she came back into the kitchen with some red flannel. She turned on the hot water dispenser (a piping 180 degrees), filled a large bowl, and dunked the fabric in. Within a moment, the water ran red.

"It runs," she said.

"Looks like it," I agreed.

"I'll try it again," she said. With tongs she took out the flannel, changed the water, and drowned the flannel again. It took a few seconds longer, but the flannel still ran red. "I'll let it soak," she said.

She let it soak and soak and soak. Twice, I took out the flannel and changed the water. It was an adventure to see how much red dye escaped captivity.


When the other flannel was dry, she began cutting and piecing and cutting and piecing some more and putting the product of her work up on her design wall and then pulling it all down again.

"I hate this cheap flannel," she said.

"How cheap was it?" I asked. She didn't buy anything cheap these days, but back when she was a true beginner, she didn't want to waste money on "something I'm bound to ruin."

"They were pretty bundles of fat quarters all tied together with pretty ribbons and I thought they were something special and that six dollars was a good price for 18 fat quarters."

"Sounds like a good price to me," I said. It sounded "cheap" all right. Today, six dollars wouldn't go one ninth as far when SHE shopped.

"You should see the flannel," she said. "It's thinner than worn out toilet paper and it has little knots of thread stuck in it and it's rough and has splinters of cotton in it and it runs."

"Speaking about running," I said, "the red flannel is still in the water, and it's still running after ten rinses."

"I'm not using that," she said.

"I had a hunch you might not," I said in support of her wise decision.

"I may not use any of the fatally flawed flannel," she said.

"How much of it is fatally flawed?"

"All of it. It's bumpy and stretched and looks awful no matter how I cut it or sew it or turn it or try to make a quilt top out of it." Her words were words of sorrow, but she didn't seemed depressed or even slightly sad or angry.

"You're not giving up?" I asked. She never gave up.

"Not yet," she said.


Three days later, she gave up.

"I tried it a hundred and seventeen ways, and it doesn't work. It can't work. It won't work."


"So, I started working on a new quilt, one that makes sense, one that appreciates good fabric."

'Will it be warm?" I asked. "You wanted the flannel to make a warm quilt.

"I'll make it warm," she said.

"And all the flannel you used?"

"What flannel?" she asked, and she stared at me, daring me to wonder about the flannel or the quilt a moment longer.

"The piece of red that's still in the bowl running red into the water," I said. "That's the only flannel I know about."

"Let it run," she said, and she went back to planning her new quilt. I went to watch the red flannel run.

Copyright 2001 by A.B. Silver

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