The Leftovers Quilt





"My cup runneth over," she said as she carried the package into the house.

"Yes, tea would be fine," I said, not wondering about the package but wondering what I would have with my tea.

"I'm not talking about tea but abundance."

"A bun dance? Once, a long time ago in a different place, I had my students remember how to spell the word by having them imagine a hot dog bun or a hamburger bun dancing around in front of them. Some gave a different example of a bun, but they usually remembered how to spell the word.

"I don't know how much fabric I'm supposed to have," she said. She put the box on the kitchen counter.

"You have more than enough," I said. "Enough to make a quilt to go around the whole earth," I added.

"Not that much," she said. She reached for the knife block and removed a small paring knife and cut the tape that sealed the box.

"You said your cup was full," I said.

"I ordered more fabric than I needed for the new quilt, and so I'll have a lot left over."

"I thought you were making the quilt with the too-much-fabric you had left over from all your other orders." It had been over four years since she had learned the first rule of quilting that required her to buy much more than whatever she thought she needed and then add a little more.

"I just needed a couple of fat quarters," she said. She opened the flaps of the box and removed the top layer of tissue paper.

"How much over did you get?" I asked. Now, I really didn't have to ask that question, knowing her, knowing that two fat quarters would take only a small manila envelope for mailing, knowing that the box in front of her that she was reaching down into could hold about 458 fat quarters or so.

"A couple of extra yards and a few sample yards of other fabric that looked so nice in the catalog and a couple of just-in-case yards of extra striped fabric."

"That's much too much," I said.

"That's what I said," she said. "I think I should feel guilty about it," she added.

"Do you feel guilty?"

"Not yet. I have to think about how much fabric a quilter is supposed to have."

"I thought you already had that figured out a long time ago," I said.

"I did, but then I asked some other quilters how much was too much and they all laughed and laughed some more. I felt guilty for not having enough," she said.

"Well, I suppose you'll use all this fabric," I said.

"I don't need to use it all," she said as she reached deeper into the box and pulled out what looked to me like a hundred yards of fabric. "I'll save it for the next quilt."

"What about all the fabric you already saved for the next quilt?"

"I'll put that away for the quilt after the next one," she said. She patted the top of the pile of fabric.

"I thought you had fabric for the quilt after the next quilt and the quilt after that. Ten or twenty years' worth of quilts."

"It's nice fabric," she said. She took a cut of striped fabric from the top of the pile and rubbed it against my bearded chin. "Feel how nice."

"You love your fabric, don't you?" I asked. It was another question I had no need to ask.

"This was hand woven in India," she said.

"It's come a long way to end up in your very large cup of stash," I said.

"You do think it's all too much, don't you?" she asked. She rubbed her hands deep in the pile of fabric, between the cuts of folded fabric.

"You just told me you were having difficulty deciding whether to feel guilty about having too much or guilty about not having enough." I smiled at her. She separated two pieces of fabric from the pile and put the rest back into the box.

"I'll have to think about it," she said.

"And in the meantime?" I asked.

"I have to consider that the price of fabric keeps going up. This will all cost more the beginning of next month. I'm actually saving money."

"Will higher prices stop you?"

"I'll have to buy less?"

"You can use what you already have," I suggested.

"I plan to," she said.

"You plan to use up all your fabric before you buy any more?" I scoffed. This was about the four hundredth time she had considered what that might mean to her life, the world economy, and our budget.

"At least, I'll try," she said. "I'm going to use this right now to finish the quilt I started," she said taking the two pieces of fabric tightly in her hand.

"Try hard," I said.

"I have to wash the rice first," she said.

"We're having rice for dinner?"

"I didn't say anything about dinner," she said. "Aren't you making dinner?"

"Leftovers," I said. "We always have leftovers when you get new fabric. I don't remember any rice."

"There's rice in the fabric. I have to wash it out before I can use the fabric."

"You buy fabric made in rice paddies?"

"Rice starch, not paddies."

"Go on," I said. "I don't know how we got from your cup running over to cooking rice cakes."

"The fabric's hand made in India and they use rice starch to give it body. I have to wash out the starch and any dye that doesn't belong in the fabric anymore."

"Leftover dye," I said. "That's not part of dinner, is it?" I assumed it wasn't, but I had to be sure.

"There's too much ironing," she said, quite unexpectedly.


"I have to wash all the fabric and then I have to iron it and I hate the ironing because it keeps me from quilting, and if I'm not quilting I start thinking I shouldn't have so much fabric because there's too much washing and ironing and folding and storage."

"You're beginning to feel guilty again, aren't you?"

"I could give you some of the fabric," she said, looking directly at me, smiling a sneaky little smile that she uses now and then when she gets an idea that I know will confuse me.


"I could give you some of my stash, maybe half, and then I won't have so much and my cup will be half empty and it won't run over."


"You can be my fabric bank and store it all until I need it," she said.

"And pay you interest on it, no doubt?"

"A fat quarter here, a half yard there," she said. "I'll never feel guilty again and I'll never have too much fabric."

"Go cook your rice and finish your quilt. I think a cup of wine would be good right now. A full cup. Overflowing."

"Sounds good. I can wash the fabric later."

"And the quilt?"

"It's a traditional four patch using nice fabric."

"Does it use up a lot of your nice fabric?"

"Not enough," she said. "No, not enough."


Copyright 2003 by A.B. Silver

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