Early, Early Spring

comments: 91














I absolutely love this time of year. I was thinking today as I passed a winter garden that had been cleaned up and was starting to sprout daffodils and tulip spears how much I love this time of year — the time before things begin. The time when it's still winter but spring is ready and waiting. The time when things are just swelling slightly, just barely beginning to break the surface. Our plum tree has only a handful of blossoms on it, and that's a couple of weeks late, for it. It usually blooms closer to the beginning of March. It had a severe chopping this past summer; the tree trimmer probably took 1/3 of it (which was dead) away. Still, he said the whole thing was only 40% dead and it needs to be 60% dead for the city to allow you to take it out. It looks absolutely horrible now. Huge limbs needed to be removed so it is now very obviously patchy and uneven and wrecked. Poor thing. It's also leaning at about a 30-degree angle. It's ancient, covered in big knobs and warts. It is a great, hideous, gnarly beast. I both love and hate it.

I looked on Instagram this morning at dolly quilts, intending to make one or two for my darling little boo, who loves to sweetly tuck things in and put them to bed. I haven't sewn in ages, and I miss it. There are a couple of reasons for it, I think. One is that it hurts my back. The way I sit at my sewing machine really kills my back. This has been happening for about ten years, actually. A couple of years ago I had an ergonomic specialist come out and look at my work spaces, and watch me sewing, and check out my chairs and my work table, etc. She essentially said I was sitting up too straight at my machine (irony). She wanted me to slump a bit more, but that's really impossible when you're sewing. You know. I just couldn't see unless I was right on top of the stuff, but somehow that seeing is also hurting my back when I sew at length. And that's the way I tend to do it — massive blitz, and get it all done at once. I power sew. I don't go in there and stitch a few seams, or press a few pockets. No. I BLAST through it. That's what I have time for. Blasting. It is not relaxing, but it is satisfying. Nevertheless, it's not great for my back, and if my foot is painful, I'd rather put it up and knit (or crochet). So that's what I have been doing lately.

The other reason I haven't been sewing is that I think I, and probably every other serious Portland-area sewer, have been in a strange mourning phase over the loss of Fabric Depot here in town. Fabric Depot was one of our two (the other being Mill End Store, which is still open) old-school, full-service, enormous independent fabric stores here in the Portland area (and serving all of northwest Oregon and southwest Washington in general — I don't really even have a clue from how far people came to go to Fabric Depot, but occasionally you would see actual tour buses in the parking lot). It carried, in addition to hundreds of quilting fabrics from every different fabric line and manufacturer, all sewing notions, supplies like scissors and rotary cutters and boards, all kinds of batting, wedding fabrics, gobs of trims and ribbons and buttons, lots of upholstery stuff, various apparel fabrics, embroidery supplies, and I don't even know what else. Serious stuff. Whatever you needed. It wasn't half-filled with crap for your house or seasonal decor or stuff with inspirational words on it or scrapbooking stuff. It was a fabric store that was truly for sewers, and it was old, and it had janky cash registers and they still hand-wrote all of the cutting-counter tickets, and it had a big area with all of the pattern books, and you still needed to write your pattern number down on a little piece of paper and find someone behind the counter to get your pattern for you. It was where you would wander and wander and wander, up and down aisle after aisle after aisle, pushing your cart with your kid in it but more often not with your kid in it, just looking and looking and looking for something that was perfect, something that you needed, something that would work. I can't count how many hours of my adult life I spent doing that. I can't count how many yards of fabric I bought or how many thousands of dollars I spent there or how many things I made from the stuff I bought there. I don't know how many tears I quietly circumvented there, as it was my happy place, the place I went when things were bad, when everything felt horrible, wrong, shaky, sad, or hopeless. It always worked for me, and it always had. All my life I've wandered fabric stores, plotting and dreaming and choosing and hoping. Fabric Depot was my place. I almost always went alone. I almost always had as much time as I wanted. (I wouldn't go unless I did.) I almost always went with a plan, and I almost always came out better for it all. It had what I needed. Almost every single time.

It closed, quite suddenly, last October. I didn't go to the big close-out sales they had before the last day. In the weeks and months before, it had been slowly emptying out, and I think we knew. I didn't want to see it picked over and desolate, could not, somehow, participate in the collective grief that was sure to be inside. That might sound dramatic. I guess it does. But its closing seems somehow to signal larger truths about the state of retail, or the state of the world, that I can't even get my mind around. It felt, and still feels, just painfully localized. Our store. I don't think any of us think there will be another place like that in Portland again. It was too big, and it held too much, so much random, obsolete-seeming stuff that you didn't know you wanted (grommet setters, lacy lingerie elastic, a covered belt kit) until suddenly, one day, you wanted it. But because of that it also felt unsinkable. The ladies there (in their twill pinnies, with scissors in their pockets) had been there forever. They were not arch. They were stable and reliable. Experienced in fabric and life. They knew answers to your questions. They asked you what you were making, and always listened to you ramble on about it. There was always music, there was always a sale, and there were always other people like you, hanging around, laughing with each other, talking about sewing, doing the same thing you were, making things with joy, and sewing away every sorrow. I miss you, friend.


Lynn Marie says: March 12, 2019 at 09:46 AM

I worked at a large fabric store in my hometown for almost 20 years. Dress goods to quilt fabrics. Girls would come from miles around to buy fabric for their wedding dress and bridesmaids dresses---we had all the laces and notions and patterns--all of it. It is still there but now carries only quilting fabrics and notions. I love all the quilting fabrics but was sad to see the transition. I feel this happened because Home Ec left the school system years ago. None of the young girls are learning to sew unless they search it out on their own. THey aren't learning to cook either--hence the giant grocery stores that you have to walk a mile in to complete your shopping because the majority of food in there is to heat and eat.

ellen patton says: March 12, 2019 at 09:54 AM

I live in Boston but my dad lives in the Portland area and he took me to Fabric Depot a few times. I loved that store! One time I had to ship the fabric home because I bought too much to fit in my suitcase. When he told me it abruptly closed I was sad too.

What a beautiful eulogy. What can possibly replace such a thing, where artisans and lovers of a domestic art or craft can inspire each other and the next generation? Thank you for this post. You're not alone in weeping for a lost way of life.

Linda Rattie says: March 12, 2019 at 10:13 AM

Well believe it or not...I am from Ontario Canada and I have actually shopped at your Fabric Depot. I was visiting relatives and went there. Huge store. I bought so much they had to ship it to me because I couldn’t take it on the plane! Huge store...I think the biggest I have ever seen (or will see again). I know it is like losing a friend☹️

Heather Pool says: March 12, 2019 at 10:17 AM

I am also missing my favorite, and most reliable fabric store. A fellow quilter has told me that Mill End has bought Fabric Depot's inventory, so at least for the near term, there will still be nice fabric in Portland. I only hope they will expand to fill the void that has been left by this sad closing.

Oh, this is such a lovely ode to the fabric store and its inner life! I wished i had a chance to visit it before it closed. I grew up going to the fabric store with my mother and it seemed a rite of passage to be able to pick out your own fabric and pattern by yourself (I did so for my 8th grade graduation dress that I made myself!). A safe place for women to be creative. I, too, escaped to fabric stores to find solace amongst the bolts.

On another note, for what it is worth, I used to get terrible neck and back pain bending over my sewing machine in my marathon sewing sessions, but ever since I gave up dairy and wheat, on the advice of my chiropractor I have been pain free (and my asthma went away BONUS!). Omitting foods that cause you inflammation can help...figuring out that they are is another thing altogether, but i am happy I at least tried. I feel more brave about growing older in my body because it is less cranky now I know what not to eat.

Sandy Emery says: March 12, 2019 at 11:21 AM

Oh, Fabric Depot! I live in Seattle but every time I was in the Portland area it was a must stop place. A favorite time was with friends on our way to the Sisters Quilt Show. Sometimes we even needed to stop on our way back because of some inspiration from the quilts we saw. It is so sad that all the brick and mortar fabric stores are disappearing. How are we supposed to choose fabrics when we can't feel them, see them next to each other, see them in the sunlight? We have a Pacific Fabric here that is my go to store but they don't carry a lot of the designers I love. But at least it's something.

You are so lucky the trees are already budding there. It will still be at least another month here in northern IL. We still have big snow piles on the ground. I'm not a sewer (I can't even thread a needle, lol) but that's really sad about Fabric Depot. That sounded like an awesome store. Wonder why it went out of business?

Alicia, you describe so well the feelings many of us had when Fabric Depot closed. I remember going there probably a month or two before its last days and it was so empty inside. I thought, what is going on in here--where is everything? And then I found out later through the newspaper that it was closing--I just had such a feeling of abandonment. I remember picking out all the makings for my daughters wedding dress 30 years ago--satin, netting, many beads and pearls and learning how to do a train with countless rows of attached ruffles. I loved seeing the sample garments made up from various patterns displayed--and how mine never looked quite so beautiful as they did. Even the long lines at the cutting table weren't bad because there was so much to look at while you were waiting and like minded ladies to talk to. I do go to another fabric store in the area, but really the fabric and yarn are not the highlights of the store--the home decor and seasonal gifts are. I miss the community feeling--it must be like the closing of "Mom and Pop" grocery stores. I'm grateful though for the many hours spent there having my creativity sparked and the boxes and boxes of fabric that I still have--it makes me feel like a part of Fabric Depot is still in my basement!

Rebecca Robinson says: March 12, 2019 at 04:32 PM

Thank-you Alicia for putting into words my exact feelings about Fabric Depot and the sadness of it closing. There are a few quilt shops here in Vancouver and Craft Warehouse, but nothing like the fabulousness of Fabric Depot. It's like the end of an Era of self-sufficiency and loveliness.
I'm sorry about your back-I have the same problem, but with my shoulder when I have sewing marathons-sheesh!

Oh how sad!! I used to live in Snohomish, WA and would udrive down to Portland for major shopping trips & Fabric Depot was my first stop. It was a legend in the NW. I loved that place! I agree about the state of retail in our country. It's just too easy to buy things online. In my Midwestern college town we have a small Joann Fabrics & Hobby Lobby .
I really don't like either of them, except in a pinch. I can buy nicer fabric, yarn, felt, thread, etc.... Online. Our local quilt shop closed last year. In an Amish community about 2 hours from here there are wonderful fabric shops. Most cater to quilters, but a few others have beautiful wool & linen fabrics and at very reasonable prices. Most women in a radius of sixty miles sew, and don't use computers. As someone with a disability it's easier for me to shop on line. Soon though, I'm afraid there will be nowhere
for women to go hangout (get away by ourselves or w/friends). We may have to start seeing clubs that meet in our community centers like women in the UK!

I'm almost afraid to get attached to any particular store because when I do, it seems it closes quite suddenly. Internet sales is hurting real stores and some of it's good, but a lot of it's bad because you lose the community. Internet buying is so impersonal and I miss the humanity of shopping in a real store, but it is convenient and quick and that's what we all seem to want. We do have a huge JoAnn's that just reopened so I'm keeping my fingers crossed it stays around for a long time.

Rebecca J from Alberta says: March 12, 2019 at 07:42 PM

That is exactly how I would feel if you stopped publishing your blog. It is my way when I am weary and exhausted and I wonder what I can do for a little boost? I come here, I see prettiness, a good recipe, a lovely knit, plants, light, childhood.... I breathe deeply and I feel better. Honestly, the same thing happens in a small way with your lotion bars, my wonderful husband bought me two for Cmas, and I just take a minute to open the little tin, I pinch off my engagement and wedding bands, and the opal baby ring I always wear. I put the rings in the lid and I go to town warming up that wonderful smelling stuff!

Your beautiful things are so lovely, I am a very busy but so happy, homeschooling mom. Sometimes when I wonder if motherhood really matters, I come here, and you always remind me. You have a good little thing going here. Anyway, I just wanted to say I appreciate this! Thank you for working so hard!

Having worked in such a store like Fabric Depot, but in San Diego. I completely understand your sadness. Too many stores we've all grown to depend on and have enjoyed are going away. But we continue to go on to find those things we need to make our lives a bit more comfortable, a bit more cozy.

Spike Selby says: March 12, 2019 at 08:22 PM

I can't believe Fabric Depot closed, and so suddenly. My mom sewed clothes for me and my sister when I was a kid, I have potent memories of hiding in the center of the circular fabric displays in a California fabric store and jumping out to scare her. And the indelible smell of new fabric... strangely comforting even now. We miss you Fabric Depot!

That is a beautiful tribute to Fabric Depot. I'm from North Vancouver, B.C. and once I spent 3 hours in Fabric Depot while my kids and husband waited for me in the van. My son couldn't understand what was so exciting about looking at fabric that had different patterns and colors...weren't they all the same? Anyways, I too will miss that store. I also loved how it felt like it was in a time warp, not flashy or trendy, just good old fashion, no nonsense, solid and sound. It will be missed.

Hi Alicia, I too grieve for Fabric Depot, my wonderland for 26 years. I was certain it would close as the stock dwindled and not surprised when it did. The best help for my recovery from the loss is my huge stash of fabrics, mostly purchased at Fabric Depot, that I can wander through to chase away the blues. It seems that stores with service and knowledgeable staff are disappearing rapidly. I miss them so badly and am not in love with this box store world. I strongly believe that there will be a return to better service one day, because people will tire of the impersonal box, and crave the old fashioned ways. Thanks for the memorial to my favorite fabric store.

Hi Alicia - I too have noticed how my back aches when I sew for any length of time - and like you, I stitch for hours rather than minutes. I've started raising my (huge) Janome up onto a half height little table that I stand on top of my sewing table. The little table has additional legs that unclip to make it full height, but it's perfect for me when they're not added on. On top of my desk and half height table, my machine is the perfect height for me to stand and stitch. It's worked wonders! No more getting up and down for the pins, snippy scissors, special piece of fabric that's "over there" - just a few steps to keep me on my toes. The only problem is that the Janome weighs a ton so moving it every so often probably doesn't do some other part of my back much good! Happy days - I'm doing a demo and some courses at our local haberdashery in Winchester, UK - 3 floors of fabrics from upholstery to quilting and everything inbetween - let's hope it lasts!

I didn't know your Fabric Depot, though it sounds lovely, and your descriptions brought back a flood of memories of fabric stores and patterns books that I poured over with my mom when I was a girl. My mother made the most lovely dresses for my sister and I; going to the fabric store was always a treat. I can remember selecting ribbons and patterns for puffy-sleeved dresses that my mother sewed just so (pun intended!) and that I loved to wear. I am sorry your store is gone; thank you for the trip down memory lane.

I feel your loss, everything about it. How the craft stores are changing and the big retail stores morphing. I worked at Joann fabrics last year for a blip and it was anything but crafty. I’m used to be my happy place but after working there no more. Our local yarn store had a pipe bust and she was closed down and in talking to the owner i felt her despair at how hard she is trying to keep the doors open as the internet and retail mega stores are hurting the local business people. It’s sad and does feel like a loss. It feels like a time lost that further generations won't even know existed.

Even blogs you can’t get on them without so many advertisements. So commercial. So I thank you for your beautiful blog , without commercialism , a place that has been a happy place for me always. A place i go to when life gets scary or unsettled. The beauty you share always lifts me. Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!

We hacked up our plum tree this year and my son took the wood and carved the most beautiful tiny wooden spoons - just lovely. The grain swirls in the curve of the spoon. Plum wood is amazing (at least the part that's not rotten).

Hello Alicia, I wonder if you've tried a yoga/balance ball chair. I had a tailbone injury about 11 years ago and my yoga ball chair has saved me from constant pain while sitting and helped me rehabilitate to a point that I can tolerate longer periods of prolonged sitting with things like road trips. There are many styles you can get, and if with your specialized foot needs you are concerned about the stability of something like that, I have a Gaiam and the back wheels lock solidly enough to make me feel very stable even though I tend toward clumsy. The chair back worried me at first as it doesn't look like much, but I even find myself leaning back on it at times and it hasn't given way yet. I've found it entirely possible to slouch or have weird posture in my chair, but it does encourage straight-sitting, and if that's already in your nature, the ball will take pressure off of your spine. You can adjust the ball for height as you need, or purchase accessories to attach above the wheels to make it higher if filling the balance ball enough to get the height you need makes it uncomfortable. There are also chair cushions you can get that mimic a balance ball(imagine a muffin top versus a muffin)- I haven't tried one yet but have been curious.

p.s. I realize you didn't specify your tailbone but it has helped alleviate general back pain too, as well as making me feel more energized after a long sitting-day. I sometimes switch to a regular ergonomic chair and feel more tired and dispirited if I go too long before switching back to my balance ball chair.

Stefanie Price says: March 13, 2019 at 09:07 AM

I DO NOT LIKE CHANGE!!! I am finding, as I age, that I am becoming less and less fond of change, and LOVE, LOVE the old dinosaurs, the way things use to be...I do not find that the efficiency of life is improving...just the opposite...and yet, we are drug along...what is a body to do?

Ten years ago I went on a trip to Washington and Oregon (from Michigan) and stopped at Fabric Depot. I loved reading your description of that place - it was perfect! In the years since my visit I have thought of that precious store often and I’m sad to learn that it has closed. I think that in the back of my mind I always expected that I would visit again someday.

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.