Early, Early Spring

comments: 90

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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.

90 comments

I honestly began to cry as I read that Fabric Depot had closed. I live near Tacoma, Washington and that store was often a destination for me. Surely the only independant store left aside from Pacific Fabrics, which closed several more of their stores recently. I bought so many fabrics in Portland... often on killer sales... I am sad. Really, really sad....

That store sounds like heaven and how I remember fabric stores from my childhood. Last week I went looking for fabric at the local JoAnn Fabric and the fabric department was such a mess and a disappointment . I want fabric and notions, not home decor, paint , beads, and all that other junk. So how are people buying fabric? Online? How do you get the “feel” of fabric, how do you see the true colors? Ok, I’m showing my age , i quess

You have perfectly articulated all of my complex feelings about the loss of Fabric Depot. It has left such, such a hole.

I love your crocheted capelet in this post (as well as your many other knitted and crocheted items) and am looking forward to seeing the finished item. I do not sew, but certainly sympathize with you as your mourn the loss of your favorite fabric shop.

Your photos are always an inspiration, beautifully toned :)

I wonder if you could raise your sewing chair a bit so you would have to hunch a bit to sew. Then you'd probably also need to put a box under your feet to keep everything at the correct angles (hips, etc.). Unsolicited advice.

And also, I can barely read about your fabric store closing. My heart breaks. It reminds me of Vogue Fabrics in Evanston. You probably have been there, as you grew up near there. It's a big, messy store full of the most amazing fabrics. At least, it used to be like that when I lived in the western suburbs of Chicago ten years ago. It seems to still be in business. We have four daughters and when I get an hour or two to myself, I always spend some of it wandering Joann's fabric aisles with a big Diet Coke. Bliss.

Stephanie says: March 26, 2019 at 05:49 AM

Alicia, coming to your blog is always like visiting an old friend. You have such a gift with words. I hope you know that. Have you ever considered writing a book of memoirs? Honestly, the way you describe life is so beautiful, even the ugly bits of life. Please never stop writing.

I'm so sorry for the loss of your fabric store. I never knew a store like that, but wish I had.

In mourning too about Fabric Depot :( I went on the last weekend feeling like I had to say goodbye and ended up in the line for 8 hrs, hearing other people’s stories, sharing grief. I first visited before I moved here - 15ish yrs ago and it was always a huge highlight of Portland for me, a place where I’d go for happiness, for an endless sea of selections. I loved how they had full collections by designers. And unique tools from Clover that I didn’t even know existed. I never imagined it would be gone in an instant.... Glad at least Mill End is still here, and I fortunately live near one. . Also, recently was delighted to find old fabric stores like FD in Europe. In the fabric district in Paris, there is store that has 5 floors! Handwritten tickets and old wooden meter sticks on each floor :)

Oh! Everything in your shop is so beautiful and I love the blush crochet!

Suzanne Reynolds says: April 02, 2019 at 02:30 PM

You have said exactly how I felt about Fabric Depot although I’ve really tried not to think about that store since it closed. Knew it was doomed when their inventory shriveled down to nothing but didn’t want to believe it would be gone. Just trying to convince myself that I’ve already stockpiled a lifetime of fabric, which is probably true, but I miss going there so much.

Lorraine Coopersmith says: April 06, 2019 at 01:42 PM

I couldn't agree more. I live in St. Helens, OR which is about 30 miles outside Portland. It is so perfect for a more rural lifestyle / atmosphere with very close access to the city and all its benefits. I loved Fabric Depot because whatever was needed for sewing or craft projects was available at their store. It is so sad to see local businesses close and know many people lost jobs and folks have to go elsewhere to get their sewing / craft supplies. It is a great loss for Portland and us shoppers! We have an absolutely amazing quilt shop here with availability to get whatever is needed for quilting and other sewing supplies. The shop is called Fibers & Stitches, owned by Jamie Gatlin. She is a very friendly, helpful person in her shop. Come check her shop out on Hwy 30 in St. Helens.

That last picture, with the silhouette over the layers of blue, is just beautiful

Sue in Seattle says: May 03, 2019 at 02:16 PM

I used to come from Seattle to Fabric Depot - such a loss! We didn't have enough notice to make a "last run" - but, I too, would have not liked to see it emptying.

a fan from Seattle

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About Alicia Paulson

About

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

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Photography

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.