Early, Early Spring

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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.

80 comments

Kelli M Kennedy says: March 11, 2019 at 06:12 PM

God, I feel your pain. Stores like that have been rare in my life, but to be able to wander and dream and find what I needed and get questions at least acknowledged...a dream, a gift. I mourn this loss with you. It reminds me of the library when I was a child. I was always constipated (probably allergic to milk, but had no idea, and drank tons of it),but after a few minutes in the quiet of the library I could always poop. Such a release, all those books. Like a fabric store. I get it. I weep with you.

Thank you Alicia for this beautiful post. Here is Canada, most of the fabric stores are closing as well. The big chain was called Fabricland, and there are only a handful left. Even the quilting shops are harder to find now than they once were. I'm sorry to hear that sewing causes you pain. Have you ever thought of hand-sewing? I think the dolly quilt would be the perfect project to hand sew. I love to hand sew, even though it bothers the arthritis in my thumb joints. I will continue to hand sew and quilt as long as I can, and when I can't, I will go to the sewing machine. Happy almost spring to you and yours. xo

You have expressed my own grief for Fabric Depot. A few weeks ago a friend needed some fabric for a class she was going to take. She asked me where I thought she could find the fabric she needed. I did suggest the Mill Ends Store but before my first response would have been Fabric Depot. When my daughter was a new mother and she needed some time, she would go to Fabric Depot and wander the aisles. Feeling the fabric and regaining her sanity at a time in life where she had no time to sew.

I think you are correct that we will never have another Fabric Depot in Portland. It was the passing of an era.

A beautifully written post - I do know what you mean about that loss. Some places have a sense of consolation about them, they meet what you need not only in a practical sense, but in an emotional sense. I am sorry that you and many others are losing that. We had a wonderful little dairy store nearby where people could get bottled milk, ice cream, grocery items,coffee, newspapers that were scented with the fresh doughnuts made every morning- and then it was closed as the land it was on was sold. The community still misses it.
Mary

Oh!!! that is a real loss and what a wonderful tribute to this store! I am sorry it is gone. That is hard! Sending a HUG to you!

I'm really sorry about your losing such a fabulous sounding fabric store. Sounds like my kind of place.

I worked for years at a really special fine stationery store. The owner had dreamt about having such a store since she was a young girl, and she had such an eye for the beautiful things. The store reflected that beauty in a very unique way. When she announced that she was going to close the store, a fair number of customers cried during the final sale days.

Sigh. Retail shopping is not what it once was. But how lovely to have so many great experiences with them and the memories we can still hold onto.

Christina Brauer says: March 11, 2019 at 09:04 PM

Before Christmas I drove by Fabric Depot and saw it was closed. I let out an audible sound of grief. Fabric Depot provided the materials for so many projects over the years. 25 years ago I purchased all the fabric and lace for my wedding dress. A lovely dressmaker made the dress but I hand beaded all the lace. I miss the meditation of walking the aisles, admiring the prints, and feeling the fabrics.

Oh, dear. I remember when the last good fabric store closed in our area, when the owner died, and no one to take over, I guess. Does it mean that so few people sew, that the percentage of them who want quality goods has shrunk to make a non-chain unsustainable? It's depressing to me. I know a lot of people buy fabric online but I am not knowledgeable enough to do that; I need expert people to help me, I need to be able to touch the fabric.

I hope Portland has another store that is at least almost as good! Maybe you just have to let your grief run its course ;-) and enjoy doing all the other creative things you do. I love those dollies!

I loved your phrase, "sewing away every sorrow." When Deborah Norville was going through a hard time some years ago, she said sewing for her new home on her little Kenmore was a source of consolation. I mourn with you the loss of your favorite fabric store. In Tokyo, many of us were similarly inconsolable when the great Kinkado closed about ten years ago. People left heartfelt messages on the closed metal shutters. It was where I had bought almost all my fabric and notions for forty years. Trite platitudes like "It's in a better place now" just don't cut the mustard at times like these. Tears and hugs, Esther

Greta Wesslen says: March 11, 2019 at 10:25 PM

My mother-in-law, Karen, loved Fabric Depot almost more than any other place. She passed away last April at age 65 from her third round of a lymphatic brain tumor. When Fabric Depot closed, I almost felt like it was somehow cosmically connected to my mother-in-law’s passing. I drive by it nearly every day, while I’m working, and I feel such a sense of loss and peace, all at the same time.

What a heartfelt tribute to Fabric Depot. I lived in that area growing up and my first experience of that store was it was a department store, then a hardware store and then finally the wonderful FD. I also loved going there and finding yarn and buttons and fabric and all kinds of special things. It broke my heart when I heard it was closing. Such an end of an era. As time moves on things change and not always for the better. Such is the loss of that great place. I mourn with you, my friend. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

This is so sad. I feel like I can understand your grief even when I was never there, you describe it well.
Also about the tree, which I hope finds a way to heal.

Robyn Cocks says: March 11, 2019 at 11:28 PM

Here in Sydney Australia, we are just losing Lincraft which is my local big fabric store. I feel your grief too. Going to a fabric store was so therapeutic at times for me. I won't buy online as I like to feel the material and really know what I am buying. What is the world coming to? Where will I get my fabric? - probably go through my stash!

Your fabric store story made me cry. Communities have been losing gems like that for years now and it is a deep loss for so many people. Just over the past 14 years i can think of 6 yarn shops and 3 thrift stores in my atea that had to shut down. It's very sad.

Courtney Marlowe says: March 12, 2019 at 03:46 AM

My first job was at a Piece Goods in Richmond, Virginia in 1995. It was the same store I “grew up” in. My mother made most of my clothes. In the 1980’s, while she browsed the patterns and perused the bolts, finding her peace, I searched the floor for lost sequined, buttons and beads. I collected them on safety pins - my treasure! The store closed not long after I started working there, and I have watched in the ensuing years, many other fabric stores clothes. Most recently, Mary Jo’s Fabrics (Mecca, in my mind) in Gastonia, NC got rid of their hundreds of bolts of quilting fabric and focuses only on upholstery now. It’s a sign, I know the end is coming there too.

Dawn Andrews says: March 12, 2019 at 05:34 AM

So sad. In our town, we lost a beloved brick and mortar bookstore and a small organic foods grocery store within a few months of each other. I guess eventually we will be a country of big box stores and gas stations and that's it.

Our local JoAnnn's used to be a place where older ladies who worked there forever could give you advice and also asked you what you were making with the fabric they were cutting for you. Those ladies are gone and replaced by young people who really seem disinterested in fabric and are only talkative to their coworkers about the latest gossip. Sad.

Sorry about your store. Your fortunate to have had a store like that for as long as you did. I’ve never been in one like that. If people came from so far away — it’s too bad they didn’t just sell it to new owners. It sounds like a lovely place. Yes spring, it’s so nice to see it beginning here in the Missouri.

Your words about Fabric Depot match many of the feelings I had about the store closing. I live in SW WA, and looked forward to my trips to Fabric Depot. It was a trip that I always took with a friend, always with a project in mind that needed "just the right fabric," and I would always leave with exactly what I needed. Local quilt shops are wonderful and certainly have their place, but Fabric Depot had EVERYTHING for any type of sewing project. Even Joanns can't make that claim.
I hope you discover a hidden treasure of a sewing store soon!

Sarah Stewart says: March 12, 2019 at 07:31 AM

We lost two of our independent fabric store in the last few years. All we really have left is the place that starts with a J, and I loathe it. It feels like we're getting more and more isolated. Now don't get me wrong I'm an introvert and love browsing and dreaming up projects online, but when you finally get that urge to get going on something, you want to see it and touch it before you buy it.

Our communities are becoming empty of the business of making and having a life. It is a truly lonely feeling.

Linda Frost says: March 12, 2019 at 07:49 AM

A corner sewing machine cabinet, or an L-shaped cabinet where you can rest your left elbow while you sew can make a big difference for back pain. It makes all the difference for me.

Seems to me that my son took me to a little but wonderful fabric store named Bolt in NE Portland during one of my visits. They carried some gorgeous Japanese cotton prints, some beautiful linen, and other interesting things. When I travel I always search for stores like Bolt -- usually the owners and employees are sewing enthusiasts and willing to help with suggestions. Please please please remove the Joann's coupon app from your phone and start looking for shops like Bolt -- we've got to keep them in business. There's just something about getting to know the hand of the fabric you're thinking about buying.

dale duckworth says: March 12, 2019 at 08:27 AM

Hi Alicia,
I’ve never commented before but have been reading for a long time, since well before Amelia came into your life. Today I cried reading your post. I cried for your fabric store, I cried over my mom who died 16 years ago but today would have been her birthday. I cried because of a way of life we all read blogs about and dream about, cozy and homemade and appreciated is going away. Not in our individual homes, we try to keep it alive, but in the sense of a world that is too busy and impersonal to want it anymore. I am not a shopper but there have been special places in the past that gave me that some feeling of comfort and possibilities, all just memories now.
Oh, I’m being a silly nostalgic mess today. I think I’ll go bake and work on a project. I’m anxiously awaiting my embroidery project from you. Love, Dale

I'm so sorry about your back! After I had my first baby, I started struggling with a lot of back pain. My mom also has had some crazy back pain. One thing that helped her is changing from a normal desk to a standing desk. I'm not sure if it's possible to sew at a standing desk, but maybe it would help? Something that helped me is getting a better mattress. Anyway, just some unsolicited advice from a total stranger! Love your blog! It's such a sweet slice of coziness and beauty.

Oh, I am so sorry about Fabric Depot. I echo what Courtney said above about Mary Jo’s in NC, a place which exactly matched your description of place and feelings at FD, right down to the handwritten tickets and going alone to wander the aisles and ask the wonderful folks who had worked there forever my questions—it’s changed, and like you, I can’t bear to look as I know what’s coming. Damn it.

Suzanne Harkinson says: March 12, 2019 at 09:45 AM

I am at work eating lunch and reading your post with tears in my eyes. When I was getting married, 34 years ago, my mother was making my niece's dress and there was this fabric store in a stone building that used to a school. Filled with everything you could imagine and people who loved what they did. My niece wanted to wear gold lame' and it had to "twirl". A lovely lady directed us to what was really lining material that was shiny and twirly in a beautiful peach color which my niece fell in love with. How she knew how to please an 7 year old and my meager budget, I'll never know.

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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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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.