The year we got married, my mum and dad made us a quilt. Isn't that nice? They did one for each of us kids around the time we all got coupley: and the weddings went as follows.
Eldest - 1995
Youngest - 1996
Middle - 1997
So it was a hectic few years. My dad was off work due to an injury (broken neck, believe me or believe me not) during much of that time, and spent a lot of his recovery quilting. I love that.
Anyway, I am not one of those people who redecorates their house every year or two and has multiple sheet sets for each bed. I can't justify the money and the waste. But, I hadn't realised just how well-worn this quilt was until I was inspecting the fall linens in preparation for the cold weather, and saw the edge of it up close.
Ten meters of 5/8" double-fold bias tape, a little bit of pretty stitch work from the Pfaff:
and Presto! the quilt is ready for another ten years of duty.
When I was folding it up after rebinding it, I noticed two small holes in the patchwork top. I'll repair those and show them to you next week.
But in the meantime, I'd like to reflect on the concept of stewardship. I think it's one of those things that became unfashionable around the same time as marriage did - during the decades following the Second World War, when people were tired of making do and women were tired of staying home. I recall a magazine article I read in about 1982, entitled "Are You a Supermarket Miser?" It had a little quiz where you could find out if you were committing the sin of trying to save money.....sorry, I mean "pinch pennies". One of the questions was "Do you use plastic grocery bags for the trash instead of buying proper garbage bags?" The whole article was smugly tittering...you certainly got the impression that "Yes" was the wrong box to tick.
The article was written at a time when consumption was the height of fashion, when manufacturers were scrambling to make everything disposable. But you wouldn't have caught a pioneer family, or a Depression family, or a wartime family, throwing away a quilt that could be repaired for less than a half-hour's wage, or a towel that could be cut down into facecloths, or a facecloth that could be turned into a diaper, that could be turned into a rag.
I've been spending a lot of time thinking about this in the last while, especially since my bike was stolen and we realised we can't actually afford to replace it. Living on one income is difficult with gas at $1.34 a liter (and we're grateful it's that low), and flour costing me $15 per 10 kilo bag. As expensive as the essentials are, though, they're not what puts us into the overdraft.
Being part of a privileged class in a privileged nation brings with it a certain carelessness when it comes to small luxuries. I remarked to my sister the other day that it would be interesting to save all our receipts for a month, then go through and highlight everything we bought that was nonessential. Every bag of chips, every tall nonfat extra-hot latte, every video rental. I think it would be a little shocking to see the total.
I have a lot of skills. I can patch jeans. I can make bulletin boards, and clothes, and muffins. I can even darn socks, though whole-wheat breadmaking remains a challenge. I may not be making a wage, but I can at least avoid spending a wage we don't have.
As I spend year after year raising my children rather than editing government audit reports, living costs climb relentlessly. Like the Elliotts, we must retrench. Part of that is fixing my quilt, sure, and part of it is buying too-short thrift-store jeans and letting them down, but most of it is attitude. There's a......yes, I would say almost a shame that comes with being careful with money, even when it's by necessity rather than by choice. I had to search, there, for a phrase that wasn't demeaning: the first things that came to mind were "cheap", "skinflint", and "miserly". It's interesting: I'm obviously a product of my generation, latchkey kids raised by two working parents who bought cookies and threw away worn linens.
Is it okay now, at the beginning of a new, expensive century, to value skills like patching and darning? Can I be proud of myself for having saved that $90 for a new quilt?
I think so. I think the world might be ready for a person who spent five years in university, then four years wearing heels to a government office and getting $60 haircuts every six weeks, to stay at home every day educating the children and patching quilts. I might not be Rosie Riveter, but I'm still doing my bit for the war.