The Free Motion Quilting Project: Memories to Keep, Memories to Lose

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Memories to Keep, Memories to Lose

Yesterday I drove to Asheboro, NC to see my grandmother's old house and my dad's shop one last time before it was sold this week. I just wanted the chance to take photographs of the place one last time...

I have a lot of memories of this place because this was always a quiet, cool refuge. Going to Grandma's always meant ice cream, Pepsi, sliced apples, and peanut butter cookies. It also meant hours of mindless tv, something we didn't have at home.

But most of my memories are out in my dad's shops.

Rather than fight my sisters for the best chair or the remote control, I'd instead head outside to sit on these steps:

This was my safe spot in the shop where I knew I wouldn't be in the way, where I could sit and hammer nails into scrap wood, building beds for my dolls and boxes for my toys, more often banging my thumb than the nail.

I spent literally hours sitting on those steps, watching my dad. I learned early on the best way to get to stay in the shop was to keep quiet, and if you banged your finger, not to cry unless it was bleeding really bad.

When I was little, my dad also had a blacksmith shop where a large coal forge would heat metal to red hot so he could pound it into a new shape. That smell - metal, dust, oil, coal, and fire is a combination you just can't find outside a blacksmith or welding shop, and takes me right back to my childhood standing in that shop.

I'm sad to say that the blacksmith shop and all the adjoining barns burned down in 2004. This is all that remains of that building now:

I can remember the shock in my dad's voice when he told me about the fire. He'd lost something huge that day: a hobby, a source of income, an escape, a refuge, and I didn't even realize it. I was too wrapped up with wedding plans and starting my life with Josh to really take a second to see and hear what was going on.

I think I've learned my lesson because when Dad told me the closing date, I knew the most important thing was to get over to the land one more time, to take one more set of photos, and to say good-bye to it all.

Taking photographs is the best possible way to keep and preserve the memories this place has, and it's really the only thing I can keep to look back. Because while this is just a plot of land with buildings on it, this place holds important memories for me that I do want to keep. For my entire life that was Grandma's house and Dad's shops, and now they're not.

Unfortunately I don't have any photos of the shops, barns, or the house from when I was a kid. Most people don't just randomly take photos of structures, probably assuming they will always be there. The fire in my dad's shop proved that theory wrong, though.

I guess what I'm getting around to, and what I'm learning right now is the fact that nothing is permanent.

Growing up, the house we lived in was in a constant state of renovation. Dad moved from room to room, replacing the floors, refinishing the walls, sanding, painting, spackling the ceilings.

He took infinite care and used the best materials, yet 20 years later, the signs of wear are evident. That perfect, pristine room I remember as a kid is now in seriously need of a new coat of paint and some TLC.

And if that is true for a room in a house, can it also be true for people as well? Are we not also in a constant state of change?

We age a bit every day and, just like the rooms in a house, if issues are ignored for too long, illness can set in, diseases fester, and the job of fixing what is broken becomes harder and harder.

So I guess the question is - if we are constantly changing, is the change for the better or the worse?

Now I don't mean to alarm you with fears of imminent mortality! I just happened to hit a TJ Maxx on the way home and found myself staring into a full length, brightly lit mirror as I wiggled, hopped, and squished myself into jeans that were supposed to fit.

Jeans shopping is always a humbling experience, but this time I took a good long look and said "If there is anything you don't like in this mirror, it is in your power to fix it every single day."

No, I can't shed 10 pounds overnight, but I can start walking daily. And how about that gym membership? How about using it?

I'm sure you're rolling your eyes - this girl has no idea what 40 / 50 / 60 feels like - just wait!

No, I don't know what those ages will feel like yet, but I do know that hitting 28 next month is waking me up to the realization that from here on out, if I sit back and twiddle my fingers, my body will just keep changing for the worse, not the better.

And if change is needed - positive, lasting change - what better time to start than right now? Standing in front of that mirror, I took a good long look at myself and the clothes I was wearing and considering buying.

The shirt I was wearing was a hand-me-down from one of my sisters and a size or two too big. It certainly wasn't helping my self esteem to see how badly it fit or how dingy the color looked under the bright lights.

For years I've kept the same clothes, and no, there's nothing wrong with that at all. The thing is - I haven't liked any of these clothes. I've kept them out of default because they sort of fit and sort of looked good, and were sort of comfortable.

Yet they never really felt like mine. My oldest sister would love to point this out with questions like "Is that my shirt?" It didn't matter whether she gave it to me 2 months or 10 years ago, it was always hers.

So I've had this huge closet full of clothes that were never really mine and all had memories attached - mostly negative - of people and places and events that I just don't want to remember anymore.

I don't want to remember my wedding shower, which should have been a wonderful event, but was instead turned into a trial-by-fire because I had to endure the most hated question: "Are you really going to wear that?" which of course resulted in me changing my outfit 10 times and obsessing about every detail. The event was then tinged with my discomfort and awkwardness.

I really don't want to remember my freshman year of college when I wore clothes 3 sizes too big because I was afraid of looking too pretty. I really don't want to think about my sisters when I put on that blue shirt or that black pair of pants.

So I came home yesterday and opened my closet door. All summer I've been needing to go through this closet and clean it out. I never really organized my winter things from last year, so all the shelves were a jumbled mess.

I started folding and sorting. Anything that had bad memories attached was thrown out. Anything that reminded me of someone or an unpleasant time in my life was thrown out. Anything that didn't fit nicely, didn't flatter my figure or wasn't comfortable was thrown out.

In the end, I was left with bare shelves and a selection of shirts and pants I will actually enjoy wearing:

free motion quilting | Leah DayWhile this looks extremely bare, this is more than enough clothes for 2 weeks. Why in the world should I have more than that? Do I ever go on 4 week long trips? No. Do I ever stop washing my clothes for 3 weeks on end? No. Will I ever need more clothes than this? Probably not. I'm certainly not in any hurry to fill this area up again.

There's something called the 80/20 principle that is true for so many things. If you apply it to your closet, you will find you will wear only 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. We naturally wear the things that feel good and look nice most often, and avoid those things that look bad OR make us feel bad.

All those clothes (5 garbage bags worth) were just bad - bad looking, bad feeling, bad everything.

Why keep them?

So that's it for this strangely introspective day! It feels so good to be back home knowing that property has sold, but that I have photos to remember it by, and also that all those clothes are gone and all the bad memories they contained.

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. Good for you! You're learning and following through with lessons that take many of us many more years to learn :-).

  2. One hot day while driving in the country, I found myself filled with joy - then realized it came from an odor that drifted into my vehicle... it smelled just like my Dad's shop when I was a kid. I too made wooden boats and played there. My dad taught me how to put copper rivets in my horse's reins when they wore out, and how to drive nails. That shop smell was a lovely surprise. Your memories are lovely too! Thanks for sharing them.

  3. Way to go Leah! It's freeing isn't it. I need to do that in my closet again but I've been doing something similar in my house for years now. And yet things still accumulate.

  4. I have just recently found your blog and have been inspired by your quilting. I was touched by this post and the one where you burned the quilt.

    There is something very liberating in the way you write about letting go of bad feelings or memories of the past. I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your inner strength.

    And your quilting! :)

  5. OMG I could be reading about me and my Dad. My Father was the foreman of a woodyard and we had the house at the side as part of his salary. When I was little I use to go with him on a Saturday morning and sit and knock nails into a piece of wood, my Mum use to have a fit she was always afraid I would nail myself to something! Wow did that bring back memories. Linda

  6. You go. I'm just crazy about this blog.

  7. Very thought-provoking! And timely. I will think about your post as I go through my accumulation of sewing/quilting "stuff" as I pare down to just what I love, what inspires, what I will actually want to use. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  8. We must be on the same wave length, I just blogged about a similar idea :) Congrats on cleaning out your closet, as soon as baby 2 is born and I'm back to a stable size, I'm planning on a big purge! While it can be hard to let go, it is somewhat cathartic at the same time. Here's to change for the better! And making it so :)


  9. Thanks for sharing Leah. You gave me a lot to think about today. Think I'm going to clean out my closet this weekend.

  10. I love this post! Now all you need is Stacy and Clinton (from TLC's What not to Wear) to give you a $5000 spending spree in NYC to add to that wardrobe.

    That was quite a purge for you closet.

  11. You're an inspiration, Leah :)
    And so is your new book! I received my copy today and just LOVE it! I'm excited to sit down and just quilt, quilt, quilt :)))))

  12. Way to go! And anything new will only hold good memories too. It was lovely to hear of your childhood memories.

  13. I think you are very lucky to be so self aware so young!!! Its an issue which has completed eluded me - what I call "good vanity". They say that anything you've not used in six months, you don't need. Mhmmm do you think its getting ready for hibernating, as we've just cleared out the attic and garage of rubbish! Does lift a huge weight from the soul.

  14. Good memories are priceless! Last month I visited my sister and she lives in the house we grew up in - my dad & grandpa built the house. Then I walked by the house my grandpa build for himself and grandma and wondered what it looked like inside now. I could see the trees in the back yard that GP planted back in 1950 and I wanted to go back there, but didn't. I cleaned some things out of my closet last week, but hardly made a dent in it. It doesn't look anything like yours. I don't know if I should get rid of too much, because I hardly ever shop for clothes any more. The only shopping I enjoy is going to quilt shops. I'm sick!!!

  15. Wow Leah. back to Yoga? =-)

    You are so introspective, and you have such a good head on your shoulders. I wish i was half as wise as you when i was your age. It's like you're already in your 40s, so i know you will be a very sage 40-something by the time you get there. =-) Great things seem to be coming.

    Live each day with the Best;
    the Best Intentions,
    the Best Feelings,
    the Best Actions,
    the Best Sayings.

    You are SO well on your way.
    I'm proud of you!

  16. I am very proud of you!!! What you have done is HUGE!!! You need to take care of you - inside and out, and doing that will make you a better you, a better mom and a better wife - everyone wins!!!

    And being 28 - and realizing you have to take care of you, definitly another HUGE thing to learn. Start now, and you can be like the 83 year old man I watched one day (one in person and one on DVD) dive off the high diving boards like he was 18!!! Unbelievaable and so magnificent to see!!!

    One day, I want to be able to do that!!! And at 83 - I defnintly want to be able to do more than hobble around with a cane!!

    Starting now to make these changes = a life full of joy, laugher and knowing who you are!!!

    Loved this post!!

    (Grandma's house was - is - beautiful!!! I am so glad you took some pics to remember it all by!)

  17. What a great post! Thanks for sharing Leah. And you are right - if you stop the maintenance, you'll just go downhill. I'm only 6 years ahead of you, but I may as well be 15 from the weight/creakiness I've added by not taking good care of my body.

    Go get yourself one new, great outfit that makes you happy and get your butt to the gym, or just take a walk after dinner tonight with your favorite people!

  18. Loved this post. Don't need to add much more than that to all the wonderful comments (I read those too).

    Thanks so much--
    Elizabeth E.

  19. Odd how the things we worry about at 28 are pretty much the same ones we worry about at 38 and 48. Great job with the closet! I like your take on two weeks of clothes.

  20. Leah
    Well done is amazing what brings back memories..... Now is time to look back at what was fun in your life ...and hold on to these
    Give your Josh a big hug and look at the help you have given to many people with your machine quilting tutorials (big thanks) and lastly before you go to sleep think of what was great in the day and smile
    From Blueys Beach Australia

  21. Leah, I realized something many years ago (I was probably about your age!). Why not wear my favorite clothes every day? If I really didn't like an outfit very much, why the heck was I wearing it at all? That changed my attitude about clothes in my closet. Also, another thing I learned, never buy a new piece of clothing unless it's perfect. Sometimes I try on jeans that are "just ok." I've learned that's not good enough. It's a waste of money. It has to be something really good, special, "perfect" for me to buy it. If I don't love it, I don't buy it. So much for my little rant here!


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