Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Forty Box Trick

Today is one of those days when getting started seems doomed. Between the sinus pressure and the allergy medication fuzz, my get-up-and-go is impeded by inability to make decisions and being easily flummoxed by missing packing tape. When you are packing forty-leven boxes that will be stored, it behooves you to carefully mark them and keep a list of what's in them. 

When the markers, boxes, packing tape and labels are in the same place, that place is not where I am. Go up into the attic and go down into the cellar, and while you're at it, clear the garage loft, Cinderella. 

Most of the time I have the all-important notebook indicating box and contents. Packing tape and markers wander. Adhesive labels disappear, only to surface when I have no need of them. I've inherited boxes of photos and fabrics from other family members. As I sort through them, I mark the year on the box or label in the forlorn hope that I will not have to reopen the box again this year. 

Because I've inherited a lot of sewing stashes, I devised the 40-Box Trick. At any time, the floor is covered with as many open boxes as will fit in a room. Things get moved from Aunt Kawhatsis' sewing box to the box for zippers,  snaps, or fabric. There are two boxes for each: Keep and Give Away. Throw Away is one enormous black sack that gets taken to the recycling bin when all I can do is drag it. 

I have a 14 x 14 inch box full of zippers because you just never know when you might need a vintage metal toothed zipper. That's right, I inherited zippers carefully unpicked by folks who lived a day's carriage ride for the nearest town. They had habits of recycling which seemed sensible, and the saved zippers might have been useful had this bonanza arrived when I was young and impoverished and making clothes to attract attention. Now I make clothes to cover the bare and they don't tend to be dresses.

 I have card after card partially filled with snaps of varying sizes because I sew doll clothing and  used to buy the smallest size by the gross. Now it is more politically correct to use Velcro for doll clothes for kids than to teach them to operate snaps and buttons, and that snaps and buttons are not food. It doesn't matter than the doll clothes are clearly for children older than 4, at which age they no longer put everything in their mouths. It doesn't matter that after 4 years of use, the thing might need to be resewn. Nope. Better safe than sorry. Use lumpy Velcro for doll clothing for kids and toss those partial cards of snaps because heaven forfend, a child might locate your hobby cupboard, rummage through and bite the snaps off the cards.    

I could do a history of snaps storyboard, and a history of buttons from pottery and pearl to cardboard, pot metal, plastic and polyform clay. The folks whose stashes I inherited didn't have time to use all their supplies, and hope springs eternal. I mean, I MIGHT make a fabric belt to match a shirtwaist, right? Or need to replace the pockets of pants? And this is AFTER I sent 10 or 15 cartons of stuff off to a church bazaar. 

I have boxes of ditsy prints, scaled for small dolls, sorted by color. There is a box for table linens never used but often taken out and stroked while tales are told about what happened when they were in constant use. I plan to turn some into clothing. You will hear screaming from my relatives. There are boxes of draperies, and I'm keeping them, all of them, even if there are too many for the average room or the color is not what I'm using this year. It is hard enough to find draperies in colors and prints I can enjoy. Whether I sewed them or bought them, I want them because I am NOT going through that horror again, and besides, mine are natural fiber. When one is allergic to the 20th century, natural fibers matter. 

At this point, so much of the clutter is precious that making decisions is impossible. Stop. Just box it. I know this would be sane. But if I box it, it means I want to take it, and I don't want to be in hock to moving companies for the next 30 years.

Sorting the stash

No one needs 30 little old ladies' worth of vintage seam binding in red and green. Other colors are harder to find and often are just the ones I need. But wait, you say! Aren't you the person who owns little metal things that make bias tape. And didn't you find and buy entire rolls of bias fabric at Goodwill? Well, yes I did, but they are red, navy and gingham pink. I've been using them for years, haven't made a dent in the amount, and ...Yes, I know I am unreasonable. No one needs as much as I have. And it is possible to make more. BUT I know these bias bindings and the way they handle, and that makes them worth keeping. I keep the whole thing because winding off yardage is a time consuming nuisance.

What about the tiny doll scale embroidered appliques that I don't need at the moment? When I needed them, I had little access to fabric stores and no one seemed to stock them in any color I might use. I toss ribbons that are easy to replace and keep the ones that tug at my heart.

I am down to the dregs of sorting. Do I put all seam rippers and measuring tapes together so I can lose them all at once, or do I follow my grandmother's habit of making up a small sewing kit for every room? Her habit is part of the reason so much of this stuff  had been stashed helter skelter, why there are so many multiples. I had my portable sewing kit, my portable jewelry-making kit, and thread sorted by which sewing machine found it acceptable. Most of my belongings will be in storage for months, and if I put them all together, chances are I'll have to buy more or live without them. Living without sewing is not living.

I've done the easy stuff. What is left has sentimental value, or spurs my imagination, and that's good, except that en masse  it tends to be, well, MASSIVE. These are all things that technically one can live without. I don't bead every day, but over the years I've acquired a collection of findings. Even if new findings are better, I didn't enjoy shopping for them and I'll keep the leftovers for my next project.


Let's move on to the vintage patterns. I love the graphics. When you can buy old patterns at 10 cents each, you acquire a whole lot of patterns for the same $20 patterns cost today.  And the instructions are much better, except for Vogue patterns. Vogue has made an art form of offering finicky instructions for things that are obvious and only a line for the impossible. I've got patterns from the 40's on. To sell them, I'd have to remove them from their envelopes, check to make sure they are complete, and put them back into the envelopes. I'm packing up those boxes and using the sealing tape. No time for this, no inclination for this. Besides, I WANT them all. Perhaps some day I will photograph all the pattern fronts and sell off the extras. Another project, another year.

When I left the NY area for the Midwest, I discovered that some stores regularly sold patterns at less than the suggested price, and some at $2 per pattern. This makes it possible to own patterns for things you would never make in your right mind. It makes it possible to give away entire boxes of unused patterns. And I did, three cartons of them. Most were purchased 2nd hand and some were just plain dumped on me.

Let's not get into the patterns for doll clothes. I've got patterns for dolls I owned as a child, patterns for dolls owned by children of neighbors and friends. I've been given multiples of vintage Barbie patterns as people left the Barbie hobby. I accepted because I was certain that I would put them in the hands of people who needed them. And then  Mattel changed the size of the doll. I've got patterns from the big four, from indies, patterns I refined through 6 or 7 drafts, patterns I revised to fit nonstandard dolls. I used to throw away my altered patterns, certain that the doll would never cross my path again, but such is not the case.

I refurbish small dolls and give them to charities because I think it is important for kids to have toys, especially after they've been burned out of their homes. I now recognize that if I've devised clothing for a doll once, that type of doll will turn up nude in the next 3 years. So really, 3 cartons of patterns just for dolls is reasonable. 

It is easier to rant about the indecision and futility of my chore than it is to just do it. I've been at this for long enough that I've had to open some boxes because what I need has been sealed away for months.