The holidays are happening. Snow is starting to pile up. Sidewalks are slippery. Bazaar sales at the Historical Village have gone well although of course we hope there will be last minute shoppers on December 22nd. Last Friday the quilters had their annual party – a potluck and then gift exchange. The delicious food put everyone in a sleepy mood but we continued sewing until our usual closing time. Lynda and Sally even set up a second quilt that we will tie next week, a colorful cotton one Cathryn pieced. Although I am often content to sit and talk rather than sew, the pace is such that I feel compelled to be as productive as the others (no easy task with this group of women).
As usual we are sewing, talking with any visitors who stop by to drop off something or to buy some lovely handmade item, and discussing how to raise money to cover the Village’s costs, and how to get all the things done from archiving to replacing broken pieces of the boardwalk. It often feels there isn’t enough time for all we need to accomplish but somehow we still manage to listen to stories about families and friends, laugh at Bev’s jokes and grumble if the needle is not going through as easily as we might like.
Amidst the talk, different quilters talk about other volunteer work they are doing – helping with the Winter Bird Count, the library, the thrift store, the church. Its amazing how these individuals find time to do all this to make our community as good as possible. There might be a concern when we don’t see younger people stepping up to help with these projects and really in this case, younger is broad. We not only think about high school students but adults in their twenties to fifties. Of course there are volunteers but there never seems to be quite enough. So we hope some folks out there will put volunteering down as a New Year’s resolution. Once a week for a few hours surely would mean a lot.
It starts with a seed. Actually cotton comes from many seeds planted in the spring, gradually producing flowers that when pollinated produce fruit. The flowers emerge pale yellow but once pollinated they sharpen into pink and gradually a bright fuchsia. And the fruit that is produce from the flower isn’t your typical fruit like an apple or a mango. It’s a fruit that is a boll, a tough outer shell that contains soft white fluff and seeds. Between when the seed is planted in the spring to the boll harvested in the fall, the cotton plant grows to be about forty-eight inches and it puts out those lovely fuchsia colored flowers because it is related to the hibiscus after all. And then the bolls are harvested, the cotton ginned which separates fluff from seeds, its put into gigantic bales and sent off to be made into thread and then into cloth.
Of course there are numerous steps from the bales arriving to the bolts of cloth being shipped out. The cotton needs to be combed and carded. All the fibers need to be aligned so they can be spun into thread. And then all those thousands, millions of miles of thread are woven into cloth. The cloth is dyed mauve or turquoise or that creamy yellow that Carmen likes. Perhaps it is printed with the small floral designs that Judy prefers or bright fanciful animals that Cathryn will use for the baby quilts.
This is only a very quick glance at the process from seed to fabric bolt. There is no rumbling of machines planting cottonseeds twelve rows at a time under a southern sky. Nor the grumbles of Eli Whitney who invented the cotton gin and never made money from it. Can the body-shaking vibrations in a factory full of machines spinning that fluff into cotton threads at more than 2,500 revolutions a second even be imagined? And those looms! Not just any loom will do but looms called Sulzer shuttleless weaving machine or a water-jet loom. Acres of factories producing acres of cloth. So many acres of cloth that it is counted in tons, yes metric tons, rather than the sensible yards measured out at the fabric store.
It starts from a seed and transforms into that bolt of fabric that the slightly older woman with a pair of glasses hung around her neck measures and cuts into lengths at the shop. It will be taken home and cut again into smaller pieces and sewn into a pattern that becomes the top of a quilt.