The cardboard box left on the front porch by the stealthy delivery guy was surprisingly heavy. Heavy with more fabric purged from my generous friend’s stash back in Ohio. Within a few days I was standing before of the washer sorting the box’s contents into warm lights and cool brights wondering what inspired projects Jan had created with this vast assortment of colors, patterns and prints. And wondering how in the world I was going to combine these fabrics into some kind of a harmonious whole. Then wondering the same thing aloud just as my husband passed by.

Spying a mushrooming pile of fabrics overtaking a garage already filled with his sawdust and sawhorses, he mused, “Boy, that box looks like Chopped. You know, the cooking program where the contestants are given a basket of bizarre ingredients and they have to use all of them to create some kind of dish.” Bingo! My friend, who was simply thinning out her stash, unknowingly, sent me a “chopped challenge.” And I was up for it.

Chop, chop, I spent a day and a half cutting all the fabric washed in the first load out of the dryer (plus a few pieces from my stash because Chopped lets you use ingredients from the show’s frig and pantry) into enough 6″ squares to make a three-layer 50″x65″ rag quilt. That bizarre collection included black and white optic geometrics, koi swimming in stylized waves, zebra, tiger, cheetah, leopard, jaguar, and lynx prints, safari prints, Southwestern motifs, plus brown and beige tone-on-tone prints and gold and mossy green batiks. 

Inspired by a painting I’d seen recently on Pinterest, I wanted to explore being more “painterly” with this collection of fabrics moving away from the crisp checkerboard or geometric patterns of some previous quilts. Triple-layer fabric sandwiches begin to move around and cover my design table until I was satisfied with my painterly composition. Block by block, row by row, the fabric went to my sewing machine until it was all pieced together and hung handsomely on my design wall. I’m pleased with my “chopped challenge,” but I realize there are some significant differences from the “reality show” that suggested this opportunity. 

Like all reality shows, the objective is to not get chopped – not be eliminated. And to some extent that means “chopping” your fellow contestants in order to build yourself up. Eventually, all but one of the contestants is chopped by the judges. Only one winner. All the others are losers. Only one takes home the $10,000 prize. 

This is in sharp contrast to my “chopped challenge” which began with an extravagant gift of fabrics which I probably never would have purchased on my own. I was cheered on at a distance with the opportunity to practice and play with colors, patterns, prints and an imagined composition outside my ordinary and routine choices.  And it has been my experience that the wearable arts group through which I meet my friend in Ohio isn’t into chopping one another down in order to build oneself up. This large group of creative women, some of whom I only know through cyberspace, are great encouragers, building one another up and celebrating the inherent risk-taking involved in creativity. I may sew in solitude, but I’m applauded by an unseen, appreciative audience. Nobody ends the day a loser. We are all winners even if some shine more spectacularly than others. Jan’s box of fabric may have been worth $300-$400 (a huge gift in itself), but its worth a million bucks to me!

If you’ve received an unexpected gift, was there more in the box than you imagined? What were some of the unexpected gifts you unpacked? In what ways have you passed these gifts on to others? What would you love to find in a heavy box left at your front door by a stealthy delivery guy?

PS – There are enough novelty fabrics coming out of the second dryer load to make “fabulous freaky fabric faces” with the ladies at the Lighthouse, a fifteen-month, faith-based residential treatment program for women recovering from substance abuse. And probably another quilt for charity. Chop!

3 comments to Chopped

  • Jan

    I so love what you’ve done. You had asked me the provenance of the fabrics, so here goes.

    -The black-and-whites were PFD fabrics (prepared for dye) to feed my love of experimenting with fabric dye. I had no idea what I’d ever do with them, but just wanted to expand my knowledge. (Much of my life is about expanding knowledge – I’m a Jan-of-all-trades, master of a few.)

    -Animal print and jungle-themed fabrics (and some coordinating hand-painted cottons or muslins) came from creating quilts for my grandchildren’s nurseries. The “babes” are now 11 and 9.

    -At one point in trying to be commercial with my love of fabric, I thought I’d make small unique handbags to sell. The koi and some other unique fabrics came from that thought process.

    -Over the years I’ve made a number of pet mesh bags using the Screen Play and Zip It patterns by Nancy Ota. ( I buy a quarter yard of fun and funky fabrics for the tote bag and sometimes a fat quarter for the Zip It bag. Many totes have been given to various charity auctions and they sell in a heartbeat. I use various sizes of the zippered bag to carry music to rehearsals or adapters for phones, cameras, etc. when I travel. The zippered bags make up in a flash and are the BEST gift (think holiday teacher gifts). Last year I made 5 in a little over a day for the Montessori “Lower El” and “Upper El” teachers. My grandbabes love choosing which fabrics are to be used for which teacher, and love telling their teachers that “Grandma made it.” (I hold down costs by buying zippers in bulk from an online laundry supply store. )

    -And there are lots of random pieces I fell in love with and was sure I’d do Something with at Sometime. I’m a sucker for the beautifully written bi-weekly newsletters from Luana Rubin at The fabrics they present, and Luana’s descriptive writing grabs me every time!

    I can’t even describe how thrilled I am that you and I have connected over your use of fabric and my need to destash. And I can’t wait to meet you F2F in February.

    Thanks for all you do.

  • cynthia thomas

    i love, love, love scraps of fabric. this year i have saved all my scraps in a plastic crate. when the crate got overflowing a couple months ago, i pieced together a vest, in a crazy quilt design. as i sewed each piece of fabric i reminisced about what i’d made with that original fabric. it made for a very calming & therapeutic time. cynthia

  • This reminds me a little bit of the UFO (unfinished projects) exchanges the quilt guild used to have. My sister made an amazing vest out of silk tie quilt blocks. One piece of advice that was shared with me and I like to pass along about scrap quilts – it is a good thing to have a “palette” before starting. The easiest way to do this is to pick a multi color fabric and use only fabrics which coordinate or go with that fabric. Your finished scrap quilt will be wonderful. (scrap quilts are still my favorite.)
    Unexpected gifts? Since I created the “altar” in my Catholic themed bathroom people leave me icons and other surprises all the time (which was the purpose of the original altar in Chimayo, New Mexico, the inspiration for my bathroom.) I love finding these spiritual and meaningful gifts, because I feel these friends understand the art of collecting.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>