Title: How To Make a Quilt
Author: Caitrin Torres
Fandom: Ann M. Martin - Main Street Series
Author's Notes: Written for wisdomeagle for Yuletide 2007. Many thanks to Shatterpath and Measi for helping me out with some details, and to my sister and Ariestess for beta reading.
When Flora arrived at Needle and Thread on Friday afternoon, she shut the door behind her hard enough to make the bell rattle noisily. She stomped over to the couches near the front of the store and dropped her backpack, then flopped down next to it in a huff. She saw Min look up at all the noise from across the store, and she slouched down further into the couch. Today was a day that could only get worse.
It didn't take too long for Min to finish ringing up her customer. She worked her way across the store, greeting people as she went, until she stood in front of Flora. "May I sit down?"
Min didn't sound angry, Flora realized. Flora didn't want to be in trouble, even if she had slammed the door to the store, so that was good. She silently picked up her backpack and scooted over to make some room for her.
"My stars," Min said as she carefully sat down, "If I didn't know better, I'd swear that these couches get softer every day. They are very good for sulking in, aren't they?"
Flora looked at her, but she didn't answer. They sat together quietly for a little bit. Then, Min sat up straighter as if she were ready to leave. "You don't have to tell me what's bothering you if you're not ready to talk," she said, "but do take off your coat, Flora. It may be January outside, but it's too warm in here to stay all bundled up."
Unfortunately, Min was absolutely correct. She and Gigi, Olivia's grandmother, always kept Needle and Thread at a nice, warm temperature so that customers who stopped in to chat for a bit and sew would be comfortable. Flora sighed and sat up just enough to unzip her coat and wiggle out of it.
Flora could tell exactly when Min noticed what she was wearing from the way she stopped and blinked. "Did you get that at school today?" Min asked her. "I thought you were wearing your purple blouse when you left this morning."
Flora was wearing white sneakers and blue jeans with flowers embroidered on one leg. They were her best jeans, and she was very proud of them because she did the embroidery herself. The petals on the purple flowers were the exact shade of her favorite top.
They were not the same color as the bright red Camden Falls Elementary t-shirt she was currently wearing.
Flora angrily unzipped her backpack and yanked out a plastic grocery bag, which she handed to Min. Min unknotted the handles, a curious look on her face, and pulled out Flora's purple top. It was damp, as if it had gotten very wet and hadn't dried properly. "Flora?" she prompted.
"It's ruined," Flora said. She dropped her backpack on the floor, then curled up in the corner of the sofa facing in the other direction so that she wouldn't even have to look at it.
"I don't know about that," Min said. "Can you tell me what happened?"
"Mr. Donaldson says that this time of year is a good time for cold germs, and that we can stay healthy by keeping the classroom clean," Flora explained. "Lots of kids were sneezing this morning, so after lunch we had to clean our desks and everything in the whole room."
"That sounds like a good idea," Min said. "No one likes to catch cold."
Flora sighed and picked at the arm of the couch. "Some kids don't like to clean, either. Dylan and Matt were playing instead of doing what we were supposed to, and Matt threw a really wet paper towel that had cleaning solution all over it and hit me right on the back. My shirt is ruined, and all they did was laugh."
Min unfolded the shirt and looked at it. "Oh, dear," she said.
Flora sniffed hard. "Mr. Donaldson made me go to the nurse's office to change my shirt so that I wouldn't smell like cleaning solution. Mrs. Gillespie tried to rinse it out, but it was too late." Mrs. Gillespie was the school nurse and was in charge of the lost and found box. She had been very nice about trying to help Flora.
Min patted her on the shoulder. "It might not be," she said. "Rinsing it out right away was a good idea. We'll take it home and I'll wash it tonight. It could be that it's just dirty and a good trip through the washer will fix it right up."
Flora sniffed again. "Thanks, Min, but it won't help. Look." She took the shirt from her and held it up. The problem was even more obvious now that it was mostly dry. Smack dab in the middle of the back was a splotch that was a different shade than the fabric around it. "See?" Flora said. "It's hopeless."
"I'm sorry, Flora," Min said, and she pulled her in for a hug. "I'll do my best with it."
Flora hugged her back. "Thanks, Min," she whispered. She thought that she might feel a little better.
As soon as she and Flora and Ruby arrived home to the Row Houses that evening, Min washed Flora's shirt again. During dinner, Ruby told them about her day at school and the songs the Children's Choir was practicing. Having something else to think about helped, but Flora couldn't help worrying about her shirt. After they finished eating and Flora and Ruby had cleared the table, Min went to the cellar to check the laundry. When she came upstairs a few minutes later, Flora knew the news was bad.
"I'm sorry, Flora," she said. "You were right. Whatever was on that paper towel bleached the back of your shirt."
She would not cry. It was just a shirt.
"It's okay, Flora," Ruby said from where she sat on the floor, scratching King Comma's ears. "You said last week that it was getting tight on you. You wouldn't have worn it much longer."
She would not cry. "You don't understand!" Flora shouted. "It's not just a shirt. It's the one Mom gave me for Christmas last year. It was perfect, and now it's gone!" She took her still-wet shirt from Min and thundered up the stairs. She could hear Min and Ruby calling after her, but she didn't stop until she was in her bedroom. She draped the shirt over a chair and flopped down on top of her quilt, and only then did she allow the tears to come.
Nothing could cheer Flora up that weekend. Min, who had come upstairs after a little bit to talk to Flora, suggested that she could wear a vest over the shirt. It would hide the bleached spot on the back, and no one would know the difference. "I would," Flora told her, and that was that.
Olivia, who was also in Flora's class at school and had seen her get hit with the wet paper towel, heard the rest of the story from Ruby when she came over to Flora and Ruby's house to play on Sunday. "That's really sad," Olivia said. "Maybe you could find a new shirt like it. Or, I know! You could look at Needle and Thread and find fabric to make a new shirt! Then it would be special, too."
"It wouldn't be the same, though," Flora pointed out.
"No, it wouldn't," Olivia agreed with a frown, "but maybe it would be something."
The very next day, Olivia and Flora rushed to Needle and Thread as soon as school let out. Min had said that there would be a new spring shipment of everything from fabric to patterns to notions arriving that morning. She had promised that they could help put it on display as soon as she and Gigi finished inventorying it. When they burst through the door, Min waved hello from the cutting counter where she was measuring out some satin for a customer. "Put your things in the back, girls," she called out. "I'll be with you in a minute."
When she came to find them a few minutes later, she was smiling. "Mrs. Fischer is making a princess dress for her granddaughter's fourth birthday, and it's going to be just darling. Now then, are you two ready to work?"
"Yup!" They both said, excited.
"Good, good." Min pulled out a clipboard and handed it to Olivia. "Olivia, this is a list of all the patterns that came in today. The boxes are already piled at the end of the right counter. I need you to take out three of each and sort them into the right drawers."
Olivia saluted her and grinned happily. "Yes, ma'am!" she said. She and her brothers had watched Cadet Kelly over the weekend, and Olivia was very fond of saluting people now.
Min chuckled. "Flora, there are two boxes of ribbons and trims by the display racks. Could you please fill up the racks again? You can rearrange things if you'd like to make room for the new colors of trim. I know Gigi ordered more of that sparkly rick rack that Ruby liked so much, so you'll have to find a place for it."
Min stopped and gently lifted Flora's chin with one finger. "How was school today, sweetheart?"
"It was fine." Flora scuffed the toe of her shoe against the floor. "May I go work now?"
Min pressed a kiss to the top of her head, then nodded. "Off you go. You girls are going to be such a help today."
Half an hour later, Flora was busily refilling the ribbon display with blues and greens when Olivia ran over. She was carrying a measuring tape in one hand and a pattern packet in the other. "Flora!" she said as soon as she was close enough to talk. "I need to measure you."
"Just stand still," Olivia commanded. She held one end of the measuring tape against Flora's side and ran it across her body to the other side. "Perfect!" She thrust the pattern packet into Flora's hands. "You're just big enough. Look, you have to make this."
Flora turned the packet over in her hands and looked at the photo on the front. "Memory Quilt," she read aloud. "Use t-shirts, baby blankets, and other treasured fabrics and quilt your history. Olivia, what is this?"
"It's for your shirt. The one your mom bought, I mean. Not the one you're wearing. It's one of the patterns that arrived today. See? You take shirts or towels or whatever you have that you like but you aren't using, and you cut squares or triangles or whatever fits on the thing you're cutting out, and you make a patchwork quilt. That way, you never lose them."
Flora did not want to be excited about anything having to do with her ruined favorite shirt, but Olivia's idea was interesting. She sat down on the floor and pulled out the contents of the pattern. The squares were supposed to be twelve inches across. "How big am I?" she asked Olivia.
"Fifteen inches!" Olivia responded. "Plus your clothes are usually bigger than your body is, so I'm sure that shirt is large enough to get a whole square from."
"I still have t-shirts from the day camp that I used to go to, and they don't fit any more. I could use those," Flora mused.
"So you're going to do it?" Olivia was almost bouncing. She did like it when she had good ideas.
"Maybe," Flora said. "I don't think I have enough things to make a whole quilt out of. It would have to be really tiny." She put the pattern back in its envelope, but she set it on a nearby table rather than giving it back to Olivia. "I'll think about it."
Flora kept Olivia's idea in the back of her mind. She thought about it every time she saw her favorite purple shirt, which she had folded up and set on top of her dresser. It wasn't until two weeks later, though, that she decided to go ahead with it. She was sitting on the couch at Needle and Thread reading a book when she saw Gigi helping a customer look through the bolts of quilting cotton. When she saw one of the calicos she brought up to the cutting table, her jaw dropped. It looked exactly like the curtains that had hung in the kitchen in her old house. She had helped her mother make those curtains, and this just had to be the fabric they had used.
She chewed on her lip as she watched Gigi cut just one yard. As soon as the customer was gone, Flora hurried over to examine the bolt. The fabric was identical. She was absolutely certain of it. She recognized the little threads of peach that ran alongside darker rose flowers, and she remembered going to the hardware store with her father to find perfectly matching paint for the cupboards.
Suddenly, she was able to see the whole quilt in her imagination. She would use this fabric for the backing, and she would use a good, warm bunting so that it would be perfect for snuggling into during the winter. For the front, she could use her camp t-shirts, and the tank top she got on vacation during their last family vacation, and Min was sure to have some interesting things as well. This could be a really good project. She picked up the bolt and headed for the back of the store. "Min?" she said, "Can I have some of this? Olivia had this great idea..."
Flora's Camden Falls Elementary t-shirt made its way into her memory quilt as well. Min found a blouse that belonged to Flora's mother as well as a dress shirt that belonged to her father. They had been left there the last time they all came to visit as a family, and Min had put them away rather than throwing them out. Ruby contributed a hand-me-down skirt that didn't fit her any longer. It was the first piece of clothing that Flora had ever made. And one afternoon when Flora arrived at the store, there was a little bag with her name on it waiting for her on the empty mending table. She opened it to find a blouse that looked terribly familiar, and she soon realized that it was the exact blouse that Mary Woolsey had worn in the photograph of her and Flora's mother from so long ago.
By the time she put all of her memories into the quilt, it was much larger than Flora had ever imagined. It was warm, and it was perfect.