The Fabric Surprise

January 15, 2009 at 7:16 pm (Housewife Life)

I love doing business with They donate 2% of your purchase, before tax and shipping, to a charity you choose from their list. They wrap each order in tissue paper and enclose a personal note. It’s a first-class operation. So why have I always been too scared to risk A Fabric Surprise?

A Fabric Surprise is a 3-lb bag of bolt ends, adding up to usually over 10 yards of fabric, randomly selected,  and bundled. Virtually every online quilt store I’ve ever done business with (Blue Bamboo and Keepsake Quilting to drop just a couple) offers some version of the Fabric Surprise. You pay somewhere between $15 and $25 to get this 3-lb bag of fabric, not having any idea what’s in there.

There are some fabrics and designers I adore, such as Michael Miller (for his bright, sprawling patterns and his Fairy Frost line), Hoffman (Hoffman Bali are the best batiks on the planet), Kona Bay (the best Asian patterns anywhere), and Moda (their jellyrolls are awesome, and their Moda Marbles have been well-used in my quilts).

You do this quilt thing often enough and you start to recognize designers whose names you keep seeing on the selvage (fabric edge). I use brights and jewel-tones and batiks most of the time, so that’s how I’ve become comfortable with these designers. For what I do, they’re reliable. So when searching fabric on eQuilter, I’ll browse their lines first.

There are other designers and styles I can’t stand. Thimbleberries, Civil War repro fabrics…pretty much anything that’s standard pastel, muted,  earthy…or traditional. I was at Sun Valley Quilts, one of my favorite stores, last June. I told the saleslady how much I appreciate them, being from Pennsylvania. She knew immediately what I meant. “A lot of Thimbleberries out by where you are, eh?” I answered her that actually, the reason I’ve never put a quilt in a show before is because it’s pointless to compete against Amish ladies. Three other women within earshot groaned with sympathy. Pennsylvania is famous among quilters, but for quilting in the traditional sense. That’s admirable and respectable, but far from what I do.

So, I have never mustered the courage to order a Fabric Surprise, because somewhere in a warehouse lurks a stack of Thimbleberries bolt ends which would sit, unused, in my dining room if they ended up part of my surprise. Until… (ominous-sounding…dun…dun…DUHHHHHH!)

A relative  gave me some money for Christmas. I  was on eQuilter nearly immediately to take advantage of the ridiculous year-end bargains you can often get. While shopping, it hit me. As I’m spending gift money, and I already know this company is top notch and would never deliberately fill my Fabric Surprise full of country ducks, why not make 2009 the year I venture out of my comfort zone, shake it up, try out the Fabric Surprise, and make a pact with myself to use everything I get, even if there are a couple of Thimbleberries in the stack?

The thing that surprised me most about the Fabric Surprise was how much more I looked forward to this shipment than any other. I was like a teenager about to go to a dance, hoping for the best but without any idea what to expect. Even the kids got caught up in the enthusiasm, and have started asking daily, “Is the Fabric Surprise here yet?” As soon as I had taken the risk, it wasn’t dread, it was GLEEFUL anticipation, because after all, I love fabric. One of the quotes I use on my FaceBook Profile is from one of the senior, most experienced, most gifted ladies in my quilt guild who says “there’s no such thing as an ugly fabric, just a misunderstood one.”

Today, I got my Fabric Surprise. Twenty-six fabrics are involved. Two are solids, three are large-scale florals (one pretty garish but two, if I’m being honest, are lovely), and to my delight I immediately noticed two Michael Miller jewel patterns. One is the bolt end of a fabric also in my order, so cool, I get more. Three are black and white; there are two separate stacks that coordinate very well if not in colors I’d have chosen. One depicts ropes, another waves, which will fit in well wth my collection of pirate fabric. One fabric has multicolored spools of thread on it, one has varieties of Chinese footwear on a blue background, one is a Valentine fabric with little red envelopes and hearts. The fabric that will challenge me the most  is a red, white, and blue fabric with American flags and Elvis Presley in his Army uniform, though I smiled anyway when I saw it. No Thimbleberries in sight. (This time.)

I may report back later in the year with how well I’m doing on my quest to use every fabric…but overall, this was a satisfying experiment which I intend to repeat. Not even the whole Barack Obama thing taught me as much as this one little bundle of cloth…”fear of the unknown” doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Taking a risk pays off sometimes; even if it’s not a 100% success, success is possible. And that’s awesome.


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