As the saying goes, "Don't Look a Gift Horse..."

I went to the local Quilts for Kids chapter meeting yesterday.  When I got there, the group leader, Renee mentioned that she received a donation of lots of fabric and it was in her garage.  She offered it up to us to take but preferred if we did not use it for any QfK quilts. 
The problem with it was that it came from the home of an obvious chain smoker.  The fabric was marred with yellow streaks on the folds and around the edges.  The nicotine stains were terribly noticeable and the smell of it was terrible.  The stuff wreaked. Even touching it was hard to do, the scent felt like it was being transferred right into my skin. 
The story about the owner of this fabric is that she went blind so she could not sew anymore.  It was very generous of her to give all the fabric away but because of its condition we weren't going to use it on quilts for ill children.  It was probably a good decision however, it would be tragic to let it go to waste.  So Renee offered it up to the volunteers for our use at our discretion.
Another quilter and I started going through the piles and piles of fabric. There were about 10 large bags of fabric, and 2 large bins.  There were bags of pillow forms, batting, interfacing, thread and miscellaneous tools for sewing.  We each started at the opposite ends of the table and pulled out everything we wanted, switching places when we met in the middle of the table. There were some beautiful fabrics, Christmas fabrics, fall fabrics, quality cotton quilting fabrics, solids, fabrics with pretty flower prints. It was quite a collection.
When I got home, I just dumped the two giant bags of fabric I took onto the deck so the fresh air could get at it. With the windows of the house open, my husband pretty quickly complained about the smell coming into the windows.  He was disgusted with the smell.  So I quickly googled how to get the smoke smell out of fabric and found so many ideas. Since I had so much fabric, my husband got out one of his 40-gallon garbage cans and cleaned it out.  I poured a gallon of vinegar into the barrel and added water.  I unfolded all the fabric and stuck it in the barrel.  I had such a hard time getting past the smell. 
Every once in a while I went outside with rubber gloves on and stirred the fabric.  I figured letting it sit in the sun all day soaking might remove the smell.  After about 6 hours of soaking I started to wring out the fabric. There was so much of it.  I had 5 or 6 pieces that were 5-yard cuts. Some were 2-yard cuts and the rest were either half yard or 1-yard cuts. It was a horrible process.  Once I filled up a clothes basket with wet fabric I left the rest in the barrel. I started up the wash machine with 1/3 of the entire bunch of fabric. 
I realized that the water in the barrel was so laden with nicotine, it was brown with sludge-like goo at the bottom of the barrel.  I had to get the rest of the fabric out of that barrel.  So I wrung it all out into 2 more clothes baskets to prep for washing.  The whole process seemed so disgusting I was wondering it it was worth it.

When the first load of wash was done I quickly started the second basket of fabric. I couldn't wait to take the first load out of the dryer to see if it worked.  As I started to fold the pieces of now dry fabric, I was so thrilled that I totally got the smell out.  So I folded it all into a nice neat pile.  As I got to the last piece, I could see the nicotine marks across some of it.  I wasn't surprised and figured that I could cut around it. 
At that moment, I had a realization. I became overcome with this sadness because here I was going through this person's fabric with disdain forgetting that this was someone's total collection of fabric.  Someone had to give up sewing.  Someone who was passionate about fabric, as I could tell by all this beautiful fabric. I could not imagine what it must feel like to have to stop sewing and just give away all my collection.  I wanted to cry.  And I felt guilty for dismissing her and feeling so inconvenienced by the cleaning process. I should be grateful not annoyed. I will cherish this most generous gift that she had given. 

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