Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Chapter Closes

Seven years ago, almost to the day, I took the first steps towards becoming a Quilter.

In March, 2000, I went to the Glendale Quilt Show. That year, I went on Sunday, the last day of the show.

When I moved to Los Angeles in June of 1999, I was a cross stitcher. I was working on a hardanger wedding sampler as a wedding gift for my best friend from college. Once I finished that project (in November or December if I remember right). I was looking for a new project and was shocked stupid to discover that there are no cross stitch stores in Los Angeles County. None. Zero. A metropolitan area of about 10 million people, and there aren’t enough cross stitchers to have a local store?

My solution to this problem was to change hobbies.

My mom, who taught me how to knit and cross stitch when I was a schmoo, had been making quilts for quite a while. Totally hand-pieced and hand-quilted. While the thought of doing all of that hand work gave me hives, quilting had always been a hobby that I aspired to.

So during mini-breaks during that first Bruin softball season, I started researching sewing machines. Boy, was I ever surprised at how much they cost!

Still, I went to the Glendale show that Sunday in mid-March of 2000. Admired the quilts. Gazed at the vendor booths having no idea what I was looking at. And then, at the end of my journey, I found the Bearly Stitchin booth.

I got lucky. Really lucky. I started talking to the owner’s daughter (Melinda), who wound up selling me a Bernina 150 QE. I walked out of the show bewildered, excited, and with a sewing machine in the back seat of my car. It had been a classroom model for use at the show (not that I knew what that meant), but I figured I got a reasonable price and the payment on the financing was well within my budget. I was already sucked in.

I went back to my apartment. Stared at the still-closed box for a few days. Almost a week later, I ventured to Pasadena to visit the actual Bearly Stitchin brick-and-mortar store, about five miles west of their current location on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena. Again, I was bewildered and overwhelmed.

Then, this amazing little woman came over and introduced herself. Her name was Joann, and she worked in the store. She chastised me, in a very kind, humorous and friendly way, for having not played with my shiny new machine yet. She made sure I got some thread (Mary Ellen gray, of course!), she got me signed up for a Quillow class with Melinda, and she suggested a good first quilting class once I successfully negotiated my Quillow experience.

My first-ever “real” quilt was “My Friend’s House” from some Thimbleberries pattern. It was my first ever Mary Ellen class and the finished product is currently hanging in my dad’s office in Pittsburgh (Sorry! Thought I had a digital photo to share, but I don’t!).

From there, I was encouraged to come to a Friday night “Pick a Project” class. People come to the store and sew from 6-midnight? Really? Wow!

My first Friday night, nobody really brought snacks (a rarity, I would come to find out), and everyone chipped in $5 for pizza at “halftime” around 9 pm. I was planning to leave around 10, so I didn’t contribute for that reason and because Abe Lincoln was absent from my wallet. Everyone was friendly, but I was still very much on the outside.

Somehow, I decided to continue coming to those Friday night classes whenever I could. I kept signing up for most of Mary Ellen’s classes. Eventually, that group of people turned into my best friends in California. I managed to suck a kindred spirit into the group when Beth landed in a random Mary Ellen class with me.

Our Melrose Mondays mini-group is born from that group of Friday night quilters. Beth. Carol. Lisa. Anne. Sandy. Denise. Nonie.

People I see occasionally, but enjoy tremendously show up at Friday nights at Bearly. If I didn’t suck so badly at names, and if it hadn’t been 3+ months since I had shown up for a Friday night (work, this was not a conscious choice!), I’d rattle off a bunch of those names too.

My habit has exploded since I started down this quilty path. I have a cutting table (well, it’s covered with non-quilty crap at the moment, but that is its intended function), a sewing cabinet (same), even a pile in the garage. Four sewing machines and a serger, all from Bearly.

I have even started to knit again, encouraged by Beth, since it’s her fault I discovered her friend Irma and Beach Knitting.

Why the trip down memory lane, you ask?

Bearly is closing. They have to be out of the store by the end of May and will shut their doors for good in mid-May. The last Friday night is May 11. Sadly, I will be in Phoenix (work) and won’t be there for the official closing ceremonies.

This makes me extremely sad. Yes, I have a perfectly great quilting store walking distance from my house in Redondo Beach in Luella’s, but it isn’t my quilty “home base” the way Bearly is. [Bearly's owners are moving to Phoenix in order to be closer to their daughter and grandkid. A motivation I certainly understand and empathize with, and the sudden departure is related to their lease, not a desire to "dump and run."]

Everyone should have a place where they can be Norm from “Cheers,” and in a way, I hoped Bearly was one of mine. I hope that my friends and I can find a new Friday night hangout. I hope that Mary Ellen can keep up her teaching schedule at a new location. Any store owner should certainly be happy to have her, since she has a very loyal following. I just hope that the gang doesn’t move much farther east, or it will be too damn hard for me to get there on Fridays.

Last night, I attended my first “Friday Night” since November. It’s sad to think that Bearly will be gone very soon. I feel badly for Bearly’s employees, who range from my age to retirees. Some will need jobs immediately and won’t be able to ride it out until the store closes. Regardless, all of these great people will fall to the winds. Hopefully many will be able to find new places that make them happy.

I hope that the store's loyal customers can take a chill pill and stop asking everyone what they're doing "after" It's a tough situation for everyone, particularly people whose livelihoods have been compromised in a big way

Nature abhors a vacuum, and this void will be filled. Here’s hoping that the resolution becomes clear quickly for all.

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