Tuesday, August 05, 2014
Warp and Weft
I've mentioned before that my interior design style is best described as "ya done with that?" Even now when it's not the financial necessity it once was, I'm still likely to accept free things friends are getting rid of, just in case. That's what happened a few weeks ago when someone offered me two blue curtain panels. .
Once they were an option, I realized they would be a good replacement for the ones hanging in my bedroom. Sixteen years hanging in south-facing windows had caused them not merely to fade, but actually tear from sun damage. So I was surprised, as I took them down, to find myself a bit melancholy. They were more woven into my history than I had realized.
These two curtains actually started life as a table cloth. When I lived in Seattle, my friend Julia worked briefly at an Indian Textiles import store. At some point she was offered a bunch of factory seconds for free, so she invited a bunch of us over to partake in the colorful cotton bounty. Whatever had rendered these unfit for sale was invisible to my eye at least and I took a pile of things; there were a set of napkins and place mats in a red and blue paisley pattern, but my favorite was the design that used various shades of blue and green in a thick-striped plaid. I got place mats, towels and napkins in it, but the prize by far was the table cloth. The colors weren't the only draw; at four feet by ten feet, it was going to be big enough to cover my dining room table.
The table too had been a gift from a friend. E had moved to Seattle to pursue a new relationship, but when it petered out after a few months, he decided to move back east. E was exceptionally tall (at least six foot five, maybe as much as six foot eight, my memory is hazy), so he had built himself a table that he could sit under without banging his knees. At three feet by seven feet (or was it nine feet?), it was also longer than anything I would have been able to afford at the time. E was a set designer and carpenter, so he had made something that was inexpensive but attractive, lightweight enough for one person to be able to move it, and sturdy enough that one could probably stage choreography on it. It just wasn't precious enough to justify moving (he could make another one more cheaply wherever he landed), so he offered it to me and my four roommates. It looked perfect in our funky farmhouse kitchen, filling without overpowering the breakfast nook. Two years later when I and one of those roommates found an apartment together, this table came with us, where it once again anchored and defined the new dining area with a sturdy grace.
Now, thanks to Julia's largess, we could also dress it up for special occasions. It became the center for many dinner parties over the next five years, usually some carb-heavy affair designed to feed as many people as cheaply as possible: homemade red sauce, piles of spaghetti, a big salad, homemade bread, maybe some red wine if we were feeling flush and extravagant. The table could easily seat eight, but I don't remember it ever doing so, mostly because we didn't have that many chairs. We had enough place mats and napkins though, even if they didn't all match, again thanks to Julia, and I was always thrilled to have an excuse to bring them all out.
When I moved to New York, I left the table behind of course, but I packed all the linens. They sat in a box in my parents' basement for at least three years, while I moved a total of twelve times, until finally landing in the place where I live now. I needed curtains in the bedroom, and couldn't afford to buy them. Even I have trouble crediting that story now; I really didn't have thirty or forty dollars to buy some cheap things at the local home supply store? But I can also remember walking to classes, auditions and jobs from time to time because I was unable to scrounge up the $1.50 required for mass transit, so yes, it wasn't just a case of not wanting to spend the money, it was a case of not having it, at least not right then, when I wanted to block out early morning sun and neighbors' eyes. But there was this table cloth. Its dimensions meant it would fill the two windows adequately if not completely. Cutting it in half, and turning the raw edges into pocket hems fell easily inside my limited sewing abilities. So that's what I did.
Once in place, the choice undertaken mostly for practicality had some nice aesthetic results. The colors had a soothing effect I hadn't predicted. Two bold splashes of color in the white box of my bedroom felt like a big design statement, especially given how little interior decorating I was prone to do, after three years of sublets. There had been a bit of a concession in the cut, of course; doing so meant I was acknowledging I was unlikely to need such a large table cloth any time soon, if ever again. Life in New York simply happens on a smaller, tighter scale. All in all though I was happy with the result, especially once I realized the heavy cloth made an excellent light block.
So, now they've been retired, and I'm finding myself oddly nostalgic about them. The fabric was a table cloth for about six years, a pair of curtains for sixteen. I occasionally threw one of those big spaghetti meals in New York, but it's been a few years. Few people I know are willing to eat that many carbs in one go now. Even I have cut back, mostly to avoid the empty calories. I don't have the metabolism of a twenty-something starving artist any more. More to the point though, it's harder to get people gathered in one place, whether because of age, responsibilities or geography. My apartment isn't conveniently located for most of my friends. It remains to be seen how many more years I can handle the four flights of stairs, frankly. Like most New Yorkers, my socializing now tends to happen in centrally located restaurants, in groups of three to six. And that's fine. Nice even. It's wonderful to have the option now. But sometimes I do miss throwing a big, cheap dinner party.
I originally assumed I'd just throw the old curtains out, but now I'm not so sure. Even with the rips and faded colors from the sun damage, there is still probably a few good feet of usable cloth. I haven't a clue what I might do with it, but it would be nice to give it another incarnation. I appreciate the reminders it provides of the generosity I have been showered with over the years. The table, the meals, the linens, even the use of my parents' basement, all speak of a bounty that might be rooted in frugality, but is free of austerity.
I'll resist the temptation to make a big deal out of the cloth, for now. It would be easy to get precious about it. Clearly the answer lies in letting the new task present itself when the time is right, like it did in the past. And hell, maybe I'll still just throw the damn things out. Sometimes things get worn out, and need to go. The Quaker in me appreciates that, just as he worries about putting too much power into material possessions.
But for now, it can't hurt to wash them.