A little patch of heaven
As far as holidays go, we got off to a late start this summer, and I decided to spend a few days combining packing for our three-week holiday with the grandparents with a wardrobe clean-out.
My girls are 10 and 12, and we suddenly discovered they have nothing to wear. Last year's shorts are too small, the trousers are too short and even the T-shirts are tight in the armpits. I feel guilty, but you can't lay all the fault on me. They have been in school uniforms for the past 10 months, so how could I know?
In the past, I loved taking time to clean out my girls' wardrobe. I would sit and reminisce about each piece - the frilly little dresses, the funny-looking jeans that were large enough to fit a nappy, the T-shirts with silly messages. I remembered which pieces my daughters especially liked and which ones I liked best. I remembered where they were bought, too, it seemed.
Most of my girls' clothes were passed on, in one way or another. Some had been so well loved that they were converted into rags. But some were keepers: a hot pink velour pants-and-jacket set bought at a chic chop in Fremantle during a holiday in Australia. My eldest was only two and very afraid of the kangaroos. I also kept my youngest daughter's first one-piece, the mint green terry-cloth jumper (with feet) that she wore when she left the hospital. It's so tiny, we once put it on a doll for a laugh. It's hard to believe our kids were once so small.
My parents were born into farming families during the Depression in Canada, and their frugal habits have stuck. I hate throwing things out, but in our cramped Hong Kong flat, I have learned that one must make room. I refuse to be a hoarder! And so, by combining my interest in creative works (especially making things with my hands) and my desire to hang onto tangible memories of my girls' younger years, I have found the perfect solution: quilting.
This also satisfies my practical bent ... I loathe oil heaters for drying out the air in our flats each winter. So, every autumn, the big pile of home-made, hand-me-down quilts of varying sizes comes out, and my kids give a cheer. It's become a tradition, like decorating the tree at Christmas. We enjoy snuggling up in these quilts through Hong Kong's cold snaps.
These quilts are like mini-archives because I decided to do things in an organised way. The earliest quilts were child-sized, composed of patches of their favourite dresses and trousers. These could be mixes of florals and other bright designs with kiddy-coloured solids. Some of our favourite winter quilts were the ones made from old pyjamas - soft flannels in stripes or patterns, with an occasional Powerpuff Girl or Disney princess. I loved the way my girls would snuggle up in these quilts and then start reminiscing together. One of the quilts is also completely made up of daddy's old shirts - an assortment of stripes and checks - everything one shade or another of blue. (My kids know daddy is set in his ways.)
More recently, I decided to make a full-size bedcover out of a large pile of my old clothes. When my mother came to visit last year, she saw the bedcover and proceeded to tell my girls about the familiar pieces and the stories behind them. My grandmothers used to quilt, but my mother was too busy. Thanks to the benefit of living in Hong Kong (and having a beloved helper, Aunty E), I have been freed up from domestic work to indulge myself and my family in this pastime - 'scrapbooking' with fabrics. And my girls wouldn't have it any other way. My youngest, who also loves to create and use her hands, likes to watch and learn, help out and offer advice on colour co-ordination.
My desire to reuse and recycle the fabric in our house may soon extend beyond old clothes - kind of like Maria in The Sound of Music, who used the old curtains to make play clothes for the Von Trapp children. Sadly, the beanbag chair - which was designed by me and made at the Lo Wu Commercial Centre more than a decade ago and has cushioned my girls since they were babies and me - has become too small for the three of us. Or we have become too big for it. For years, the girls had been happy to lie with me, one in each arm, as we watched television. What memories.
But now it'll have to go. But not before I figure out how I can get in my daily fix of cuddles.
Karmel Schreyer is a freelance writer and a mother of two girls