the things you save from the fire

To put it bluntly, my co-worker JJ has had one of the shittiest Decembers I've ever seen. Midway through the month, after a weekend of windstorms here in Portland, we came into work the next Monday to learn that he and his family had been hit by a freak house fire caused by the windstorm. About a week after learning that their house would have to be gutted to the rafters, and they'd be in temporary housing for six months, his wife had a stroke.

He's juggling a gutted house, two teenagers, and a wife who is recovering, but still in the ICU.

Seriously, an epicly shitty December.

A couple of days ago, JJ put out a call on Facebook to all his crafter friends. His wife was a crafter, and he needed reasonably knowledgeable people to come help him empty the basement, tally the damage, document a life's worth of possessions on insurance adjuster sheets, so the basement could be gutted as the rest of the house has already been. His wife would be the best choice to help him empty the basement, but she's unavailable at the moment, so we agreed to do the best we could.

The knitters and fiber artists tackled the yarn. I tackled the fabric. Everyone working joked a bit about weeping inside as we cataloged things that looked fine, but smelled terrible and couldn't be salvaged. It was human nature: we sniffed everything that looked fine to see if there was ANY hope of salvaging yarn, fabric, crafting supplies because we knew their worth.

In a house fire, it isn't just the fire that destroys you. It's the heat, the soot, the smoke. In the end, it can even be the water that saves your home, because waterlogged possessions will mold if left damp, and yarn and fabric are especially susceptible. In JJ's family's case, the fire started in the basement near where the craft items had been stored, so we knew there was a low chance of salvaging anything, and that proved to be the case: we lifted skein after skein to our noses, and virtually everything reeked of smoke in a way that could never be removed -- and most of the items were water-damaged and likely starting to mold.

We logged it all, bag after bag, and put it away for disposal.

You can probably guess, based on the fact that I've already logged a project, that I found a quilt top. (The "Phoenix" project.) We've established before that I'm a sucker for an unfinished project with a good story; Jacob lovingly refers to them as residents of the Island of Misfit Quilts. Amidst boxes of unsalvageable clothing and fabric and sewing supplies, I found a bag within a box that contained three large portions of a quilt top, and a second bag nearby that contained what my instincts screamed had to be more pieces for that quilt top.

I put it aside. I couldn't NOT. Island of misfit quilts, after all.

JJ came by a couple of hours later and said, "Oh, yeah, my wife was working on that years ago" and it was hard to hear him over the Roving Commentator in my brain who was cackling, rubbing her hands together, and saying "Like hell you're walking away from THIS misfit quilt!"

I bagged it up -- along with one swath of fabric so unique I couldn't bear to see it tossed without finding out for myself if it was really unsalvageable -- and took it home. After four hours of working in the basement, I knew what I had to do. I dropped the bag in the living room, walked over to my washer, stripped every piece of clothing off of me, and dumped every bit of it straight in the washer. On hot. For as long as possible. I had to get the smoke smell out as quickly as possible, before it set in, and the best time to do it was while I was scrubbing the smoke and the soot off of me, in the shower.

I got out, with my nose reset from the land of smoke and soot, and sniffed the bag.

Shit. It WAS smoke damaged. The bag reeked. It was time for evasive maneuvers:

(Note: The quilt's project page is available at and I'll link it to all the entries I make about the quilt)


I look forward to reading the rest of this beautifully begun story. Thanks for writing from the heart.

Blackholes are the result of God dividing the universe by zero :-)