Unless you have the fruit trees, the canning jars saved, and all the supplies you need, making your own jam costs about 17 times the price of going to the store and buying some nice, delicious jam. Don’t get me wrong- I enjoy canning, and have put up a ton of jam over the years- but that was back when I lived on the west coast, where apricots, plums and raspberries grew in my yard. Out here in the mid-Atlantic, I either have to drive two hours and pay-to-pick, or I have to pay the markup at DC grocers and farmers markets- neither of which is more economical than buying the already-made jam. I’m a romantic, and I love the idea of preservation; I’m also not stupid.
When I left the west coast four years ago, I gave all my preservation supplies away. My water processor, my cases of canning jars, my funnels and mills and tongs and cooling racks. There was nowhere to keep them in a tiny urban townhouse. It’s the same reason I got rid of almost all my fabric and sewing supplies- I managed to hang onto the essentials and a small sewing box. That was a true act of faith from a woman who had supported herself by sewing for several years. It was also really hard and sorrow still swells a tiny bit when I think of the notions, pretty fabric, estate-sale buttons and green spools of Isacord. I hope whoever got them really loves them and has made beautiful things.
Sewing clothes is a lot like making jam. Unless you already have everything—and it’s a substantial investment that took me years to accumulate—it’s just not economical to sew your own clothes, or even (ouch) your own quilts. It hurts me to acknowledge that, as a quilter. It’s a hobby that takes a lot of time and money. I understand the love- I really, really, really do. And there is value in creating heirlooms, I know. But to make Abby dresses now, it costs more than double buying off the rack. If I find something on sale, or at a second-hand or consignment shop? It’s no contest. I’ve consumed nothing new, and spent a tiny fraction of the resources and she’s got a lovely dress.
I hate these economics.
I enjoy the home arts. I find contemplation, solace, healing, completion and connection with the seasons in stirring a bubbling pot of raspberries we picked in the hot summer sun only hours before. I have a trunk full of quilts that not only functioned as the source of my income for years, but which I hope my children and grandchildren will someday value and desire. These quilts are tiny pieces of calico sewn together by my hands, stitched without a machine in many cases, and peppered with my tears on occasion. They have material and spiritual value in a way a purchased quilt does not. Because of that, I want to weigh that sentimentality heavier than the economics. But once one has trunks of quilts, and once one had sold all the supplies, there isn’t justification for doing it again.
So here I sit, deep into August, feeling the siren call of the County Fair, wishing I had a quilt to enter, or a batch of beautiful Huckleberry jam to submit. It remains a soft, distant tickle in the middle of the back of my psyche, where I cannot contort myself enough to reach, and I’m not sure if I even should anymore.