By Katie Callahan, The Island Packet
Photo by Vern Morrison Williams/Packet Staff Photo
he calls herself a “fabric junkie” and in the same breath she says she's insane and crazy, but don't believe a word of it.
Marilyn Leckman of 102 Tanglewood is one of the sanest and most chic of those who report to The Island Packet every morning. Marilyn, in a niche known as the librarian's corner, perches on an oddly shaped stool, where she snips and clips and files reference material vital to the newsroom’s operation.
The reason Marilyn is so chic is that she designs and stitches her own clothes, and her talent is equal to that of some of the big names in the fashion industry. Besides, in sewing her own, she is able to use some of the approximately 20,000 yards of material that clutters her life and home.
“It started off with a bureau drawer that I filled to overflowing with fabric I had to buy,” the fabric junkie commenced her confession, “And then I filled another drawer and another drawer, and they overflowed into boxes, and the boxes overflowed into trunks and baskets.
“I said ‘I have to buy this fabric,’ and I did, because I became compulsive–a little like a dope addict,” she continued. “I'll do anything to get the fabric I want.
“But I‘m not unusual,” she hastened to add, not wishing to leave the impression she is the only insane fabric junkie on record. “There are hundreds of women everywhere who collect fabric.”
She collects solid and print fabric. She collects cotton, silk, woolen and knit fabric. She collects zippers, trim, lace, tape, ribbon, elastic, buttons and thread. She may be insane, but she is fervent and zealous.
She tries to keep fabrics separated–and succeeds fairly well–according to season, color and texture. In a little sewing room, about 8x10 feet, created from a portion of the living room, there are presently about 4,000 yards of cotton summer fabrics in every color imaginable, all neatly arranged on shelves concealed by fabric curtains.
“Before the summer is over, I may be able to use 40 or 50 yards, and then I will store it away and bring out the fall woolens and knits.” she said. “I probably have about 3,500 yards of those fabrics.”
Of course, the figures she gives today may change tomorrow, because she is always searching for more fabric.
One living room wall is lined with fabric-covered boxes all filled with fabric, and
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another wall has been covered with fabric, as have the walls in the bathroom.
Sound like a zany scene? Not at all. It’s an interesting apartment, thanks to the fabrics and decorative accessories from India, Morocco, the Far East and from almost anywhere, everything reflecting Marilyn’s good taste and artistic bent.
It takes a move, such as the one to Hilton Head in 1983 by the native Californian, to find out the extent of the collection.
“The moving men could not believe their eyes; nor could I!”
Not only is every inch of the house filled with fabric recepticals–many stored under beds and and in closets as well as in the obvious places–but also Marilyn rents a store room on Arrow Road at $72 a month for the overflow.
“My poor children have never had rooms of their own,” she said. “They always had to share with Mom’s fabrics. They grew up together that way and they didn’t know any better until they became adults.”
She wonders, of course, what will become of the collection some day.
“I could liquidate it, probably at a profit, but I don’t want to do that. There are some woolens that might be of interest to a textile museum, but most of it, frankly is only of interest to me. I love every piece of it. I’ve given away a few pieces, but only a few, one to a little church on the island. Some of the fabric is at least 30 years old.”
To justify the collection, she sews. “You start out sewing for yourself, and then to justify all that fabric you sew for your children and your friends, and you make gifts and you still have thousands of yards of fabric left.”
She taught herself to sew at the age of 11 and made her own clothes through high school and college and has never stopped making clothes. She even makes rain coats and purses.
The first sewing machine she owned, and Italian Necchi, was bought at the PX in Morocco, when she was there for one year with teh Air Force as a first-grade teacher. It is still a favorite machine.
“About 20 years later, I bought its twin from a good friend. And now I have a brand new electronic machine, and Elna model made in Switzerland, but I prefer the two old ones. They’re like musical instruments. They make music in my ears.”
The sewing machine makes music in her ears and so does he job at The Packet. “I put myself through college (Long Beach State) working in libraries and I love what I do at The Packet. It’s not everybody’s job, but it was custom made for me.”
And Marilyn undoubtedly was custom made for the job, and for collecting fabric.