One Hand Clapping




"Give me a hand," she said

I clapped my hands together.

"Don't be a wise guy," she said. "I need a hand."

I handed her my hand.

"One more time and I'll put a few of these bolts down on your head," she said. She was running her hand over a bolt of red brick fabric.

I gave her my hand. If she wanted to hold hands in the quilt shop, that was all right with me.

"I want you to handle the fabric," she said. She pushed my hand toward the bolt of fabric.

"I thought you wanted me to take your hand."

"The fabric," she said, taking all the romance out of my life. "How does it feel to you?"

"You need to know how the fabric feels?" I asked.

"I want you to feel the hand."

"What?" Go understand a quilter in a quilt shop. I touched the fabric. For all I knew it felt like red bricks.

"Be tactile," she said.

"Why do I have to be tactful to a bundle of cotton?" I asked. Polite, maybe. Friendly, maybe. But tactful? I slowly approached the fabric with my hand, politely, too. "Hi, fabric," I said.

"Not tactful," she said. "Tactile."


At first, she had been content to have me follow her around the shop as I usually did. I was good at following. I was good at standing still as she made yes and no sounds as she judged each fabric. I was good at nodding or shaking my head when she did. I was good at guessing which fabric she would choose to buy. After all, she had trained me well. And, so, I trailed along, never once trying to get between her and her fabric. But on this day, when she had a new project in mind, one that included quilting a lot of little houses, my just being there wasn't enough for her. Oh, no. It wasn't enough for me to listen to her describe the color and the design of fabric as she dragged me up and down the aisles behind her, my smile matching hers when she said something nice about the fabric, my whole head frowning in dismay with her when she snorted in disgust at some fabric that looked like fermented limes, fabric that would never enter our neighborhood, let alone our home.

So, there I was, my hands surrendered to her wishes, reaching out to another fabric. I looked out for other customers who might be staring at me for just being in the shop, let alone now reaching to fondle the fabric. It was one thing for Darling Wife to reach out her hand to touch every piece of fabric in the shop. It was another thing for me to do it. It was one thing when she pulled out a bolt and unwrapped the fabric to reach both sides. It was another thing when she commissioned me to do the same.

"I want to know how the fabric feels to you," she said, no doubt ready to do something drastic to me if I failed this test, one more in a long list of tests she had given me since her quilting days began.

"All right," I said. I felt the fabric. This fabric was green and covered with tufts of prairie grass. "It doesn't have any temperature. No sniffling. No signs of sickness. I think it's healthy," I told her, wondering if there were quilt police about to pounce on me. The fabric felt like fabric to me.

"You're going to be sick," she said. I assumed she didn't accept my good news about the fabric.

'What do you want me to do?" I asked. "Be specific," I suggested. I wasn't going to make any more mistakes with this woman who might grab hold of me and wrap me up in unbleached muslin and use me as a quilt back.

"You need to feel the quality of the fabric, the aesthetic quality, the tactile quality," she said quietly, patiently. "You need to determine the hand of the fabric."

"Oh, no you don't. Not this time. Fabric doesn't have hands."

"Not hands. Hand." Her voice was still gentle.

"Is that another quilting term?" I asked.

"You can tell about the texture by the hand, the feel." It WAS another quilting term.

"And by the taste," I said. I knew about the texture of peanut butter. "Smooth or chunky," I added.

"You don't taste fabric," she said.

"Some people do. Babies do."

"You can tell if fabric is smooth or coarse," she said.

"Of course," I said. In another minute I was going to grab a bolt of fabric and choke it with both my hands.

"And how durable it is," she went on. "Quilts have to last a long, long time."

"That's fine," I said, impatient to take her home and lock her in her sewing room. Instead, I ran my hands over a new bolt of fabric she pointed out to me. The design was of brown pebbles in a stream. I pulled the bolt out and read the information on the end of the cardboard center. It was one hundred percent cotton. "This feels like one hundred percent cotton with brown pebbles in a stream," I said. I felt it some more. "It feels as if it will last one hundred eighty-two years before the pebbles erode into sand. Is that durable enough."

"You're a fabric barbarian," she said. Surprisingly, her voice rose.

"I'm handling it just like you said," I said. It was probably good fabric, and no doubt several yards of it would wind up in her stash, but the feel, the hand, the tactile quality were beyond me. But I tried. I touched a bolt of fabric that had slate shingles all over it. At least that's what it looked like to me. "Aesthetically, I'd say it has the feel of slate and the smooth and flaky texture of a roof shingle," I said.

"I want three yards of it," she said. Oh, at first she gave me several of her quilter's looks, and she clenched her fist at me, and she slapped my wrists a bit, but she left my hands alone and she didn't yell or shake her fists.

"Sounds about the right amount to me," I said, relieved. At that point, I would have agreed to her buying any amount, no matter how it felt. "I have to hand it to you," I said with just a slight smile. "You know how to select fabric," I added when her smile tightened.

"I think we should go feel some more fabric," she said.

"You have my hand on that," I said.


Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver

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