Aloha, Beginner




"We have to go to Hawaii," she said just as I took a bite of the cracker and the 85 percent reduced fat peanut butter. I chewed. I swallowed. The peanut butter held the cracker to the roof of my mouth.

"Glurhat?" I asked.

"Hawaii," she said.

I scraped some of the peanut butter off the roof of my mouth with my tongue and pushed it toward my throat. "Hawhyeee??"

"It will be a nice getaway from the cold and fog," she said.

"Whiiiy?" I asked as I swallowed. "Why?" I asked.

"Electricity," she said.

"We have to go to Hawaii for electricity? We have electricity."

"There's a shortage and we might have rolling brownouts and then the house would go dark and my life would go dark."

"So, you want to go to Hawaii for electricity to light up your life?" I asked. I kept asking her questions, biding my time. It would be soon enough when the truth would emerge, when the moment came that I knew that somehow she was talking about quilting in some absolutely very roundabout way.

"Hawaiian quilts," she said. "I want to learn how to make a Hawaiian quilt," she emphasized loudly so I would be sure I knew exactly what she wanted.

"But--" I began. I had a lot of "but's" I could use. The very first one that came to mind was her insistence for the past three years that she would never do one thing when it came to quilting. She would never make a Hawaiian quilt. Now, she liked Hawaiian quilts. She thought them lovely.

I had once even surprised her with a book on how to make a Hawaiian quilt, but she had said, "Never. Oh, absolutely never." The reason was simple. She would have to hand quilt the Hawaiian quilt. She would have to use a sharp and a between and poke the needle through the fabric and turn under the edges of the appliqué and echo the design of the appliqué when she did the quilting. "I'm a machine quilter," she said. "I don't do hand."

"But, you said--" I went on, but she stopped me.

"We're going to run out of electricity soon and I won't be able to quilt so we have to go to Hawaii where I can learn how to hand quilt so when we get back and California goes dark forever because the electricity is turned off I'll still be able to hand quilt if I learn how to make a Hawaiian quilt," she said. She said all that fast. I listened fast. A man married to a quilter learns to listen really fast if he wants his life to stay all lighted up.

"OK," I said.


"We'll go New Year's Eve and you can learn to hand quilt a Hawaiian and then we'll come home and wait for the electricity to go out."

"Good," she said.


The first day we walked on the beach at Waikiki and went to a quilt shop. The second day we walked on the beach and went to a fabric shop.

The third day we walked on the beach and she went to a quilting class but it was too crowded and there was no place for her to sit at the table because she got there on time and all the seats had been taken by other people who wanted to learn how to make a Hawaiian quilt, and they had already gotten there earlier, probably several months earlier. I image that they just arrived and sat at the table for months waiting for a seat. In Hawaii, Hawaiian quilting is popular.

The following day we went to the beach and another quilt shop. Most of the fabric in the quilt shops was the same fabric we had at our quilt shops on the Mainland, including the typical flowered cottons and polyesters seen all over. (Many native Hawaiians, though, think Hawaii is the Mainland and that the other forty-nine states are, well, the other forty-nine states.) Whatever the case, in one shop she finally found unique Hawaiian fabric. Then in another shop she found some more. In a third shop, she found some more.

"You have thirty yards of fabric now," I said after the third purchase, hoping to drag her off to climb a volcano or hike into a rain forest somewhere on the island.

"That's all I need," she said.

"Are you going to make a Hawaiian quilt with it?" I asked.

"Of course not. This is all printed fabric with petroglyphs and native designs with lots of flowers. Hawaiian quilts are made with solid colors, usually just two colors, one for the background and one for the flower design, and sometimes a quilter adds a touch of a third color for part of the flower."

I knew that already. We had also in our first few days visited a billion skillion trillion places where authentic Hawaiian quilts were on display. Every shop, every store, every hotel had some display of a Hawaiian quilt, wall hangings and bed quilts and bags and purses and pot holders and probably even some to wrap pineapple in, no doubt, though we didn't see any just like that yet. "I know that," I said.

"I was just reminding myself," she said. "Tomorrow's Friday," she added.

"Is it?" I asked. I had lost track of days. Too much sun, probably.

"Friday," she said. "The Bishop Museum."

"Oh, yes," I said. The Bishop Museum, Oahu's premier museum of historic Hawaii had a quilt demonstration and a class the next morning. She was looking forward to it. We were going to go very early. She wanted a chair.

She found a chair. We were there twenty minutes before the museum opened. We asked where the quilting was and a wonderful woman, probably seeing my Darling Wife's desperate need to learn how to hand quilt, took us around to the building where the quilting was and we were early and we both got a seat, though I was ready to give it up if a quilter wanted to fight for it, but I was safe that morning. I stayed and watched the demonstration along with my Darling Wife. And we watched a video teaching how to fold and cut out the appliqué, how to use a hoop, how to sew tiny stitches by hand, and how to finish up the top and quilt it. That was two weeks ago. Now is now.


Since then, California's had half a dozen Stage 3 alerts to warn us that the electricity was just about all gone and that we had better be prepared for a rolling brownout that would cut off all power for two hours. In order to better prepared, it was suggested that everyone know how to hand quilt.


She has been working on her own Hawaiian wall hanging for two weeks. She has learned that a hoop is round (or oval or square), that sharps are very sharp, that turning under an edge of an appliqué properly takes a lot of skill. And she knows that she can now laugh at the darkness if California shuts down. She has a candle and a match nearby and is hand quilting her Hawaiian quilt. That lights up her life.

Copyright 2001 by A.B. Silver

The top is finished. It's not perfect, but the candle flickered a lot!

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