"This is not a very good quilt," the woman said as she turned to me, saw that I was a man, and turned quickly to my Darling Wife who stood at my side. We were standing in front of a Mariner's Compass quilt, the star in vivid shades of purple.
"I like it," I said, both to annoy the woman who said it wasn't a good quilt and because I liked it. The woman had latched on to us and kept at our side, complaining about each of the three quilts we passed as we walked down the aisle of the quilt shop looking at the quilts made by the patrons of the store, women who took classes there.
"The points are uneven on this one," the woman said directly to me, her head of curls flung toward me but the curls stayed tight to her scalp.
"Maybe if we split up," I whispered to my wife. "She'll probably follow you around, but I'll be free," I said, hoping.
"Be nice," DW admonished, so I was nice, but then the woman, with the beginning of a sneer on her lips, opened her purse and took out a magnifying glass.
"Now what?" I asked myself and my wife and the woman who glared at me. The woman glared, not my wife.
"The stitches," the woman said, her sneer complete. "You can tell a good quilt by the stitches."
"Oh, of course," I said as I watched her move up closer to the quilt. It was a small quilt and quite well done, all the tones remarkable in the way they complemented each other.
It was not the first time we had seen an inspector. From time to time at a quilt show we were amazed at the degree to which a few quilters went to find fault with other quilts. But this was the first one we had ever seen in any quilt shop.
We had seen our first inspectors just a year before.
"What are they doing?" I asked as I saw the two women move to within several inches of the quilt.
"Probably what I do, looking at how well done all these quilts are. They're all beautiful."
"They don't look as if they're admiring the quality of work. Look at her."
We were at the Pacific International Quilt Show in Santa Clara, California. One of the women in front of us was reaching her white-gloved hand to touch the stitching of the quilt. We could hear her counting to herself and see her frowning.
"One, two, three...seven," she said to the other woman who was about to turn the quilt to look at the back. She was shaking her head negatively.
"Nine," said the other as she inspected the back, and she snickered. It is not often I hear a real snicker, but this one gave me pause to wonder what was going on.
"She's not a real quilter, just throwing pieces of fabric together like so many of them do."
"I wonder where they get the nerve to enter in these shows," said her partner.
I looked at the label next to the quilt. It had won a second place in a watercolor competition. I would have given it first place. It was beautiful.
"How many stitches does a good quilt have?" I asked the two women. DW elbowed me to not get involved, but I was curious.
"They have to match," the first women said. She was polite and smiled and I thought that maybe I had been too quick to find fault with her.
"The number of stitches per inch on the back should match the number of stitches on the front." She too spoke kindly. "They should be small, but you should still be able to see the fabric between the stitches."
"That's in hand quilting, which is real quilting," said the first to make sure I knew what they were talking about.
"What about in machine quilting?" I asked. DW was a machine quilter. She was a beginner, true, but she never counted the stitches. She was happy there were stitches.
"It doesn't take much talent when the machine does the work," said the first. It seemed her nose was in the air, high above us.
"Do you two quilt?" I asked both women.
"I've been quilting thirty-seven years," said the first.
"I've been quilting thirty-seven years," said the second.
"We started together," said the first. "So we know how to quilt. I can do fifteen stitches to an inch."
"That's nice," I said. "On a bad day her quilts," and I paused and pointed at my darling wife, her quilts have fifty stitches an inch," I said, exaggerating a little. DW looked astonished as I looked at her to back me up, to respond, to join in, to ask a question, to make a statement, but she just stood at my side, her face still, but I could see a slight smile hidden in her cheeks.
"I don't know why they think they're quilters," the first one said as she ran her white hand down the binding of the quilt. She didn't look at me or my wife, but my wife looked at her.
"Probably because they quilt and they're human," DW said. At that, I feared for her life and grabbed her hand and pulled her away, leaving the inspectors to get on with their self-important job.
Now, a year later, we were in the quilt shop and another inspector was at our side.
"Do you quilt?" I asked the appendage as I tried to back away from her. "Why yes, of course," she said. "Do you?" she asked, hoping no doubt, to embarrass me.
"No, I just look," I said.
"That's nice," she said.
"But I don't look too closely," I said.
"I don't count the stitches," I said.
"I'm not counting stitches. I'm looking at the uneven quilting and the way the points don't come together right and no one who quilts this way should hang her quilt up in a shop unless it's to show people what not to do."
"I'd like to see a quilt of yours," I said nicely. "Maybe I could learn from you."
"You said you don't quilt," she said, irritated with me now. Who was this strange man in a quilt shop?
"Oh, I don't plan to quilt," I said. "I was just thinking that it might be fun to be an inspector, and I could learn by inspecting your quilts. I have a magnifying glass at home, and I'm sure I could get a white glove...."
Darling Wife ducked behind a display of quilting books and hid. Now why did she do that, just when I was starting to look forward to visitng lots of quilt shops and quilt shows and inspecting the inspectors?
Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver
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