The Right Stuff
She was going through the cupboard in the garage where we kept the office supplies. As a teacher, she had accumulated shelves full of supplies. As a retired teacher, she had boxed them and stored them, moving them from one closet to another and finally into the garage as she replaced their spaces with stash. Now she was rummaging around.
"Help me out here," she said as she moved aside reams of paper from the bottom shelf.
"You want to move the paper again so you can put in more stash here too?"
"No, I need some paper."
"You have twenty reams of paper in front of you," I said to her. There was at least that much, though she had been using more and more lately photocopying patterns and articles on sewing and quilting.
"There all twenty pound," she said. "They're not the right stuff. They rip too hard."
"They rip too hard?" I asked. I was in for another lesson in sewing English.
"They might rip out the stitches when I tear the paper away," she said, as if that explained everything to me.
"Go on," I said. I took two reams of paper from her as she handed them to me. I put them on the garage floor.
"When I finish making the square, I have to tear the paper," she said.
"Rip it or tear it? You just said you rip it."
"It's the same thing. I don't want to rip out the stitches."
"There are stitches in the paper?" An idea of what she was telling me began to form in my head, but I didn't want to even think she was in some way sewing the paper.
"There have to be stitches in the paper. I sew through the paper." She handed me two more reams of paper. I put them on the floor next to the first two.
"Are you making paper doll clothes?" I guessed.
"No." She handed me two more reams. "Where are the eighteen-pounders?" she asked then.
"You're not talking about fish, are you?" I knew she wasn't. She was talking about the weight of the computer paper we used to use. But I didn't want to let her off too easily, not when she had me confused again.
"Paper piecing," she said. "The twenty-pound is too thick. It tears hard, rips hard."
"Do you want to start over?" I asked.
"The new book came in the mail," she said. She pushed a ream of paper aside and reached far back into the cupboard.
"Which new book in the mail?"
"The new quilting book."
"Which new quilting book?" The post office was getting rich off the postage that stuck to the packages of books that had come since she took up quilting.
"The book on paper piecing," she said. "I love it."
"You love a book on paper piecing or you love paper piecing?"
"Both," she said. She dropped a ream of paper and almost hit my toe which was just an inch away from being paper pieced, or pierced, more likely. I jumped and backed away from the madwoman of paper. She paid no attention to the near-death of my toe and kept rummaging around.
"All of this paper is too thick, too hard, too flat?" I asked.
"It's not too flat, Silly. It rips too hard," she said again. "And I need thinner, lighter paper.
"You need to sew on thin paper?" I was puzzled. I had looked at the cover of the paper-piecing book when she had opened the package three days before, but I had paid it no attention. My mistake. Now I had to go to paper-piecing school to keep up my end of the conversation.
"It's a technique for quilting that uses paper patterns. You sew the fabric through the paper then rip the paper away."
"So that's what you've been doing for three days. I thought you were making a quilt."
"I was making a block," she said. She pulled herself out the cupboard.
"For three days?"
"There's no old computer paper anywhere," she said.
"For three days?" I asked again. She had heard me.
"It's all backwards. I had to learn to do everything backwards," she said. "Have you ever tried sewing anything backwards?"
"Everything I sew is backwards," I admitted truthfully.
"We'll, I had to learn out of the book and I kept getting everything backwards, but now I know how to do it, and I finished the block, and we have to go to the office supply store and buy some thin paper so that I can rip the heck out of it."
"You learned how to do it in just three days?" I asked.
"Three long hard days," she said. "Now can we go buy some paper?"
I looked down at the floor, the concrete covered in reams of thick fat obese, heavy twenty-pound paper. "What about this mess?"
"What about it?" She gave me her "I really have to get going on my paper-piecing project now" look. "You can put it back when we get back. It's not my fault we don't have the right kind of paper."
"You should have used skinny paper when you were teaching," I mumbled, but my words fell behind her. She was already back in the house getting ready to go shopping. "Then you would have some," I continued, but she was on her way to the office supply store and what could be paper-piecing heaven if it had the right stuff for her to use. I ran after her. There was no guessing how much paper she would come back with on her own. When it comes to quilting....
Copyright A.B. Silver 1998
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