A Lesson in Time




According to the American Heritage Dictionary, TIME is "A nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future. An interval separating two points on this continuum; a duration."

Yes, of course. A duration! I should have known.

"Sure, just a minute," my Darling Wife said just a little while ago.

That's how it always begins. We all know about time. We know what a second is, what a minute is, what a moment is supposed to be. Hah! Quilters don't know. Here's the rest of that conversation which took place twenty-three minutes and fourteen seconds ago exactly, but the conversation could have come at any time on any day of any week:

"How long a minute?" I asked. I asked because most of the time I have to plan my life around her quilting.

"Until I turn off the sewing machine," she said.

"Until you turn off the switch, or do you plan to finish what you're sewing?"

"I just have to run a stitch down a ditch to get the block quilted."

"So, maybe two minutes?" I ask.

"No, just another minute."

"Another minute after the first minute, or a new minute added on?" A long minute had already passed.

"Just a second."

She is still tucked away in her sewing room.


Each day we plan to eat lunch at noon exactly. In my mind, noon is quite clearly twelve P.M. But P.M. means "post meridiem," which means "after noon" which may be confusing because some folks talk about a "noon hour." However, to me, 12 noon means 12 noon, not 12:01. But--and every quilter has a "but" in her (or his) vocabulary--noon in our house means "somewhere around noon," which to her means somewhere near the time it takes to finish just that last bit of binding or finger pressing one seam or refilling the steam iron or checking in 38 drawers for the right piece of red to fit into the block she may or may not be working on.

"I can be ready to go in about half an hour," she said this morning as I was waiting by the front door with my hand on the knob just about to turn it so that the door would open and we could go get into the car for a trip to the market. Another weaselly word, this quilter's word "about" which allows for a minute to be an hour and an hour to be "about" a week. "It's about time." Of course it is.


And, certainly, there are other words that wrap themselves around time and twist and contort what would otherwise be a useful unit of measurement. "Honey, I'll just baste this quilt top to the batting and the back. It should only take a few minutes to finish."

When did "few" become an adjective to describe YOUR minutes of time?" I asked her a long time ago.

"It tells how many minutes I'll be," she answered.

"It gives an approximation of how long you'll be," I corrected.

"No, a few minutes is a few minutes," she corrected.

"That's quilter's time," I corrected.

"It won't be long then," she said. Yes, it will be long then, I thought. Whenever it won't be long, it is always long. I know. Trust me. She runs her watch on quilter's time. Actually, no she doesn't. She stopped wearing a watch two weeks after she began quilting. She told me then that time got in her way and that quilting couldn't be fun if there were deadlines or limits on her time.

"I just have to go get the new fabric out of the dryer. I'll only take a sec," she said last night after she prewashed a bundle of fat quarters that, miracles of miracles during this holiday season, just happened to be on our front doorstep when we came back from our afternoon walk.

"It's about time," she said when she saw the package yesterday.

"Do you need the fabric now?" I asked yesterday.

"No it's for the Valentine block I'm making in January," she said yesterday.

"Then it came in plenty of time?" I asked.

"It came early, but I might use it early if I have the time."

"You can always make time," I said.

"I'll know in a few days if I have any time left over," she said.

"That's good enough for me," I said.


Every quilter I have known, and there might be a few of them, or there may be many, are very precise, very exact. They know how to measure carefully and cut carefully and sew carefully. The only thing they do not seem to be very precise about is time. When I asked my Darling Wife how long it took her to make me a small quilt as a surprise gift for my recent birthday, her first answer was, "Do you know how hard it was for me to make that without you seeing what I was doing the way you come in here every time I am quilting?

"Every time you're quilting?" I asked.

"There was that time last week, and twice or so the week before."

"How often is twice or so?"

"More times than a couple, or maybe one less."

"Not to change the subject, but how long did it take you to make that quilt you made me for my birthday?"

"A long time."

"Exactly a long time?" I asked.

"A little bit longer, maybe."

"A little bit in days, weeks, months?"

"Maybe less. I'm not always sure about the time."

"Time passes quickly when you're having a good time?"

"That's it," she said.

"Well, I'm going to have lunch."

"I'll be there in no time at all."

Copyright 2000 by A.B. Silver

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