"There really shouldn't be any un's in quilting," she said to me yesterday morning, and I didn't blink. I waited for her to go on, for there had to be a message in her words. If I waited long enough, I would be able to decode her cryptic words.

But she didn't go on. She brewed some herbal tea and took her yogurt out of the refrigerator.

"So?" I finally asked.

"So, I have to unsew today, and I don't want to unsew."

"Certainly not," I said. I knew I would never unsew, whatever technique of quilting that turned out to be. I have spent about 99 percent of my time the last year learning to understand her, but it has been an endless task. Just when I thought I had heard everything one small quilting lady had to say, she surprised me with something new. All I could do was I make some room in the remnants of my brain and wait for a response to see if I could fit it in.

"If I didn't make mistakes--" she began.

"Oh, no, not again?" Once she began mourning and wailing about the lost stitch, the wrong color, the crooked bias, the wrong weight batting, the accidental scrap of polyester mixed with the cotton, the slanted seam, the four-cornered triangle, or whatever other imperceptible flaw she saw in her quilting, then I knew I had to pay attention and be ready to offer enough support to get her back to normal.

"Do you want to see it?" she asked.

"Do I have a choice?" I replied out of her hearing.

"Wait here," she said. She put her yogurt down on the table and disappeared from the room. I sipped my coffee and did some relaxation exercises. I needed to be calm during the next few minutes.

She returned with her latest project in hand. She held out a small, small, miniature quilt top she had been working on. It was a paper-pieced butterfly. It was about nine inches by eleven. I knew that because she had told me before she had started it that she was going to quilt a nine by eleven inch paper-pieced quilt. I listened. I remembered. If I hadn't, if I paid her no heed when she explained her quilting to me, she would have long before used me for trapunto, stuffing me into one of her quilts piece by piece. (Actually, she hasn't done any trapunto yet, but just in case.)

"Do you see it?" she asked. It was a test. Somewhere in that letter-sized paper-pieced butterfly design in the teeny quilt she was holding was a flaw. I had to find it or fail one of life's major tests.

I looked. I examined. I peered. I inspected. Finally, I took a chance. "The bottom of the butterfly," I said.

"Yes!" she said. It was the bong for a correct answer.

"It's just a little off," I said. One tiny piece the size of an emaciated ant met another piece 1/1000 of an inch off.

"So you know why I have to unsew it?" she asked. She was asking if I knew why rain fell down instead of up.

"Unsew?" I asked. It was still a strange word to me. I knew about ripping, and I knew about throwing away and starting over. I knew cutting out, and I knew about putting away in a drawer for ten years. I even knew about resewing. She was right about too many un's.

It's paper-piecing, and it's impossible to fix. So I'm going to try to unsew it until I get to the mistake and then sew it the right way."

"You can do that?" I asked.

"No, I don't think so," she said, surprising me.

"You mean you can't rip out the stitches and fix it?"

"I have to unsew it," she insisted.

"But you don't think you can do that?"

"I know I can't. I need to take a class in unsewing."

"I never heard of a class in unsewing."

"They should have one somewhere."

"And until they do?" She was troubled, perplexed, pessimistic.

"I'll have to think of something else," she said. She lowered her head and looked miserable.

"It's only a very small, small, little tiny mistake in a very small, small quilt."

"Small is difficult to do," she said.

"Sometimes it is," I agreed. I was helpless to help her. "But you can do it, you know."

"I'll try," she said.


That was yesterday. This morning she shook me awake, a shaking I had long before learned to live with when she took up quilting as her life's work. "It's all right now," she said, dangling the handkerchief-sized quilt in front of my half-open (or half-closed) eyes.

"You unsewed it?" I yawned at her.


I opened my eyes fully, reached for my glasses on the headboard, put them on, and looked at the butterfly unfluttering in her hand. "No?" I asked.

"Can you tell what I did?" she asked.

"You made it better," I guessed.

"How did I make it better?" she asked. I looked carefully at the butterfly, stared at the place that had been, in her eyes, a blemish, a disfigurement , an atrocity of no mean proportions. I saw a happy butterfly standing proud.

"Tell me how," I said.

"I emended it," she said.

"You emended it?"

She didn't answer. She smiled and took herself and her untainted, unblotched, unbungled quilt top away. I lay there in bed thinking about quilters and how they worked in mysterious ways.

Click here to see Emended Quilt

Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver

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