Thursday, June 30, 2011


by Jean Roberta

Memory - Three yards of garnet velveteen stretch across my bedroom floor like a red carpet. I crawl around it, pinning on pattern pieces and stroking the soft skin of my future dress, the one I plan to wear to the school dance.

Every kind of fabric has its own personality, its own texture. Cotton alone has a multitude of modes, from crisp to soft, from thick to guazy. Working with fabric is a pleasure in itself, but then it becomes a covering for my own skin. When I admire myself in a new outfit, is it my body or my clothing that bedazzles? I can't be sure. But I don't think my teenage skin or my hair, no matter how clean or soft, can compete with material that invites the fingers of passers-by to touch it.

This is why I love to make clothes, to be my own fairy godmother. Every part of the process is seductive, from choosing a pattern and the fabric to cutting out the pieces, to sewing them together, to trying on the finished results. A bolt of cloth is like a rock seen by a sculptor: the statue is already in the raw material for those who can see it, and the cloth knows how it wants to be draped, hung, stretched, gathered or folded.


Treating another person like an exotic object is rude, if not downright prejudiced. I know that. I should try to relate to the man I'm with, not his hair or his skin. I don't know how to ignore them, though. His skin is blacker than any I saw in the U.S., but it has the comforting, familiar feel of old denim. His hair is a marvel: soft and hard at the same time, an almost waterproof material I can crunch in a fist and watch it spring back to its original shape when I let go. His whole body is composed of generous curves: his nose, his mouth, his thick chest, his bouncy buttocks, the flesh banana at his crotch.

He can't possibly know how his body feels to me. I don't know how mine feels to him except by the way he touches it - where he lingers, where he explores.


In some way, holding my newborn baby daughter is my first female-to-female erotic experience. Not sexual, not about tension and release, but completely satisfying. The warmth of her fragile body is exactly what my arms were made for. There are so many more ways to be intimate than most men seem to know.


My wife's hair is never boring. It grows like a weed, it grazes her shoulders and tickles my face when we spoon in bed. It carries her smell, and it feels lush and smooth. I like to think I would recognize it even in a dark room full of other people.

Sewing seems to be a dying art, even among women. Some even brag that they can’t sew – as if a knowledge of that arcane skill marked one as a submissive throwback to a less enlightened time.

My wife is hardly submissive, and she can sew as well as she can repair small engines. She has studied both. She learned about fabric and thread from her mother, a professional dressmaker. The language of seams, fastenings, fit and washability is one we have in common.

She is a paradox: soft, flexible and durable enough not to show her age. Our bodies have changed over the years, but we still like to touch -- either because we still feel the same or because we always feel different. Or because only the one who touches can tell how the other one feels.



  1. A great post, Jean! I love how you start with sewing and round back to that.

    When I thought about texture, fabric and skin were the first two notions that sprang to mind. Obviously we have something in common.


  2. Jean - I swore I could feel the velvet under my fingertips. It evokes so much.

    I can't sew, but I'm not proud of the fact. Like many things, I watch those who can and wonder why it's beyond me. It seems like magic.

    I've start to crochet though. That I can do, barely, but as the blanket grows in my lap, I feel a connection to the person I'm making it for, and some vision of them is wound into every loop.

  3. I'd love to know if its a fiction from two views, or a view of your own life. I know you were once married to a man like the one you described. Now you are with a woman. Is that the one you refer to as your wife? I've often wondered how a man's body feels to a woman, just as you say, especially during union.


  4. Thanks, all!
    Lisabet, I think fabric and skin are a logical combination. A friend of mine who designs clothes has told me about dreams he had while in the hospital (in an early stage of AIDS) about his body being cut into & sewn like fabric.
    Kathleen, crocheting is cool - & you can do it wherever you go. Like any skil, it takes practice.
    Garce, yes all these scenes are from my life. My own mother didn't have much interest in sewing, but both my late mothers-in-law (mother of my Nigerian husband of 1975 & mother of my Chilean wife of 2010)were professional seamstresses.

  5. Beautiful descriptions-- and I'm in awe of your sewing skills. I'm one of those women who cannot sew-- not for a lack of trying! But I'm all thumbs and nothing ever turns out right. So I admire anyone who has the patience and talent to turn fabric (or yarn) into something beautiful. You've woven a beautiful piece of writing here, as well. Thank you for sharing.


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