Couple holding hands, covered in paint.

The dumb end of a tape measure. A brilliant payback.

Smart end of the tape measure in hand, for years my husband has fed me the “dumb end,” i.e., the end held by the person not be responsible for any calculations.

Mike is a jack of all DIY trades but master of few, so he measures twice and cuts once if he’s lucky. Then he measures again, recalculates and redraws and fixes mistakes, and unscrews screws he just screwed in while I hold the tape measure or flashlight and hand him the box of washers or pencil or drill. 

I’m proud to say that, to date, I have not actually pulled out a single hair on my head. Or his.

I’m happy to help him; after all, I also benefit from new basement stairs and a deck and outlets in the kitchen counter. His finished products are sometimes pure genius (he is an architect, after all) and they always help to make this home a bastion of convenient livability.

However, I wasn’t sure Mike really understood my frustration holding the “dumb end” of anything. So I’ve threatened him for years with retribution:

Time for tape measure payback:

Yes, my handy hubby, someday soon you will accompany me to a place that strikes fear into the heart of many a man.  A place that can weaken the knees of the toughest guy.  A venue you’ve managed to avoid for years.

The fabric store.

When there’s a lull in our house projects and you won’t need me to hold the plywood or hand you the drill or find the dropped nail, I’ll need you to be my helper for a change.

I think I’ll make curtains.

At the fabric store, be prepared to wander among row after row of bolts upon bolts of compelling colors and patterns. We’ll do a quick walk-through, then a thorough inspection and comparison of dozens of possibilities. Then we’ll repeat the process to choose lining material. You may want an extra cup of coffee that morning.

We’ll need thread, too. Of the hundreds of colors, it may take a while to choose just the right one. Oh, and seam tape–that has to match, as well. I may also want some new pins, needles, and tailor’s chalk. Speaking of pins and needles, wear your comfortable sneakers.

I’ll ask your opinion and expect you’ll have one, but of course, I’m the seamstress, so you’ll have to defer to me even if you really have your doubts. Practice saying, “I think you’re right, Dear.”

And you won’t complain when I get particular because, after all, when I’m checking your dimensions on a piece of lumber, you’ll often ask me, “Which side of the pencil line are you measuring to?”

And I have learned to answer without a grumble.

When I am ready to sew, you will sit on the bed next to the sewing machine, holding the fabric so it doesn’t trail on the floor. It will be a lot of fabric. And a lot of holding. You may want to think of some world problems you can solve while you sit.

Don’t worry, though. This entire curtain project won’t take too long–it’s just some straight seams after all. Just a few hours, maybe.

Or a whole weekend, including evenings. Or, since I don’t sew that much, it will take several weekends, because you and I will have to rip out some very long seams after it dawns on me that I mismeasured. Or pinned the pieces together inside-out. Or cut them wrong.

In which case, we’ll have to go back to the fabric store.

And I’ll want you at my side, dearest Mike, so you can experience the joy of helplessly helping on a mind-numbingly tedious but ultimately satisfying project.

Some couples make beautiful music together. You and I make handsome and enduring and inspiring house updates together. And now we’ll include curtains.

I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.


  • Karen DeBonis

    Karen DeBonis writes about motherhood, people-pleasing, and personal growth, the entangled mix told in her memoir "Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" forthcoming in spring 2023. Subscribe today to receive Chapter 1: A Reckoning.

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No Comments

  1. Kate Hope on February 11, 2018 at 10:01 PM

    I can just visualize the whole scenario! Good job!

  2. Jack Herlocker on February 11, 2018 at 10:13 PM

    (Hmmm. WordPress will let me comment, but not Like. Okay, whatever.) I’m all too familiar with the “measure once, curse repeatedly” scenario, Karen. In my first home as a Functioning Adult (2BR townhouse with shag carpet and gawdawful wood paneling in the living room) I did numerous home improvements, discovering that right angles aren’t always, parallel lines sometimes aren’t either, and just because my stud detector unambiguously detected a stud in the wall doesn’t mean that there actually is a stud in said location. Since I was a junior officer with more free time than cash, I learned lots of workarounds (also ways to reverse or hide those workarounds when it came time to sell).

    • Karen DeBonis on February 12, 2018 at 12:14 PM

      I love your sayings, Jack. “Measure once, curse repeatedly” “Right angles [and parallel lines] aren’t always.” They may show up in a blog someday, and I’ll give you full credit!

  3. Mary Ackerson on February 12, 2018 at 3:56 AM

    So happy I’m “blog famous “!! Hahahaha Mary A

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Sheba on February 12, 2018 at 9:17 PM

    I have made drapes many times – but that was when I got the fabric close to free.
    There is pinch pleat tape that you just sew straight across top of fabric – and then you add the hooks.
    JoAnn’s fabric store might be able to help you with those lovely yellow drapes.
    Perhaps you could take the pleats apart. –
    redo them with pinch pleat hooks or grommet them (which could be nice but not sure how costly a grommet maker is).
    you can look online at country curtains (which was now taken over by another company), or JC Penney for ideas.
    There is a lovely (but expensive) fabric store that reupholsters and makes drapes custom to order. Calico Corner.
    Perhaps you have something like this upstate near you. you can browse for ideas!

    It could be the next winter project!

  5. Karen DeBonis on February 12, 2018 at 9:49 PM

    Thanks for all the ideas, Sheba! The other thing with those drapes was that when I got them home, after they had been cleaned and hemmed, I noticed they were faded from the sun in places. You probably never would have noticed once I had them up, but I decided they just weren’t worth any extra energy. I really should have looked more closely at them, but I was so excited, I wasn’t careful. My son hopes to buy a house next year, so I’ll keep them in case he can use them. If not, Goodwill will be happy to have them, I’m sure!

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