It came out more suggestive than I intended, but luckily the gentleman was also a fabric geek so he understood!
However, it once more made me aware that the English language needs a word that accurately describes that cloth-feeling gesture so familiar to every fabriholic – that gentle touch/rub/squeeze that tells so much about a fabric.
While there is something sensual about fabric, both “grope” and “fondle” – with their unfortunate associations with unwanted sexual touching – miss the boat.
In Czech – my first language – there’s a word that does the job nicely. In English it transcribes as “shmatat” and it specifically implies touching. Not groping, not fondling. At worst, pawing – as in “get your paws off that yardage”.
And I’ve often wondered whether there’s a connection between “shmatat” and “shmata”, the Yiddish word for rag – as in “rag trade”, aka the clothing industry. I’d be very surprised if it were a coincidence.
Any etymologists of Yiddish out there who can help with this one?
The image is a statuette of a Dutch count in a long houppelande from the Dam chimney-piece, Amsterdam, ca. 1475. From ‘A History of Costume in the West’ by Francois Boucher.(photo Giraudon)