What Are You Making?
An Heirloom or Future Ragbag Contents?
|Baby clothing sewed twenty-three years ago.|
“Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!
“Don’t fix that! Let it slide!
“Unless it screams that it’s wrong, don’t correct anything! Leave it as it is.
“Don’t reword that wishy-washy, passive sentence. You cannot change the author’s voice.
“Yes, the material is outdated, but we’re using it anyway.
“Don’t add a hyphen. Don’t add a comma. Don’t, don’t, don’t.
“Your comments and suggestions could improve the text, but too many people have to read them, so stop.”
I stopped and stopped and stopped. Most publications I edit and proofread aren’t particular enough for my druthers, but I follow their rules so I can pay the bills. Do I feel guilty about quality lapses? I do. I know the correct use of the English language is slipping and sliding, but at least I am still allowed to use the correct spelling of you’re, your, and yore and there, they’re, and their. Many clients are grateful when I point out faulty information or outdated content—as long as they don’t have to spend too much time or money correcting it.
On the other hand, the few professional, top-notch publications for which I work want the best quality and let me know if I make a mistake:
“You missed this! You didn’t check this fact. This quote is wrong. This was not quoted. The em dash is in the wrong place. The punctuation is incorrect.
“Do this! Do this! Do this! You didn’t . . .!” The guilt I feel about my mistakes and subsequent self-chastisement are far worse than my regret at having to let things slide because I prefer the quality work and strive for it.
Two faces greet my editing and both of them shake their heads at me with a resounding, “No.” These faces trouble me because in the world of language, I often feel alone. Abbreviated spellings and the too-frequent at dangling at a question’s end (where r u at?) set me on edge, but I usually can ignore those in nonwork situations. My problem lies in when to flip the grammar and quality switch on or off when I am working.
It’s not easy to know when to flip that switch. Not long ago, a managing editor pointed out more than a few errors I made editing an article. I felt awful. I feel awful. I question whether I have the skills to do the high-quality work I prefer. I spent more than a few minutes agonizing over the disconnect between the two types of work I do.
As I agonized, I sorted some baby clothes I sewed twenty-three years ago when I was pregnant with my son. One of my daughters is pregnant with her first child—a boy—and I hope she will use some of the items I made. Most are simple—pants, hats, and infant shirts. Two garments, however, are intricate. They have long sleeves that gather at the ends with cuffs that button. They have pockets. In addition to buttons down the front, the pants legs have snaps for easy diaper changes. The facings, hems, and buttons are hand-stitched. The snaps were placed by hand. This clothing is tiny—it’s for a three-month-old—so detailed stitching in the limited amount of fabric required skill. Twenty-three years on, they are near-new appearing and I hope to pass down these treasures to more family babies.
I don’t sew much anymore, and when I do, it’s straight, uncomplicated stitching. I avoid cuffs, buttonholes, gathering, collars, yokes, and intricate details. I make cloth dinner napkins and pillow covers and I hem, mend tears, and replace buttons.
Clothing is so cheap that it is often more expensive to sew something than to buy it. Sewing clothing is a labor of creativity and love. It takes time. It takes intention. It takes a commitment to quality and detail to have a worthwhile garment or other item as a finished project.
Dinner napkin that now lives in the ragbag.
As I studied the outfit I made for my son, I knew the answer to my work dilemma. The clothing I made years ago that has survived wearing, washing, and being packed for two decades was made with a focus and intent on quality. The dinner napkins I whipped up on my sewing machine seven years ago were for utilitarian purposes. They were attractive when first made, but I didn’t make squared-off corners nor did I hand stitch. Now they are frayed at the edges, stained, and some have been moved to the ragbag. It’s time to make new dinner napkins. The baby clothes I made twenty-three years ago don’t have to be remade. After being washed, they will be ready to wear.
As I studied the craftsmanship of the baby clothes, I related sewing baby clothes versus sewing napkins to my work. I realized that when I start a project, I have to ask myself, “What am I making? Am I making long sleeves with cuffs that button or am I making dinner napkins?” Knowing that one will end up in the ragbag one day and one will last for decades and still have life will direct my efforts.
Just as some garments will last for decades, some publications will be treasured and reread. Others, like the worn and frayed dinner napkins, will be tossed in the trash or recycled. Knowing this, I can continue to put in my best efforts at work, but within the constraints of the expectation of the finished product. Much as I prefer most of my efforts to go toward fine garments, I realize that there’s a place for everything and a level of quality that works—and doesn’t.
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What are you making? How do you decide if you’re making napkins or heirloom infant clothes?
What is most important to you when you consider your choices?