Standards of excellence… or not

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Do standards matter and are they worth teaching and preserving?

A month or so ago, I stitched this small American-themed design to add to my “I love America” room, which is the foyer by my front door.  That space is approximately 4 feet X 10 feet.  I get lots of ideas for this small area, as I mentioned in a previous post: here.  The foyer had vinyl flooring when we bought this house in 1994 and although there was a chair rail trim, about halfway up around the walls, above and below the chair rail were an off-white color.   It took me a few years to find the wallpaper I wanted, which has an English hunting vibe.  Above the chair rail is the animal print and below the chair rail is a coordinating striped-print.  My husband hung the wallpaper, but then I decided I wanted hardwood flooring in the foyer.   However, after shopping around and asking a lot of questions, I decided I wanted a vinyl flooring that was cut into “planks”, like hardwood floors.  The easy maintenance and durability, with having 4 kids and dogs in the house, sold me on the vinyl option.  These vinyl look-alike planks were about the same price as going with hardwood flooring.  My husband laid these vinyl planks, but in typical LB style, I had looked at hardwood floor designs and decided that I wanted them laid in a herringbone pattern.  So, I showed my husband some pictures from a book and he drew it all out on paper with measurements, then installed my herringbone floor.

About 10 years ago, we replaced flooring and carpet in our home and my husband really wanted tile flooring in the kitchen, bathrooms and foyer.  I opted for a high-quality vinyl “tile” floor for in my kitchen, because it’s not as hard to stand on cooking and it’s not as cold as tile on concrete-slab homes here in coastal GA.  He got his real tiles in the foyer and bathrooms.  We had someone install the tiles, because my husband wasn’t in good health, by that point.  I missed my herringbone pattern on the floor, but these big tiles are nice too.

My beloved wallpaper should be removed, but I am hanging onto it as long as I can.  The above craft project isn’t anything great, but I am satisfied with it.   Instead of just framing that little piece, I opted for trying a finishing using a paint canvas.  The fabric is a print I love, which I had sewn into a travel-size pillowcase years ago.  I used a travel-size pillow on my lap for propping my Q-snap frames or embroidery hoops, when I do needlework.  Lucy, my stray-dog rescue, loves to chew holes in the corners of throw cushions and even furniture cushions.

This is partly another “happy hoarding” story, as after she chewed the corners off my travel-size pillowcase and pillow, I washed that damaged pillowcase and kept it with my patriotic fabric.  Last night, I cut up the pillowcase and used one side of it to cover this paint canvas, then I added some rickrack trim and the cross-stitch.  I am keeping the rest of that pillowcase too, because I can use it for the backs on some small patriotic-themed cross-stitch pillows.  I decided to add the pins, which were a set of 6 pins I bought at a yard sale years ago.  The hanging ribbon, was just ribbon that I twisted up to look like cording.  There are obvious imperfections, but overall I am satisfied with it.   It’s a small piece that I can stitch up again, easily and finish it differently or I can take this apart and finish it differently, if later I decide it needs improvement.

The “imperfections” are really what this blog post is about, despite it taking over 500 words for me to get to the point. The lack of concern with doing things “right”, maintaining “standards” and the pervasive willingness to heap praise on mediocre work is as destructive to the moral fiber of our society as all the more obvious cultural revolutions in the past century.  This attitude, that how you feel about your work matters more than the quality of your workmanship, permeates even into needlework.

The 2016 election, with two venal, lying, corrupt candidates, both running vile scorched earth propaganda campaigns left me wondering how on earth, these two disgusting candidates could be the candidates the two major political parties put forth.   More Americans, who voted in the primaries, opted for these two candidates and that speaks volumes about the state of our republic.

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I started watching embroidery videos on YouTube, then discovered “floss tube”, where cross-stitchers post videos about their work.  I wrote:

  “The usual floss tube video seems to be about an hour, divided into sections of show and tell about finished projects, works-in-progress (WIPs), and “Haul” (more cross-stitch junk purchased).  Then there are a few floss tube contributors, like the expert needlewoman , Mary Rose, named after Mary, Queen of Scots, who present much shorter, highly educational and deeply thoughtful videos that deal with much larger life lessons.”

My craft project last night was a technique, covering a paint canvas with fabric, which I saw on a floss tube video by Silvia.  Silvia, who posts under the name beckisland, is a sweet, German lady who stitches small cross-stitch pieces and finishes them in creative ways.  Silvia is very dedicated to doing the best work she can and often she will dissect an older piece she finished and discuss what she isn’t happy about with her work and how she would do it differently now.

She’s focused on excellence.

Since floss tube is an informal community, people from around the world post their videos, which offers an unfiltered look at the good, the bad and ugly (and not just about cross-stitch).

Last year, I mentioned another YouTube video by  Dr. Saul Cornell, the Paul and Diane Guenther Chair, American History, Fordham University.  His video explains the concept of civic virtue.  At minute 26:56 Dr. Cornell discusses how after the American Revolution women in America started including elements of American civic values into their needlework samplers:

Listening to people is a lifelong hobby of mine too, so watching these videos, I detected that many of the same attitudes and beliefs that are corroding our social fiber, have had an effect on needlework too.

There are stitchers posting videos in which they declare that they don’t care if the back of their needlework is a knotted up mess.   There are plenty of stitchers who make comments that the back of their work isn’t neat and they are embarrassed about it, because they know it’s not up to accepted standards.  These younger stitchers, who boldly proclaim those standards don’t matter offer an assortment of rationales… like “my friends love my work and I love my work, so who cares” or “the back of your work only matters if you’re entering your work in needlework competitions” or “no one sees the back, so who cares”.

Keeping the back of your needlework as neat as the front is a standard of excellence in needlework, because the neatness on the back assures the stitches on the front will remain snug and keep their shape.  Neatness on the back also assures there are no unsightly lumps on the front from tangled and knotted threads on the back.

I’m trying to use up scraps of Aida cross-stitch fabric, that I’ve had since the 90s, for small projects.  I stitched this little piece on an old Aida scrap yesterday.  My back is pretty neat, but I need to improve on neatness with my backstitching, where the lettering is.  The creases in the fabric are where it was folded in a box for years and then wrinkles from my hoop.  With washing and pressing, I will get all of those out.  I try to trim loose threads as I stitch, because loose threads are like pythons lying in wait, ready to wrap around other threads and they create tangled nightmares.

This post ran way longer than intended, so in another post, I want to discuss how this disregard for standards of excellence hits you in the face at every turn… even on needlework videos.

It is destroying the American character.

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Filed under American Character, Food for Thought, General Interest

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