Sunday, September 10, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 3 - "Perfection!"

"Perfection" and "precision" are not interchangeable terms

This morning, I read a blog post by Karlee Porter of Karlee Porter Design. It was the story of her run-in with the quilt police, but it was essentially about perfection. In quiltmaking and other creative practices, perfection is a lofty goal. It is also the stuff of legends.

1860s quilt from Kentucky, precise but not perfect
Look at old quilts. The most magnificent examples of sewing skill are hardly precise. If you look for flaws you will find them. However, you don't have to think of them as flaws. Quilts can lack technical precision and still be perfect. They are perfectly imperfect.

a masterpiece 1850s quilt from Kentucky, perfectly imperfect
Some of the most exciting quilts are perfectly imperfect. A lack of precision does not lead to the conclusion that the quilt is not perfect. It is intriguing to see the human choices, the places where makers faced challenges and made things work.

mismatched colors in an 1880s quilt
Maybe they ran out of fabric and couldn't find a precise match. Perhaps the fabrics were more closely matched when the quilt was made, and fading revealed the differences in dye lots.

asymmetry in an 1870s quilt
A lack of symmetry may have worked best for the bed. Did it really need a fourth border if the bed was going to be pushed against a wall? Would it be the right size? Leaving off a border could've been the perfect solution!

an 1860s quilt in poor condition
Do people stop caring about quilts when they are not in perfect condition? Quite the contrary! Quilts in poor condition are fascinating. A quilt may start out in perfect condition but end up raggedy. The condition is a perfect expression of the life it lived.
1880s quilt with tan fabric faded from its original color
Perfection is the stuff of legends because it is so often confused with precision. Perfection is faultless, free of flaws, and too much precision can be a flaw. With works of art, perfection is a sense of clarity about the many creative choices and how they work together. It is about balance, all the stars aligning, when everything is just right. Precision is more like a sign of practice and technique, exactness. Of course, abandoning precision is one of the available creative choices. Sometimes it is the perfect choice.


  1. Thanks for sharing these, Tom. A bright reminder of hope during some very tough days for our country and the world.

    1. Sorry - I meant Bill, not Tom. Tired - what was I thinking?