July 2012

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I sew. More accurately, I use to sew. A lot. When I was in high school, people even paid me to sew for them. I miss sewing.

A few weeks ago I stopped by a national clothing chain, known for casual, trendy, west coast apparel on the cheap. They carry inexpensive tees and tops. I like them for work shirts because I tend to abuse clothes and don’t want to spend too much on what will soon be dusting the furniture.

After washing, drying and a few days hanging around the closet, I pulled one on – a simple, soft, relaxed, comfy tee. It wasn’t long before I realized something was wrong (is my shirt on backward?). My day was full of tugging and adjusting. So much for comfort.

I tried the others on. All ill-fitting. Including those with a slightly varied cut (ugh!). After closer inspection, I decided the manufacturer sacrificed the details of the garments to provide a product at a 2 for 1 price (it ain’t a deal if it’s uncomfortable).

…so wrong!

With exception to the neckline, these tees appear to have the same cut, front and back. For the non-sewers, the front is cut different than the back because, though humans are symmetrical (for the most part) from side to side, we are more than a little different from front to back. Eliminating this detail compromised the integrity of the shirts. I could go on about loss of detail in clothing (whatever happened to inter-facings? stabilizers?), all of which affect the fit. I won’t…other than to say, plaids and stripes should match at the appropriate seams and every skirt should be lined. Details!

American author and publisher, William Feather (1889-1981) warned, “Beware of the man who won’t be bothered with details”. I can’t think of many life experiences for which this doesn’t ring true (you know…don’t take things at face value, read the fine print, know what you believe)! Concerning ceramics, the chasm between the student and the artist lies in the details.

One of the earliest pieces ceramic students learn to create is a mug. Mugs are very personal utilitarian pieces. Unlike a casserole which just needs to confine the potatoes, a mug needs to feel comfortable for the user.

The intimate nature of the mug demands attention to detail. For instance, handles need to be proportionately sized to manage the visual and actual weight of the piece, as well as the size of the hand holding it. You want to avoid that ‘stuck in a bowling ball’ feeling with a mug full of hot coffee. While we’re on handles, watch the placement. Too close to the rim and you’ll get poked in the eye with the thumb of your drinkin’ hand. Details!

Also, the lip of your mug should be smooth. That gritty feel from grogged or sandy clay just points to a lack of compression when finishing the piece while the clay is wet. Since we’re on the subject, watch the thickness of the rim. Too thin and you’ll have a fragile, sharp edge. Too thick and you’ve got yourself a dribble cup. Details! One more oft overlooked detail, the diameter of the opening needs to be large enough to accommodate a nose.

There are so many nuances that affect function and often drive design that I could go on and on. I won’t…other than to say, pay attention to the details.


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