Wednesday, January 11, 2006


When I was studying the teaching of writing (really), I had to review this book--for the life of me I cannot remember the name of it--where writing pedadogy theorists and rhetoricians wrote about their own experiences as writing students. I often shared some of the essays with my students because they truly believed people were born writers. And those rhetoricians were not only thinkers, they were born great writers. Except they weren't. Isn't it funny how wrong 18 years olds can be?

One of the essays that I shared later in the semester was about style. This young rhetorician-to-be was assigned to write an essay about a painting. She dutifully went to the museum and took notes. And then she wrote her paper. Starting in the upper left hand corner of the painting, she described it in meticulous detail. Her teacher gave her a scribbled grade (which was later revealed to be an "F") with the comment "Boing!" Except, of course, the comment didn't say "Boing," it read "Boring!" Which, of course, a meticulous description of each bit of something is, unless it is tied to a greater theme or purpose. The lessons for the student were twofold: yes, they could learn to write and they should try not to be meticulous, they should strive to have a higher purpose in their writing.

I am continually reminded of that essay when I read the articles in Piecework. No one will ever fault their writers for being detail-driven. The problem is we just get the details. And I'm often left wondering, "so what?"

Here's an example from the recent issue:

Most Irish-stitch pocketbooks were worked in wool or silk yarn on a linen evenweave fabric with a pattern of notched diamonds outlined in white or off-white and filled concentrically with different shades of red, green, blur, yellow, or purple, leaving a contrasting center. Some pocketbooks followed a strict pattern of color repeats, but most were more casual in their design, the only concern being to avoid having two adjacent diamonds of the same color. Linings ranged from silk, linen, and damask to worsted and durant or durance (similar to felted wool). Cardboard or leather stiffened some pocketbooks.

First, I am not picking on the writer. The editor should know better! This paragraph might be boring but essentail if the article of four scant pages wasn't illustrated with nine photos of Irish-stitch pocketbooks. Instead, it's just boring. It's just a list that does not promote the article's thesis "Irish-stitch pocketbooks were important in America from the mid 18th to the early 19th century." This example isn't nearly as mind-numbing as some. I once read an article where scads of fabric used to make quilts in India were described.

I do hope the magazine works to improve this as they have changed their direction, or refocused on their early roots. They will continue to offer projects, but they will "focus more on exploring and promoting historic hand needlework and the elements behind the tradition." Too much opportunity methinks for the "Boing!" I'll be watching.

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