Don’t Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good

Pillow CasesForty-something years ago, I bought a pair of pastel green pillowcases stamped with a pattern of leaves and flowers. It was the crafty 1970’s, when we were all doing macramé and making baskets out of bread dough and tie dying the heck out of everything. My high-school band friend Kathy was getting married, and I was giving her embroidered pillowcases as a wedding gift.

I worked on them, very sporadically, over a period of months. Three large leaves cross-stitched in shades of tawny green spanned the open edge of the pillow case. Yellow and gold daisies—formed by the fast-moving hoop stitch—were scattered around. The correct colors of various embroidery floss came provided, including instructions. I worked on the pillow cases, very sporadically, over a period of months. The wedding came and went, but I told myself it was okay to send a wedding gift late.

Reader, I got stalled. I put them aside. The pillow cases called to me occasionally, but I was able to resist the call.

Then Fate intervened. I learned after a year or two that Kathy and her husband were splitting up. Unsure who would ever want these embroidered pillow cases, I lost the will to stitch.

A plastic bag with all the fixings came with me as I moved from place to place. I went to grad school, and the bag came to my Kent apartment.  I got married, and it came to our first apartment. It came to our second apartment. It followed me to our new house, where we have lived for 35 years.

Don’t think I didn’t work on it at all! At long intervals, I’d pull it out and sew a few rows. I finished one pillowcase (or so I thought) and left it folded neatly in the bag while I worked on the other. Inevitably, I’d make some mistake. The threads would get gnarly and matted on the back, a big no-no for snooty perfectionist embroiderers, who would surely check out my stitching on the wrong side and judge me. Also, this project wasn’t destined to be framed. Whoever was lucky enough to acquire these lovely objets could discern, lying in their bed in the morning, my messy wad of green and yellow floss clumped at the back. I’d remove some errant stitches, proceed for awhile, and put it away again for a year or five.

I realized that along the way I had purchased some extra floss when the kit’s supply ran out.  In good light, it was obvious that the new floss’s olive green was a shade darker than the original. That realization set me back about a decade, because I couldn’t bring myself to tear out all that cross-stitch, and I couldn’t bear looking at the faulty match. I couldn’t live with the mistake or without it.

Which brings us at last to April, 2020, and the coronavirus lockdown. Time to Finish Projects. Time to bake bread and build a Lego castle and plant flowers. One of my friends is checking things off his bucket list, one of which was making a Boston cream pie. (I am speaking here for hardly-working empty-nesters and people without children at home to coerce into practicing times tables.)

I hunted down my pillowcases, a pursuit that took days in and of itself. I laid out the pillowcases side by side and decided that I could live with the mismatched shades of green. I noticed that the long-finished pillowcase was not, in fact, finished. It had a flower and a few inches of outline stitch left bare. As I clipped some floss to return to daisies and French knots, I realized the damn thing needed only an hour or two more work.

First, I finished the finished one. Then I set to work on the other for a couple of days.

Voila. Two completed pillowcases. Almost 50 years in the making.

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1 Response to Don’t Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good

  1. Barbara J Cockroft says:

    I love this story. Reminds me of Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great.” Do not let GOOD be the enemy of GREAT.
    I do empathize with you, however, as I tend to be a perfectionist, too. I have heard the saying, “Do not strive for perfection; strive for excellence.” This has helped me over the years.

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