“Speckled Ax”

“I think I Like a Speckled Ax Best”.

The quote is taken from Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, circa late 18th century.  And, you’re probably wondering how and why those words fit into a sewing blog.  Well, obsessive people like me cannot help but give unrelated concepts a sewing patina. Sorry, I can’t help it.

Credit to the owner of the featured speckled axe photograph above.

Image source.  I do have issues with this image – the apron wearing blacksmith seems to be turning the contraption, while someone resembling Ben Franklin is grinding the axe. The blacksmith is supposed to be at the grindstone and his customer turning the contraption.   I think someone took artistic liberties. 

Here’s some context to the quote. In the section where he lists the 13 virtues, the virtue of “ORDER” is giving Ben some trouble; in the process of struggling to break bad habits and acquire new ones, good old Benjamin Franklin concludes that it’s an ongoing struggle and it’s ok to lower your expectations; in essence, it’s ok to be just a little imperfect. Here is the story he uses as an analogy, and I am paraphrasing (don’t worry, I’ll get to the sewing part):  Ben’s blacksmith neighbor once worked with a customer who wanted his ax-head (axe?) to be grinded (ground?) to a shine as bright as the edge of the ax (axe). The blacksmith agreed to use his grinding stone to make the ax-head shiny — provided the ax owner turned the handle of the contraption that turned the grindstone. Well, it became difficult for the customer/ax-owner to keep turning the handle, and he wanted to stop. The blacksmith asked the customer to keep turning the handle since the ax was still speckled, and not yet shiny.  The customer, however, said and I quote the book – “Yes, but I think I like a speckled ax best”.  Well put, sir.

According to Ben, it’s ok to ease up on oneself sometimes when trying to break bad habits and acquire good ones, when the process becomes onerous.  In today’s vernacular: relax, y’all!  In the sewing world, the closest thing related to the proverbial “speckled ax” is the idiom “done is better than perfect”. Unless you’re being paid to sew, perfection is overrated.

There are some areas in sewing where a compromise is unacceptable:

  • If people are giving you money to sew, you’d better have your perfection game on.
  • Details like welt pockets on the front of your jacket, though, must be as close to perfect as you can.
  • Topstitching must be perfect, depending on the project.  Although one can live with a bit of imperfect top stitching. Can we?

Can you add any sewing task to this uncompromising list?

with chain (2)
  Can you notice it my “speckled ax”?  

So, where is less-than-perfect acceptable?

  • When a neck chain gets inadvertently twisted…
  • A raw edge is fine in an unravelly knit – I’ve done it when I got tired of sewing a certain knit top.
  • Compromising on an inside seam with say, a non-matching thread, is okay.
  • Underlining your own garment with a juvenile printed material which no one will see? It is fine. What if they can see it? Actually, I’d love that.
  • Writing this imperfect blog post with the intention of scheduling it tomorrow morning because one’s previous writing week was shot to hell – it’s all right.

You get the idea.  Oh, and one more thing… I started to read it because a) Rhonda Buss recommended it on her YouTube video, b) I’m a sucker for American history, especially when told by the guy who lived it.

3 thoughts on ““Speckled Ax”

  1. I love the history lesson, although I was a little worried when I saw that big ax in the header!
    Done is good, but I think we all have our own ideas of mistakes and irregularities we can live with and those that need a redo. Certainly, comfort and proper function are paramount – thread or raw edges on the inside can’t irritate the skin, zippers and buttons must work easily.


  2. ooooh! I love American history too. Last summer I watched a fantastic series on youtube about Benjamin Franklin. Sooo interesting!
    Oh my I too see these things when I sew, I’ll often make a daughter a blouse, she tells me she loves it, and immediately I showing her an imperfection only I noticed. ugh. I need to relax, and let it go. :o)


  3. Love the story line/history. Great read. My uncompromised list: 1. If I ever hear myself asking “will they notice that” I do it over! lol.


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