On being ... detail oriented

By Ingrid Sapona

Personality tests sometimes categorize people as detail oriented or big picture types. I don’t really agree with that distinction because I personally feel I pay attention to both. The way I see it, the big picture is important, but it doesn’t happen unless you attend to the details. I know, you’re probably saying, “that outlook makes you detail oriented, Ingrid”. Well, fine -- there are worse things to be called -- and besides, I don’t mind admitting I’ve often found details quite fascinating.

My earliest recollections of paying particular attention to details go back to my teenage years. I once decided to make a needlework pillow based on a design on a Persian carpet I liked. At the needlework shop (a very good one) I found all the colours I needed, except black. When I asked the owner for black wool, she said they didn’t carry black. Then she asked what I wanted it for. I explained I needed it to outline parts of my design.

She told me I should use dark brown wool instead. She could tell I wasn’t too keen on the idea, so she went on to explain the reason: black outlining creates a visual distraction that pulls your attention to it. Instead, by using dark brown (almost black), the outline effect is achieved, but the rest of the design doesn’t visually recede.

I went home that day with dark brown wool and with a new attention to a minor, but important artistic detail. Since then, every time I see an old tapestry or needlework in a museum or on display somewhere, I look to see whether anything’s outlined in black. I’ve yet to see any black, which could be coincidence, but I doubt it.

Shortly after that, I was working on a sewing project when I learned about details sometimes referred to as “tricks of the trade” -- things the average user (or doer) probably doesn’t know, but that make things easier, or more professional looking. I was an avid sewer and, over time, I tackled more and more complicated projects. My goal was always the same: to make garments that others couldn’t tell were homemade.

One of my most ambitious sewing projects was a single-breasted suit. There were many steps, but none I’d not faced before, until it came time for the lapel. The pattern’s instructions for the lapel seemed unusual. It said to blind baste the interfacing to the under-side of the lapel using a herring-bone pattern. In other words, not just any blind basting would do. I had never run across this unusually specific instruction before.

So, I consulted my mother, who was a good sewer (though by then I had probably tried more complicated things than she ever did). Mom’s mother was a professional seamstress, so I thought perhaps Mom could explain the technique. When I showed her the instructions, she smiled and said she had never made a suit so she had never tried such herringbone basting, but she wistfully remembered seeing her mother doing that. Well, I tried it and -- sure enough -- that little trick of the tailoring trade helps ensure lapels lay properly.

So, as I write this, Torontonians are getting ready to mark Earth Hour (8 to 9 p.m. March 29, 2008). Toronto is one of 120 municipalities in Canada -- and hundreds more in 26 countries -- to participate in this event aimed at raising awareness of climate change. The Toronto Star -- our largest newspaper -- was one of the original local sponsors and has been writing about it daily for almost three months.

When I read the first news story about it back in January, my initial thought was that it was a clever idea but that it would have little impact. I mean, really, people turning out their lights and turning off their appliances for one hour on a Saturday night, what would that do? Frankly, it didn’t even seem like much of a sacrifice for most. If we really want a sense for how energy dependent we are and how everyone would cope with no power, why not schedule Earth Hour at 3 p.m. on a hot summer Wednesday -- when people are at work or school. Anyway, that was my initial, somewhat jaded, take on it.

As I said, the Star wrote about it day in, day out. Though I scanned the headlines of the stories, it all seemed a bit overblown to me. Until the other day, that is, when I read an Earth Hour business news story that really helped me “get” what Earth Hour is about. The story told how last year UPS saved more than 11 million litres of gas by -- get this -- “implementing routes to eliminate left-hand turns”. It turns out that simply by avoiding left-hand turns, drivers avoided excess idling waiting to turn and shaved 51.5 million kilometres off their North American delivery routes annually. What a wonderful example of a little (not to mention, odd) detail making a huge difference!

After reading that, I realized that Earth Hour will have a lasting impact if everyone who participated comes away with the realization that even seemingly minor changes can have a huge impact on the environment. In other words, the hour of darkness might end up convincing more people that if they just pay attention to a few small details, they really can change the big picture.

© 2008 Ingrid Sapona


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