"That old sweet song..."

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dw
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"That old sweet song..."

#1 Post by dw » Thu Apr 26, 2007 6:50 am

Like a tune that keeps playing in your head when the song is over, I've been thinking about an issue that came up in a recent discussion--quality.

What is it?

How do we define it?

Is it even a meaningful objective concept?

Maybe no one can answer all those questions...or the all the one's implicit in any such inquiry...but this is something that the CC does very well--consider questions that go beyond the superficial...perhaps even all the way to "profound."

In a rather loose way, I've said (or had it said for me) that, for me, the epitome of quality...and hence my standard...is best exemplified by the bespoke work of the late 1800's-early 1900's. This was a time when all shoes and boots were handmade...mostly in small bespoke shops...factories were just a gleam in Uncle Scrooge's eye.

Yet the Industrial Revolution had brought the machinist's Trade to a new pitch and tools and machines were becoming quite sophisticated and refined. Innovation, in the wake of the Industrial Revolution was everywhere and although new machines and "contraptions" were coming and going and at a prodigious rate, many if not all the significant tools and machines that we use today had their origins in this time.

The tanning industry was at a peak. There was no "naugahyde" or leather substitute and leather was rightfully regarded as a luxury item for which no expense was spared to create the best. And again, most of the tanneries that we rely upon today were started in that era or shortly thereafter. Then again, leather that was produced was aimed primarily at a hand Trade--whether it was bookbinding, carriage works, saddlery, or shoemaking.

Shoe/bootmakers of the time brought together all these advantages and combined them with literally hundreds of years of evolution and refinement of the very skills needed to handle the materials and the tasks at hand. It's an important point, because like so much else in this business it's all interdependent. If you don't have good tools it is hard to refine your work; if you don't have the very best of materials the results will certainly reflect that. And if certain raw materials...like leather...decline in quality, some skills will be lost because the material isn't good enough--dense enough, strong enough, etc.--bear up under those techniques. So as the Trade as a whole progressed, so did the skills and techniques needed to take advantage of the tools and materials at hand.

Now I could say that when factories came into being, it became a "rule of thumb" if not an obsession, that many high quality raw materials were passed over in service to the "bottom line.". Skills that took a lifetime to acquire and the craftsmen who had them were rejected as too expensive to keep or train up. Tools and machines that had been considered the best, and treasured by their owners, were dumbed down for use in an environment where everything from the workers, to the end result, had been dumbed down. But I won't say any of that...I'll just say that from about the 1930's onward things started to go downhill, in my book. At least for the bespoke Trade.

In any case, this perception of the late 19th century, sets my standards for quality. I cannot think of another time frame or body of work that is more worthy. But that's just my opinion--based up examination of physical evidence as well as a deep appreciation for the extent to which our "forefathers" were willing to go to achieve a given standard--so I ask: Is any time before or since as worthy of being the standard for bespoke makers? When?

The real issue, as I see it, is that to make any honest claim to quality, one needs a standard...maybe not my standard of a century gone by, but a consistent standard nevertheless. Having come that far, to pursue any standard of quality is to accept a certain responsibility to be true to that standard--both functionally as well as philosophically. "In thought as well as in deed," in other words. This applies across the board...in many aspects of what we do or aspire to do. For example, when an author writes a book, there is a very real responsibility to not pass on misleading or poorly documented information. An author worries about it, and to some extent throws the dice, frankly, if only because no one can ever know everything or even anything in absolute certainty. Similarly, when we measure a customer, a really honourable maker is always going to be aware of, and worried about, not just mis-fitting a customer, but actually causing physical injury. The factory seldom considers this, even going so far as to totally ignore all the scientific evidence that a very high heel with extreme degree will cause fallen metatarsal arches and hammer toes, etc., with few if any exceptions.

It seems to me, that when we set or embrace standards that are fully, or in part, predicated on the lowest common denominator (such as the factory represents), two things happen: One, the overall quality of our work sinks to the level of the weakest element. And two, in accepting that "leveling" we deny a large measure of personal responsibility, particularly if we represent ourselves or our work as something that it is not.
And in doing so...in dismissing personal responsibility...don't we ultimately trivialize the way the public views us and even the way we view/treat the very folks who entrust us with their respect and resources?

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#2 Post by hidesmith » Thu Apr 26, 2007 10:30 am

DW,

I understand what you say about the need for a standard. It the only shoes I see are made by a mediocre maker, I guage myself against mediocrity. The result may be a step up from mediocrity, but it's still a far cry from excellence. A yard-stick would be handy to see how my product measures up.

The problem we now (or again) face is the many different sized yard-sticks we need, based on the many different products we represent here. The different goals of each maker and, consequently, each CUSTOMER needs to be considered.

The discussion of how "correct fit" is defined is an example of how many different yard-sticks we need.

Should the heel and instep be tight with the fore-part loose? Should the instep be tight or loose, and if loose, HOW loose? How much should our feet be shaped by our shoes? How much comfort should be sacrificed for fashion?

The correct answer to all these questions is in the mind of the customer, not necessarily on their feet.

Many makers shun the use of plastics, saying an all leather product is superior. However,in the case of a problem foot, plastics may be the only way to accomplish the desired result.

A full leather sole is how a maker might define quality, but every full leather sole promises to be slippery. A pre-made foam sole might be preferable to full leather.

I described my shoes in a seperate posting earlier - my shoes are low, plain and basic. They are not at all decorative. They have low heels with little counter support. They have no shank reinforcement. They have little or no toe-box. They are very lightweight and flexible, and are the product I spent time and money researching and developing. The end result is exactly what I wanted - a low cost, well made shoe that requires no break-in time. It can be worn without any help in the way of an after-market foot bed, and it will just as easily accomodate an after market footbed. I repeat, this is exactly the product I wanted to develope.

Your product has a much more "high-end" appeal. It is much more decorative. Your definition of "correct fit" is probably different than mine.

When my product is placed next to yours, they are obviously from two very different makers, and just as obviously, two completely different products. Each maker has a different goal in mind, a different product in mind, a different fit in mind and different customers. The result of these differences is, your definition of "Quality" HAS to differ from mine. From what I've seen and read, our two products are the complete opposite of the other's - the only similarity being that they are hand made to house feet comfortably.

You suggest that we need "ONE STANDARD" that we measure our products against. I still maintain that, unless we are all making THE EXACT SAME product, with the EXACT SAME materials and for the EXACT SAME feet, and each customer has the EXACT SAME jobs or applications for the shoes/boots, the standard MUST BE be different.

You also tend to place all factories in the same catagory, suggesting that all factory-made shoes are of poor quality. Is it at all possible that some factories and factory workers take pride in their finished product? Is it possible that factory methods, when attention is paid to quality of material and accuracy of stitch, etc. are capable of making a quality product?

I don't answer to you, or you to me. We each answer to whatever customers our product brings our way. And we answer to ourselves. (insert Bill's famous quote here) The standard needs to be in our hearts.

That's all for now, except another song quote:

"it's the same old story, the same old song and dance, my friend." Image

Bruce

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#3 Post by jesselee » Thu Apr 26, 2007 12:20 pm

Dw

Those were the finest words I have read in a long time. Truly inspirational. You are spot on about the greatest time frame for boot making. I fell into it quite by accident. I so wish there was still true Oak tanned leathers to work with. The veg tanned will do for now. In my travels I have examined hundreds of pairs of boots from Civil War and cowboy era to the 1890's. I have been impressed by the simplistic stitches such as the Peyote pattern. I have been intrigued by the stitches which went off a bit, not perfect and I like that. The brass screw nails are wonderful, they came in on issue cavalry boots after the War for Southeron Independence. It was the forerunner to that machine that tacks with steel, can't remember it's name.
What is quality and how do we define it you ask? Well I sure have seen it here, the devotion of excellence to make a pair of boots to be proud of. The attention to detail, mastery of technique, hours spent on patterning.
I have worn 2 pairs of store bought in my life. One was desert boots, I loved them, bad fit, but it was something I wanted at the time, and a pair of Mexican cowboy boots, size 11, I wear a 9. and I need 2 pairs of sox and I put felt inside, and they are still great boots.
For crazy people like us here, the quality is our achievement of excellence. Ha! I say to your statement of lack of quality after the 1930's, Sure the factories started mass production of cowboy boots, and many of those old boots are better than anything today, even worn out. And then there is people like you and Tex, Lisa, jake et al. Carrying the Craft like a boulder on your backs and bringing it back.
machines, techniques, style etc. have changed. I am appalled at the leather and last industry. My Amish guy can't keep up with me, and each hide is off just a bit, not consistant. But, it's danged well 19th. century authentic, and thats all I care about.
We will all, always strive for excellence and quality, no matter the materials that the capatalist industrial world hands us. We adapt, as they did in the hey day of bootmaking.
JesseLee

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#4 Post by lancepryor » Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:19 pm

DW:

Amen. I agree completely that we each need a standard to which to aspire and against which to compare our products.

For me, the standard is today's bespoke shoes made by firms such as Lobb Paris and Gaziano & Girling. I have not had the good fortune to see bespoke men's shoes from the beginning of the 20th century, so I must work with what I know. These companies make shoes of great beauty and elegance, with a standard of finishing (soles, waists, heels, etc) that are something to behold. I don't know if you have seen high-class bespoke from the earlier times you reference, but if so I would love to get your opinion on how these compare to today's finest. One thing I think is happening in the bespoke shoe arena is that the standards of finishing (can't really comment on construction or fit) are getting tougher, because the shoes are now truly a luxury product, which carries with it expectations about how the shoes will look. As consumers get used to excellence in the finish of things like luxury cars, and as the bespoke shoes are more and more objects of desire (even fetishism), the customers are becoming more particular about these characteristics.

for some very nice shoes -- though perhaps a bit more stylized than some would prefer --, see: http://homepage.mac.com/syrit/PhotoAlbum7.html

Lance

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#5 Post by shoestring » Thu Apr 26, 2007 4:37 pm

Lance,
That was a very nice site,but in my cornor of the world my aim is for a comfort fit, finesse and the best construction I can give.What I need to know is how is it detrimine what part of the vamp to "Brough" as far as not going to high or to low ,I have something in mind . My though is to pre last than detrime. And is there a place to fine some patterns for freshmans,or is it through "the school of hard knocks".

Ed

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#6 Post by dw » Thu Apr 26, 2007 5:15 pm

Bruce,

Good point. We all need a standard and one that is both consistent and somewhat universal.

I think that on one level we all pay some "lip-service," if nothing else, to the 19th century standard. Simply because that was both the apex of bespoke, handmade work but also because it is really the dividing line, historically, between the era of custom work and mass manufacturing.

But I think it misses the point, if not actually obviating it, to try to break it down to individual choices or responses to customers. On one hand you can't have it both ways...you can't say that the customer really has no clue as to what goes into a really well made shoe or boot and then say that they ought to be even a marginal participant in determining what your standard of quality is going to be. that's a t least partially why I say that I don't make boots for customers, I make them for myself and perhaps the "elder boot gods."

Beyond that, once you start down that path, there can be no one (or two or three) standard of quality because you can't distill six billion, mostly ignorant, opinions down to a meaningful set of parameters. Even thinking about it in those terms makes my head swim. It devolves into a fog of relative worth--and suddenly there's no "good, better, best." When that happens, none of what we do makes any sense at all and what's worse, we end up being propagandists at best, and liars at worst.

As for using plastics in orthopedic work...well, I'm not an orthopedic shoemaker, so I can't address that with any real authority, but I will say this..."needs must." But, even so, necessity by itself doesn't have anything to do with a standard of quality against which you can measure yourself and your work, or to which you may aspire. Having said that, and perhaps displaying the full extent of my ignorance...there must have been as many foot abnormalities in the general population in 1890 as there are in 2007. Yet somehow at least some of those issues were dealt with, reasonably, without resorting to plastic.

And on that score, there is one other point that may seem a bit specious at first but may have more merit that is immediately obvious--leather is one of the most "plastic" substances known to man. Many times in my experience, it is more a matter of how we think of something than its actual character that determines whether we consider it suitable for an application or not.

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#7 Post by dw » Thu Apr 26, 2007 5:27 pm

Lance,

A worthy standard if ever there was one...but perhaps not all that different from the very standard I outlined above. Simply because, at least for public consumption, there is no significant break between the standard that contemporary Lobbs aspires to, and the standard that won John Lobb a number of Gold Medals at International Trade Exhibitions.

I looked over that site (thanks for the link) and the maker is surely one of the top shelf makers working--at least, I've not seen many better. His split toe shoes (#087) and his saddle shoes are very nice.

One wonders how he would define quality and what standards he might point to as his Holy Grail.

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#8 Post by hidesmith » Thu Apr 26, 2007 8:39 pm

The point I am making is that there NEEDS TO BE different definitions of quality for different products - at least, to a degree.

Another point I am making is, that YOU know how good the quality of your product is. To have others say it also is only to feed one's ego. If you know the quality of your product and your customers are satisfied that your product is of excelent quality, what more do you need? Who are you in a contest with? If the answer is "the shoe and boot gods of days gone by", you win. They are incapable of making a better shoe or boot - they are dead. You can always change the quality of your product, wheras they are stuck with only what exists. You can make a fancier boot, or one with a more intricate decoration.
You may (and in your case, probably will be, based on your contributions to the trade) attain immortality as one OF the "Shoe and Boot Gods."

If you are in competition with lesser makers such as myself, you win. I've made choices that limit what you would call the quality of my product in order to achieve the goal I have for making shoes. This is not to say I'm done learning, or that I will not change the "quality" of my shoes in the future, but these are informed choices I've made. If you want to compare your product to mine (I say this to make a point, I feel no competition with you) yours is the superior. I have studied what I think the market will bear, and what makes a shoe that requires no breaking-in. I have made a product that I think will sell, a product that I am satisfied with as a good quality hand-made shoe. The upper will last a fairly long time, and the sole will wear out rather fast - this I promise to those who wear my shoes - I use a soft foam sole. I use the best quality materials I can find, and I only make one shoe - in any color as long as it's flesh out dark brown. My goals for my product are so different than yours, we are not even playing the same game. Different games require different "rules".

As far as fitting the problem feet of days-gone-by, I submit the possibility that there were more "cripples" than there are today, as well as a lot more sugar-related amputees.
Also, if leather gets wet, it will lose its supporting capabilities, making plastic an arguably better choice in some instances.

B

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#9 Post by dw » Fri Apr 27, 2007 5:39 am

Bruce,

You're right...I learned a long time ago that the only competition worthy of my notice was my own attitudes and complacency.

You haven't said if or what standard of quality inspires you...what standard informs your work. Perhaps you haven't settled on one as yet?

No matter...the only reason I write these little essays is that I think about these issues and they need an outlet. I spend hours mulling them over. Most of my response to your first post was "written" while making up a pair of waxed ends. Boot and shoemaking has historically been regarded as a "contemplative" enterprise, after all. In my case, I certainly find that to be true.

The other reason, is just to stimulate thought...to perhaps jog folks out of a possibly "pedestrian" way of looking at things. Maybe it's a pedagogic impulse, I don't know. But once I got over the fact that my perspectives were/are sometimes at odds with the common view, I realized that as much as we all talk about educating the customer (and presumably, the public at large) about the quality and desirability of handmade shoes, it all rings rather hollow unless we have changed our own internal landscape as well. But, it often takes more than just a little 're-arranging of the furniture' to make a difference.

So, right or wrong, I do my bit, take it for what it's worth...they're just ideas--obligingly harmless, if you want or need them to be.

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#10 Post by dw » Fri Apr 27, 2007 6:48 am

Ha Ha...just got a bright idea...

Maybe I should work up a collection of all my essays...a new book--call it something like "Candlelock Confessions." Or "The Bootmaker Memoirs." Something lurid enough to titillate interest.

I feel certain that my many admirers would literally trip over themselves in their rush to emulate my efforts and publish their own collections of weighty observations. Of course, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." And heck, who knows, it might start a world-wide movement...spawning new books by the dozens on boot and shoemaking, discussion forums all over the Internet, and a renascence of the Trade. From the smallest acorn grows the mighty oak!


Image

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#11 Post by hidesmith » Fri Apr 27, 2007 7:20 am

DW

I don't know if I'm "inspired" by any era, but looking at my product, it seems as if I make a modern "colonial" shoe. Al, feel free to weigh in here, if you wish. I just re-read my descriptions of the shoes I make, and based on what I read, that looks to be the case. Flesh out, unlined, single layer veg counter, etc. I don't use gum trag on the knap, though, I keep it knappy. This modern colonial shoe is not intentional, though, this is something I just realized.

What "inspired" me is the idea that I might make a living making shoes. I will relate the thought process that helped me to develop my product.

Starting with the idea that handmade shoes are NOT a necessity, it naturally followed that they are a vanity item. Who buys hand made shoes? First, those who can afford them. Second, those who are dissatisfied with the fit the find on store shelves - the D width standard. However, most of us have grown accustomed to the D width standard, and continue to buy off the store shelves - especially if we can't afford a hand made shoe.

Then I asked myself how much would people be willing to pay for a hand made shoe. I researched shoe stores and saw what they were charging for a good quality shoe, based on what I could see about the construction methods I saw. I came up with a number that I thought they should sell for, the next step was to develop a product around that number. How can I bring in a product at that price, what materials do I need to use, what methods do I need to use and where can I buy quality materials that I can afford to use? Answering those questions took about four months. In the meantime, I made prototypes and gave them away, saying the only price to pay is to let me know if there is ANYTHING wrong with the shoe, either in fit, comfort, factory defect, anything. The product evolved, the prototypes were modified until I arrived at the product I now make. As I stated in a previous posting, I have lasts that run from 2 1/2 AA through 15 EEEE, with all sizes in between, and combination last capabilities as well.I can probably fit you without customizing the last, making me a NON custom maker. If you need a custom last, I'll send you to a custom maker.

The product I make is one I'm satisfied with as well worth the price, of good quality and will last as long as I say it will - "the upper will last as long as the average life of the average cow". I usually follow by listing some of the things that will make it wear, or fail before that - farm work (manure) and kitchen work (fat) being among the top reasons.

Another thing I have benefited from is my background in shoe repair. I have spent years seeing where shoes routinely fail, and seeing why. Taking all these equasions into account, I developed the product I ended up with.

I suppose one of the things I object to is the possibility that the product I spent all this time and money developing is capable of being classified as mediocre.

Bruce

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#12 Post by paul » Fri Apr 27, 2007 7:58 am

DW,

Well, I hope you got that out of your system.

Actually, I enjoyed watching you get goofy with Randee in your shop, (which is better than getting randy with Goofy.)

I need about as long to work out some thoughts as you describe, but I'm not so good at expressing them. But here's some thoughts in reply.

I've said before that, to me, you represent the distillment of all these kinds of thoughts. You're the voice in my head when I'm making choices.

I'm gonna side with Bruce, though. Because it's all relative.

Almost daily, I have to wear the hat of a repairman and the visor of a maker. How do I view myself?
There is no way to avoid the "good enough" attitude, when doing some jobs. The difference here, for me, is how much do I care and how much care is needed? If alot, then I have another set of choices regarding mind set, technique, and materials. Quality becomes relative, here when deciding cost and time, and availability of "best" materials. What I charge for some jobs becomes a matter of whim. I love what I do for other people so much sometimes, I'd do it for groceries.

But then, because I've taken on this challenge to make boots, I've got to put on my visor and take up my knife and sharpen it in preparation for the ritual of boot making. ANd that becomes my source, the well from which I draw my enthusiasm.
I've heard "enthusiasm" described literally as "god breathed". Encarta calls it "an eager interest". I like that too. But as I work to learn and earn new skills, I sometimes fall short. But when does that stop? I've learned from you, to stop thinking about the shortcoming and focus on the next task, to best of my ability. And stay with it.

Yesterday, I put heels on one of the first dozen pair of boots I made, 5 years ago. They looked pretty good, but I could see the reason I've been skiving the edge of my quarters. The softee water buffalo has real fuzzy raw edge. I do that differently now. "Quality" has changed.

So that's another thing. Maybe "Quality" doesn't stand still long enough to describe it.

I believe when we're making choices about quaity we're demonstrating how much we care.

PK

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#13 Post by dw » Fri Apr 27, 2007 4:39 pm

Paul, Bruce,

When I was a novice bootmaker, I supported my fledgling bootmaking business by doing shoe repair. I was in a metropolitan enough environment that I saw dress shoes, in a rural enough environment that I saw work boots and logging boots and because I was in the west touting myself as a western bootmaker, I saw plenty of cowboy boots--commercial and handmade.

Over the course of more than two decades of doing repair, I saw toes that had been crushed and could never be made to look good, much less new--because they had been made of plastic or celastic. I saw inseams that were loose and lost because they were gemmed or because the technique for channeling the insole was almost designed to give out long before the upper wore out. I saw insoles that were cracked and looked as if they had been burnt, because the boots had been nailed together with iron tacks and clinching nails. I saw leather heel bases that had mushroomed out so badly they could never be restored to proper heel height and I saw heel bases that broke apart because they were leatherboard and not leather. I saw sheepskin linings that had deteriorated to rags. I could go on...

Now, I've had people tell me that none of this is, or could be, usual or even possible. As if all my experiences (and those of many, many others I've talked to) were moot. And I've had people tell me that if the materials or techniques were applied "correctly" that none of this would have happened.

OK. I'll accept that last part anyway...but the fact that after nearly three quarters of a century, these techniques and materials are still in use...with no apparent improvements...doesn't speak well for the judgment or "care" of those who continue to use them. They must know the problems inherent with these choices. How can they not? Ignorance is no excuse and denial has to be at least a little credible.

Now, if you read this litany as a condemnation of specific practices...a "questioning" of quality...you'd be right, but you'd miss the point. Because while a inadequate techniques or materials can lower the overall quality of a product, "quality" itself, and particularly the idea of a "standard of quality" isn't really about items or specifics. It's about attitude.

Sure, that sounds pompous and hard to come to terms with. But fundamentally, all the specific issues resolve themselves when you come to one fundamental realization: If you know...or, more importantly, when you suspect...that there may be a problem...no matter how remote the possibility...with a technique or material, you cannot, in good conscience, gamble that such problems will not occur.

Because to do so would be to betray the trust that has been accorded you by your customer and by your position as a "professional." You are gambling with the trust and expectations of someone other than yourself. So, that attitude I'm talking about is directly related to "care" and responsiblity.

If you sell "quality" in any form--by overt representation, or price, or by association, you must deliver a quality that you yourself would feel happy to receive if you wanted and expected the very best. Or, at least, you must do your utmost to deliver on that expectation.

There's no pretending that nails don't rot leather. Oh, you can tell yourself that you've taken precautions...or sufficient precautions...or that the upper will fail before the insole is damaged, but such rationales are suspect,by their very nature.

And that's the real moral of the Eden story, Kipling notwithstanding--once you have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge you can never return to innocence...or denial, either, for that matter..

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#14 Post by hidesmith » Fri Apr 27, 2007 6:48 pm

DW,

" "quality" itself, and particularly the idea of a "standard of quality" isn't really about items or specifics. It's about attitude."

This is exactly the point I've been trying to make all along, when I said "The standard needs to be in our hearts." How many times did I quote or refer to Bill Shakespear with his "To thine own self be true"?

We each need to define quality differently for our own products, and for our own consciences. We each come from different backgrounds, different experiences and each have different ideas of what our quality product should be. Quality needs to be defined in the conscience of the maker before anything shoe-makery (I think I just invented a new word)happens. We each find the quality within ourselves, and define it accordingly.

B

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#15 Post by dw » Sat Apr 28, 2007 11:16 am

Bruce, Paul,

I'm happy that you found something of value in my words. But, I'm afraid I don't see "attitude" as you do.

In fact, I am personally very uncomfortable with what I see as "relativism." Maybe I am mis-reading you...if so I apologize. It's hard to differentiate nuance and emphasis in a venue such as the Internet. The good thing is that the Internet encourages "literacy"--something that seems to have gone missing in this society for many decades, where three hoots, a shriek and a chest thumping is the norm in some quarters. Image

I am not ascribing any of the following to any particular person but simply addressing a perspective that I think cripples us and prevents us from reaching our full potential.
We each find the quality within ourselves, and define it accordingly.


As I see it...

...there are many problems with this philosophy although almost all of them apply to the believer alone.

The first is that it is a recipe for defeat. It is one thing to recognize our own shortcomings and strive to overcome them--to compete with our own "attitudes and complacency ." But it is another thing altogether to arrive at and adhere to a wholly subjective definition of "quality" (or any other aspect of life that is meaningful). People who do that tend to get stuck. Get stuck in self-deception because they have come to the conclusion that their notions (no matter how limited or constrained) are beyond reproach. Beyond reproach because relativism admits to no "higher power." No "good, better, best"...only an isolated, internal standard of quality.

It is also a recipe for arrogance...a depressing kind of arrogance, to be sure, but arrogance for all of that...because, again, it admits no higher authority. It sets one's self and one's values above (or to the side of) all others. It insists that an internalized, isolated standard is sufficient. Relativism is inherently solipsistic (self-absorbed). It leads us round and round in an endless circle--from self, to self, to self, and back, again...to self. It cuts us off from the very impulses--the creative, the divine...God, if you want--that we need to tap into to achieve both excellence and humility.

All very high-toned you may say. And you'd be right. But in practice, if we have no external, objective standard against which we can measure ourselves and our work, we cannot progress. Oh, we may give lip-service to a mentor or a body of work but having already decided for ourselves what quality should be, in truth, we find it very difficult to change or grow or admit to ourselves that we don't measure up quite yet...that we could do better. There is no "good, better, best" in that world. No goals, no ideals beyond self. No way to improve. No impulse to correct mistakes. No one even that we can learn from.

Relativism is, in my humble opinion, an easy (and popular) way to avoid pain and bolster self-esteem in a world that seems indifferent to either.

No one is immune to such thinking. At some point in time, we get so full of ourselves, even if we are not relativists, that we can not admit that there might be a better way. Or that someone else might "have something." Or even that the past might hold a (the) key to the future. Sometimes it's old age, sometimes it's pride, sometimes it's desperation, and sometimes it's just inertia. But whatever the cause, it's a formula for calcification. It's not inevitable but it is insidious. And it is at such times that we must be most wary, most on guard. It is at such times that an objective, external standard---Golding, Lobb, Arch LaForce...God...is most critical.

The one good thing about "relativism"...and the saddest...is that it adheres to the "Vonnegut principle." This goes back to the beginning of my remarks when I said that most of the problems with this philosophy "apply to the believer alone." Relativists cannot see the flies in their eyes because...well, because they have flies in their eyes. But the flies are, thankfully, in their eyes only, not in everybody else's.

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(Message edited by dw on April 28, 2007)

bultsad

Re: "That old sweet song..."

#16 Post by bultsad » Sat Apr 28, 2007 11:51 am

SHEEESH!!!!! It's getting deep.

The simple answer is that quality no matter what; is relative to the person making the judgement of quality.

tomo

Re: "That old sweet song..."

#17 Post by tomo » Sat Apr 28, 2007 2:20 pm

Jim,
I agree with you. I folded the moment I saw the cardsImage

More power to y'awl
Tom.

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#18 Post by dw » Sat Apr 28, 2007 2:52 pm

Jim, Tom,

You're absolutely right.

All I can say is that I hope you'll keep in mind that this area of the forum has always been (and always will be) reserved for just this type of discussion.

It's also voluntary...


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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#19 Post by dw » Mon Apr 30, 2007 5:34 am

Jim,
The simple answer is...


I agree 100%...depending, of course, on who you are and how you define "simple." Image

Welcome to the "deep end." Image

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#20 Post by paul » Mon Apr 30, 2007 2:04 pm

DW,

This is the fourth time now I've sat down to reply. Each time I've reread your comments and have started out to reply, only to find that I'm stumpted. You're making me think. That's good. I just wish I could be a "literate" as I'd like to be.

I don't think you're misreading me about relativism, I think it's at the core of what I do. With as many years background as you, repairing boots and shoes, I've come to believe there is no other way to really be of service to my community. Sure I have to educate and explian why I may choose a certain technique or material, but if I do so in good conscience with good intention, then I'm using my skills to serve.

In my case, it is service that brought me to my first devine moments. Maybe one even needs to be a relativist to be a good repairman. Otherwise how can we offer repairs?

There is no one way. Ol' Mr. Degn, who taught me shoe repair, used to say, "There's more than one way to skin a cat. And either way, he doesn't like it."

At first, I wanted to object to your rejection of relativism, and then I reread your comment that possibly no one is immune to it. I'd just add, certainly not when discussing repairs.

You refer to the standard of quality of the late 19th-early 20th Century as that which informs your boot making. I like that. That's why I invested in your tutorship. And most of what I know of that period comes from this forum, so I get it. And I can see how it applies to what I want my bootmaking to be. But in the mean time, as long as I'm still offering repairs, I also have to wear a repairmans relativity hat.

Now I gotta get back to the bench.

PK

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#21 Post by dw » Mon Apr 30, 2007 3:34 pm

Paul,

You say you "get it." I know you do. You got a sense of me when you were here and I of you. Image I know your enthusiasm and your dedication. I have no doubts. And if you don't "get it" now...wait for it...it will come.

But I must draw one distinction...when I wrote my last long post I was honestly not thinking of you or anyone else for that matter...I was thinking in terms of the concept...nothing else. The issues was raised, I got to thinking about it and lo and behold, next thing I know there's another essay on the screen. Apologies to those who want their steak cut up for them. Image

That said, I'm not sure how "relativism," as a concept, can be more acceptable when you're doing repair than when making. I'd have to think that one over a while...and frankly, I don't want to. Image I'm done with repair for all intents and purposes and putting it behind me was one of the most liberating things I could have done.

But to tell the truth, I'd already anticipated a reply like this one to some extent and I would have to say that, practically speaking, whatever standard of quality that we hold for ourselves (in our making) must be, or can be, subordinated to the standard of quality that is inherent in the shoe or boot we are repairing. If a shoe or boot is nailed together with extra iron soling nails during original construction, we are under no obligation to replace those nails with pegs. Nor brass nails either, even if the iron nails are from a previous repair job. The customer bought the boots at a price point--x amount of dollars for just so much "quality," or repaired them at a similar kind of price point. In a very real sense, our only obligation is to return them to as close to original as possible. If we actually do make them better...better quality leather, or brass instead of iron...well, "good on you, mate," that's all.

But in the sense that I was exploring, "quality" doesn't enter into it when it comes to repair. Because the standards are outside of our control--set by FloorShine Shoes or Apex Boots.

When it comes to making, however...again, it's this whole business of innocence. We spend years losing that innocence...on the path to skill. On that path we learn what is good and what is better and what is best. If we have a customer who comes to us because they want the best (perhaps because we promote ourselves as being or offering the "best" )...how can we in good conscience give them "good" when we know what is "best?" And if we have spent our years (call it more than ten) on the path and not learned to differentiate between "good," "better" and best" then we have wasted our time and the trust of our customers. And there's no sadder spectacle, in my estimation.

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(Message edited by dw on April 30, 2007)

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#22 Post by bultsad » Mon Apr 30, 2007 5:44 pm

I was poking fun. I just haven't taken the time to figure out the emoticans.

Trying to define quality is like trying to define a color. You know it when you see it.

Hang on, I think I figured it out. Image

Jim

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#23 Post by dw » Mon Apr 30, 2007 8:29 pm

Jim,

Well, thanks for that. I have to admit, quite frankly, that I was a little worried.

Some might consider "smilies" as kind of goofy or rinky-dink...and they are all of that...but they can also prevent misunderstandings. And sometimes it's better to be seen as a little goofy than to leave folks with a wrong impression.

Anyway thanks again...

BTW, the following is just something that rose out of your comment about "knowing it when you see it"--not really a direct comment but sort of "train of thought." Image

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#24 Post by dw » Mon Apr 30, 2007 8:32 pm

All,

One of the things that always bubbles to the surface when I start thinking about quality is the way in which quality can be implemented. For instance, if you go back to the 19th century (maybe further, but that's a century that fascinates me) you will find that all kinds of very utilitarian devices--tools such as wood planes, and sextants, and medical equipment, etc., are not only very well made--with the precision of the proverbial watchmaker and out of the very best quality materials--but finely ornamented as well. Of course, they weren't all decorated with cherubs and dragons but even the most functional seemed to have a degree of attention paid to them that is not often seen today.

It is hard to talk about "quality" in referring to similar items of more recent manufacture when such items might today be made of ash where rosewood was almost a norm in the 1800's. Hard to look at a modern sizing stick made of oak or alder with pressed markings, when you have in your own collection (Image ) a very fine folding boxwood stick with each increment line and each number incised (cut) with the precision of an engraver.

If you watch Antiques Roadshow long enough you'll see these items come up for appraisal now and again (they usually aren't valued very high) and if it is a tool or something that you have some contemporary familiarity with, it will really open your eyes to what we are talking about (or maybe its only me) when we talk about quality.

Unfortunately, it will depress you, too. But again, I think any degree of experience combined with an openness to what we might, with measured reverence, call "the creative force," inevitably leads to the understanding that the ultimate touchstone for any kind of quality lays beyond our own personal boundaries. It has to. It's like all human knowledge--it's cumulative. And in that context, it could be said to partake of something of, or maybe even be identical to, what we call "wisdom." It is best when it reveres and builds upon the past.

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Re: "That old sweet song..."

#25 Post by hidesmith » Tue May 01, 2007 7:22 am

DW,
AWRIGHT, (he said, as his second finished tying on his gloves) You want a piece of me?!??

Your "quality" MUST differ from mine. For you, quality means the use of certain products, materials and methods necessary to make a high-end western boot, based on the standards set in the late 1800s. You have discovered the best methods and materials required for making the best quality western boot you can make. There are standards in western bootmaking that may be measured.

*announcer: "What a defense by Hidesmith! Not one of Tight stitches' blows got through his defenses! What tenacity! What incredible stubbornness! What kind of effect is this going to have on Tight stitches' offense?"*

Because I emulate a different era of shoemaking, my methods, materials, etc are different than yours. The end goal is different. "Best quality" for a shoe or boot made to 1880s standards is different than "best quality" according to colonial standards. They are two completely different products. The definition MUST BE different. You keep failing to remember that we all make different products.

*announcer: "Did you see that, folks? Hidesmith just went on the offensive! We have to wonder what kind of defense Tight stitches will offer!"*

We are not all trying to emulate the 1880s western boot. You seem, in your arguments, to only consider your "corner of the world", and not remember that we all don't emulate the same era, or all of us make western boots. From your perspective, there is only one standard, and that means your methods, your materials and your product. Because others of us emulate different eras, or have had different instructors, our definition of "quality" is NECESSARILY different than that of a western bootmaker.

The definition of "best quality" HAS TO BE defined differently, based on the product, the mentor, the goals of the maker, the era the maker is emulating. "Quality" is based on opinion.

*announcer: "What an attack by Hidesmith! That series of blows certainly landed. We can't tell yet if they hurt Tight stitches. Tight stitches certainly has the advantage of experience, but Hidesmith is accounting for himself very well, or so it looks. That's it for this round, and it certainly looks as if Hidesmith has won it! Tight stitches will have to do some pretty serious offensive work in order to take the next round!"*

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