Dragonfly copyeditor Mary Berry likes doing things the old-fashioned way. She learned to edit long before spell-check, online dictionaries, or search-and-replace—her first job out of college was working for a foreign language typesetting company in need of a proofreader. Among other assignments, Mary helped proofread manuals to be distributed worldwide in McDonald’s restaurants, with step-by-step instructions on how to blend milkshakes and assemble Big Macs.
Never mind that she often didn’t speak the language of the copy she was reading; because proofreaders mark only for deviations between a typeset proof and an edited draft, Mary was still able to scan for errors. “It was easier than I thought,” Mary recalls, “Until we started doing Arabic. Then we had to hire someone who could read the language.”
An editor’s eye
In subsequent jobs, Mary gained authority as a proofreader and editor. She worked as a copyeditor and fact checker for Encyclopedia Britannica, an editor for a medical journal publishing company, and the “one-person book department” at Healthcare Financial Management Association. “After that point, I was ready to start out on my own as a freelance editor,” Mary says. As part of the Dragonfly team, she helps edit articles for European Urology. She also does developmental editing and permissions research for college textbooks.
As Mary’s career unfolded, the editing profession’s hallmark implements and practices (the hard-copy manuscript, the typewriter, the mighty red pen) changed as well. “At first, I found it difficult to make the transition from print to digital editing,” Mary says. “It was a really odd mental retraining. Now that I’ve gotten used to it, though, I find that I can edit much more consistently.”
Proofreading by today’s standards, she says, is a far cry from the craft she learned: “It’s getting cut out more and more as publishers try to save money. And proofreaders’ knowledge of the production process has definitely changed. There’s so much more to layout than just being able to use a program on your computer. But people are more specialized now.”
An artist’s touch
Mary has also witnessed a transformation of an entirely different kind: in the world of fiber arts and crafts. “I started out just knitting,” she says, “and it’s just gotten more and more involved.” She now knits and crochets, and weaves on her own 45-inch loom.
This craft, too, Mary prefers sans automation: “I’m really interested in indigenous ways of doing things,” she says. She’s had a teacher trained by Navajo weavers, and another educated in the Russian style. Mary often spins thread using a hand spindle. “The fact that this same tool was used by spinners in ancient Egypt and Greece—I think it’s just amazing.”
The fruits of Mary’s efforts include tapestries, rugs, housewares, and clothing. Some projects are short-term, while others are more involved: “Tapestries are typically made at about one inch per hour. I just finished a rug that was 36 inches long, so it should have taken me about 40 hours—but it actually took me 10 years!”
Despite her inclination toward traditional techniques, Mary is keenly aware of the impact of modern technology, particularly the Internet, on her craft. “It would have been so much harder if I had gotten into this hobby years ago,” she says. Mary’s a regular on online forums where fellow artists share tips, buy and sell materials, and just socialize (she learned Peruvian backstrap weaving from a woman who posted a tutorial online). “It’s a great way to meet really interesting, nice people.”
A blend of old and new
When it comes time to begin a new project, Mary starts by collecting wool and hand-dyeing it using natural pigments—some ordered online, others collected from her backyard. The next step is to spin the dyed wool into yarn. Fittingly, Mary owns two spinning wheels: one, a modern design built for efficiency. The other, a traditional Norwegian spinning wheel, has a classic form, evoking its long-standing ties to the past.
Mary Dixon, a recent graduate of The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, and an intern with Dragonfly Editorial, is writing a series of profiles of Dragonfly writers and editors.