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Critiques: Bashing, Fawning or Otherwise

2013 April 29
by elizabeth_admin
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As most of you know, I used to sing for my supper.  I sang classical music, or opera for lack of a better term.  I took lessons for decades, yes, decades.   I participated in master classes.  I auditioned ad nauseam.  I performed and was reviewed.  In short, I was constantly given feedback on my singing at every turn.  Either my teacher, the master class teacher, the auditioners or the public/professional critics were constantly reviewing my performances or lack thereof.  I have received so many rejection letters, I cannot even number them.  In fact, I have kept all the acceptance letters because as they were so few and far between, it behooved me to keep them as reminders of some good notices.  I’m saying all this because it means I have developed a pretty thick skin over the years from all this feedback.  And to be honest, my worst critic is myself.

There has been an interesting conversation in the sewing blogosphere of late about overly kind praise for projects that might not actually deserve praise, be it for lack of fit, poor pressing or an unflattering silhouette.  I am a firm believer of if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.  Actually that reminds me of the recital receiving lines back in my music school days.  After recitals, the performer would come out to greet the audience informally.  We would wait in line to speak with the performer.  If the performance was lacking or just plain bad, you had to think of something to say in a hurry.  The default response was, “Your dress was amazing!”   Or, “You looked amazing on stage!”  Nothing about the actual performance.  Why would you dampen their high right after the performance?

However, if that person was a close friend and/or asked me for an honest appraisal of their performance, I would find a way to say something honest about it, but without being scathing or hurtful.  In short, I would be constructive.  I would avoid all destructive criticism.  What does that do for anyone?  And I would only say something if directly asked for it.

A friend of  mine recently commented that she knows when a garment is not well-received on her blog by the lack of comments.  No one generally says anything negative; they just choose not to leave a comment.  I have noticed that phenomenon with some of my garment posts as well.  I think that’s a great way of giving feedback without being hurtful.  Don’t you?

As I said in my last post, I know that I don’t know much about sewing despite being five years into it.  Five years seems like a lot until you compare it with someone like Ann Rowley from Stitcher’s Guild and Great British Sewing Bee fame who has been sewing for decades.  While my construction skills are intermediate, my fitting skills are almost nonexistent.  When I need advice on fitting, I ask my sewing friends who are great at it and way more experienced than I for help.  I have even asked directly for advice on my garment posts.  I have been thankful for all the advice I have received.  I learn a little bit more each time.  I am getting better and quicker at performing FBA’s.  I’m still awful at interpreting drag lines though.  But that’s what fitting buddies are for.  My fitting buddies just happen to be an email or a post away, not in person.

So, do fawning, sycophantic critiques help anyone?  Probably not.  Do unsolicited critiques help?  Maybe, maybe not.  They may not be taken well when unsolicited.  Bashing critiques are, I think, never helpful.  They’re just hurtful.  It all comes down to etiquette, doesn’t it?  I look at healthy criticism as an opportunity to learn something.  But maybe I have a thicker skin than most.  What do you think?

27 Responses leave one →
  1. April 29, 2013

    I am also of the “say something nice or don’t say anything” ilk when it comes to online commentary. Unless someone says “this was a complete disaster, please help me fix it”, I am generally disinclined to offer suggestions or criticism. There’s one blogger I follow who consistantly picks patterns that are unflattering to her shape, but if she’s happy with how she looks in them, that’s far more important than a stranger’s opinion.

  2. judidarling permalink
    April 29, 2013

    There’s something about online bashing that bothers me. Would the bashers speak to someone’s face with the same aggression as they use when staring at a computer screen. I hope not. When viewing a particularly “unique” infant, all but the most callous can smile and say how happy the new parents must be. Is it really so different with our creative “babies?” Folks will never go wrong adding a bit of kindness to the world.

  3. Cactus permalink
    April 29, 2013

    Blunt criticism is never necessary. It’s just plain mean. Sometimes I can be blunt with my long time close friends – they know me 🙂 But you can always take the approach of “you know, I just had an idea – what would happen if you did so and so?” Doesn’t really come across as a criticism but a “new” design idea for the next project. That leaves them free to consider or reject.

  4. April 29, 2013

    I completely agree that kindness is just good manners when it comes to offering critique. It’s totally ok to give someone constructive criticism, if it’s asked for. However, when someone is thrilled by her finished garment and others choose to judge it harshly, that’s just unacceptable in my opinion. How would they feel under those circumstances? I haven’t seen any of these posts as yet, btw, happy to say!

  5. Hoosiermama permalink
    April 29, 2013

    As an art major in college, I had to learn to accept constructive criticism, in front of a roomful of people no less, without getting upset. It was a vital part of the learning process. Silence is certainly a kind of feedback for a sewing blogger, but it doesn’t tell you much, does it?

    If the blogger is interested in learning, then s/he should welcome constructive criticism. Some thoughtful analysis, even if some of it is negative, is far more valuable than empty flattery.

  6. April 29, 2013

    I never criticize, even in a constructive way, unless it is asked for directly or the sewist says they are not sure they like it or they had a problem with some aspect of the project. Then I’ll say “what if you tried x, y or z”… I would stay silent if the feedback wasn’t asked for.

    I have actually never seen any unsolicited criticism of a garment on anyone’s blog, and I’ve never been a victim of bashing or criticism on my own. That said, I’ve been very grateful for honest opinions when I have posted my mistakes/problems and asked for assistance.

  7. April 29, 2013

    There is a reason the old axiom “Silence is Golden!” has lasted so long – because silence tells the truth without being mean, without allowing others to pile on and bash AND the same silence is eloquent in it’s telling. You, the receiver of the silence, hear the message loud and clear if you take the time to listen. So saying nothing about a garment that a blogger has made that you don’t like for whatever reason, speaks volumes.

    Also, why do we believe that we have to tell a blogger something is wrong if they aren’t asking for that information? It is my experience that when you allow “constructive criticism” to occur it turns into a mob mentality allowing people to bash the blogger. Personally I’m tired of this bashing mentality.

    We all know bloggers that we think could sew better, could take more time, could “fit” better but once upon a time, we all were in that same spot. Most of us didn’t have to learn these things on the internet with the world seeing our mistakes. Can’t we be kind and let them learn just as we did? Can’t we be nurturing so that they will continue in the craft with a supportive community to learn the things that we learned?

    See experience does show out in the end…as evidenced by Ann’s win on GBSB. And most sewists do want to learn, they just need to learn in their own time frame not ours. So sometimes silence in it’s quiet elegance is even more valuable than “thoughtful analysis” or “constructive criticism.”

  8. Meredith P permalink
    April 29, 2013

    I too, don’t give unsolicited opinions unless they are requested (rather firmly :-)). I can often find positive things to say, but I agree with Carolyn: sewing is so complex, particularly fitting. It takes time and experience and you have to be interested and ready to work on it. I’ve been sewing for over 50 years, and I learn something new every day about sewing (even when I don’t do much–thank goodness for the internet).

    Sometimes I don’t comment at all: it might be that I don’t know the blogger well, or I don’t have time, some technical thing happens and my long, thoughtful post was eaten by the cyber gods, or I really don’t have anything to add. And then, as others have said, silence is golden. If you can’t say anything nice…:-)

  9. April 29, 2013

    You just can’t judge a garment by it’s photo. I model my garments and take the pictures by myself using the timer on my camera. The photos sometimes show up problems not seen in the mirror and other times the photos make the garment less flattering than it is in person. I have had supremely skilled persons who had offered criticism in person and through pictures. After having lived through years of online scrutiny I say, don’t trust the photos to deliver the honest “goods” on a garment. I think it is lovely to be constructive in comments when criticism is asked for, but only then.

  10. April 29, 2013

    Thanks for bringing this up! One similar topic that has been really bothering me lately is seeing a few bloggers really trash talk Tilly after the Great British Sewing Bee. I mean, why would someone do that? She seems to be lovely on her blog, and she’s doing her best on TV… Why does that suddenly make it ok to really personally critique her? Just really turns me off. I’ve unfollowed a few blogs because of it. Like you say, if you have nothing nice to say… 🙂

    As a blogger, I really appreciate suggestions when I ask for them… and I’m grateful that no one is harsh in their comments! We’re all experimenting with new styles and techniques all the time. I think that positive reinforcement of the good stuff is enough to help us figure out what “works”!

  11. April 29, 2013

    Excellent post, well said!

  12. Carol S permalink
    April 29, 2013

    It was a big Ahah moment in my life when I realized how often help is received as criticism. I shut up a lot more now.

  13. April 30, 2013

    I am not sure you should take few / no comments as a sign of a bad job. I think sometimes there just isn’t much to say on something (it’s a simple garment, something you have made before, posted at a time when most people are busier and not feeling the comment vibe etc).

    I think there is an appropriate time for honesty and a time to say nice things too – if a friend asks what you think of a house they might buy, be honest. If they ask you what you think of a house they already bought…find the positives!

    I like that you put it out there in terms of advice re fit or style and I hope you only get constructive and helpful feedback in return!

  14. April 30, 2013

    Just my though, too 🙂

  15. April 30, 2013


  16. Cheryl permalink
    April 30, 2013

    You are dead on!!! I support my sewing habit by working as a collaborative pianist/accompanist. I’ve seen beautiful young artists devastated by a critic who had a need to tear someone down for the sake of their ego or insecurity. This is not merely unnecessary. . . it is evil! As artists, whatever our medium, we each must travel our own path and at our own pace. We have a responsibility to help each other as we journey together and sometimes that means protecting each other from those who would knock us off the path.
    Keep working on your fitting skills. I’m struggling with that issue myself, but I’m determined to persevere, critics be damned!

  17. pascale permalink
    April 30, 2013

    Constructive criticism is an art. First off, the subject has to trust the judgement of the critic. Why would you trust a random person off the internet who is making their judgement on the basis of a low res photograph? By definition, the internet critic doesn’t have enough evidence to make an accurate diagnosis and judgement. One shouldn’t judge too much from silence either as that can be a recipe for too many self-destructive thoughts. Women in general find it difficult to recover from destructive criticism and see if for what it is, IMO, this is a major reason for lack of career advancement. If you have a really supportive family and friends, or a great knitting group this really helps one to recover from the destructive criticism. All criticism, even destructive criticism can teach you something, though often the destructive kind is wrapped in so much one takes personally, it is hard to separate out what the message might be.

  18. Lorna Brown permalink
    April 30, 2013

    If I went to a party and a woman showed up in a dress that she made, I would never walk up to her and begin to tell her how she could improve the dress. It would be rude and uncalled for. If she learned that I sewed and asked for my opinion, I might give a few pointers but would prasie her for her efforts. When she walked away from me, I would want her to feel good about herself and empowered to sew even better. I think that the same needs to happen on the internet.

    I see pictures posted of dresses that really could use some pointers on fit, pressing, fabric selection…. but unless asked I say nothing. If you would not say it in person than don’t say it on the internet.

    And to the sewists out there. ask… ask for honest feedback on your clothes. your sewing will be better for it. I would love to live next door to Ann Rowley and be able to pop over with my finished garments and ask for her opinion. I would want the truth. I would be so much better for it.

    With kindness, encouragement and the truth we all would grow.


  19. April 30, 2013

    I agree, there is no reason to be rude. Pictures sometimes do not come out well, no matter how many times you take them.

    As sewing bloggers we are all at different levels, we need to think before we speak.

  20. Ruth permalink
    April 30, 2013

    A famous philosopher said that if someone offers criticism of you that , you should consider it; if you know is not true, then shrug it off. It can’t hurt you if it’s not true. If they offer you criticism that is true but they offer it in bad spirit, meaning to hurt you, thank them anyway; you can benefit from their meanness and turn it to your advantage, thus defeating their bad intention. If they offer you criticism and it is true and they offer it in the hope of being helpful, you should simply thank them and benefit from it.

  21. Ruth permalink
    April 30, 2013

    The same philosopher said that love of praise and fear of criticism is the quickest route to hell.

    • Mary permalink
      May 14, 2013

      Just curious, who was that philosopher?

      It is amazing how well delivered constructive criticism actually makes a person want to do better. Poorly delivered criticism sometimes seems (and might even be) spiteful. Important not to get mad about these things, some people completely fail to put “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” into practice.

      Mary in Thailand

  22. April 30, 2013

    I don’t really have much to add because you expressed my sentiments perfectly. I’m not looking for praise when I post my work, and those posts that garner minimum comments don’t surprise me at all (I’m more surprised when I get a [relative] ton of comments on ANYthing I post lol!)

    I think the sewing community, as a whole, is a rather thoughtful and helpful group. There certainly may be some rude and crude among us, but I really believe that the nature of the craft is generally one of sharing and helping, and I’m happy to be a member of such a group 🙂

  23. May 1, 2013

    I have never really seen any open “garment bashings” on sewing blogs. I agree that if you can’t say anything good then don’t say anything, but sometimes I doubt if this is really a way to go for someone who wants to learn to sew better

  24. May 1, 2013

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. I was in the classical music business for years and learned it’s easy to almost always find something nice to say. Blogging is a new experience for me but I find most commenters are so kind and helpful. I have received a few horrible comments intended to be hurtful but it’s obvious that the person must be disturbed by something other than what I’m wearing. I think it’s important to be careful when commenting – you never know how your comments will be received.

  25. May 3, 2013

    That was timely, I’d been thinking about this a lot lately and found your post pretty much sums up how I feel. Although one thing I’m resolving to do personally is ask for more constructive criticism and I’m grateful there are so many expert sewists out there who give helpful feedback. I’ve had a few fitting problems sorted out by the blogosphere and it’s wonderful.

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