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Is perfectionism the enemy?

2011 December 7
by elizabeth_admin


What wonderful and varied things you all had to say yesterday about my post on perfectionism and sewing.  Thank you for taking the time to comment!  I did notice though that a theme cropped up in some of the comments. 

  • Spottedroo said, “Hmm, I think I am more of a perfect-is-the-enemy-of the-good kind of girl.” 
  • Mary in FL said, “I used to be such a perfectionist that I was nearly afraid to sew, lest I make a mistake.”
  • Gail said, “I think the art is knowing what needs to be perfect and what doesn’t and being able to live with the decisions you make about this.”
  • Tanit-Isis said, “My theoretical perspective? Moderation in all things. Perfectionism is good if it leads to improvement without paralyzing you or creating dissatisfaction with overall-good projects.”

There’s a quote I’ve heard a lot but I’m not sure who said it, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” 

I agree with each and every commentor in regards to how perfectionism while positive on the one hand, can indeed be the enemy of creativity and the death of sewing mojo.  On my “sophisticated” PowerPoint created scale above, I would guess I am about a 6 or a 7 (although truth be told I never make my bed in the morning, nor do I make mitred bed corners).  And I will even admit to being only selectively perfectionist in my day-to-day life.  Some things are more important to me than others, like how I am very strict with how the dishwasher is loaded, but don’t care if the dining room table has months worth of junk mail on it.

But when it comes to sewing, it is increasingly important to me to have well constructed garments.  There is pride in a job well done.  There is the welcome flush of pleasure when someone exclaims, “I can’t believe you made that!”

My growing perfectionism in sewing is not causing me to freeze in terror at making mistakes or blocking my mojo or killing my creativity.  It’s slowing me down.  It’s creating more concentration.  I am in the zone when I’m sewing.  I don’t pay attention to the time when I’m in the zone.  I am focused on the task at hand.  Mistakes, if they happen, aren’t something I fear, but an opportunity to unpick and make it right.  All while being in the zone. 

Do I get upset that I have to insert the invisible zipper in twice or thrice?  Yeah, probably.  But it’s not because I’m a perfectionist that I’m mad, but because I get frustrated at my lack of ability when it comes to spatial or 3D awareness.  There’s something about invisible zippers and how they’re inserted that always boggles my mind.  It seems so counter-intuitive.

I once spoke about wadders and how they needed a new name or to be reframed from a negative point of view to a positive one.  Wadders are learning experiences.  We all make mistakes.  Mistakes are opportunities to learn.  Why should we fear mistakes when they are such great ways to learn? 

When I lost my voice and couldn’t sing in tune, I had to learn how to sing again.  It forced me to focus on the process, on the bare bones of technique and build upon each part one at a time.  I rebuilt my voice from nothing back to something better than before I lost it.  I am really proud of that achievement.  I know more about singing, how the sound is produced because of my “failure”.  If had never lost my voice, I would never have truly known how to sing.  I would have continued in my ignorance and with not great technique. 

I didn’t mean for this to turn into such a preachy post.  I only wanted to say that perfectionism doesn’t have to be the enemy, but it can be an opportunity. 

So there, I said it.

9 Responses leave one →
  1. December 7, 2011

    Oh, I hope I wasn’t offensive in my comment yesterday. You are absolutely right that taking pride in doing something well is a way to grow artistically and creatively. I guess I would call that “craftsmanship” rather than perfectionism.

    • elizabeth_admin permalink*
      December 7, 2011

      No offense taken AT ALL!!! Quite the contrary. I really enjoyed the discussion. Oh I hope I didn’t sound offended. I think perfectionism just gets a bad rep most of the time. There’s times and places for everything. And I love your point about craftsmanship. I think you are spot on about that. Maybe I was wrong to use the term perfectionism in the first place.

  2. December 7, 2011

    Interesting topic… I think the (usual!) lack of free time + my tendency to attempt perfection in all things does indeed inhibit me from starting many projects – but I hope to address that as a New Year’s resolution LOL! I find once I finally get started on something, that the fear of failure dwindles considerably (so it’s all in my head really) – and as you say every mistake is an opportunity to learn and improve 🙂

    P.S. I wonder if wadders should instead be called learners… as in something I learned from?

  3. December 7, 2011

    What an interesting conversation! I love you throwing around terms like, “in the zone” and “learning from wadders.” Can you see the pride in my eyes!?! I’m thinking you’re moving out of rookie status and to one of the starters on the bench…someone who will take pride in what you’re sewing and will use the best techniques available to you! I’m so enjoying watching you grow in your sewing journey!

  4. December 8, 2011

    With each project comes an opportunity to learn and grow. This is also true for a professional seamstress of 40 years. I learn from every project and write notes and check lists for “from scratch” projects for clients or if I find a particularly interesting feature or technique inside a ready made garment I am altering, I take photos and sketch it out along with the sequence it was sewn. You may never come across that feature again for a while but at least you have a drawing or photo to look back on.
    If you have a checklist say like for neck facings or waistband with notes on what worked or what didn’t it can help you make that educated decision. Like “what are my options?” just because the pattern says to cut a huge neck or armhole facing or interfaced waistband you know you can eliminate it with a bias binding or a self facing for the waist. Each garment gives you confidence and that experience allows you to make decisions based on success or failure

  5. December 9, 2011

    I think that perfectionism should come with experience. You can’t expect a perfect result from a beginner (it doesn’t matter if the beginner is you), so it’s unreal to have high expectations from a novice. As one gets more experience, he/she improves the skills and that’s when the perfectionism becomes his/hers best friend. Sure, it slows down the process, but that’s the thing – I believe that’s when a person starts really enjoying the work. At least, that’s how I evolved from a novice to an advanced seamstress.

  6. December 9, 2011

    I’m not at all a perfectionist – and the quilt I’m working on right now will bear proof. However, with garment sewing, I feel the need to want to get better as I keep sewing, and see my skills grow with each project. This is what makes me unpick seams that wouldn’t have bothered me a couple of years ago. (However, I still haven’t embraced the ‘inside-should-look-as-good-as-the-outside’, and anything to do with hand-sewing is a total fail and waste of precious time for me. No laborious hand-basting underlining for me – ever.)

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