21 November 2008

10 000 Hours = Sewing Expert?

Carolyn, of Diary of a Sewing Fanatic, wrote a post the other day, inspired by Erin, of A Dress a day. The basic premise of Erin's post was that to attain true sewing expert status, you have to devote copious amounts of time (upwards of 10 000 hours) to sewing. Carloyn, after reading Erin's post, asked the following questions:

Are you the best of the best in this craft? Are you just good enough? Or are you mediocre and working on improving? And finally, do you believe this theory to be justified? Can you really be the best of the best without some talent, or is it just about the time put into the process?

I have been mulling this over for a few days now and purposefully avoiding reading the comments to Carolyn's post, so as not to be swayed by other viewpoints.

Of course, the first thing I did was to calculate my hours-logged tally. I first began sewing when I was 17 years old and continued to sew until mid-university, then I took a break until 2005, at which time I dove back into sewing with a vengeance. This leads to two distinct periods of regular sewing activity during my lifetime (I am ignoring my sort quilting phase):

t = (5 y)(12 mth/y)(15 h/mth) + (3 y)(12 mth/y)(85 h/mth) = 3 960 h

According to Erin, her time logged is approximately 4 500 h, which she claims puts her in the mediocre category (far below the 10 000 h expert status). So, using my calculation above, I fare even worse - what is a step down from mediocre? abysmal?

Well, all humility aside, I don't think I'm abysmal or even mediocre at my craft, but I also don't think I'm expert. If asked to honestly evaluate my skills prior to this calculation, I would have claimed to be exceptional at some things and pretty good at others. I feel have conquered what many claim to be the holy grails of garment sewing: bound buttonholes, welt pockets, zipper insertion and appropriately combining pattern with fabric, to name a few. I have a good handle on tailoring techniques (although I have never sewn a completely hand tailored jacket - however, it is on the to-do list). The only areas that come to mind where I long for improvement is in fitting (I can fit myself well, but I have yet to acquire the skills to consistently fit others) and in draping (something with which I have only dabbled).

So, I strongly disagree that time spent is an adequate measure of sewing skill. Like the accomplishments of a virtuoso, a star athlete or a scientific genius, I truly believe that sewing prowess is an innate gift, that is honed and developed through practice and research. Study and repetition alone however, can only take you so far - you need an intuitive grasp of your art to transcend the ordinary. For example, quite often I am blown away by the work of beginners, while I am left cold by the work of sewists that have logged countless hours. I also think that having a willingness to experiment and the fortitude to take risks is necessary for entry into the sewing hall of fame. Too many sewists allow fear or uncertainty to squelch their evolution and it really is a shame.

So, in conclusion, I look around and see a range of sewists, from those that have the "gift" all way to the other extreme. But, in the end, whether you are a born sewing savant or still struggling to master simple techniques, the most important factor is to enjoy the process. For instance, I have a decent voice, but I'm certainly no Ann - however, that doesn't stop me from belting out a tune when the inclination hits...

16 comments:

angie.a said...

Great post Shannon! I'm inclined to agree. I know I'm no expert...but I'm certainly not mediocre either. And there's no way I've logged 10,000 hours!

I really love some things others really don't (smocking, hand embroidery, some beadwork here and there) and I don't enjoy some things that many sewists feel are necessary to be great (ew on the bound buttonholes :P). And that's OK! I sew what I like, when I like to, and that's about all the labels I can tag onto myself. Otherwise, it ceases to be fun for me!

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

I think you hit the nail on the head! In no part of the equation did it allow for innate talent...and I feel that no matter how long you practice if you don't have talent you will always just be okay.

So now that you've posted, go back and read some of the answers...they are very interesting!!!

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

...and I KNOW you've been sewing, can I see some new stuff, PULEEZEEEE!!!!

Nancy K said...

I couldn't agree more! Time alone is just not enough to get you to expert status.The second is even more important in my book. You should enjoy your time sewing.
Hey, I second Carolyn, where are some new clothes?!!!

Vicki said...

I agree too (maybe). Perhaps after 10,000 hours anyone should be pretty good at sewing a seam. But when we look at a garment we are not attracted by the seams but the colour, mix of fabric with pattern, fit, suitability for the wearer etc. And a lot of that is talent. Sewing certainly does require talent and lots of skills. Sometimes the newbies blow us away with their talent and if their sewing skills are not so good we don't notice. In the end as long as we are enjoying the process and enjoying wearing the garments it really does not matter what level we are at.

Anonymous said...

Shannon: I totally agree. 10000 hours of doing the same thing over and over again hardly makes anyone an expert in what ever they field they are working on. The level of expert comes from the variety of items that one does and the skill that is exhibited in the work that is performed. This does not only apply to sewing but in every thing in life. Good to see you back on line. I missed you!

Keran
Petrolia

Anonymous said...

glad to see you are blogging again . I missed you too. And don`t worry , I live downunder so there is no way I will ever know you in real life .

Becky said...

Wow, you lost me at the algebra...but I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said. It's not about numbers, it's about the learning process. And good to see you back!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to post a message in response to your post of 17 November. I understand your sentiments, but have to say how much I have enjoyed your sewing entries. I have always found your attention to detail and consistant approach to your wardrobe so interesting. Your swap last year and your writings on the process was absolutely fabulous reading. I agree with Carolyn ... what have you been sewing that we can see now?!! Thank you for your blog. Natasha

Marji said...

So happy to have you back blogging. ;)
And I completely agree, it's a talent/interest/learning curve and then a practice/time thing in terms of gaining expertise.

Sew Passionista said...

I too agree that time alone will not an expert make. It's funy this should come up because I was talking to a friend today and she asked me how long I've been sewing.I said since I was 14. Well now I'm 60 and so it is very possible that I've clocked 10000 hours . However, whenever anyone tells me that I'm very talented (their words not mine ) I always answer the same way. That I sew well because I love it so much.And that is my comment. Still hoping to see something new you've sewn Shannon.Have a good week.
Diana

Summerset said...

I totally agree. Artistic talent is hard to quantify in numbers.

MaryPat R said...

Many people spend as much time pressing as they do at the sewing machine. This is understood to be part of "sewing time". I would suggest that as much time is also spent away from the sewing room.
One of the main and often overlooked aspects of any sort of designing is the thinking part. Did you add in the time spent cleaning your bathtub when you are mentally auditioning embellishment ideas? Or when you arrive in your driveway with no memory of the drive itself, but have a clearer idea of how to apply that collar? If you add in those times, I am sure you have logged more hours than you credit yourself.

Alexandra said...

Glad you're back!
I agree that expertise cannot be measured solely by the number of hours spent on the endeavor. There's far more to it than that. Of course, I could be saying that because I have a long way to go to 10,000 :-)

Peggy said...

I like your math-y equation!

Kat said...

I absolutely agree! Really, 10,000 hours could have been spent sewing pillows and pillowcases only. I've been sewing since I was 12 and have probably reached that number. It seemed like every non-working hour during my summer high school breaks was spent sewing. I'd hole up in our basement and stitch away. That was every summer! Factor in the years that I made sorority banquet dress, my wedding dress which took a year, baby clothes, and everything else--I got some good time in. But do I feel like an expert? No. I'm always learning about new things, new techniques, etc. Think how boring it would be if I actually knew everything! Nothing exciting and new to discover.