29 August 2012

Perfection

There is an interesting thread running on Artisan's Square right now that piqued my interest.  Here is an excerpt of jem's original post:

"...After seeing some of the garments displayed on this site, I am both motivated and discouraged. Your work seems like absolute perfection.  I don't think I have ever sewn an item that is absolutely perfect.  There always seems to be one little thing out of kilter. I get really annoyed with myself and can't understand why I can't sew with perfection. I am not a new sewer either.  My work is decent and my non sewing friends are in total awe of the fact that I make my own clothes, but I still feel that after all this time sewing I shouldn't have to do these little tweaks to the garments.  Am I being too hard on myself? Do any of you have this thought process, or is it just me?"

This makes me want to sit down with jem and have a good heart to heart.

A Matter of Perspective

When I was new to sewing (at the age of 17 in early 1988), I was absolutely fearless.  The first real garment that I sewed was a prom dress.   I was either too naive or too stupid to know that sewing a prom dress was probably not the typical first project.  However, despite my lack of experience, I sewed that dress, I wore that dress and I was pretty damned proud of that dress.  I though it was absolutely perfect.  Well, I still have that dress and I can tell you, it was not perfect.  I won't go into a laundry list of problems with it, but suffice it to say that, although I did an amazing job for a beginner, I can do much better now.

I guess it's just a matter of perspective.  For the skills I possessed at the time, I did an excellent job.  But now, through study, experience and a healthy dose of  common sense (attained through simply getting older), I am a better seamstress than I was 24 years ago.  So, I submit that perfection is a matter of perspective, related to our age, our life experiences and our own personal standards.

Our Own Worst Critics

Why are so many of us always so hard on ourselves?  And why is self reproach such a female thing?  Believe me, I know that men aren't immune to self doubt, but it seems more ingrained in women.  Not to mention, the desire to compare ourselves to other women.  "If only I was as ______ as her" can be a common refrain for many women (how we fill in the blank may vary, but the general idea is the same).  Unfortunately, this attitude can undermine and weaken us.

Comparing yourself to another seamstress is a recipe for disaster.  Wanting to improve your skills is laudable, putting yourself down is not.  For me, sewing is a revelation, a salvation, a blessing and a joy - it makes me sad to think that someone would feel even a tiny bit bad about herself because of sewing. 

In the Eye of the Beholder

Like many things in life, perfection is defined by each individual - no two people will describe perfection in the same way.  I often cringe at the hours (days, months, years) that are spent by some seamstresses trying to get a "perfectly" fitting pair of pants.  All wrinkles and smile lines must.be.eliminated or else.  For them, that is perfection.  For me, it is an exercise in insanity.   But, as they say, to each her own.  What I might call a perfect pair of pants (or jacket or dress or...) may not be acceptable to someone else...and that's okay.  We all have our own guidelines (which are likely to morph and shift as we go on in our lives) that we live within.

I guess what I'm trying to say, is that I feel for jem.   I really do believe she is being far too tough on herself and  I truly hope that she learns to cut herself some slack. I'm willing to bet that her garments are far more fabulous than she realizes.

24 comments:

NewRibena said...

I totally agree with you. Since I started my second go at sewing and began looking at finished items by other sewers, I am tempted to put down my work but upon closer inspection, I realize that not even my RTW items fit as well as I once thought they did. Somtimes being obsessive about the fit, etc. can take away from the enjoyment and we should not let that happen.

Seraphinalina said...

So very true. Think of the magic closet effect, where things get better when you step away from them and the issue you couldn't ignore before isn't so noticable now. Or the opposite where I'll look over issues because it is done. But upon wearing, it really isn't up to anything but perfect posture and it really isn't comfortable. Pictures don't always show the truth and everyone has wadders or they are taking risks.

annie said...

This post is so timely for me. I just said last week that I don't understand why, when I've been sewing for 60 years (Whew), I just cannot get some things right. I don't have any of my earlier garments but I wish I did in order to compare my skills. I made a Galitzine cocktail suit many years ago and it was a challenge then but somehow I was satisfied. I seem to be more critical now. When someone figures this angst out, I hope they will share the insight with me.

T. Sedai said...

It is funny because I would say that in many things I tend towards perfectionist, but sewing, oddly enough, isn't one of them. I mean, I do have standards for my sewing and fit and such. But, on the other hand, if I can't get that one little wrinkle out of a sleeve after setting it in 3 times I can let it go. Smile lines are a part of life (especially after sitting in pants for hours - there will be wrinkles!), and my swayback seems determined to outdo even the most outrageous of pattern alterations. Overall I find that me-made clothes fit significantly better than RTW, I enjoy making them, and honestly, I will see the imperfections much more acutely than anyone else. So I can live with imperfection. Of course, it would be nice if everything was perfect, but it isn't practical to expect it. I think as long as I see improvements (or learn from really big mistakes) I am ok with my sewing results and I want to keep going.

Carol said...

I think we waste so much time worrying that our garments are not as 'perfect' as RTW or as 'perfect' as we think some other seamstress makes. When I compare my fitted-to-me garments with poorly fitting RTW I always feel better about my sewing. Yes, things are not perfect and there are often mistakes and quick-fixes, but they fit me and I feel good in them. I'm sure if a group of us got together and showed the inside of our garments, warts and all, we would all be relieved. I know I don't sew couture garments, I don't want to spend the time, but I do sew garments I like. We are so used to uniformity and machine made everything that I think we have lost the appreciation of hand made things. I agree; jem is being too hard on herself. Let's celebrate what we achieve every time we sit down at our sewing machines rather than looking at the faults. In days gone by I might have been able to sit down with my mother, grandmother, aunt or sister and be educated by their sewing but these skills are being lost and I think this network of sewing blogs is the best replacement we have so let's support each other. I am inspired every day by the wonderful work I see on sewing blogs and I think all of it is perfect.

debbie said...

I was at a Linda Lee/Sewing Workshop trunk show recently. She said something that really hit home and gave me something to think about. Four out of five of the garments that she makes she does not like! That means her success rate is only 20%, at least in her eyes. She said it all come down to the fabric factor. The wrong fabric 4 out of 5 times. It surprised me that even the "pro's" have problems.

It explained why I really only love a few of the tops, out of 15-20, that I have made from a TNT knit top pattern. Even though I've got the right stretch factor and do a final side seam fit some are just not as wearable as others.

Linda said...

Great post and I agree with your perspective. Your comment about your prom dress is similar to me in making a formal gown for a business women evening bash over 40 years ago. It was not my first sewing project but my first sewing of knit. I obviously had no fear but now I have some hesitancy in sewing knits but do it often.

I have learned a lot since then and think I do very well but I am always in awe of others abilities, and hope to learn from them. Perhaps jem is being too hard on herself and hopefully she will step back and take a different look.

M-C said...

I totally agree that perfectionism is a very nasty thing to do to yourself. My sewing history is a bit similar to yours. All through my teenage years I wore homemade clothes that made me positively burst with pride. Had my mother someone else made them, I'd probably be in therapy for the rest of my life :-). This was before teaching materials were readily available. But they were ME, and I MADE THEM MYSELF! So what if it took me a decade to discover interfacing and such stuff?

I think sewing blogs can be great (I love to see how you put your wardrobe together as a whole, very inspiring to my disorganized self). But I also think they can be harmful, with everyone competing to be as "couture" as possible, interlining everything down to their underwear for instance. Just because Christian Dior had an army of slaves taking the longest possible time over everything to justify his prices doesn't mean that you can't toss off a sweatshirt quickly when you need one! In short, this is the facebook effect for sewing, and it's not pretty.

The cure I think is to go observe the real competition, RTW. I may not get everything perfect, but I sure can do a better job than what is out there. And go feel up really expensive clothes in good stores too. $200 t-shirts have nothing on my walmart-price ones. In fact my fabric is generally better.

Kristy said...

Well said - I think there is a fine line between making something that looks good and making something that is technically and absolutely perfect. The difference is not usually noticeable to anyone else, and given the amount of shoddily made RTW clothing I've seen out there I think us sewists are already ahead of the game without spending extraordinary amounts of time perfecting fit.

For my part I try to alleviate the pressure that others like Jem may feel - I share my wadders and stuff ups and generally keep it real on my blog!

Janice said...

I'm definitely a sewing perfectionist! I have no problems with donating clothes I've made before if they don't match my style now or they aren't flattering.

alethia said...

You post is perfect, ii's like you were speaking to me. Great post

Elaray said...

I couldn't agree more. Before I evolved, when someone complimented me on a garment I'd made, I point out my mistakes. How stupid of me! Now, I accept the compliment graciously. My clothes don't need to be perfect. The same defeating attitude kept me away from quilting for a long time. Now I enjoy quilting and some of my corners come together beautifully and some don't. So what. Life goes on.

Ruth said...

Oh I hear you! I have a jacket that has one sleeve 3mm higher than the other one. 3mm! I don't even know if inches go down that far.

Terri K said...

I agree. The sad perceived need for perfection by insecure women fits in with all the competition on that board by obsessive, anonymous know-it-alls. And it's not just in sewing or over-fitting.

The Slapdash Sewist said...

What a great post! I get frustrated sometimes that even when I'm trying my hardest every garment has some flaw at the end. But that's life!

Elizabeth D said...

I totally agree on this issue. Although sewing has been my passion for 50 years I held off starting a blog because I felt so intimidated by all the beautiful people and projects on the internet, as well as all the helpful commentary by the experts. I'm finally doing the blog for the pleasure it gives me, not for what other people think.

Kay said...

Shannon, you're being missed very much.. I hope you are doing great. Happy new year!

Kelley said...

I second the 'being missed very much' comment. I hope all is well.

Ann's Fashion Studio said...

Just checked in to see if you have been posting...Hope all is well with you.

Anonymous said...

Like others, I keep coming back here in the hope you're back, but alas you're not! I really enjoy reading your ramblings and sewing adventures, so hope that you return one day. Best wishes from a wintery Melbourne (Aust)!

Tully

Online PhD UK by Anne Lankford said...

I love that you took on such a huge project for your first sewing adventure. At least it turned out great because that would be traumatizing if something happened during prom because of the dress. Wonderful words of wisdom!


Online PhD UK

Anonymous said...


Happy New Year! I hope you're still sewing and maybe considering sharing what you've made in a new blog entry.

Anonymous said...

Hello-Happy New Year - Miss your blog, hope you come back soon.

Anonymous said...

I too miss your blog. Hope all is well with you and your family.