Saturday, May 10, 2008

Perfectionism: Creativity Killer.

What’s a contest without a winner? Becky Levine had a winner over at her blog contest, winning the autographed copy of Wild Goose Chase. However, she signed her comment Anonymous, and we need a little more info than that. So please email me at and claim your prize. On Tuesday, we’re going to pull a new winner, so hurry.

Perfectionism: Creativity Killer.

Camille got me thinking with her earlier post about being intimidated by a wonderful miniaturist. Confession time – I’m not a great sewer. I’m not being modest. I’m just not a great technician.

This used to bother me. I started sewing when I was twelve and I loved it, despite my lack of ability. I persevered, because I loved to sew. I tried to get better, I did. I took classes, read books, practice, practiced, practiced. I should be in Carnegie Hall if there was one for sewers.

But I never got better. I took up quilting thinking that would be easier than clothing construction. Instead, I found accuracy was key. So my blocks were a little wonky, and my corners never matched.

Still I strived for perfection. Isn’t that the American way? Aren’t we a little suspicious of people who don’t care if their seams are crooked? Or if their quilt blocks don’t match? Some of those went on to become art quilters. The rest of us kept trying to get it perfect.

I took a lot of classes, learned a lot of techniques. Found short cuts and helpful tips. My color sense and design sense improved. But my piecing skills never did. I didn’t get better – I got better tools. (Don’t let anyone tell you a good engineered sewing machine isn’t worth every penny.)

Eventually, I had to give it up. I wasn’t getting any better and I wasn’t having any fun.
Letting go of perfection is the most liberating thing I could do. My quilts are my quilts, flaws and all. Not as good as some, better than others, All mine.

Does perfection keep us from even trying or from enjoying whatever level we’re at? It can. It does. I heard it in the quilt shop where I worked and the classes I taught.

I wonder if perfectionism is not at the root of the younger generation not learning to sew. This is a generation used to matching suites of furniture and the name-brand clothes on air-brushed models. Making quilts is messy and takes time, and can be frustrating.

Perfection is not an option. In my opinion, it’s not even a worthy goal.


Camille Minichino said...

I think I'll post this blog over my crafts table, Terri.

I'd love to see some data on younger people and crafts. Certainly at miniature shows it's the parents who are interested; the kids who are with them are easily distracted and don't seem interested in "how to."

I've chalked it up to a lack of patience (it's the 7-second generation) but maybe it's also the perfection issue.

Nicole P said...

I can relate to this. Not so much with sewing, but I tried and failed for many years to learn how to crochet. Everything I tried to make "grew" as I stitched. It was so frustrating. I even had a lady give me lessons. No luck, I stunk at it.

Terri Thayer said...

Sometimes you just to give up, Nicole! I'm the same way with knitting.

I don't have any data, but young quilters are rare. It might be lack of resources - time and money. Quilting is both time consuming and expensive, but I do think perfectionism has reared its ugly head, too.

ellen said...

Like fire, perfectionism is a good servant but a terrible master.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to think back to when I was that age & also look at what the kids I "hang around with" are like. I think there may be a form of perfectionism--as in; no way can I do it as well as...fill in the blank name of the adult trying to encourage them! :) But also--when they're really young, the motor-control for a lot of these crafts is really tough. As they get older, there's the coolness (or uncoolness) factor, as well as the fact that they do, most of them, have their own "thing" already.

It may be more a matter of just continuing to do our thing around/in front of them, until/if they reach an age where they decide they're looking for a craft or hobby. They may try the thing that's been in their face all these years. Terri, I'm betting one of your nieces shows you something she quilted--if not in the next five years, in the next twenty!

Camille, I just read your miniature mystery, and I enjoyed it very much!

Camille Minichino said...

I'm glad I 'came back' to see your comment, Becky.

Sheila Connolly said...

I think we worry too much about what other people think. So our sweaters come out looking like a giant fungus. Did we enjoy knitting them? Which counts more, the pleasure you got over the months (years?) that you felt the sweater grow under your hands, or the nasty comment from a total stranger?

I love music, but I can't play an instrument worth beans--and I tried more than one, and yes, I did practice. But I enjoyed ensemble playing, as long as the other musicians were at roughly the same level of expertise as I was.

So do what you enjoy and ignore the critics.

Anonymous said...

If you will allow, I may provide some small insight into the young'ins.
Young kids today (or most of them), have no awareness or perception of what you or I would call "hobbies". Virtually all of their time is taken up in disciplined, highly competitive activities—school, group sports, videogames. There is a brutally painful point and objective to everything they do. Even video games, what might be a harmless timewaster, is a ridiculously competitive enterprise. Many kids complain of feeling 'empty' after finishing a game, that's how little joy and actual fulfillment brings them.
Childhood has become so severely competitive, that kids' lives are circumscribed to exclude anything that isn't goal oriented towards either getting into college or getting into a self-sustainable career. Kids are so overfocused in most of their waking lives, there is little emotional energy left for anything else. They have zero knowledge of anything done for its own sake, or of doing anything for which they won't be judged/critiqued/graded.