Have you ever found yourself stuck on a work-in-progress and not sure how to move forward? Perhaps this will sound familiar:
- you’re worried about cutting into a fabric that you love a little too much; or
- you’ve cut out all of the pieces for your project, but the project seems hard, so you put them in a ziplock bag and stuff them in a bin full of other unfinished projects. Or,
- you’ve finished a quilt top but now it sits, in a pile unfinished, because you’re just not sure how to quilt it.
We’ve all been there. And frankly, perfectionism is ruining your SewJo.
The Problem with Perfect
The truth is, perfectionism walks hand-in-hand with anxiety. We don’t normally associate sewing with “walking on the edge”, but when it comes to our creative selves, it doesn’t take much to feel vulnerable. There are so many ways that we can feel anxious. We may not want to be judged by others; we may not want to fail at a skill we’re unfamiliar with; or we may think that we’ve become known as a particular “type” of sewist, and making something outside of our usual style will go against what others expect from us.
Perfectionism also surfaces when we do not want to waste valuable resources. A fabric purchase is an investment, so mistakes can feel costly. We don’t want to waste the good money that we’ve spent. Particularly when we’ve held onto a collection that we really love, we don’t want to risk making a mistake when we cut into it. We also don’t want to waste our time by making something that we deem to be beneath our standards or not worth the effort.
Yet, by focusing on these potential mistakes and scenarios of what could go wrong, perfectionism refuses to allow us to move forward with a project. As our heads fill with unrealistic expectations, we stay blocked, and stuck in the same place.
Compare and Despair
Many times, our unrealistic expectations are based on unfair comparisons. We may see what others are doing on Instagram or Pinterest, and feel that our own work will never measure up. Other times we may have excitedly begun a project that was challenging or outside of our comfort zone, but as the going gets tough, a lack of confidence creeps up. The voice in our heads asks, “Why did I think I could attempt something like this?”. Either way the result is the same. We end up at a standstill.
Wellness Coach, Marilena Minucci, calls this “The Compare and Despair Effect.” Comparing ourselves to others can stop us dead in our tracks. According to Minucci, “It can take a long time to recover from that kind of paralysis, that is, if we don’t give up altogether. Staying focused on our own unique path is really key to moving forward and finding our own flow.”
Sometimes, it actually feels safe to stay stuck in one place. When we don’t take risks with our work, it is a way to stay free from judgment, whether it be our own or that of others. However, as the saying goes, without risk there can be no reward.
“The creative process, especially, is about allowing what is within you to emerge and be expressed”
“The creative process, especially, is about allowing what is within you to emerge and be expressed,” says Minucci. “This is an act of courage that can leave us feeling vulnerable. But if you dare to be bold and trust the process it will be as easy as pushing the needle through layers of fabric and pulling the best of who you are through into your work.”
Rather than overthinking (and just try to calculate how much time and energy you’ve lost to overthinking!) and talking to yourself in a negative voice, this is the time to start empowering yourself! But how do you get past the anxiety of imperfection and deflating self talk?
Here are a few tips to allow the creative work that is waiting inside of you to emerge:
1. Say it out loud
One of the best ways to keep a project moving forward is by sharing our intention to finish it with someone else. While we may not always be fully accountable to ourselves, once we announce our plans to others in the sewing community (Instagram is great for this), we create external motivation to do the work our project asks of us. For some, that may mean accountability to a friend, a partner, a guild, or our followers on social media. Try speaking your plans aloud or sharing them online and see what works best to keep you moving forward.
2. Seek Guidance
Sometimes we need encouragement to push through a block. In this case, it may be beneficial to talk to a friend about what is holding you back. Or, try looking inward for guidance. By spending just 30 minutes a day writing in a journal, sitting in meditation, or saying a prayer, we can move closer to our authentic creative voices. This may be all that is needed to identify what is holding us back. Once you know why you are blocked, you may find that you already know how to get past it.
3. Release control
Being too committed to a particular outcome for how a quilt should look means that we are unable to receive ideas that come to us during the creative process. In letting go, we may find there is a better plan that we did not consider. If you stay open to it, your end result will be better than you even imagined.
4. Understand that trying to make something that is perfect is not only counterproductive — it’s impossible!
Always remember, the world is a diverse place and opinions are not facts. There is no way to make something that is completely immune from at least one person’s negative critique. That shouldn’t stop you from making it anyway.
Getting caught up in perfectionism is a normal part of the creative process. When we quilt, we are sharing a part of our selves with the world. Design decisions reveal our aesthetics, our taste preferences, and our personalities, which makes us vulnerable to the opinions of others. Though it can be challenging and at times a bit intimidating to reveal our true selves, when we are willing to be vulnerable, we learn and grow. And by sharing ourselves with others, we move closer to our authentic creative voice.
There is no prouder feeling than pushing through a challenging project, or taking on an unfamiliar process or skill, and completing the task in spite of all of its difficulties. It is in the discomfort that we grow as artists, makers, and humans. And it is through the challenges, not the familiar, that we truly discover our power and our own strength.
Leave a comment if you can relate!