The Crafter’s Conundrum: Get It Done or Get It Right?

There comes a time in every crafter’s life, when they need to make a choice: get it done or do it right.

What is your stance on imperfections in the things you make? How do feel about the mistakes you make?

Do you look for perfection? Does your eye zoom in on the tiny error? Do you lose sight of the beautiful forest because of one misshapen tree?

Is there a difference, in your thinking, between an imperfection and a mistake?

Everyone who makes things, who uses their hands to create, faces these questions regularly.

Normally I have a high threshold for imperfection. I adhere to the philosophy of American glassblower, Simon Pearce: “The human hand can’t do anything perfectly, and that’s the beauty of it.”

I seek out imperfections in handmade items. I get a big charge out of seeing the quirky evidence of loving hands in other people’s work.

In my own work, too, I’m pretty relaxed.

I don’t like waste, of materials or money or time. I try to take the attitude that seems to have been present, by necessity, in earlier generations of crafters—will it do the job, in spite of the flaw? Yes? Then leave it be.

Of course, if I am making something for a special gift and hope for it to be cherished, I apply a higher standard but, generally, I’m very practical.

But then this quilt happened.

red white quilt

The top is finished now and it looks nice but only after I fixed a pretty big mistake.

I started the quilt to practice the new technique I had learned—paper, or foundation, piecing.* I also saw it as a way to address the challenge my quilt guild had posed this year. We were to make a red and white quilt and we had to incorporate two print fabrics.

So, I made the 8-inch pieced blocks and was sooooo careful to get all the small pieces aligned correctly.

After I got the blocks made, I had to sew them all together. I did half of the top before I realized that I had set two of the blocks wrong.

The whole point of the quilt design was the diagonal line of those print fabrics running across the quilt . . . and it wasn’t happening.

IMG_1418

See how the top left block has the print fabrics in the wrong corners?

In two blocks, the prints were in the wrong corners. If it had been only one block, maybe I could’ve justified leaving it alone. But two, evenly spaced, was too much.

And the head of quality control agreed.

IMG_1421

It forced me to think about my attitude toward mistakes and to consider the difference between an imperfection and an outright mistake. There are plenty of small imperfections in this quilt and no one will notice those except me.

But the setting of the blocks was a big ol’ mistake. I needed to acknowledge it and fix it.

So I spent parts of two days doing just that.

And while I worked, I pondered mistake making and thought of my patron saint and asked myself, “What would Pollyanna do?”

I looked for the good in the situation:

  • It could’ve been much worse. I still had half the quilt top to put together and I caught the mistake before I made it many more times
  • I am unlikely to make this particular mistake again, in any quilt I make.
  • I was using a fairly long stitch and it was easy enough to pull out.
  • I own a seam ripper, at which I am, now, quite the dab hand, and another tool that made the job manageable. I’ll tell you more about that someday.
  • The deadline for the quilt guild challenge is still a few weeks away. No need to panic.
  • Mistakes like these keep me humble. Getting humbler every day . . .
  • That which does not kill us makes us strong.

Making, and fixing, mistakes, in whatever arena, works our resilience muscles, I think. If we are to be good at picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and starting over again, we need to have practice doing just that.

Little mistakes, faced and fixed, give us practice for surviving the bigger mistakes, the slings, the arrows, we will inevitably face.

And knowing the difference between acceptable imperfection, which can be embraced as simply human, and larger mistakes, which must be set right, is equipment for living a better life.


* Sometimes auto correct gets it right!

As I drafted this post, I meant to type “paper piecing” and got “paper peeving” instead. And, indeed, this quilt has peeved me no end!

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68 thoughts on “The Crafter’s Conundrum: Get It Done or Get It Right?

  1. I share your philosophy and try for the best quality in whatever I do. However, I think it’s best to get it done than let it linger unfinished. We notice our mistakes or imperfections but others don’t. My mother used to sit down at a holiday dinner and criticize her cooking (a little undercooked, not enough seasoning) but we never noticed.

    • I agree that we are our own worst critics. I try not to draw other people’s attention to imperfections in my own work. But if I can’t NOT notice it, I try to fix it.

  2. I think there is a difference between imperfections and mistakes in design. When I make a big mistake with my knitting, I fix the mistake and I keep telling myself that it is a learning experience because I hope I will not make that mistake again. I am not a quilter so I only see that you quilt is very beautiful!

  3. You’re right that mistakes are learning experiences, and help you avoid the same mistakes. But I find it hard not to beat myself up about these things, even when the only person likely to criticise is …. me. Like Laura, by the way, I see a very beautiful quilt.

    • “beat myself up”–yes, that’s the issue. Sometimes I see a small mistake, give myself a little beating, and then shrug it off. The mistake in this quilt was big enough that, if I’d left it, I’d’ve kept beating myself up forever! Plus, I’m SURE I wouldn’t be the only one to notice this mistake and that would’ve bothered me, too.

  4. When I was a child one of the neighborhood quilters always made a mistake in her quilts because she said God was only perfect. To her it was a way of being humble. Her mistake was always intentional. Today we are such perfectionist that a mistake is rather nice to see in a quilt. It gives it character.

    Your quilt top is beautiful.

    • Thanks! I have never had to go out of my way to make an intentional mistake–they always seem to creep in! I do agree that many of today’s quilters seem obsessed with perfection.

      • I read years ago that the Amish deliberately make a mistake in their handcrafts, as only God makes things perfect. I leave at least one mistake per piece in for the same reason – I know it’s there, so it keeps me from being big-headed with a finish.
        I do adore your quilt – it’s very striking!

  5. I decide when it matters and fix if necessary. I’m also trying to teach myself not to point out the small, let’s say anomalies, and accept the compliment.

  6. I couldn’t see your mistake, it took me rereading and studying your close-up image and then I went back to the larger image. If this was mine I’d say it is, what it is and probably forget about it. But I also recognize the need to correct a mistake.

    • I wish I had taken a photo of the quilt in its “wrong” mode before I started taking the pieces apart–I think if you’d seen the whole thing, side by side, with the correct version, the mistake would’ve been more obvious? Maybe not. I just know I couldn’t let this one go . . .

  7. This is kind of a follow on to our last conversation on your blog – about the hesitation we feel in gift giving our handmade creations. For me it is partly that thing of knowing it is not perfect. Now I have this thing even though I understand and embrace the Eastern philosophy where all artists and crafters deliberately include a ‘mistake’ in their work because only the hand of God creates perfection. [Obviously I have a God complex!] I’m also a Virgo and expect perfection from myself – I’ve given up on expecting it from the rest of the world. However, like you, when I see an oversight has occurred and a patter is interrupted I undo and redo. When I was younger it would have been accompanied by a mini tantrum and much sighing and moaning – nowadays the sighing occurs when the mistake is spotted and then maturity 🙂 and stoicism spring into action and I just get on with it and fix it. There is much to be said for growing up!! 🙂

    I do love that lovely red and white paper piecing/peeving pattern! [Say that ten times quickly!] xo

  8. I’m nowhere close to a perfectionist, but I would rebuild blocks that are wrong, or settings that are wrong. The intention is to create an effect, and if the effect will not be achieved, it’s worth it to re-do. Imperfections don’t necessarily interfere with achieving the desired effect, but some errors do. There is no shame in making those errors. The shame is if we take them so personally it keeps us from fixing them. It ain’t how ya fell that matters, it’s how ya pick yourself back up.

    My resilience is pretty good. While I can have a pretty good little fit about things, that doesn’t really help in the long run. So I switch into problem-solving, defining the problem to the extent I can, and figuring out potential solutions, and then working through possibilities until I’ve fixed the problem to the extent I can.

    The top looks great and was worth the fix. I’ll look forward to seeing it with borders and quilting. I’m sure it will be well enjoyed at your guild challenge meeting.

    • I think we’re very much alike in how we think about these things! I was home alone so I didn’t throw much of a fit since I had no audience. 😉 But I know I did the right thing by fixing it–otherwise I could never have loved it. The quilt won’t be quilted by the time the challenge is presented (three weeks) but maybe it’ll have borders. I’m looking forward to seeing what others in the group have made!

  9. I find it hard to live with mistakes, especially in my knitting and other crafts. I guess it depends what they are and what effect they have. Overall though, I find it calming to embrace the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi – beauty in transience and imperfection.😀

      • no – I don’t think I would have either. Speaks someone who has just taken out about 10inches of knitting because I am not happy with the tension… (Sigh!!) 😀

      • I’m not a knitter but I always thought pulling out knitting might be kind of fun–zip! But then when I think about the time wasted–ugh.

      • No fun at all – especially if the yarn you are working with is the snaggy kind – no zipping there…

  10. Beautiful quilt. I never have an issue with someone else making a mistake or a resulting imperfection. It always just seem human and special. Now, with myself I’m a person who will use the trusty ripper to fix whatever I run across. I have taken out blocks from the middle of a quilt when it seems important and on the other hand if it is just a throw around one and there was no pattern to begin with I leave it. I guess the bottom line is if I find the error I fix it. My ripper gets lots of use. 🙂

    • Part of my problem is that I don’t actually sew very much so ripping sewing out is a really big deal! It pains me! But I am just like you in finding others’ mistakes to be charming and my own to be . . . *not* charming!

  11. I’m definitely not a perfectionist — but I also don’t like to see imperfections when I do a craft. I probably approach imperfections in a similar, pragmatic way to how you dealt with the quilt, and think: How noticeable is this problem?

  12. Yes some mistakes just have to be rectified and some make a piece unique. You took the right decision, and I think we could all take a leaf out of the book according to Pollyanna! And it looks stunning.

    • Thanks! These red and white quilts do make a statement! I know I did make the right decision and invoking Pollyanna helped me keep a good attitude about it!

  13. I have a situational approach towards fixing errors/mistakes, i.e., it depends. If it’s a practice exercise or if the process is too far along to make correction feasible, then I play it as it lays. I have at least two quilts with blocks set wrong that I didn’t notice until after I had quilted them. Also, if it’s a quilt geared towards a quilt show judging then I darned better fix the mistake. Minor errors in quilting, points matching, etc., mostly get a pass from me. My gift quilts go to people who are not judges. In the case of your boldly stunning red and white quilt I would have done what you did – redo the offending blocks. The years have led me to understand that if the error bothers me now, it will really bother me in 5 years, so I fix it.

    • What you say here makes perfect sense–it depends. And I, too, have noticed mistakes when pieces are finished (happens all the time with weaving!) I’m glad I noticed this particular one in time to fix it, though–I think I never would’ve gotten to the point of accepting this!

  14. I love the quilt top!! If in doubt .. I walk away for a bit.. When returning to project and still don’t like the problem then my seam ripper and l find a chair to undo. Advice give to me was ” a finished imperfect quilt is better than a unfinished project shoved in a dark corner”.

    • Thank you for loving the quilt top! I think I do, too, now. I wouldn’t have, ever, if I hadn’t fixed this mistake. I do agree, overall, with that very sensible advice, though!

  15. A friend of mine used to say the mistakes prove it is handmade. If my eye will got to it always, I fix it. If not, I go with the old saying from “5 of a kind family” that “no one will notice on a galloping horse” 😉 And let it go.

  16. I think I would have made two more blocks that were “wrong” and thrown them in there somewhere. Then maybe two more after that. Repetition drives me more crazy than mistakes, so I don’t make anything precise to begin with! 🙂
    And I am also a big fan of the galloping horse saying.

    • I think this might be the first quilt I’ve made that sort of depended (in my mind, anyway) on precision. I didn’t love being that bound to exactness so I should plan accordingly for future projects. I guess.

      • I was thinking more about precision — in weaving, I am more precise and will fix threading errors, or unweave to fix treadling errors. (But most of the time I end up changing treadling and weft combinations from what I planned, and then after I get it off the loom I think I should have stuck to my plan!) But even with weaving, I was always trying to figure out how to get spots of colors appear randomly — I think that is what I love most about quilting, putting whatever you want wherever you want, instead of being “tied” to the threading as in weaving.

      • Quilting and weaving are very different, in the range of what’s possible. Maybe that’s why I’m liking weaving so much right now–it seems to have more boundaries and offer fewer choices, which means I need to make fewer decisions–and I’m okay with that these days!

  17. Not sure I completely subscribe to the ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ theory as life can hand out a lot of rubbish sometimes. Having said that, if you want to do your best work and the error will jump out at you every time you look at it, there’s really no choice but to make it right. In your case the results speak for themselves.

    • I only use that “what doesn’t kill us” saying when I’m trying to buck myself up! You’re right that it doesn’t make much sense. And you’re right that this specific error would’ve been impossible for me to ignore–and I would’ve hated the project as a result.

  18. I am a perfectionist and I cannot leave a mistake uncorrected or an imperfection unsmoothed. I am fascinated by imperfections in nature and in other people but can’t be happy with them in myself or in my work.
    Your quilt is so lovely and I am in awe of anyone who can produce such a wonderful piece of work.

    • Oh, thank you, Clare–that’s so nice of you! These guild challenges are interesting–they encourage me to do things I wouldn’t otherwise. And isn’t it interesting how we can accept, even embrace, someone else’s mistakes but not our own?!

  19. This red and white quilt is stunning!
    I almost don’t want to have this conversation because it makes me face one of my biggest problems, which is my relentless drive for perfection in the things I make and do. I blame my Grandma! For it was she who taught me that seams must line up, that checks must match…the list goes on and on. Her stitching was perfect and we spent a long time before beginning to sew the garment on her treadle machine, just perfecting the stitch.
    I would have had to have done what you did and put the problem right. But actually, I could never tackle a quilt like that because the effort of getting it right all the time would mean that I did not enjoy it. But I am so glad that you do, because really, this quilt is FABULOUS!

    • Thank you, Karen–you’re always so sweet and generous with your kind words! The quilt has a ton of little imperfections–seams that don’t line up and points that are cut off, etc. And, to be honest, I don’t know that I have enjoyed making it much. But I do like the striking, bold product, and I’m REALLY looking forward to seeing what other guild members did with the challenge.

  20. Since you are making the quilt for a guild show, however small, fixing the mistake was the right thing to do. I’ve made a few quilts for shows and I do work very hard to make them the best I can achieve, at that point. And since you designed the quilt for the fabric to go a particular way, fixing it was probably the right thing to do in any case. I judge my work by what I call The Annoyance Factor – – – will I be annoyed every time I look at the ______ with the ______ mistake or can I let it go?
    I am working with that now, machine quilting my quilt. I am not very happy with it, but I know it will look better when I wash it and it’s getting done! I do feel like I’m improving though and am wondering what quilt to experiment on next.
    It’s a lovely quilt, by the way! ;-D

    • Thanks, Deb–I love the idea of applying the Annoyance Factor! It’s a good gauge and helps me know that, in this case, I did the right thing. I’m looking forward to seeing what you’ve been working on, too!

  21. It seems that many people are overly critical of their work, whether quilting, cooking, baking, or photography. It’s a shame really, because when we give of ourselves, the recipient is always so grateful. I never see the tiny mistakes that others point out in their own work, but I look at a photo of mine and am hypercritical.
    On another note … the combination of red and white is a favorite of mine. The quilt is beautiful!

    • Thanks, Laurie–I love the red/ white combo, too, or I wouldn’t bothered to participate in this challenge. Our self-criticism is both a shame and, probably, a good thing, too. If we don’t beat ourselves up TOO much, self-criticism is a way to get better and hold ourselves to higher standards.

  22. My mother, who sewed most of my clothes when I was little, used toquote her Aunt Em as saying re mistakes “It will never show on a galloping horse.” This is now pretty much my standard.

    • Thanks, Susan! My head-of-quality control is also head of rearranging quilt blocks AND head of general chaos. And when Gigi, spawn of Satan, gets into the act . . . oy!

  23. My “rustic” approach emphasizes creativity and ingenuity over accuracy 😉 The other day we wandered into a little, weaver’s shop (in Wickford, RI). I heared the shoosh-clunk-shoosh-clunk of a loom behind the display of woven scarves. The shop owner was working away on what looked to me to be a rather complicated pattern. The clunk was from shifting her feet between 4 pedals which moved the sets of strings up and down (sorry for the rough wording… I’m sure you know the correct terminology for these things). As she spoke with us, she kept up this pattern of foot motion, which I calculated formed the pattern of which threads moved up and down. Had I been trying to talk and move my feet, I would have tripped up. Maybe it’s a guy-thing (at least my wife would say so). Happy weaving.
    Oscar

    • Weaving is like anything else–if you do a pattern often enough, it becomes pretty much automatic. So, whether it’s two hands playing different patterns on a keyboard or the rhythm of splitting wood or of weaving, an expert makes it look easy!

  24. My rule is to only remove imperfections if I know they will bother me, and diminish my pleasure with the finished piece. Very nice job with the red and white quilt. I know it is outside of your usual color palette. 🙂

    • Actually red and white, as well as blue and white, are so traditional in quilt making (and weaving) that I quite like them! It’s those noisy neons that are so popular right now that I find very unsettling!

  25. Very beautiful quilt! In Finland, my wife told, we call the pattern: “pineapple pattern”. Is it the same there?

    What a cute high quality inspector You have! 🙂

    • This pattern is called “Featherbone” (and I have NO idea what that means!) There is definitely a very similar pattern here, though, called pineapple–I know just the one she means! And, yes, my quality inspector thinks he’s very cute, too! He says thanks for noticing!

  26. I agree with you about fixing mistakes. If I get too frustrated, I will leave it for a day or two first. I think I make too many mistakes, so it’s good to know it’s not just me! Even with imperfections I will try to make it better. When I had a row off by 1/8 inch I redid it about 4 times until I got it right. As I gain experience I expect more of myself. I also believe you have to know when to “leave well enough alone”. For a beginner, yes, just do it!

    Your paper peeved (ha!) quilt top looks very impressive. I think you were concentrating on the precision part so didn’t notice a little detail.

    • That’s a good point about expecting more of ourselves, as we become more experienced. I know I look back at earlier quilts I made and see imperfections now that I know I didn’t notice when I made them. And it’s definitely the case with weaving! Pieces I thought were perfect as a newbie make me cringe a little now!

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