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.

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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.

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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!

Imperfectly Perfect

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I am not perfect.

I know that must’ve come as a shock to you, when I revealed it last month, but it’s true. And you know what? People love me, in spite of my imperfections! No, really, they do–they think I’m good enough.

The imperfect dishtowel I told you about is finished and it’s still imperfect. In fact, I had threaded my loom in such a way, with a long enough warp, that I am now the proud maker/owner of three imperfect dishtowels.

And, you know what? I love them, in spite of their imperfections! No, really, I do! I think they’re perfectly good.

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I learned a lot from making them.

I learned new things about weaving and the possibilities. The loom is threaded one way but, by pressing different treadles in different orders, I could weave three different patterns. It shows up most clearly in the striped colors but is also really pretty in the texture of the white.

I learned that it really is important to fix mistakes when you notice them. I made at least three threading errors in my towels. I knew one of them was there from the start and thought it wouldn’t be noticeable. Now I know better!

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I learned I really like this fiber. It’s called Cottolin and it’s a mix of cotton and linen. I’m told linen, by itself, can be difficult to weave but mixed with cotton it was very satisfying.

I learned that cotton and linen shrink a lot, especially in length. I had intended, and thought I had planned for, these towels to measure 26 by 18 when finished but the biggest one ended up 22 by 20 . . . Hmmm, and I’m just now learning that I must’ve done something very wrong from the start, if I thought the towels would be 18 inches wide and they ended up 20. That can’t be explained by shrinking!

I guess I’ve learned that I need to pay more attention to the math aspects of the planning stages!

I learned, or realized again, that weaving feels like a certain kind of magic. You start with thread, just endlessly long, boring thread, and create a web of fabric that is full of possibilities.

 

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I made dishtowels but I could’ve made cloth for a dress, a blanket for a baby, a coat for my cat, placemats and napkins for my table, a tapestry to celebrate a victory, a christening gown, a shroud . . .

And the fabric I wove makes me appreciate fabric like I never have before. Weaving anything gives you a sense of why, historically, fabrics were treasured and treated with care and patched and re-used. This is an appreciation that gets lost when all our fabric comes from mills in foreign lands.

My towels are imperfect but they will accomplish, perfectly, the purposes for which they were created. They have already taught me a great deal. They will be absorbent and will hold up to rough treatment. They will stand up to a hot washer and dryer and be ready to serve again. They will age beautifully and last long and make me smile when I use them.

And they offer an important reminder to us all—we don’t need to be perfect to be perfectly good!

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On An Imperfectly Woven Dishtowel

IMG_2412Me: Rats. It’s not perfect.

The ME I want to be: Relax. You’re new at this.

Me: I know. But it’s not perfect.

MIWTB: Making mistakes is part of the learning process.

Me: I know. But I was so careful.

MIWTB: You said you were just experimenting, just having fun weaving.

Me: I know. But it’s not perfect.

MIWTB: You claim you like the imperfect and idiosyncratic!

Me: Yes, but . . .

MIWTB: It’s not the last thing you’ll ever make! The next project will be better!

Me: Yes, but this one’s not perfect.

MIWTB: It’ll still be perfectly serviceable.

Me: I know. But it’s not perfect. I wanted it to be perfect.

MIWTB: Do you think our foremothers got hung up on tiny mistakes in utility items? They had bigger things to worry about!

Me: So what? I wanted mine to be perfect.

MIWTB: But look—there’s no question it’s made by hand! Did you want it to look machine made?

Me: Well, no. I wanted it to look perfectly handmade.

MIWTB: Aren’t you the one who’s always yammering on about the human touch and seeing human fingerprints on the things we make?

Me: This is different. It’s so obvious! People will think I’m not perfect.

MIWTB: No offense, Kerry, but people already know you’re not perfect.

Me: I’ve noticed that whenever you start a sentence with, “No offense,” the rest of the sentence is really offensive.

MIWTB: Yes, well, some things need to be said.

Me: But I wanted it to be perfect!!!

MIWTB: Shhh, it’s time to stop whining and get back to work.

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Simply Human—We Don’t Have to Be Perfect!

quilting_amish_diamond_centerWhen I was more actively involved in quilt making, I remember reading that Amish women, the makers of some of the most fabulous quilts ever (if you ask me!), always made sure to include a misplaced patch of fabric or a few incorrect stitches in any quilt they made. The thinking was that only God was perfect and that it was arrogant for a human to attempt perfection. Including an intentional mistake was acknowledgement of human fallibility and humility.

In the “loving hands at home” world, mistakes and missteps abound—and the mistakes remind us that we are real and our products aren’t going to be perfect, and it’s okay to say, “Hey, at least I tried!”

In the world of Pinterest, where all the homes are beautiful and all the handmade projects above average, some people are celebrating their imperfection, and maybe, just maybe, creating imperfection for its own sake. Just type “craft fail” in the search bar and look at some of the boards with that title!

I love finding the imperfections that come, it seems, from busy, distracted hands at home. These vintage towels I saw for sale on eBay crack me up.

Firday towelback Thursday towelI can understand the accidental misspelling of “Friday” but how did the word Thursday get stitched backwards? Either the maker a) was majorly distracted, b) was sampling the dandelion wine, or c) had a wicked sense of humor!

I try to be pretty relaxed when I make something that doesn’t turn out exactly as I planned. I want it to be structurally sound (or edible, when it’s food). I want it to be worthy of the time I put into it. But if I make a mistake, I don’t quit the whole thing and throw it away and I usually don’t start over. I try to find a way to incorporate the mistake and move on. After all, I’m only human!

How about you? Are you a perfectionist? I hope you can laugh and accept the missed stitch, the runny frosting, and the little quirks that prove your items weren’t made by a machine!