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.
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.
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.
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!