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Getting Past Perfectionism

I often joke about the Sewing Report being my comedy of errors as I sew. For example, finally getting a pair of patch pockets beautifully sewn on and the pants didn’t fit. As a stitcher, I frequently get sucked into a false need for perfectionism. The problem is, it doesn’t help my sewing.

Close up of slightly imperfect topstitching as part of getting past perfectionism
An example of slightly imperfect topstitching

I know where it comes from. Sewing magazines and books constantly insist that every seam be perfectly straight, that every bit of topstitching be exactly the same width from the edge. “Nothing screams homemade…” started one article I read. I almost by-passed the article right there, but I needed the information in it. And the technique featured didn’t work, anyway.

It has taken years for me to realize that my me-made clothes do not have to look like commercial clothing. It probably won’t. I do not spend all day, every day doing nothing but sewing (and usually for incredibly low wages – one reason I choose to make as much of the household clothing as possible). The clothes I make simply need to be good enough.

Defining good enough

I have what I call the three-foot rule. It’s a concept I learned while working on stage costuming back when I was an undergrad. For most costumers, if something looks good from ten-feet away, twenty-feet away, whatever distance the stage is from the audience, they don’t worry if every detail isn’t perfect. The audience won’t see the imperfections. They’re too far away.

For my own clothing, I figure three feet away is a good standard. If you are within three feet of my body, then we had better be on the kind of terms where you’re not going to care if my topstitching is crooked. If you’re further away than three feet, you probably won’t see it. The only person who gets away with caring about what my clothes look like is my mother, and, well, she’s my mother. She has the right to, but she’s the only one.

Same topstitching as above, but from three feet away in getting past perfectionism.
Like you’ll see the goof at this distance

It might surprise you that I do not include my husband in this assessment. I mean, I sew for him, as well as myself, and he deserves to have a say in what his clothes look like. Guess what? He’s said it. I once made a shirt with two pockets for him and one pocket was slightly higher than the other. It was noticeable, and he said so, and I re-did the pockets.

How getting past perfectionism helps

Once I learned not to get so stressed about making everything perfect, something weird happened. My sewing actually got better. Not just easier, better. When I don’t worry about it, I’m far more likely to sew straighter seams, and when I do biff something, I’m more likely to take it out and re-do it. I used to just give up and leave the mistake.

I enjoy sewing now, and I don’t get the heartburn I used to because I was worrying about my work. Okay, I still swear a lot. Let’s face it, sewing can be insanely frustrating. But I can get past that more easily.

When something does not come together right, I have learned to ask myself if it’s really worth making myself cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, and it usually isn’t.

Perfectionism is a tough thing to get past. I still struggle with it. But I am happier when I don’t get sucked into it.

Please check out the Fiction page for the latest on all my novels. Or look me up at your favorite independent bookstore. Mine is Vroman’s, in Pasadena, California.

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