Perfection is Seriously Overrated

I’ve made few confessions about myself this year.  In an effort for you to get to know me better – what kind of person I am as well as what kind of quilter I am – I have confessed a few things, with the latest being that for many years I was a “topper.”  But today I have another confession to make:

I’m a classic Type-A personality. 

What does that mean?  Individuals who are Type A personalities tend to be outgoing, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, sensitive, impatient, anxious, proactive, and concerned with time management. People with Type A personalities are often high achieving “workaholics”.  And all of that makes me sound like a person most people wouldn’t want to socialize (much less quilt) with.  When I was in my teens and twenties, the description nailed me to a T.  But children (both my own and those I taught) toned me down quite a bit.  Today I am a mellowed-out Type A – which means I still am a voracious list-maker, I’m more patient (because stressing out does nothing for your blood pressure or anyone else’s) and am not status-conscious.  I still strive for good time management and am pretty organized (but not rigidly so).  I am proactive about things and people that are important to me.  However, I think age and circumstance have put the brakes on my workaholic-ism.  If I have an opportunity to quilt or play with the grand darlings, everything stops for this and no cares are given. 

So, most of my Type A personality traits are under control.  But most Type A personalities are also perfectionists.  And this issue has been one that has plagued me the most throughout my life.  It often rears its head in my quilt studio.  In other areas of my life I’ve generally had deadlines that spurred me to jump the perfectionist fence and just keep moving – because Type A personalities generally hold deadlines in near reverence. 

But I normally don’t have deadlines with my quilting.  Hence dealing with the demon of perfectionism in my quilt studio can be difficult.  And this demon has the tendency of sucking the joy out of quilting. 

Now, I am not talking about striving to make your quilt the best it can be, nor am I condoning sloppy workmanship.  I think every quilt deserves your best efforts.  However, I have a habit of allowing the sticky web of perfectionism to stop me in my tracks.  I tend to completely halt working on a quilt until everything looks just right.  For instance, I will repeatedly rip out a seam in order to get all the points perfect.  And in the long run this does absolutely nothing for me or the seam. 

I had to learn to get over this.  To borrow a phrase from Frozen’s Elsa, I had to “Let it go…”

If you’re like me and have these same issues, allow me to share – from my heart to yours – what I’ve learned and how I cope. 

First, I had to embrace the concept finished is better than perfect.  No other quilt taught me this better than Dear Jane. 

So many small blocks and kites…so many techniques on this quilt.  I learned that if I continued to stop work on this quilt to correct minor imperfections, I would never get it done.  Although the top still needs to be quilted (I don’t have the skill set yet to do this quilt justice), it is finally finished, and I am earnestly thinking about making another one. 

If you’re a half-way serious quilter, at some point,  a quilt will come into your life that will teach you this lesson.  As much as you should strive to make this quilt as well as you can, employing every ounce of knowledge and talent you have, it won’t have perfect piecing, or perfect applique, or perfect quilting.  You will realize that your best is all you can give it and you need to move on.  In the long run, you have to embrace the fact that no one is really going to notice those teeny, tiny mistakes.

Next I learned that comparing myself to other quilters is the kiss of death.  I quilt with three fantastic groups of quilters.  These women and men are serious about their craft and can work wonders with needle and thread.  I can readily say on any given day, most of these folks can out quilt me by a mile.  And my guild’s show and tells are inspiring….and intimidating.  I can easily look at those quilts and tell myself “I can never do that…I’ll never be as good of a quilter as they are…”  It would be super easy for me to go home, pack up my stash, sell my machines and throw my hands up in despair.  It could be a pretty straightforward decision to just stop quilting.  I could allow my creativity to plummet.  However…

Most of those quilts I’m envious of are made by artists that have practiced their craft for decades.  I must embrace this fact. Lots of these quilters have been quilting years longer than I have and they’ve worked through the same issues that I have – and perfected their craft through practice, repetition, and learning from mistakes.  I tell myself the same thing as I admire the quilts at quilt shows.  It’s easy to get intimidated by award-winning quilts.   I had to acknowledge that my quilt journey is probably radically different from other quilters and comparing myself and my quilts to others only serves to bring my journey to a screeching halt. 

It’s just not worth it.  Comparing myself to others sucks the joy out of my quilting.  I learned to draw inspiration instead of intimidation from these quilts.  And in the long run, I really don’t think any quilter wants to intimidate another quilter.  Most quilters enjoy helping other quilters along the way.

I also have to ask myself, “Why am I making this quilt?”  There are so many answers to this question.  I could simply like the pattern or the fabric or the technique.  Those are quick answers to that question.  I could be making it as a donation to my guild’s Charity Quilt Program.  Maybe I’ve got plans to give it to a loved one or friend.  With those quilts in mind, I don’t have to be as picky about all the corners meeting perfectly or a few points having their tops lopped off.  Those techniques won’t matter – the only thing the receiver of that quilt will feel is my love for them.  I hope when they wrap themselves up in those quilts, nothing but my affection and concern is felt.

But there are those quilts that come into my life when I just know they are destined to go into a show.  Whether it’s the complexity of the pattern, the harmony of the fabrics, or just the quilter’s instinct in me, I realize pretty quickly this quilt could stand up to some serious competition.  That’s when I allow all my perfectionistic OCD-ness to come out to play.  And it generally pays off.  However, to hold every quilt I make up to show standards creates nothing but stress.  For me, quilting is a stress-relief from a job that is wracked with deadlines and guidelines and the bottom line.  I can do my best work for every quilt but shouldn’t freak out about every little detail.  That can wait for the heirloom or show quilts. 

All quilts hold the great and wonderful capacity to be learning experiences.  When we allow them to be just that, we’ve entered the true “Zen” of quilting.  We’re practicing our craft, learning new things, and allowing our creativity to run rampant.  It’s wonderful feeling.  Don’t let the demon of perfectionism ruin it for you.  Remember what I’ve learned:

It’s perfectly okay not to be perfect.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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