Saturday, December 10, 2011


On Wednesday night, my students gave their presentations about quality work.  Many of them remarked on perfectionism; a few embraced it as an impetus to quality, but more used their experience pushing past their first imperfect knitting experiences as a indicator that they needed to look at other indicators of quality, like effort and intention.

A week ago I grabbed a spare hour from the kids while Noel was gone to Chicago, and I cut the fabrics for my next sewing project.  Midway through the week I looked at the pattern again and realized I had miscut the interfacing; it bugged me until today I was able to get out the pieces and cut them down to size.

Then I looked at the pattern again and realized I had missed an entire paragraph in the cutting section; there were two pieces of lining fabric I hadn't cut at all.  Luckily the fat quarter of lining fabric I had bought was really a large remnant, with plenty of extra.  But while squaring it off to cut those two remaining pieces, I separated it into sections that weren't either one wide enough to get the longer piece of of.  I had to piece it together, which was a first for me.  Pressing forward, I managed to sew the lining together right-side-to-wrong-side, with stitches too small to rip; I had to cut those pieces again, and it took me another two tries to get the bottom semicircle cut correctly.

When I first started knitting, I didn't know the difference between a mistake you can recover from and one you need to correct before you can go on.  I compounded a lot of errors and ended up with a lot of disappointments.  Now, I still have a momentary flash when I miscross a cable or miscount stitches.  I think: Maybe I can just leave it.  Maybe I can just fix it in the next row.  It lasts a few seconds before I resign myself to ripping back and fixing it.

Sewing requires precision at the outset, in the cutting and the pattern reading.  At this point, early in my experience, this stresses me out.  I haven't got a system for keeping all the pieces straight in such a way that I know what I have and whether it's all of them, and the stuff I know I should be paying attention to, like grain and the directionality of the pattern, all flies out the window when I'm trying to find a way to get  8.5 inches by 7 inches out of the fabric I have left from the quarter-yard.

Being a beginner at making things is hard not only because you don't do a very good job right off the bat. You also ruin a lot of material.  When you really want to learn to make things, it's often the material that attracts you.  And it's painful to ruin it with your clumsy mistakes.  But that's the nature of practice.  And in the quest for quality, practice is necessary, and perfectionism is one of the tools you can wield in that practice -- not the only one, and not good for every task, but essential for your toolbox.  Just keep it and your thriftiness far away from each other.

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