Saturday, November 30, 2013

My long winded rant on perfection

Perfection.  I have a difficult time with the idea of perfection--beauty (and perfection) is often in the eye of the beholder.  I guess what I struggle with most is how good do I want to be at what I'm doing?  And how much time and energy am I willing to commit to being that good?  And what do I do when how much time and energy I'm willing to put into something doesn't yield the results I want?

The first quilt I ever made was a small baby quilt for my son while I was pregnant.  I don't remember a lot of the details (it was over four years ago), but know that if I remade it today it would turn out very different and much better, in the technical sense of quilting.  I was intimidated by binding at the time, and had never heard of a walking foot--so I made a quilt top, added the batting and backing, turned it inside out, then quilted it.  I think it is called the pillowcase method?  Anyway, for the time and energy it saved me in not using actual binding, I spent on cursing how wibbly and wobbly and wrinkly the quilting turned out.  I still to this day consider removing the quilting, taking it apart and quilting and binding it the "right" way--the way that I've learned for me works better, and I get much better results.

Based on the Fibonacci sequence, I made it before we knew if we were having a boy or a girl.

Thankfully for the second quilt I made I came across this Old Red Barn Co. quilt along, and I was set--it taught me the basics I needed to start quilting: tools, fabric, methods, etc.  Looking back on it, I'm not sure how everything in that quilt came together so well, except that I was following the instructions as closely as possible.

My first real quilt!  It is nearly 4 years old now and it is rather shocking how much those fabrics/colors have faded already!  Quite a wake up call for me to start using higher quality quilting fabrics and to keep them out of direct sunlight!

Over the years I have come to understand and accept into my own ways things that make my cutting, piecing, and quilting more accurate, though still far from perfect.  I have slowly learned to appreciate a straight cut, consistent 1/4" seams, pinning seams, pressing them neatly, and lining up seams and/or points.

This quilt had a ton of HST and seams to line up--lots of pressing, trimming and pinning!  But well worth it when the quilt top lays flat and all the points line up.

The area I struggle with perfection the most is quilting.  It is my favorite part of the quilt-making process, and the area I challenge myself the most.  I spend a LOT of time considering quilting patterns for different areas of a quilt, practicing the pattern on little scrap quilts,and then finally quilting it on the quilt.  Once I'm working on the quilt I try to forgive the inevitable and frequent mistakes--the little jumps, hiccups, inconsistent stitch lengths, etc.  Though I do draw the line somewhere and make good use of the seam ripper on occasion!

There are a lot of quilting designs that are forgiving, and have many natural resting places (to remove pins, adjust quilt, take a break, etc).

This is a practice/scrap quilt with some more forgiving patterns--paisleys, feathers, loops, swirls, echos--they all have places you can start/stop the needle without there being an obvious jump in the stitches.  

Unfortunately my current quilting endeavor is not one of those forgiving quilting patterns and the more I work on it, the harder it is to ignore the growing number of jumps/hiccups in the quilting lines.  There are times when all those mistakes make me want to stop working on the quilt and put me in a really bad mood for the rest of the day.  The best thing I can do when that happens is take a break, and ideally put the quilt up on the design wall so I can look at it from a few feet away.

This swirl has about 2/3 of the quilting done, and I find the mistakes really glaring still.  The green circles are where I paused and then when I restart there is a jump or hiccup in the stitch line.  The red circles are where I started smoothly.

{please excuse the dog hairs}  This is on the back of the quilt in a place where the quilting is done, where the mistakes are fairly obvious to me--the green is again showing the jumps/hiccups and the red are smooth starts, which I'm slowly getting better at.

The same section of quilting as the above photo...much harder to find the hiccups (pink)!  So lesson here is the early lines of quilting show mistakes a LOT, but once the areas are quilted with many lines, the mistakes fade into the surrounding lines and are less obvious!

So what is my point here?  When you are nose to the grindstone all you see are the imperfections, all the places you could have done better.  Once you step away from it for a while the things that seemed terrible fade into the fabric, or are lost among the other quilting lines!  I mean really, do you see any of those hiccups in the stitching here?


I don't think perfect should be the goal, but getting better should.  So my goal for sewing in general is try new things, challenge myself to get better at what I'm already doing, and stick with what makes me happy.  And follow Dory's advice and JUST KEEP swimming SEWING.


  1. Thank you for sharing your journey!! Your first two quilts look so well made - you seemed hardly a beginner! Your quilting is just gorgeous, as usual - I never get sick of seeing it. Also, your "wibbly and wobbly" sentence made me think of DW :)

  2. Love that you are taking Dory's advice, Renee! Just keep going! Your quilting will keep improving. I am inspired by your ability to do fmq!

  3. Just keep at it. I had a difficult time this past week and kept having to rip quilting because it would bunch. I get better each time!

  4. I often struggle with trying to make something close to perfect. Have you heard of the 'four-foot rule'? I was told this recently at a sewing retreat, and I like it: if you cannot see a problem from four feet away, there isn't a problem. It seems to echo what you are saying.
    Like you, if I remade my first quilt today, I think it would be better. I keep it as a reminder of what I have learned. I don't think I would enjoy making stuff so much if I didn't learn something each time.

  5. Excellent post and excellent advice. Thanks for sharing.

  6. First - No, I dont see them without the call out circles. In whole, they get lost in the rest of the details and are only obvious to you.

    Here's how I deal with it - I accept there is a limit to my ability. I work right up to it and a little bit past it. If on my next project, that limit has reached out a little bit, I've been successful! I don't intend to ever be perfect because I expect to always be pushing my boundaries.

    I think your work, design, and attention to details are amazing. :)

  7. I think what you do is amazing. Usually we are hardest on ourselves and no one else will see the "problems" we see. I have learned to let go and not expect perfection, while trying to improve a little bit at a time. Thanks for sharing :)

  8. I think you are doing a wonderful job! I am still putting off doing any actual quilting and have one flimsy after another sitting around my house. You have given me much encouragement to get on with it. Thank you Renee!

  9. I think that we (the maker/quilter) are the only people who see imperfections in our work, we strive for perfection, but really nothing in life is perfect. We need to be aware that unless we point out these small imperfections to others, no-one will notice them - they are too busy looking at our work as a whole.

    This quilt looks great when you look at it as a whole picture.

  10. Ugh, I have such a problem with this! I'm such a perfectionist, and my sewing skills are still just not great. I have such a problem finding fault with everything while I'm working. Most of the time things look at least decent when I step back, but I still wish I was better. Need more practice!

  11. I am glad you ended where you did and not with a seam ripper. I agree with everyone who said the "flaws" are visible mostly to you, not part of the gestalt. The four-foot rule is new to me, but it seems a variation of "can you see it from a gallopping horse." I would never go back and redo a first quilt; rather I'd keep it as a marker of progress. I also agree with everyone who said it is more important to push ourselves than be perfect. I learned from a roommate who learned from her brother: 85% is usually good enough.

  12. I'm jumping on board with your "I don't think perfect should be the goal, but getting better should." Too many times iv'e been completely dissatisfied with something i've done, only to have no one else see any problems. I think i'll also adopt that four foot rule as well!
    You're doing such a fantastic job with this quilt, and i'm glad you've decided to not pull out the ripper!

  13. I completely agree with you. I have learned to step away from it for a few days or keep going and wait until it's all finished before deciding to rip out any lines. Usually when it's all done, I'm just fine with the imperfections. Love your idea with the Fibonacci sequence -- it's so fun to see how different people use it!

  14. That is so true, I am learning to step away although it's not always that easy for me. If you are always pushing your boundaries, then you are always learning and improving and that's what I try to keep in mind.

    Your quilting is so lovely, Renee, it's really an inspiration.


  15. Such good points! I completely agree. I say, "It's not fun anymore if I have to sew it twice." Now... that doesn't mean I don't use my seam ripper (daily). But I try to at least consider whether I can live with the mistakes before I automatically undo them. I do try to learn from them and avoid making them again and constantly improve.

    I think one of the main reasons I don't redo the same things over and over is that it doesn't seem to actually improve much! I don't like the wear and tear on the fabric of repeated sewing.

  16. Love that quilt you're working on and also love this "4 foot rule" everyone's talking about! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on perfection : )