Embracing and Loving Less than Perfect

quilt1

I’ve been slowly and steadily hand quilting lately. Since there’s so much pattern in this particular quilt, I decided to do something simple. I started out quilting a square with an X and thought I would do that for every square, creating a simple grid. But then I decided to alternate an X with an O. It makes for a more interesting design. I didn’t realize the connection to hugs and kisses (xoxo) until later but it’s sort of perfect for a quilt that will reside on our bed.

Hand quilting is a lovely, slow-paced activity. I’ve developed the required callus on my left index finger. My thimble and I have become friends again. Some days the stitches are perfectly tiny and consistent. Other days, they are less than perfect and irregular and that’s okay with me.

Less than perfect. Can I tell you how long I struggled with perfectionism? Years and years and years. Only in my ‘more mature’ years have I accepted and embraced the concept of less than perfect. Less than implies something lacking. So maybe that’s not the best way to describe what I’m going for here, since I don’t believe that, in the end, anything is lacking. How about not-quite-perfect? Or who-cares-about-perfection? Or, what the heck, less-than-perfect? Whatever way you put it, I’m in.

quilt2

I spent so many years feeling I had to be correct in all my answers to questions, to execute any sort of activity or craft flawlessly. Yes, I’m smart and I had a lot of the answers. But not always. And sometimes I did execute something perfectly. But very rarely. Most often, I tried, made mistakes, and felt like a failure when I couldn’t do whatever it was perfectly. Do you know what happens then? You give up. You no longer try. Because if being perfect is your goal, well then, you’re never going to try something new and just see what happens. You’re never going to have the joy of creating something in all its imperfect glory.

quiltback

Years ago, when Don gave me that present of a beginning quilting class, I remember distinctly the day my instructor, after listening to my frustration about correctly matching the corners of a triangle, said to me, “You’re a perfectionist, aren’t you?” And the inflection she used made it very clear that perfectionism was going to hang me up, that it was keeping me from experiencing and enjoying the process of creation. She had me pegged.

That conversation has stayed with me through the years. And I’ve grown to embrace and welcome imperfection in my work and in my creative life. Coaching actors has taught me that though I may give precise notes for an actor after a performance, though I may drill that actor in a sound over and over, in the end, I have no control over that actor’s performance. He might execute the sound one time, and forget all about it another time. And at some point, I have to let go and let him be. Flaws and all.

quilt3

The same holds true for the creative process. Every stitch isn’t going to be perfect. Some corners will match perfectly, others will be off. All of that holds true in this particular quilt. I look at some of my little squares and see clearly mismatched corners. I don’t know how that happened, but it did. After a moment or two of consternation, of the immediate impulse to think, “You screwed up, Claudia” I now move on and accept the imperfection. It’s what it is. It’s my work, for better or worse, and frankly, I think it’s all for the better. Less than perfect doesn’t make me love my creation any less. Less than perfect is just fine. Because the creative process is so rewarding that it’s worth it. So what if things are a bit wonky? Who cares? This beautiful quilt, lovingly made by my own hands, will grace our bed for years. Every square, every bit of piecing, every bit of hand quilting has come from my heart – warts and all.

quilt4

It’s so freeing, this embrace of less than perfect. It allows me to feel joy in the process and compassion for myself. I’m no less proud of my imperfect quilt than I would be of a perfect quilt. I still strive to be the best I can be, of course. I try to figure it all out and do better the next time. But I guarantee you, there will always be an imperfection or two or three…

I love that.

Have you struggled with the need to be perfect in what you do?

Happy Thursday.

signature2

Comments

  1. Oh, Claudia, the “curse” of perfectionism! I was always like that, too, as a student, and later it didn’t help that my career was as a copy editor, someone who is responsible for “perfect” material. It’s been both gratifying and frustrating. Especially when it bleeds over into personal life – my family jokes that I’m always anticipating what could go wrong in a situation; there’s always a backup plan.
    Over the last few years, I’ve taken up knitting again. And this is where perfectionism is the enemy to creativity. I find that what I love about Ravelry is the endless source of information. I have done some projects, but there are many more in line. I freeze on the big projects like sweaters because I want to know the outcome in advance, so instead of making mistakes, I read about everyone else’s projects. I need to take the leap! I’ll try to use your quilt as inspiration.

  2. Your quilt is beautiful!
    suzan

  3. Amen to that, Sister! I just wrote a post about a very similar thing but it won’t be shown until March. I guess age makes us more philosophical about these things. ;-)
    xoxo,
    Connie

  4. The Amish say that if you don’t spill a little bit of blood (from needled fingers) on your quilt, it is not as authentic.
    Brenda

    • I’ve heart that they also think you should have one square that isn’t like the others to keep the quilt from being perfect. A Humility Block. But I just googled that and it appears it might be a myth! Nevertheless, I have several humility blocks in my quilt.

  5. Claudia…we ARE kindred spirits! I’ve struggled with perfectionism all my life. It has kept me from doing things I really wanted to do–I’ve ended up so many times being a ‘watcher’ instead of a ‘doer’ because I was scared to make a mistake or create something that was less than perfect. It’s why it took me over a year to start my blog–waiting for the perfect time, trying to find perfect material…I’m sure you can imagine all of it. I’m so proud of you for letting go of that fear with your beautiful quilt! It looks amazing and you will love it forever. And hand quilting…I know that’s a huge project to tackle! Have you ever seen the musical The Quilters? It’s such a charming story about the role quilts and quilting played in pioneer women’s lives. I’ve signed up for my first quilt class starting in Feb., and already I’m feeling the panic set in. What if I’m the worst sewer in the room? What if I can’t figure out how to sew 1/4″ seams on my machine? What if? What if? Sheesh! I’m so glad you are enjoying your quilt, what a great project to while away the time until Don returns!

    • I can’t sew a straight seam to save my life, try as I might. Don’t worry – just have fun with the class.

  6. You know I feel the same way, but I am a reformed perfectionist. Nothing I make is perfect, I got over that a long time ago. I am certainly not a perfect Mother or wife, I have a constant reminder of that. And we both know of late I am not a perfect daughter!!!! Ha Ha. Maybe I could be a perfect sister, I will settle for that.
    Mere

  7. I’ve never been a perfectionist but have a child who is. Very hard road to travel. Nothing is perfect but imperfection. I myself like that things are a bit ‘wonky’, makes it more interesting. Your quilt is crazy sweet with it’s X’s and O’s! Hugs, Linda

  8. Oh Yes! Being the youngest of 3 who were older and had gone through their teen years with some angst, when they went out the door I was the one who got the lecture of how I was not to do what they were doing. This from my dad …whom I always tried to please and be the perfect daughter. It was alot of pressure but I think I succeded in most areas of my life. I am sure it has affected me in some areas of my life like trying to raise the perfect sons. Once they became teens though, I had to let them make their own mistakes and sometimes learn the hard way. I am glad I did because my oldest said to me recently that he wouldn’t be who he is right now If we had not let them make their own mistakes. Ok….back to quilting! I love the X & O design theme. Very appropriate for a quilt that will go on your bed. I have had a wide variety of thimbles over the years. My leather one used to work well for me while doing hand quilting. I am glad you are enjoying the process!~ Hugs, Patti

    • I think that as we grow older, we are more apt to let go of the need to be perfect. At least I hope so!

  9. Claudia, an expression I’ve adopted is “reformed perfectionist.” Most people think that you would have to be a perfectionist if you want to be a good quilter. In my experience, the reverse is true. I’ve had students who have handicapped themselves with their perfectionist tendencies to such an extent (one THREAD off the already perfectly-matched corners) that they quit this meditative, therapeutic and creative hobby.
    I think the most interesting quilts are those that surprise us with their charming imperfections.
    But, quite apart from imperfections, your quilt is lovely and interesting.

  10. Your quilt is gorgeous…and looks “perfect” to me. I too am a reformed perfectionist. I credit my kids with changing my ways! Perfection doesn’t seem to work in the real world for me…I’m trying to be more myself…more authentic. ;)

  11. Did my talk about perfectionism the other day get you to thinking about this?! This will always be something I struggle with, though I am getting better (at letting go of perfectionism) as I get older.

  12. Carol Killian says:

    You are sooo much smarter than me! It has taken me many years to realize perfection is often an unreachable goal and to accept what I can do(sew). Often I would sew during the day and take the stitches out at night because it was not perfect. Most people would not notice. Being the oldest daughter, I placed the expectations upon myself. Happiness is often in the process not always the product. Have you thought about having friends to come and help quilt? Serve the ladies coffee and sweets. Happiness to you from middle TN.

    • That would be fun, but in this case, I like doing it myself. I like knowing that all the stitches are mine.

  13. Claudia – the colors in your quilt are so stunning I think only a trained eye would be able to pick out imperfections! I think it is more important that you are enjoying creating it than it being perfect. I so agree with you about letting perfect go – it really is more about enjoying the journey. I have to say I think this became easier for me as I got older. I would really stress about things not being perfect when I was younger, but I’ve learned to go with the flow and been happier because of it. Thanks for shining the light on not being perfect! Francine

    • I agree with you, Francine. I think it does become easier to let go of perfection as we grow older and wiser. Thank goodness!

  14. LuvWheaties says:

    Like Gail, I refer to myself as a “reformed perfectionist.” Very freeing. Your quilt is just beautiful!

  15. When I first began quilting over 30 years ago, I too struggled with making it all just perfect. I wish I could remember when I first considered that quilting is a metaphor for life. There are small bits and large bits, highs and lows. darkness and shadow, brightness and light. Some quilters are fast, some slow, some expert, some beginners. It encompasses all age groups and is not limited to gender to accomplish. Sometimes things work out and it all fits, sometimes it doesn’t but even the most ragged, dirty, poorly constructed quilt can be salvaged into something worthwhile as all crafters know. I hope that I passed this idea on to all my students in all the classes I taught. The pieces, the process live on…. As do we…. Embrace the “life” in quilting. <3

  16. Ah, I love a good life lesson! You have to be really comfortable in your own skin to let go of perfectionism. Sometimes we don’t even realize how robotic we have become in our quest to become perfect. My mother was a perfectionist, and though she didn’t demand this from me and my five sisters, we emulated her very much so. When I reached adulthood and had a few hard knocks, I realized everything wasn’t in my control and even better, I didn’t want it to be. The pressure is suffocating. Giving our best is the most perfect thing we can do. That’s not a means to an end in any way, there is a fine line between what’s acceptable and what’s not. That is something we strive to teach our children. And now that I am in my fifties, I love all of these life lessons that I have racked up! And thank goodness for this little blog world where we can pass our wisdom on! Your quilt is going to be beautiful, a true reflection of yourself and the place you are at.

    XO,
    Jane

  17. jane in tx says:

    How BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!! If ya’ want “perfect” get one of those “hokey” mass produced machine made things that pass for quilts.

  18. There are times when I am not happy with the result of my creative effort. It is not because I am a perfectionist, it is more that I am looking for a certain effect, and practice is the quickest way to find it. I always study my imperfect pieces in the hope of remembering what not to do, or how I can tweek it. It may be a different kind of perfectionism. I do through away a lot of watercolors. I also quilt, and my ‘rejects’ go to the good will, etc. For gifts I am particular to have it as close to perfect as possible. The funny thing is, others don’t see the imperfection. When it comes to card making or embroidery, they call is ‘versions’. Every think in our lives is a ‘version’.

    • I like my gifts to be fairly consistent, but I won’t waste time worrying if there is something imperfect about it. Like you say, others don’t see the imperfection, usually, and even if they do, what of that? The gift is homemade, with a lot of time devoted to it, and should be welcomed.

  19. I think your quilt is beautiful Claudia! Yes, I struggle with perfectionism, although it does seem to lessen with age. I recently got out an old quilt from the closet that my Great-Grandmother made for my Mom and Step-Dad when they got married almost forty years ago. It has many imperfections, but it’s charming because of them. If I had made it, I would have decided it wasn’t good enough to give away. Things for other people have to be especially perfect to me, but that may mean doing nothing at all for someone, and that’s sad.

    • A very good point, Kim. I have a feeling that no one but ourselves feels the need for a gift to be perfect. And that need for perfectionism can stop the flow of giving.

  20. I totally agree with you Claudia. Perfectionism is a trait I grew up with and I am finally learning to let go. I always think that handmade is better with imperfections anyway. It is what makes it unique.

  21. I know too well, the character flaw “perfection” …in fact, I DID LAUGH QUITE OUT LOUD…when I began reading your post! I’ve written about ‘perfectionism’ and the problems it has given me!
    Like you, I’m learning to see the pride in my work for what it is…and get past the perfectionist and embrace what I do as a blessing. Thank goodness we have the skills, the eyes, and the hands to do the crafts that we do, sewing, crocheting, etc.

    You quilt is beautiful, Claudia. I also like the symbols of X’s and O’s —hugs and kisses—for your bedroom coverlet.
    Pat

  22. Linden Townhouse says:

    I am not really a perfectionist, but there is one area of my life where I was. I like to reproduce 19th century, cross-stitch samplers from the lovely kits and patterns out there. I used to rip out row after row when it didn’t match up exactly to the pattern. And believe me, it takes longer to take out than put in! Finally, I read somewhere that one should not do this when stitching these samplers. If it is not exactly like the pattern, then it is YOUR interpretation of it. What an insight! I always loved stitching these beautiful samplers, but now I enjoy it even more. Perfectionism is a two-headed monster I think. On the one hand, it produces lovely results, but on the other, it can bring a world of pain. I’m glad you are finding that balance!

  23. I can honestly say that I gave up on being perfect like.. when I was.. 4? My mom had a friend who was called a “perfectionist” and she had sofas you weren’t allowed to sit on and a candy jar you weren’t allowed to take from and I decided right then that I never wanted to be one. lol!! I adore your quilt! ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

  24. It took a life changing event in 2001 to remind me that two of the best words in the English language were “Close enough!” It was really liberating, Claudia, to be able to look at a situation (that might have previously driven me crazy) and instead just smile and say, ‘Oh well….’ It’s so freeing to allow yourself to be ‘close enough’ where someone else might be striving for absolute perfection. Does it mean I don’t try my best or work my hardest? Not at all. But I learned that year how important it is to choose my battles, and that saying ‘close enough’ is just fine. (So is laughing at myself, which I do with alarming regularity.)

  25. I never had the need to be perfect..one of my flaws..just good enough usually works..

  26. Perfectionism…Oh my. My first attempt at quilting… was a summer of lessons at our Church. Others were way ahead of me…I took more stitches out…..more than I put in. I was striving to get it perfect. I had read about women in the past and their tiny, tiny stitches. It was so frustrating…until the teacher had a talk with me and told me to relax and accept what I was doing…the tiny stitches would come with practice.
    Balisha

  27. I used to be such a perfectionist, but I’ve found that as I get older, I’ve learned to let it go. Some things still drive me crazy, but I have learned to be a lot easier on myself. After all, in 100 years, what will it matter?

    The quilt is going to be amazing!

  28. Claudia,

    What a gorgeous quilt! I’ve struggled with perfectionism all my life. I’m getting better at recognizing when I’m in that mode and I can let it go quicker than when I was in denial. I have a saying on a bathroom shelf to remind me that there are no mistakes in life only lessons. Some of my best work has come out of something that I initially thought was a mistake. Perfectionism is rooted in fear and I think we all struggle with it from time to time. I can’t wait to see your quilt when it’s finished. Some day I hope to take up quilting

  29. Wabi sabi ~ the beauty to be found in imperfection.

  30. Good Morning Claudia, I have always expected perfection from myself, but interestingly not from my daughters. I believe it was because I was the eldest of three children and as the eldest child, my father expected so much from me. Second was never recognised, it always had to be first, consequently as I grew older I would avoid things which I knew I could not achieve perfection. I did not realise this when I was young, it has come with age. That is why it took me so long to start my blog…..I wanted it to be perfect. Perfect it is not, but it is a testimonial to my achievement so far. I am so pleased with myself that I see the imperfections, and am allowing myself the time to remedy them, with out being disappointed in myself.
    Your quilt is beautiful and made with love, how about thinking “it is just the way it should be”.
    Have a lovely day.
    Best Wishes Daphne

  31. I work with an artist ( graphic design ) who has sewed all of her life. I took it up late. SHE makes perfect mariner’s compass blocks, and I can screw up a nine patch ! :) But I am resigned to the seam ripper being my best friend and still I enjoy what I am doing when I can do it. You are right…you can’t let perfectionism hold you back. There’s always someone better at something : ) Your quilt is lovely lovely lovely and each stitch is precious.

  32. Sometimes I have to remind myself not to let “perfect” be the enemy of “good.” If I’m going to wait until I have the time, energy or motivation to do something “perfectly,” I very well may wind up not doing it at all!

  33. I love the X & O quilting!!! How wonderful that you can snuggle under a hugs and kisses!

    I’ve been embracing imperfection for years. It’s really does free you of a lot of guilt and struggle.

Please check back to follow the conversation!