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.
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.
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.
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.
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?