Whenever I take a crafting class (other than needlepoint), the instructor always says, “Check your perfectionism at the door, please. This is a place of creativity.”
What this meant in scrapbooking classes is that there are no scrapbooking police. There is no one who is going to come to my door in the middle of the night and arrest me because I didn’t make the pages in a certain way to match the sample. There is no right way to scrapbook. I decide what I want on the pages, and what I want my family and friends to remember. This holds true of any creative project. I can be in restrained control or more loosely creative.
However, that is not the place from which I come. My mother was a perfectionist to the “nth” degree. She was a crafter as well and used to “frog” her knitting projects regularly. That means that she ripped out rows that were not perfect and re-knit them. She stopped sewing because it took her so long to complete a garment. She was continuously ripping out the seam or the zipper or the hem until the garment was perfect. Because of this, she often missed the deadline for the clothes such as Halloween and the Prom. I thank the universe that she did not decide to make my wedding dress or I would still be waiting some 38 years after the event.
What I realized, in the middle of the night, was that my mother laid this perfectionism on me in very subtle ways. The first was when I was in 4H and had to sew a skirt. When I finished, my leader told me how perfect the sewing was. Remember this was my first attempt at sewing. I knew that the seams were not perfect except that the seams were perfect. How did that happen? I didn’t dig too deeply to figure that out as I am now not sure I wanted to know.
The second was my very first attempt to knit a sweater. Now I was not one to start with a scarf. No, I wanted to do a sweater like my mom did. We picked a pattern that had a cable on the front panels of the cardigan. I know that I did not do the placket for the buttons and button holes. That was too advanced for me. Nevertheless, I do remember making the cables and the pattern within them very clearly. Could I really have been that accomplished a knitter that it turned out so excellently or did my mother apply the “frog it” rule, rip out what I had done, and re-knit to where I had ended that evening. I would never have thought that, and now am not so very sure. I do knit quite well, but to have such a beautiful sweater with no mistakes for my very first one. Well, it does cause one to pause.
The third and final example of how my mom’s perfectionism affected me was close to the end of her life. This was at a time when “Stretch and Sew” was very popular with the sewing population. It was “easy” and yet produced some good clothes. I decided to make my mom three pairs of pants with tops to go with them and my dad three polo shirts. I measured both at least twice and knew exactly what size they were. I finished and gave them out at Christmas. With my mom, I had not hemmed the pants not being sure of the shoes she would wear. She appeared delighted and complimented me on them all. That was eight months before she died. When I flew to Florida to help my dad with her stuff, I found the pants in her closet still not hemmed. My immediate thought was that she didn’t find them perfect and rather than hurt my feelings, she just left them in the closet. As time has had a chance to soften the blow, I began to think it was not her perfectionism, but rather her illness that kept her from getting the pants hemmed. Her weight was dropping rapidly and so the pants (and the tops for that matter), no longer fit her with or without her being a perfectionist.
So the bottom line is to keep in mind that it’s only paper, yarn, or fabric. You can mess it up and always buy another sheet, skein or yard. The mistake won’t break the bank in most cases. While I would never suggest in business that material go out without a second look or spell check, getting into analysis paralysis just blocks the creative process and can significantly stop progress. In manufacturing and computers the refrain is “good enough to ship.” It can always be fixed in the next version. Apple is one of the few companies where the thought is “good enough that I would work on it.” When working with my tribe, checking perfectionism at the door can open up a world of possibility and dreams. Which end of the spectrum are you? What changes would you need to make to let some creative chaos into your life to begin to realize your dreams?