Embracing Imperfection

Getting stressed or getting things done?

embrace imperfection - getting stressed vs. getting things doneThose ten days in the Small Product Lab were (at least for me) quite stressful, but at the same time a very valuable exercise in “how to get things done in time”.

On this page:

  • “Good enough” is good enough!
  • Why am I writing all this; why do I think you’d be interested?
  • My take-aways for getting things done without getting stressed
  • Saving time by cutting scope
  • What are your tips?

The stress however came not so much from doing the assignments, creating a complete product, and launching it within 10 days, but from having to learn many other things “by the way”, like navigating the Gumroad site or facebook and twitter (of which I only knew the very basics). This took up a lot of valuable time, but I didn’t want to skip it because learning how to do these things were the main reason I signed up for the Lab.

In order to manage somehow, I had to cut, cut, cut, cut everywhere. Limiting the scope of my product (which kept growing the more I cropped it), streamlining the process, keeping format and layout as simple as possible, and figuring out which illustrations were essential and which were “nice to have, but not right now”. Letting go the product creation plan and instead improvising as best as I could. Constantly shrinking my launch plan as I had no time to actually write the posts I had intended.

Although I’m used to setting creative limitations for my arts & crafts projects, this baby was of a different kind…

“Good enough” is good enough!

So what happened in the end? Everything turned out all right. I uploaded the files with one hour to spare and not only reached the goal – set by Gumroad – of making $1 from pre-orders, but actually surpassed it by 400% (that’s statistics…).

More than that, the Five Steps to Getting Started with Word Art evolved from a 20plus-page eBook into a whole set of printable Guidebook, Workbook and Templates Book of altogether 73 pages. For the next version I want to add the illustrations and examples I left out, and perhaps make the rather functional layout a bit “prettier”. What matters most, though, is that it is complete and good enough to share, and that I actually got it out!

But what I found most amazing was that on the last day I was calm, balanced and focused – despite the fact that I had only one finished drawing (the rest were just sketches) and the whole layout yet to do, and that I was like three days behind with my launch plan and promotion.

Why am I writing all this; why do I think you’d be interested?

(1) Because I know from blog posts, comments and forums that many quilters struggle with perfectionism and doubts, are stressing themselves with deadlines, or have multiple UFO’s not only in a drawer but also on their mind. (2) Because my experience with the Lab not only magnified the problems in these areas, but also showed me and emphasised practical ways of dealing with them.

If you happen to be one of the Lucky Few who never gets upset because corners didn’t match up, a block turned out just a little bit too small, or because you keep seeing (and talking about) the mistakes you made, and if you always finish your birthday projects with spare time to gift-wrap them: Awesome… Please tell us how you do it! πŸ™‚

With all the others, I want to share what I have learned.

My take-aways for getting things done without getting stressed

calligram: embrace imperfection
Freebie: A printable of this footprint in two sizes and different colours. Click on the image to get it! (via Gumroad)

Summary: Scale down, relax, and take the first step. Cut scope, relax, and take the next step. Cut some more, stay relaxed, and keep walking until you get there. And of course: Embrace Imperfection! πŸ˜‰

In detail:

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Concentrate on the essence or core features, and leave the rest for Version 2.0, that is another quilt (if you so wish).
  • If you haven’t got a deadline, set one yourself and stick with it.
  • Substitute “deadline” with “best-by date”; there’s an afterlife…
  • Double the time you think a complex task or project takes, but don’t make that an excuse for starting later…
  • Stay balanced and just keep walking until you get there.
  • When you’ve got a best-by date (like a contest), choose a project that is doable within that time frame. Then cut the scope in half, right away.
  • Make a rough backwards plan, starting with your goal and listing the major step that comes right before that, and before that, and before that, until you’ve got a concrete starting point to act upon. (I’ll write a more detailed post about backwards planning at a later date.)
  • In case the concepts of “discipline” and “commitment” make you nervous or provoke inner resistance, focus on feeling “dedication” and “good enough” or “shareable”.
  • Halfway into the project you’re already lagging behind? Cut more scope.
  • Unless you finish your project and “ship” it to its destination, it may as well not exist.
  • Before you start with any task, relax. Take notice of your body, your shoulders, your neck. 5 minutes of relaxation can save you an hour’s work. Then set an intention of what you want to do and start.
  • Don’t force anything, don’t try to sort out everything in advance, simply and gently allow it to happen.
  • Focus on the task at hand while you are engaging in it; leave anything else for later.
  • Take breaks, often, and empty your mind. Play with children or pets, take a walk in a park, cook a lovely dinner – anything to take your mind off your project. Your brain needs these time-outs for processing, in order to present you with solutions when you continue.
  • When your sewing machine has got tension problems, missed a stitch, or when a needle breaks or you prick your finger, check yourself and how you feel. Any parallels?
  • Whatever the outcome, even if you miss a deadline: Accept it for now, learn from it for next time, and keep loving yourself. ❀

Saving time by cutting scope

  • Ask yourself at every step of the process: Do I really need this, or is there an easier/quicker way?
  • Keep it quick and simple so you’ve got time to pay attention to detail. Choose a simpler pattern, or substitute some of the blocks (or a whole area) with quick’n’easy to make parts (or just plain fabric) and take your time to do it well.
  • Eliminate time-consuming techniques, or at least reduce them to the minimum. Examples: (1) Instead of fussy cutting the centers of all blocks, fussy cut only every other center, or only the middle one. (2) Substitute (at least some) elaborate or dense quilting patterns with a looser one.
  • Wonky designs are often a lot quicker to make than accurate ones. Accurate designs made with haste look sloppy; and even worse if only the last blocks made are off kilter…
  • Before undoing a mistake, ask yourself whether it can perhaps be integrated as it is, or used for a different project. (In my experience, so-called mistakes often lead to new ideas.)

Still feeling stressed now and then? Try this: See your project in the context of your whole life. Then count your blessings and focus on what you’ve learned, not on what went wrong.

What are your tips?

Please share them in the comments – I’d love to hear what you say!


By the way:

Allison @ New Every Morning Patchwork & Quilting wrote last week a very interesting post about her experiences regarding how deadlines affect creativity.

You can still join in the Aiming for Accuracy II Quilt-Along by Michele Foster @ Mishka’s Playground. The list of what you’ll learn is impressive, and the participants’ quilts are beautiful proof that it’s possible, indeed. πŸ™‚


7 thoughts on “Embracing Imperfection

  1. I have a friend who always says, if you can’t see if from a galloping horse, its not there.

    It’s when you are up so close sewing & quilting that you see all these imperfections. yet if you continue and then step back, you see the final work, and there is no need to notice the little imperfections, that’s what makes it hand-made.

    But, I find it hard when I am working to let go of the need to fix all those tiny imperfections – quilt police gonna get me. It’s all the stories people have told me about their quilts when they put them in shows and they don’t do well because of small things – like one person who spent 2 years hand quilting a whole cloth quilt, only to be judged that there were 1 or 2 quilt stitches missing in one spot.

    So I gotta look at the big picture – better finished than perfect and in-progress.

    1. Oh I love this: “If you can’t see if from a galloping horse, it’s not there.” Thanks for this gem, Paul!

      You’re right about the “imperfect” hand-made look. I once gave a talk comparing old hand-made laces with modern – also hand-made – reproductions. The new ones were so tidy and perfect…and almost lifeless in comparison.

      As a teacher I’m trained to see such tiny imperfections, and I need to switch to a different mindset to ignore them in my own work. But I’d never require a student to undo them (pointing them out is just for learning purposes), and so I remind myself to be kind to myself, too. πŸ˜‰

      Regarding some shows and contests, I agree with you completely. Sloppy work is one thing, but when perfect execution becomes more important than artistic expression, the perspective could do with some reconsideration.

  2. What a good analysis of your experiences! Such good advice to focus on the task in hand – I spend too much time doing one sewing project whilst thinking about another – focus,living in the now is the way to contentment! Thank you for the mention at the end of your post! ☺

    1. Thank you for visiting, Allison! I found your article very refreshing (as in “Oh am I glad this doesn’t only happen to me”…) – and it was so timely!

i appreciate your feedback and input!

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