Finished Is More Important Than Perfect

2013 Zen-Tangle

Finished is more important than perfect.

Anyone who has participated in one of my classes or Demo Days at Lakeshore Sewing has probably heard me say this – it’s one of my favorite mantras when teaching.

The second part goes like this:

The more you finish, the closer to perfect you’ll get.

It’s generally true, especially when applied to learning a new skill or “perfecting” established skills. Time after time, I’ve observed that the creative souls who forge ahead and joyfully finish their project (whether it is a learning exercise or a finished work) tend to advance much faster than those who stop, judge, rip out, undo, redo, and eventually abandon the work because it doesn’t measure up to their expectations.

When it comes to creative pursuits (including sewing and quilting as well as other, more recognized, forms of artmaking), I think that being a “perfectionist” has the potential to be as much of a weakness as a strength.

I believe in always doing one’s best work; but I also believe in the importance of play, of “what if” – things we are much less likely to explore if we are attached to a narrow vision of what is acceptable or desirable.

That’s one side of the coin. The other side of the coin for me is that loss in vision, strength, stamina and fine motor control means that coming from a natural tendency toward anxiety-ridden perfectionism myself, I have had to learn to practice what I preach in ways I had not originally anticipated.

But if I wait until my hands are steady, my eyes are clear, my strength is good and I am free to create work that meets the technical level I see in my head, I will never create again. And that is unacceptable! (Although to be perfectly honest, I was quite capable of psyching myself out of finishing a given quilt or art project for fear of ruining it well before my health deteriorated so dramatically.)

I’ve been at it many years, but I’m still learning how to hold expectations lightly, to let go of fears of not being good enough or skilled enough, and to FINISH those projects that are reasonably within my power to finish.

And yes, there are some UFOs (unfinished objects, for the uninitiated) that DO NOT need to be finished; usually because they’ve served their purpose in some way already and I’ve learned whatever I needed to learn. (Sometimes the lesson is that I really don’t want to work with those materials anymore!)

2013 Zen-Tangle
Zentangle-inspired doodle or “tangle” by Beth Ann Williams, (C) 2013

I’m also still learning to honor the finished work for what it is, to avoid going down rabbit trails of “shoulds” and perceived flaws, and to enjoy the satisfaction that comes with accomplishment.

Finally, I’d like to share with you a drawing/tangle/doodle I’ve been stuck on for a while. I kind of liked what I had so far, but wasn’t able to make up my mind about what to do with the remaining white spaces. (Since I’m working with a Sharpie marker, there are no second chances – no erasing or covering up anything once it’s on the page.)

Over the course of writing this post, I was struck with urgency to FINISH IT. So I did! It took all of 5 minutes (and weeks of waffling over something that isn’t supposed to be over-thought or over-planned in the first place…)

Oh well, it’s done. And it feels pretty good!

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Beth Ann

When health challenges made hand-sewing (and hand appliqué and hand-quilting) no longer physically viable for her, Beth Ann’s first instinct was dismay and discouragement. But Grandma Baldwin gave her a loving (but stern!) “No pity parties – just figure out a different way.” So Beth Ann turned to her trusty sewing machine and began devising ways to achieve the fine quality appliqué look she craved faster and easier than she ever thought possible. And a career was born! Now Beth Ann enjoys sharing her accessible “invisible” machine appliqué and creative machine quilting techniques with other quilters and fiber artists around the world.

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