Today’s NotQuilt Lesson: Perfection Kills Creativity

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This post is part of a series about sewing NotQuilts. If you’re unfamiliar with this method, The NotQuilt series begins here.

I spread Dragon Princess on the floor to check the placement for horizontal strips three and four. They will not be exactly 8½ inches apart. Fortunately, the Roman stripes will conceal the variances in the size of the open blocks and really, who is going to bust out the measuring tape and check?

perfection kills creativity

Apart from you, of course. And in your nightmares.

It would have to be done from the back side of Dragon Princess. The overlapping seam margins will conceal the original seams framing the open squares. The back side, however, shows every seam for every strip and patch. It becomes a matter of figuring out which is the one that matters, assuming some future quilt student is trying to figure out how I did it and by how much my measurements were off.

This is one of those things not worth worrying about. Dragon Princess will conceal her secrets and the frustrations she caused. No one will know if I don’t tell them, and you won’t tell, will you?

This is important to remember when showing off your work, whatever kind of creative work it is. Unless you tell them, they won’t know how aggravating the process was, how many false starts you made, how many times you had to adjust what you did to fix mistakes, the mistakes you couldn’t cover up, and in general how the finished product doesn’t resemble your vision.

This is both a strength and a significant flaw. It is a strength because nobody will know or see your mistakes. Early on, sewers learn that trim is a wonderful thing. That cigarette hole you burned in your skirt fabric will never show under a layer of trim.

But this is also a significant flaw of the creative process in this day and age. We see the finished product and not what went into it. Standing at the quilt show, being amazed by those masterpieces, seemingly formed fully complete without ever being sweated over, leads one to believe that doing that kind of work is easy. Seeing all those photos of gorgeous work in magazines and on-line shows you that plenty of people do terrific work and they do it all the time. So what is wrong with you that it wasn’t easy for you?

That’s because it’s not easy. It is never easy. It wasn’t easy for any of those crafts-persons either. Sometimes you get lucky, the design flows like you want it to, the materials don’t fight you, and the real world doesn’t get in the way. Unfortunately, finished products, all smooth and sleek, don’t show the sweat and frustration and time that went into them.

Then when we try to create our own craft, we discover how hard it is to sew that masterwork. We wonder why we are so stupid and incompetent, with stupid hands that don’t function. We see that we can’t ever design and make something that works nearly as well as that beautiful, finished quilt or ball gown or needlepoint tapestry.

This is a crippling trap. If you fall into it, you will never get anything done. Unfinished projects that don’t work out are shoved into the back of the closet or sent to Goodwill or the landfill. This misunderstanding of the learning curve, along with the twists and turns of the work involved, applies to all sorts of endeavors, whether it is learning to produce a meal for four (with dessert) in about an hour 365 days a year, writing a novel, or stitching a set of needlepoint chair covers of your own design.

Creating involves work and risk. It’s not wonder people buy kits. Somebody else did all that hard work of figuring out design, colors, sizes, and how much material you need to get to the finished product. I buy kits for embroidery pictures because it is so much easier than trying to design a picture (the relatively easy part) and then (the harder part) figure out which colors of yarn to use and how much, the best stitches, and the order in which they should be worked.

Knowing that Dragon Princess, like my other NotQuilts, is a utility quilt and not designed to be shown off at the quilt show relieves some of the pressure of perfection. It is still endlessly frustrating, and I have to say that Dragon Princess, by far, has been the most aggravating of the bunch.

At least this last go-round has gotten easier. I pinned the last two horizontal rows (three and four), and I know they are not spaced exactly. I cannot care as much as I did at the beginning. I just want to get the damn thing done. I’m counting on the Roman stripes, in eye-popping colors, to conceal the errors.

I’m also feeling better about Dragon Princess, as I near the end of sewing down the grid, because I figured out that I could pin the last two horizontal rows on my dining room table.

I spread out Dragon Princess on the floor to check the measurements.

perfection kills creativity

Ivan supervised.

Once I knew my spacing, just shy of 8½ inches, I moved the NotQuilt to my (cleaned off) dining room table to pin the patches in place. This was infinitely easier on my back, despite having to get up and rearrange the huge NotQuilt as I moved across the fashion face from side to side. It was faster too as I didn’t have to struggle up on my knees and back down again with every patch.


I couldn’t lay out Dragon Princess on the table as I had to see the entire thing at once and that was also the only way to get somewhat accurate measurements. I wonder now if I could have pinned horizontal rows two and five on the table. That might have saved me from the hip pain I suffered afterwards.

At any rate, Dragon Princess is moving forward faster now. Filling in the boxes with Roman stripes has to be easier than constructing that damn grid was.

We’ll find out. In the meantime, keep this mantra in mind:

Perfect is the enemy of finished

Repeat as necessary.