Monday, February 7, 2011

Perfectionism ... Good or Bad?

(Warning: in this post you may find out a little more about my personality than you wish to know, I promise there will be some quilting content though :)

Bad I think ......

I am a perfectionist in many ways. Apparently  "perfectionism is an extreme of conscientiousness (that doesn't sound too bad) and can provoke increasing neuroticism (umm not so good) as the perfectionist's expectations are not met".

According to Wikipedia there is a " ... distinction between perfectionism and striving for excellence.The difference is in the meaning given to mistakes. Those who strive, however intently, for excellence can simply take mistakes (imperfections) as inducements to further learning and work. Perfectionists take mistakes as signs of personal defects that make them less acceptable. Anxiety over potential failure is the reason perfectionism is felt as a burden."

......Yep, definately bad.........

For me this means that I want to do something perfectly (or pretty close to perfect) or I don't want to do it at all. Here are some examples:
  • My house is hardly ever spotless, but in order for me to feel comfortable with visitors entering it I want it to be perfect
  • I love solo sports (e.g. walking, swimming). The reason that I don't like playing team sports is that I'm conscious that I don't want to let the team down by not being very good at it.
  • I have a number of quilt tops sitting around waiting to be quilted and the reason I haven't yet quilted them is that I want to free motion quilt (FMQ) them and as I have no experience they will not be perfect. Usually I love the quilt tops so much that I don't want to ruin them with my quilting. However we all know that a quilt top on it's own is pretty useless functionally, so what is the point of having them just hanging around??
  • Generally the expectations that I set for myself are much higher then I set for others, meaning that I don't expect others to be perfect, but I do expect it of myself. E.g. it is perfectly acceptable for someone else to have uneven stitch lengths when they quilt because it still looks great and they are doing the best they can, or for someone else to make a mistake whilst playing basketball because we are playing just for fun after all, or for someone else's house to be untidy when I come to visit .... but for me it's not quite good enough.
See where I'm going ... whilst it may be seen as good in some ways (always trying to be my best etc), it definately has it's down sides and I know it's holding me back.

To become perfect (if that can actually be attained in anything) you need to start somewhere right? You need to start as a novice and practice, practice, practice.

So I've finally taken the plunge and commenced my free motion quilting journey to perfection (haha). I knew I wouldn't be happy to just sit down and jump into a big project so I practiced a little on a mini quilt sandwich and then I grabbed my "Bumble Bubs" quilt top and drew "bee-like" swirls all over it (in rows to make it easier), made sure the thread tension was correct, donned my quilting gloves and just went for it. It felt liberating!

The first row was quite imperfect, but I thought I'd leave it until the end and if it still bugged me then that I would unpick it and I continued quilting, each row was a little neater than the last and even though I still need a lot of practice to feel confident at it, I feel really happy that I've stared my FMQ journey.

You may be wondering whether I unpicked that first row in the end ...... I did  (doh!), old habits die hard! I think I'll have to leave group sports and a spotless house to work on another day .....................

Here's to the pursuit of "striving for excellence" not "perfectionism"!

(I love that stripey binding)

P.S. I made this quilt for a friend of my husband and his wife's new baby Amelia (no she is not named after me, but I like it none the less) who came into the world early yesterday morning. I gave the quilt and softie to her parents this evening and they love it and I suppose that's all that matters!


  1. The quilt and softie are adorable! Your quilting looks good! My sons prep class moto is "It doesn't matter if it is wrong, just have a go and do your best". I think that can apply to most things in life!
    I highly recommend taking a workshop with Kellie (from Don't Look Now) her methods are brilliant!

  2. Great post!! Very thoughtful. I'm cursed with perfectionism as well-- but now I'll have to think about it as striving for excellence instead! Good for you for "taking the plunge" and doing the free motion quilting-- I love the bee-like swirls!! And the quilt and softie as well!!

  3. Your quilt looks fantastic! I bet they just loved it :) Great post. It was interesting to learn the difference between perfectionism and striving for excellence. There's nothing wrong with unpicking the first row (I would have been worried if you had unpicked the whole thing!) Sometimes I do a row of FMQ on the batting around the quilt first to get out my nerves and get into the swing of things.

    By the way, team sports and a clean house is over-rated - its much better to spend your time perfecting FMQ! Next stop - hand quilting :)

  4. Your FMQ-ing is fabulous. I have to agree with you on the battle between perfectionism & striving for excellence. Deadlines normally play a major part in me accepting imperfections ;)

  5. I follow a few "pro's" at FM quilting...and they all say the same thing: there is no such thing as perfection in fm. Just quilt.

  6. Looks great! Well done. I am SO hearing you about self criticism re perfectionism! LOL! Are you my doppelganger!

  7. i have been REALLY scared to try FMQ - thanks for the inspiration!!