My Latest “Avoid Compounding Errors” Moment

Readers,

Of all the great things my sewing teacher Edith has told me, the one that has made the biggest impression is “Avoid compounding errors.”

At the time she was talking about the need to be precise in patternmaking, but I have thought of her principle dozens–no, hundreds!–of times over the years and have never found a situation where it couldn’t be applied.

The last time “Avoid compounding errors” came to my rescue was yesterday, when I was mulling over the Fall Teaser selection from my Sawyer Brook Distinctive Fabrics swatch subscription.

Sawyer Brook had notified its subscribers that the latest batch of swatches had been mailed out Monday and would be arriving soon in our mailboxes. To whet our appetites even more, Sawyer Brook linked us to photos of all the fabrics we’d have exclusive access to for a limited time, so we could start planning our sewing projects.

I was especially taken by the vivid colors and high contrast of the photos of “Cameron – Red”:

A softly combed cotton fabric in a beautiful red coral, gray, navy, and an off-white plaid pattern. This fabric is lightweight and has a soft hand. This fabric is lightweight and has a soft hand. Pattern vertical repeat is 4 inches. Suitable for shirts, skirts, and dresses.

Cameron – Red

 

So yesterday, when the envelope arrived I was expecting to see something bright and high-contrast. Instead, I saw this. It was drab.

Was my computer monitor off so much?

It took me awhile to realize that my sample didn’t include the brightest shade of this red coral. Now, did I right away think to e-mail Sawyer Brook to request another sample that included the bright coral red so I could make a sound decision?

Nope!

Because I was too busy trying to find matches in my fabric and button stashes, my wardrobe, and even in another swatch subscription service.  A gray linen-cotton blend from Vogue Fabrics perfectly complemented this plaid.  Woohoo! 

Or was I heading for “Boohoo”?

Because I was getting dangerously close to committing a fabric-purchasing mistake I’d made numerous times in the past.

Sure, this plaid swatch worked beautifully with the gray linen blend, which I think would be a good pants weight. But did I want to build a capsule around gray–one of my least favorite colors?

I hadn’t found one stash fabric or wardrobe item to coordinate with this plaid for early to mid-fall. Was I confident then that this fabric could be the basis of a new capsule? Would it be worth designing around?  Worth investing the time, money, and effort in?

I couldn’t give a definitive yes to any of these questions.

Also, I noticed uneasily that my main enthusiasm was centering on justifying the cost of my swatch subscriptions. “If I buy this plaid from Sawyer Brook, and this coordinating solid from Vogue, I can earn this or that privilege…” popped into my mind. Discounts, credits, free extensions of swatching services should be only nice bonuses–not reasons to buy fabric.

I had been down this road before: allowed enthusiasm, insufficient reasoning, and misapplied logic to overrule common sense.. I was in danger of making one error–buying fabric too speculatively–which was likely to compound over time.

I would start by buying this yardage that I hadn’t confirmed was right for me, although it wouldn’t be bad–I’d just have to find the right coordinates to bring out its best qualities. After its taking up space in my stash for several years, occasionally being unfolded and folded again, I might buy a coordinating fabric to keep the first one company. In the meantime my tastes, activities, or coloring might change.

In any case, this fabric would never be quite right, never be worth investing effort in–and never get sewn.

I eventually acknowledged that I was up to my old tricks and stepped away from those tempting swatches for a cooling-off period. It was close, but I managed to avoid buying fabric for the wrong reasons.

Funny enough, though, also yesterday I did swoon over a fabric and I did buy it, and I had only online photos to judge from. I was paying my daily visit to Emma One Sock to check its latest additions and came across a blouse-weight striped cotton in summery tones:

The description ran:

From an unnamed NY designer, this is a wonderful semi-opaque linen/cotton gauze novelty weave with a beautiful stripey (vertically oriented) design in shades of tangerine, orange, sorbet and greenish gray (PANTONE 18-1629, 15-1247,15-1318, etc.). Casual and light with lovely drape and gauzey texture, delightful coloring, make a fabulous blouse, top, tunic, shirt, dress, skirt, etc. Hand wash cold, hang or lay flat to dry (please test first!).

My reaction was swift and sure. I loved the colors, contrast, the unbalanced stripe pattern. I saw myself wearing this, in another rendition of the Vogue 8772 sleeveless blouse I have now sewn many times. I could see real possibilities for coordinates that I really would buy or sew and wear–soon. This could be a blouse for August heat or for warm September days.

I pondered requesting a swatch first, but yardage was limited, so I took the plunge last night and ordered a couple of yards.  I noticed this morning the fabric was sold out.

Although my decision was quick it didn’t feel reckless. I think I had enough information to go on–not only from the seller but from myself. I know enough about my coloring, contrast, style preferences and silhouette. I have a fitted pattern I enjoy sewing, and know what coordinates go well with it.

In other words, I am beginning–at long last!–to experience the satisfactions of frictionless wardrobe-planning. This process, which has taken me far too long to recognize and develop, is the opposite of compounding errors. It identifies benefits and builds on them over time.

By the way, it eventually occurred to me to drop a line to Sawyer Brook requesting another swatch of the Cameron plaid, in both the Red and Pink versions.  I had pulled all the possible coordinating colors from my palette for each plaid and am seeing some intriguing possibilities.

(Note: My palette, “Enigmatic,” seen above, is part of a color analysis system developed by image consultant Imogen Lamport and is one of the benefits of her 7 Steps to Style program, which is described here in case you’re interested.)

My Latest “I’m Glad I Sew!” Moment

Readers,

If you sew, you’ll know just what I mean.

I’ll pop into a clothing store and, after checking out the shoes and accessories, browse the racks, admittedly without enthusiasm.

The usual comments run through my mind like a news crawl:
Too big. Wrong color. Too trendy. Boring. Huge armholes! What is this weird fabric? They want how much for this?

Minutes later I’ll walk out, shaking my head.

Then Jack and I will have our usual conversation:

“Find anything?”

“I’m glad I sew!”

My latest “I’m glad I sew!” moment came last Friday morning when I accompanied my sister on a jaunt to the salvage store and outlet store of a famous outdoorsy clothing brand searching for plain, black, rugged, classic shorts for her. Oh, and with back pockets . That’s not asking for too much, right?

Wrong. Nothing ticked all these basic boxes.

We moved on to a discount department store chain, where she fared somewhat better. We left that store with two pairs of shorts, with a top thrown in for good measure. But the purchases were not made with any sense of satisfaction, let alone excitement.

The faces of the women I saw entering and exiting the fitting rooms expressed a grim reality : depending on ready-to-wear to meet all your wardrobe needs is an iffy proposition. And pretty much forget about meeting your wardrobe dreams.

It was already on my to-do list to sew pants and shorts for my sister once we’d gotten a pattern fitted for her, but after that morning’s rounds I was downright adamant. Having clothes that dependably fit and flatter despite the vagaries of fashion isn’t just a wardrobe upgrade–it’s a life upgrade.

Being able to sew my own clothes has given me a sense of agency that being a ready-to-wear shopper never did and never will.  Even though I still don’t have a full complement of sewing skills or a core collection of fitted patterns (both of which I am actively working toward) I’m still benefiting greatly from what I do know how to do.

If you sew, I think again you’ll know what I mean. Sewing is not just the production of a tangible result: a garment, draperies, a tent. It’s a process of aesthetic and technical judgment calls that is often profoundly satisfying.

I remember years ago as a pastry intern at the Campton Place Hotel in San Francisco saying to the head pastry chef, “Now I see what your job is all day long: making decisions,” and he agreed. Cooking and baking from scratch, as well as sewing from scratch, are processes that depend on a body of knowledge that can be very rewarding to build over a lifetime.

That Friday afternoon was about as different an experience as possible from my morning of rummaging through dozens of rumpled pairs of pants and shorts piled in bins at the salvage store. I spent it in my sewing room, mulling over which color stripes I wanted to accentuate in the blouse I was going to sew.

I made “preview windows” of the front, back, collar, and collar band pattern pieces to help me imagine my blouse before I made a single cut into the fabric.

I had already sewn Vogue 8772 many times before, and the fit and construction were close to perfect. Now I could concentrate on how I could play up certain colors and contrast to flatter my own coloring and contrast.

I pulled colors from my palette to consider for sewing coordinating skirts, jackets, cardigans, and pants.

I thought about buttons. The best ones I had were kind of purplish-pinkish-grayish imitation mother-of-pearl. They decided me on placing the purple and pink stripes at the right center front.

What color should the buttonholes be?

This was an unbalanced stripe, which made me think about whether I wanted to have the stripe pattern on the two fronts as mirror images or have the stripe continue in one direction around the body.  The back was one piece cut on the fold.  I could have made the back with a center seam and done mirror images on the back, too, allowing me match the stripes at the shoulder seam, which would have been a cool effect.

Do I want the prominent stripes positioned like this?

Or have the stripes like this?

I didn’t think about that at the time, and even if I had, I might have been too lazy to do the extra work of matching.

The whole afternoon I moved at the placid pace of fish in a dentist’s aquarium, shifting my preview windows around and contemplating various possibilities.

Finally, I cut the right front. That dictated the cut of the left front.

Then I decided where to place the prominent color bars on the back.

Later, I pondered the colors I wanted on the collar, right next to my face.  I cut the collar. Then the band. (Armhole facings, too, but I didn’t do any matching.)

Over the next few days I sewed the blouse. Tuesday evening I sewed on the last button.

I like my new blouse.

On a different day I may have chosen differently. I could have put a green stripe on center front and looked for green buttons, or matched the shoulder seams, or done some other effect. But I’m happy with what I did.

I’m happy not just with the result, but with this absorbing process.

Is it any wonder, then, that I’m glad I sew?

Fitting Conclusions

Readers,

In case you’ve been wondering where I’ve spent much of the last six months, it’s been down a very deep rabbit hole called Fitting a Pants Pattern.

More accurately, this particular rabbit hole should be called Not Fitting Several Pants Patterns.

Does this need further explanation?

For most sewers, a well-fitting pants pattern is like…gold.  At any rate, something rare, valuable, and coveted. And that is because pants patterns are devilishly difficult to fit.

However, pants are not hard to make. Their construction is well within the capabilities of most sewers and will repay the outlay of effort many times over.

Pants are a staple in almost every woman’s work and leisure wardrobe.

Pants are not fun to shop for: many women, including me, routinely find nothing that meets fit, style, and comfort requirements all in the same garment, at any price.

So for custom fit, style, comfort, and convenience (no more fruitless shopping!), making your own pants seems like the way to go.  It’s just that they are a pain in the neck to fit.

Much like a new diet, a new pattern, article, book, DVD, online class, or workshop devoted to pants-fitting offers a new possibility of success.  And some sewers really do succeed using each of these tools or learning aids, which have been created by very skilled, experienced,  thoughtful experts in their field.

But what applies to diets also applies to pants-fitting methods:

Results may vary.

Even though I know from the battery of aptitude tests I took some years back that my spatial abilities are below average, I took the plunge last November to try fitting a pants pattern.

On myself. By myself. As a beginner.

It’s not as if I’d had much of a choice. No fitting experts came running to pound on my door, pleading to let them help, only to hear me say No! As usual, I had to figure out how I might get to my goal on my own.

I had made admittedly feeble attempts to learn pants-fitting as far back as 1989, as the date penciled in my–autographed!–copy of Singer’s Sewing Pants That Fit shows. My sewing library boasted fitting books, DVDs, and the full run of Threads magazines.  I belonged to Pattern Review and bought Sarah Veblen’s and Angela Wolf’s online classes, which included student forums. My Craftsy library included pants-fitting classes.  My pattern files held the Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 6901 and Pamela Leggett’s Pants…Perfected! pattern with DVD.

I even had a pattern drafted to my measurements in a class taught by a patternmaker, with two muslins I’d sewn, with her recommendations for further alterations.

All that did not guarantee the pants wardrobe of my dreams. All these wonderful learning tools went unused as I turned my attention to other sewing projects, weakly promising myself that I would get to pants–someday.

But last year there was this coming together of several factors that laid the groundwork that triggered my pants-fitting project:

An increasingly clear vision

The first factor was that my membership in Imogen Lamport’s 7 Steps to Style program was really beginning to help me pull together information about myself to help me design my wardrobe. I had expert feedback on my coloring, contrast, figure type, and most flattering silhouettes, and guidelines for creating my own “style recipe.” To create the outfits and capsules I dreamed of wearing, my current pants would have to go, replaced by ones I would be excited to make.

Saying no to the mediocre

The second factor was pledging not to buy any ready-to-wear clothes for a year as part of the Goodbye Valentino 2018 RTW Fast.  I hadn’t been buying much ready-to-wear anyway, so it was easy to join this challenge. But interestingly, stopping even browsing racks of pants made me realize just how much I had been compromising my fit and style requirements. Once I became aware of this habit of settling for less, I wanted to do better–permanently.

A new world of fitting resources

The third factor was innovations in conveying fitting know-how. Pattern Review forums and member critiques of thousands of specific patterns. Pattern Review and Craftsy classes with video, printed materials, students’ questions and instructors’ answers. Sewing blogs. Fitting DVDs. YouTube videos. Threads magazine website’s Insider articles and videos.  All these new means of conveying information, in addition to excellent new books and revised classics. Not to mention the expansion of Palmer-Pletsch workshop sites around the U.S.

Fitting is the bugbear of many sewers, and there are many talented people trying to serve a broad audience hungry to solve their fitting issues.  So I wondered which of these teaching tools could bridge my knowledge gap and lead me to a well-fitting pants pattern.

I’d been dissatisfied with ready-to-wear pants fit and styles for…my whole life, actually. But it was only when these new circumstances came together that the scales were tipped:  I found myself with

  • a creative limitation keeping me from going back
  • a vision helping me move forward
  • tools holding the promise of realizing my dream

So I started. During a six-month period my sewing and fitting focus was entirely pants.

Here are some things that happened and things I learned:

I learned how to battle a strong aversion to reading the fitting literature and watching fitting videos. They were really boring for my brain, and in the past I had always bailed out. This time I hung in there.

Why did I stay the course this time?

  • I defined the reward to be compelling enough.
  • I defined not getting the reward to be disappointing enough.
  • I recognized that I couldn’t overcome my aversion but I could work with it.
    • I gave my brain breaks.
    • I gave my brain stuff to do that it knew how to do. For example, I transcribed–yes, word for word–several of the videos in Sarah Veblen’s Fun With Fitting Pants class on PatternReview.com. It took a long time, and it was tedious (sorry, Sarah–not your fault!) but it was kind of like taking dictation in a foreign language class and slowly absorbing the grammar and vocabulary.

Much to my surprise, once I got some traction understanding fitting concepts–like what crotch depth and crotch length are–and had a muslin of my own to experiment on, I got absorbed in the topic. I read every Threads magazine article, every chapter in my books, scrutinized photos and illustrations, watched DVDs and online classes repeatedly, read Pattern Review discussions, and kept discovering nuances that had escaped me before. Incredibly, fitting books and articles even became my bedtime reading.

I began seeing philosophies of fitting.  I thought–to use the foreign language comparison again–that there were fitting “grammar books,” like Sarah Veblen’s Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting that stress foundational concepts, and fitting “phrasebooks,” like Sandra Betzina’s Fast Fit, that diagnose specific problems and give specific solutions. Both are useful.

I tried tissue-fitting with McCall’s 6901 and Pamela Leggett’s Pants…Perfected! patterns. I tried Fitography’s Chloe pants pattern, based on my measurements and produced with software I downloaded from the company.  Fitography deserves its own post someday.  I also tried fitting the custom-drafted pants pattern I made in class.  I moved among patterns and methods, but stayed long enough to delve deep. Pages of Sarah Veblen’s trouble-shooting guide from her online class are underlined and creased from frequent use.

I learned more about experimenting and problem-solving in sewing than I ever have before.  I used Sarah’s grid method to examine the hang of pants. I tried to figure out how much I could learn from one muslin before proceeding to the next.  If the front was fine, I’d keep it, rip out the back and cut just a new back.

I learned to set up a tripod and put the camera on 10-second delay to take pictures of myself in muslins from front, sides, and back. Then I printed out the pictures and evaluated every wrinkle and drag line. I learned to be more observant.

I learned to look at terrible pictures of myself in muslins without flinching!

I really had no intention of spending this long on pants-fitting. I was going to participate in a Pattern Review sewing challenge in February and March with pants being part of the outfits.  But no–I was nowhere near meeting my goal.  I had to set aside every other sewing and wardrobe goal to concentrate on pants-fitting.  Partly because I have this low spatial ability, and also because as a blogger I was methodically recording everything–I have voluminous notes–my project took longer.  Also because I’m a beginner and a slowpoke.

I ended up overfitting one pattern and then another. My muslins would be too baggy; I’d experiment with taking them in at the inseam, back crotch, outseam…and then go too far. Also, excess fabric under the seat plagued me for weeks and I never completely solved that problem.  There seem to be many causes and as many solutions. I got some advice from Angela Wolf through her Altering Pants class on Pattern Review about what to do and count it as one of my greater life accomplishments that I completely understood what she meant.

It was when I was fiddling with small changes that were only different, not improvements, that I thought I really couldn’t get any further on my own.  So it was back to looking for an expert willing to help me. That’s where I am now.

I’ve learned a lot about fitting concepts and techniques that I’d never had the desire, patience, or fortitude to learn before. I learned to experiment and was excited to see when I’d made the right judgment call.

But I’ve also learned–again–what my limitations are. As Sarah Veblen says in one of her videos in Fun With Fitting Pants, it is possible to fit yourself. But for me, the odds are just too long.

What makes pants-fitting difficult is achieving a delicate, unique balance of all the interrelated parts to make them comfortable, functional, and attractive. To get my things sewn I need to achieve my own balance: when I can rely on my strengths and experience and consult experts’ books and videos, and when I need to acknowledge my weaknesses and inexperience and rely on in-person expertise, on a regular basis, to make up the difference.

I have had access to such expertise sometimes, but now I really think it is a cornerstone of getting things sewn. I will continue to think about how to access the in-person expertise I need.  I am more convinced than ever that it’s essential and worth working hard to get–and preserve.

 

All Projects Great and Small: Creating a Task Analysis Tool

Readers,

There are few things I love more than having a good project. I love projects with the keenness of Fame(US), the border collie who won the Westminster Kennel Club agility championship recently:

Maybe I was a border collie in a previous life.

But despite my love for projects–sewing and other kinds–I don’t have a stellar track record for completing them–hence my reading books like Finish, by Jon Acuff, for insights.

And now I’m working my way through The Productivity Project, by Chris Bailey, in the hopes of picking up pointers from someone who spent a whole year devoted singlemindedly to the pursuit of, basically, project management.

My project management has had less in common with Fame(US) the border collie and more with Olly the Jack Russell terrier at Crufts last year: excited but prone to distraction:

But recently I came up with a new tool for myself that just may advance me in the project agility class.

I was noodling around with my favorite tool–a mind map– while I was waiting for the dryer repairman to call and then show up the other morning.  While I had one ear cocked for the phone and then for the knock on the door I wanted to answer this pressing question:

How come some of my projects get done, some get only half-done, and some are never started even though they retain a tantalizing glow of possibility?

So, what is a project, anyway? I asked myself. I started listing every aspects of a task–a single unit of a project–that I could think of.

Take space, for instance.  Every task requires space.  But different tasks have different space requirements:

Space

  • Amount needed
    • A lot
    • Not very much
  • Type needed
    • Work surface
      • Floor space
      • Tabletop space
    • Clean work or messy work
      • Clean work
        • Sewing room
      • Messy work
        • Workshop
        • Garage
  • Fixed location or movable location
    • Fixed
      • Example: cleaning the fridge can be done in only one place
    • Movable:
      • Example: sorting papers can be done in several places
  • Amount of time the space is needed
  • Amount of disruption while the space is used
  • Amount and type of lighting needed: task lighting? Natural light?

And then there’s time:

Time

  • Can the task be done all in one go, quickly?
  • Must it be done all in one go and take a long time? (I was thinking about writing posts, there.)
  • Can the task be broken into several sessions?
    • Example: organizing papers over a few afternoons
  • Does the task have to be broken down into several sessions?
    • Example: painting furniture and waiting for each coat to dry

Wow–this was interesting.  I continued:

  • Can the task be done entirely at home or do parts have to be done elsewhere?
  • Is the task limited to a certain season or weather condition?
  • Frequency:
    • Once and it’s done
    • Frequently
      • And that’s okay
      • But it’s a pain
    • Once in a while
  • Does the task require wearing certain clothes?
    • Messy work–yes
    • Clean work–no
  • Is the task highly related to other tasks?
    • Highly related: needs to be coordinated, maybe in a sequence
    • Not highly related: coordination not necessary; little or no sequencing
  • Batching:
    • Can the task be batched with other tasks?
    • Is there an advantage?
      • Save time
      • Keep momentum up
      • Get more done on one errand run

So far I’d captured objective, quantifiable aspects of tasks and projects.  But what do various tasks require of me?

How about:

Attention level

  • Can it be done with low attention
    • and I could listen to a Craftsy class or a radio talk show in the background?
      • Example: ironing
  • Does it have to be done with high attention
    • and I could listen to instrumental music or opera in the background?
      • Example: writing

Energy level

  • Requires high energy
    • Example: major painting projects
  • Doesn’t require high energy
    • Example: filing papers

Skills

  • Do I have the skills for this task?
    • If so, do I want to use my skills for this task?
    • Do I have
      • the time?
      • the experience?
      • the equipment and supplies
      • the instructional resources?
      • the motivation?
    • If I have the skill, will the task or project put me right at the edge of my present abilities–my challenge edge?
    • If I need to learn the skill
      • Do I have the resources already? Do I need to budget for resources?
        • equipment
        • tools
        • supplies
        • instruction sources
          • online, print, or in person?
          • individual feedback necessary?
        • time
          • to learn, including making mistakes
          • to perform the actual task
        • space
        • money
      • Do I have the motivation, interest, desire?
      • Do I have the aptitudes?

Can I (or must I) do it all myself?

  • I can (because I have the skills and resources)
  • I must (because nobody else knows what I want to accomplish)

Will I need or want help with this?

  • A helping hand from a friend or relative
  • Expert help
    • Repair people, installers
    • Knowledgeable salespeople
    • Designers
    • Pickup and delivery people

Now for a big aspect of task and project management: what repels me:

Aversion level

  • Does the task involve things or activities I loathe?
    • Dealing with electronics
      • computers and software
      • computerized equipment (like sergers)
      • smartphones
      • TV remotes
    • Driving
    • Shopping in stores with
      • bad music (I’m talkin’ ’bout you, Jo-Ann Fabrics!)
      • ugly merchandise or displays
      • unhelpful salespeople
    • Using aptitudes I’m low in
      • structural visualization, which is a must for patternmakers
    • Feeling I’m imposing on others
    • Making phone calls (sometimes)
    • Decisionmaking
      • When I don’t have reliable advice
      • When I haven’t defined
        • the problems
        • the solutions
        • my vision
        • criteria

On the other hand, what draws me in?

Fun level

  • This task or project lets me work with my favorite:
    • Aptitudes
      • dexterity
      • memory for design
      • verbal abilities
    • Skills
      • organizing
      • planning
      • cleaning
      • sewing
      • cooking
      • writing
      • research
    • Equipment and tools
      • Sewing equipment and tools
      • Cooking appliances and tools
      • Mind-mapping tools
    • Supplies
      • Office supplies
        • Mechanical pencils, colored pencils
        • Labeler
        • Graph paper, tracing paper
        • Rulers
      • Paint
      • Fabric
      • Food
    • People
      • Individuals
      • Types of skilled people
  • This task lets me produce my favorite results:
    • Painted surfaces
    • Sewn items
    • Food
    • Organized spaces or plans
    • Blog posts

I thought of still other factors: Consequences, Aggravations, and Rewards:

  • The consequences of not doing the task:
    • How bad would they be?
      • Increased risk
      • Compromised quality or safety
    • How soon would they occur?
      • Soon
      • Not soon
    • How certain would they be?
      • Certain
      • Not certain
  • The aggravations related to the task remaining undone:
    • Inconvenience
      • Size
      • Frequency
    • Embarrassment
      • Size
      • Frequency
    • A feeling that something is off, (like a paint color or a floor plan):
      • Size
      • Frequency
  • The rewards I could experience if I do the task or project:
    • Creating or adding functionality, beauty, or enjoyment
      • How great an increase?
        • Dramatic
        • Small, but
          • Still noticeable
          • Cumulative
      • How frequently would the reward be experienced?
        • Every time I see or use the improved thing
        • Once or twice; then I’d be used to the improvement
    • Eliminating or reducing pain or worry
      • How great a reduction?
      • How frequently is the relief felt?
    • Creating a positive trajectory
      • What advantages might compound?
      • What opportunities might open up?
  • What could I miss out on if I don’t succeed with this task or project?
    • Rewarding social connections
    • A higher level of skill
    • The ability to accomplish more sophisticated tasks or projects that lie beyond my present ability
    • On the other hand, maybe nothing much

As I mind-mapped as many aspects of tasks as I could think of, I realized as never before how there are objective components–like space and light requirements–and subjective components–like what I avoid whenever I can, what aptitudinal weaknesses and strengths I’m working with, what I gravitate toward and find fun, and what I find rewarding.

Now I’m thinking that if I account simply for the objective components of a task, my work is only half done–and my task may very well remain discouragingly half-finished.  Without understanding all the subjective components–the ones that could sink the ship, and the ones that could be my life-preservers–my odds of succeeding are very small.

These days I am applying myself to fitting a pants pattern.  (Well, some days I am, and other days I’d rather do anything but.) So I was curious to test my rough draft of a tool on my pants-fitting project.  Here are the main insights I gained:

  • Fitting pants requires a high attention level.
  • This is difficult to achieve, because I have a low aptitude for a key skill needed: structural visualization.
  • The aversion level is high:
    • my low aptitude
    • trying to follow instructions I don’t understand
    • trying to decide what to do next when I’m not grasping a concept
  • My aversion level could definitely doom this project as it has doomed previous (admittedly halfhearted) attempts in the past.
  • The consequences of my not getting pants to fit? Low. I wouldn’t be breaking any promises, and the world doesn’t care. I have to be careful, however, not to let these thoughts sabotage my efforts.
  • The aggravation level if I don’t get a pants pattern to fit? High!
    • I’ll continue to wear pants that fit badly or not well in every way.
    • I will be frustrated not being able to sew as many great coordinates for my tops, jackets, and coats
    • I won’t get to design as many interesting outfits and capsules for my wardrobe
    • I’ll be subject to the vagaries of fashion: fit, color, style.
  • The rewards of having pants that fit? Also high!
    • Comfort
    • Style
    • A feeling of control over my wardrobe choices that I don’t have now
  • The fun level is something I need to leverage conscientiously:
    • Using my high aptitude of dexterity
    • Using my favorite skills of research, writing, organizing, planning, and sewing (if only muslins)
    • Using favorite supplies: mechanical pencils, fashion rulers, tracing paper
    • Enlisting help from Jack, to take snapshots, and Cynthia, to take studio shots, of me in muslins to analyze fit.
  • The time required will be many sessions of short duration–short, better to keep my aversions and aggravations in check.
  • My skill level in fitting is low, but I do understand some pattern-drafting and alteration, and pants construction will be a comparative breeze.

Interestingly, looking over the data I’d collected I wasn’t discouraged, and I can think of several reasons why.

One is that there have never been so many good learning tools for fitting pants, written by very experienced teachers, as now.  I own my share of them but only recently gave them the full attention they deserve. I have been viewing online classes and DVDs and reading books and articles by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto, Sarah Veblen, Sandra Betzina, Kenneth King, Joyce Murphy, Kathleen Cheetham, and others. I am gradually absorbing some fitting principles as I see different ways they are described and illustrated and test them in my muslins.

Another is that a pattern-drafting company, Fitography, got me closer to a good fit right from the start. I am fine-tuning the Chloe Pants pattern now.  Ideally, the pattern drafted from your measurements fits you perfectly the first time, but due probably to errors on my part that wasn’t the case. However, it was the prospect of a pattern drafted to my measurements and style and fit preferences that inspired me to take up the pants challenge again.

There definitely is a sizable gap between my abilities and knowledge and the well-fitting, flattering pattern I want. But I feel as if these fitting teachers are reaching out as far as they can on their end to close the gap. Judith Neukam has a new approach to pants-fitting in the April/May 2018 issue of Threads that looks really interesting.

My last reason for not feeling discouraged is I have important new insights into what it will realistically take for me to succeed in any project I undertake. Even if I have time, a well-lighted, well-equipped work space, and all the tools I need, my aversions can hold sway. It’s often easier to imagine the frustrations of failures than the satisfactions of success.  I’m seeing that success will not come without vividly imagining the rewards. I also have to incorporate my natural interests and strengths deliberately into my plans. I can even employ my aggravations on my behalf: Do I really want to keep shopping for ready-to-wear? No!

Some projects, it’s occurring to me, are just plain difficult. Other projects are difficult but have a benefit beyond the immediate result: they can be a gateway to a higher level of ability, creativity, and productivity. Fitting pants could be just such a gateway project for me.  I’m going to remind myself of that possibility, because I want to give myself the best chance to make that statement true.

Book: Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff

Readers,

Like the majority of sewers, I’m enchanted by novelty. There’s always a new fabric, new pattern (or new-to-me vintage pattern), new tool, new technique, new Craftsy class, or new discussion of the Craftsy class vying for my attention.

Likewise, the prospect of starting a sewing project is practically irresistible. Despite numerous failures and unfinished projects I remain unreasonably confident about the success of the garment I’m planning to make. My optimism reminds me of how Samuel Johnson characterized second marriages: “the triumph of hope over experience.”

“Moribund Projects” is more like it.

Call me hopeful, then. If I’d relied solely on the brutal facts of experience to guide my plans I would have closed up shop and hired a seamstress long ago, there would be no hero’s journey, and no blog. Unthinkable.

However, I wouldn’t mind improving my batting average. So when I learned about Jon Acuff’s book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done I immediately requested a copy from my library and read it at a leisurely pace over a couple of afternoons.

Here are some observations and bits of advice I found useful in Finish:

  • Perfectionism is the enemy of finishing. More people quit Acuff’s online goal-setting course, 30 Days of Hustle, on Day 2 than on any other day. “Why that day?” Acuff asks. “Because imperfection doesn’t take long to show up. Imperfection is fast, and when it arrives we usually quit. That’s why the day after perfect is so important. This is the make-or-break day for every goal.” Acuff spends the rest of the book identifying perfectionism’s sneaky reasoning and disguises so we aren’t taken by surprise.
  • Most people set goals that are foolishly optimistic–a practice called “planning fallacy”–which results in a high failure rate. Acuff recommends scaling back your goal to stay in the game.
  • Perfectionism claims “You can do it all.” You can’t. Acuff recommends, “Choose what to bomb, and succeed at a goal that matters.” I would add that it has helped me to recognize where I have low aptitudes and need to find expert help.
  • Perfectionism can come in the form of distraction.

    • The first form is the “hiding place,” which Acuff describes as “an activity you focus on instead of your goal,” that doesn’t require the discipline that your goal does.
    • The second is the “noble obstacle,” which is “a virtuous-sounding reason for not working toward a finish.” Noble obstacles often have “until” or “if…then” in their elaborate explanations for not realizing a goal.
  • “If you’re not excited about your goal right now, ask yourself, ‘What’s my real goal?’ Make sure that what you’re chasing is actually what you want to catch. As you progress with your goal you should continue to come back to this gut-check question because it’s really easy to get off track despite your best intentions.”

    What is my real goal with my unfinished projects? Good question!

  • “If you don’t have a lot of joy in your goal right now, make sure you’re using a method that plays to your strengths. If you pursue the right goal in the wrong way, you still end up in the wrong place.”
  • “Data moves us beyond discouragement.” Emotions change, memories fade and change, but numbers can be your friends. Acuff gives 23 ways to measure your progress, including inches or pounds lost and subscribers or money gained. In sewing a wardrobe, I realized a measure of progress could be the number of outfits I could create planning a capsule rather than a stand-alone garment. And that would be a fun puzzle to work out.
  • “The past is trying to teach you.” Answer questions like “What happened the last time you attempted a goal like the one you’re planning?” and “If you didn’t finish, which parts tripped you up?” to help you shape a better process this time.
  • Perfectionism rises up even when you’re nearing the finish line “for one more barrage of fear.” “The day before done is terrifying,” Acuff says, as “What now?” “What if it’s not perfect?” and “What’s next?” appear. A friend can be important all through the process of meeting the goal but never as crucial as at the end.
  • Ask yourself “What am I getting by not finishing?” because you are getting something, Acuff says. “You get to hold on to the illusion that you could finish if you really wanted to. Rather than find out you might not be good, you hide in the myth of maybe.”
  • The worst thing perfectionism does is make sure you never try.

“But you’ll never know the unbelievable joy of keeping a promise to yourself unless you finish,” writes Acuff. “That’s what we’re doing, keeping a commitment to ourselves and knowing we’ve fulfilled it when we finish.”

Finishing Finish yesterday afternoon, I had a strong urge to finish something. I went to my baker’s rack and pulled a jacket project I wrote about in 2014.

From 1959, Vogue Special Design 4036.

I started this jacket in 2011, and my last notes were dated January 16, 2015.

Did I feel a fresh resolve to finish this jacket? Not in the least. I decided to pitch it. No apologies, no regrets.

Since I last looked at this project, I’ve learned that I’m best in garments with a defined waist, and this jacket doesn’t have one. I’m also not sure this collar is a good look for me. I still like the fabric, but I’m not so sure it likes me. It may be too busy: the texture, contrast and colors are all attention-getters possibly to my detriment.

I made samples of the pocket and flap and bound buttonholes and did some special Kenneth King technique on the collar pieces.

But it was the dreary prospect of making a third muslin that dealt the death blow to this project.

Let’s recap:

  • not the most flattering silhouette
  • the fabric might steal the show from my face
  • hard to incorporate this jacket into a wardrobe capsule, plus
  • either I’d have to decipher muslin #2 or start over with muslin #3. Either way, no fun there.

I concluded this would not be a hero’s journey but a fool’s errand.

So I did the sensible thing: I declared my project done–without finishing it. Upon the further examination Acuff recommended, I reminded myself that my real goal is a wardrobe that serves me. This jacket doesn’t serve me. Case closed.

I am not breaking any promises to myself, caving in to perfectionism, or admitting defeat.

I’m just giving myself the gift of done–and enjoying it immensely.

Oh yes, I am going to dump this.