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


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.


What Really Counts


A disconsolate letter poured into the Getting Things Sewn headquarters this morning addressed to our advice columnist, Miss GTS.

Miss GTS says, “Compare and despair? Au contraire, ma chere!” (Miss GTS knows that the first “e” needs an accent grave.)

It read,

Dear Miss GTS,

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I should be excited to be in the Ready to Wear Fast year-long sewing challenge, but I’m depressed, and it’s only Day 4!

Over a thousand sewers have signed up, and some have already posted pictures of their first finished garments on the Facebook page!

Meanwhile, all I’ve done so far is give up on a pattern that’s described as “so easy even the schoolgirl can make it.”

I had high hopes for making a sleeveless jacket from Pictorial 7318, but the 1930s pattern-drafting mystifies me and I don’t know whether the fault lies in the pattern or in my feeble understanding.

This jacket, a sleeveless version traced from the pattern illustration, looks contemporary.

I guess those schoolgirls in the 1930s all went to vocational schools in garment districts.

While I was folding up the pattern pieces and putting them away yesterday I was mad because I can’t count this project toward my total count, which I was planning to be awesomely awesome.

Are the pattern pieces fine or do they need to be fixed? The waist was marked a full three inches above my waist–that was definitely not right.

The one who sews the most garments wins, I’m already behind, and I’ll never make up the lost ground.

Miss GTS, what can I do? I’m miserable!


Sniffling in Columbus

Dear Sniffling,

It sounds like you’re suffering from a common malady called Compare and Despair. You are using a cheap, off-the-rack mental shortcut to compare your projects with other people’s projects rather than a tailor-made instrument to judge your results against your goals.

I could say “Just stop counting–right now!” but that would be as ineffectual as telling you not to think about a polar bear.  Instead, I suggest that you radically change what you count.

The number of garments you make is much less important than how well you’ve planned those garments to work with each other.  Leverage the power of capsules to create hundreds of outfits.

If you make 8 tops, 8 bottoms, and 8 jackets or cardigans that all go together, that’s 8 times 8 times 8, or 512 potential outfits. Is that impressive, or what?

And remember, zero is a number, too. How about aiming for:

  • Zero wardrobe orphans
  • Zero fabrics in unflattering colors or patterns
  • Zero patterns that don’t work for you
  • Zero Craftsy classes or sewing DVDs bought but never used
  • Zero unfinished projects

But even creative counting can get you only so far. The most valuable lessons, skills, and knowledge awaiting you are unquantifiable. If you are lacking in pattern-drafting knowledge see how you can achieve your goals within your current capacities.

Before you can be a practitioner, you have to practice.

Learn more patience. Practice using your serger.

Learn more diligence. Practice fitting a pants pattern.

Learn how to ask for help in more ways. Take advantage of being able to ask your Craftsy instructors questions.

Push yourself to work on your challenge edge–and be sure to give yourself credit for it.

Also, take breaks.

So for a vastly more interesting, productive–and fun!–year, drop the self-defeating game of Compare and Despair and design your own game of Dare and Declare. Dare to define what you want to accomplish, and declare, “This is what I’m doing–you’re welcome to join me!”

I know you can do this, Sniff.

I’m counting on you.


Miss GTS

I’ll get back to this pattern eventually.

Figuring Out My Figure Type


I’ll cut to the chase: I have an “X” figure type with sloping shoulders.

Photo taken by Cynthia in her studio Oct. 20.

The suspense is over. Let the fitting begin!

To update:

My longtime reader(s) will remember that one of the first topics I tackled in this blog, in 2013, was identifying my figure type, which I wrote about here and here.

For those posts I followed instructions in The Perfect Fit (Singer Sewing Reference Library) to trace my life-size silhouette onto paper and to compare my proportions to “an average figure that is used as a sizing standard for patterns.”

The exercise was interesting, to be sure, but my conclusions weren’t definitive.  It would have been great, having had this “X-ray” taken of my figure, to have a “radiologist” interpret the image or send me back to the drawing board to make an outline with more precisely placed markers.

I didn’t know exactly what the “ends of shoulders” were that I was supposed to mark. Where was the base of my neck?  My waist location was a cinch, but where should I mark the hip–where the bones are, or where I’m the widest?

Although a yardstick laid from the shoulder to hip was very nearly vertical, indicating a “balanced” figure, I didn’t feel balanced. (“Ballast” was more like it.) I’m always wanting to add visual weight to my shoulder line. The books may have labeled me an hourglass, but I thought I’d better heed the advice for pears. Right?

“Kinda” knowing my figure type was hardly better than not knowing at all. After all, avoiding the worst designs for my figure type is only a start.  I want to know–without so much costly trial and error–what’s worth sewing or shopping for to create beautiful outfits–even whole seasonal collections.

Having my figure evaluated by an expert was one of the main reasons I joined Imogen Lamport’s program 7 Steps to Style.  A couple of weeks ago I donned a leotard and leggings, and Cynthia took a nice, clear photograph in her well-lighted studio. I posted the photo to the 7 Steps to Style Facebook group, where a couple of dozen fellow members very kindly offered their opinions.

And you know what? It is not necessarily easy to size up somebody else’s figure! Some thought “X” (the hourglass shape); some thought an “8” (which has a hip shape resembling Barbie’s, so I’m told); some had reason to believe I was an “A” (which is a nicer way of saying a pear). It was even suggested that I was an “I,” which was interesting because I definitely have a waist.

Responding to lot of observations, I volunteered that whatever figure I had, I had the mindset of an “A” because I always wanted to add a strong horizontal shoulder line. That’s one reason why I like fashions of the 1940s.

I had posted my photo midday Friday my time but at the beginning of the weekend, Australia time, so it was a couple of days before I got Imogen’s response of an “X” figure.  The line from shoulder to hip is vertical (not slanted out like an “A” or in like a “V” figure) and I clearly have a waist. “X” it is–with the further qualification of sloped shoulders.

I know, it makes sense, and maybe I should have had this all figured on my own long ago. But it was awfully helpful to have the opinion of an expert who’s worked with thousands of women to distinguish my salient characteristics.

But this is not just the end of an old story; it’s the beginning of a new, richer story.  Possibly the best feature of this program I’m participating in is the ongoing feedback from Imogen and hundreds of fellow 7 Steps to Style members. I have this new, solid piece of information I can test and refine over the months and through the seasons, with the possibility of critical but supportive input beyond what I’ve ever had before.

Things are looking up!

Photo by Cynthia DeGrand

Cooking Up My Style Recipe


Have you ever tried to define your fashion personality and wardrobe style in just a handful of words? Me neither.

At least not till a couple of afternoons ago, when I undertook what I’ve found so far to be the single most important–and head-scratching–exercise in image consultant Imogen Lamport’s 7 Steps to Style program.

Imogen Lamport at her desk - Creator of Inside Out Style

Melbourne, Australia-based image consultant Imogen Lamport.

After months of reading dozens of Imogen’s immensely enlightening (and free!) posts on her blog, Inside Out Style, about figure types, coloring, proportions, color- and value-contrast, and wardrobe-building, I finally took the plunge and bought her program so I could be advised individually and admitted to the Facebook group of sister “7 Steppers,” who encourage each other and offer helpful feedback.

I had gone about as far as I could puzzling out my coloring, figure type, proportions, and so forth on my own but was still perplexed. My closet still has too many wardrobe orphans, and I still sew too many duds.

Uh…Do we have a fitting problem here? (Jack nicknamed this 2013 sewing project “Anoraksia Nervosa.”)

It was time to tap into the knowledge of a pro who had analyzed the figures and determined the coloring of thousands of clients for as close to an objective assessment as I could ever hope to get.

But the subjective assessment was all on my shoulders. In Step 1 of the program, “Personality,” Imogen writes,

During my image consultant training, I had an epiphany. It wasn’t just the shape of clothes that’s important to finding the right styles for each person, but also your personality traits need to be reflected in the clothing, as this is how you will feel the most comfortable and stylish.

“[D]iscovering your personality style,” she continues, “is the jumping off point in my 7 Steps to Style. Without discovering all about who you are and what you love, you’ll never really feel as stylish and attractive as possible.”

This jacket from a 1930s pattern was a technical hit but a fashion miss. That’s a lot of effort to put in for so little return.

And so what occupied me a couple of afternoons ago was, first, taking the Personality Style Quiz, to help determine my preferences for seven styles of dressing: Classic, Relaxed, Dramatic, Creative, Rebellious, Feminine and Elegant Chic.

I appreciated not being confined to one category but choosing qualities I liked from as many categories as I liked and leaving the rest, as if I were filling my plate from a vast fashion “buffet.” I took big helpings from Classic and Elegant Chic, a sizeable portion of Creative, and appetizer-sized servings of the rest. Translated into a wardrobe item my “fashion plate” (ha!) might mean a well-fitted (Elegant Chic) trench coat (Classic) in a nontraditional color like chartreuse (Creative).

The next section, which I also tackled with relish, was answering “What do you love? What speaks to you? Write down the elements that make you excited.”

Let’s see…I love autumn colors, and apple pie, and berets…but not the scratchy wool-blend I used for this capacious coat!

Imogen listed:

  • Colors
  • Textures
  • Fabrics
  • Patterns
  • Design details
  • Jewelry
  • Shoes
  • Handbags

To which I added the category

  • Hats

What sewer doesn’t have opinions on these subjects?  The spaces were hardly big enough to list all the colors I crave (Mustards! Olives! Chocolate and caramel browns!),

Wearing some of my favorite colors.

patterns I love (houndstooths, plaids, stripes of every stripe), or design details I adore (buttons and buttonholes, contrast facings and linings). In my self-generated category Hats, typical of an Elegant Chic I listed berets (and typical of a Creative, I own them in many colors).

One of my many berets.

For 7 Steps to Style participants who dress differently for their workplaces than in their personal lives, there’s a section for defining the wardrobe and style requirements for each area. I pressed on to the last section: Create Your Unique Style Recipe.

“By now,” Imogen writes,

you should be starting to get a clearer picture of the styles of clothes you love, the elements of design that excite you, and your personal style. So it’s time to create your Style Recipe–these are the words that help you make decisions about clothes and outfits, whether or not you should keep them in your wardrobe, or buy them at all.

What you’re going to be doing is creating a list of words that resonate with you as a person and how you want to be perceived. A list expressing your authentic and best self that will be used when you shop for something new, or just when you’re putting together your outfit for the day.

This was the most challenging exercise for me as for almost all 7 Steps to Style participants.  How do you condense your tastes and aspirations into a few words? Just start. Experiment with your words, and modify as needed.  As with a recipe, season to taste.

For me, the stumbling block was addressing the question of how I want to be perceived. If you want to see me cock a skeptical eyebrow in record time, tell me to use words like “bold,” “mysterious,” “edgy,” or “powerful” in my style recipe. I guess the problem I have with this is, for better or worse, I can’t control how others perceive me.

However, I definitely see how not understanding the powerful vocabulary of dressing means not being able to create strong, consistent messages through clothes and outfits.

Forget what the color orange is saying about me–what my face is saying is, “Hurry up and take the picture!”

And for a sewing blogger, such a misunderstanding would be pretty ironic.

I decided not to let myself get bogged down in the being-perceived piece of this question and pressed on. I remained curious to see how I could use carefully selected words to make finer distinctions and chart a more interesting, personal–and enjoyable–wardrobe path.

I asked myself, What am I aiming for in my wardrobe? and my answer came back about what I want in my clothes. And that’s when I winnowed several dozen words down to five and came up with my Style Recipe, Version 1.0.

The words are:

  • Crafted
  • Useful
  • Vintage
  • Enduring
  • Surprising

Here’s why:

  • Crafted.  I realized that it really matters to me to make a significant part of my wardrobe. I enjoy nice clothes–who doesn’t?–but when I slide my arm through the sleeve of a coat I’ve sewn, my enjoyment is multiplied.

    I enjoy wearing the “belted topper” I made from an early ’50s pattern.

    It is further magnified when I recall choosing the fabric, conversing with the dealer who sold me the vintage buttons, or solving the puzzles of designing and constructing the garment. Once in a long while a purchased garment approaches that level of satisfaction, but really, nothing compares with the feeling I get wearing something I’ve made.

    This Pendleton jacket from the 1950s that I discovered in a vintage clothing store is beautifully made and a joy to wear.

    (But if I really dislike the process of making some wardrobe items, I’m fine with buying ready-to-wear.)

  • Useful.  Utility should be the bottom line for wardrobe items, right? Yet, how many times have I settled for a wardrobe item that wasn’t useful enough? A scratchy sweater, a shoulder bag that slips, shoes I can’t walk distances in? On the other hand, there are ingeniously designed items that carry usefulness to a new level.

    This early ’50s easy-to-sew weskit with big pockets is stylish, easy to wear, easy to pack, and so useful for holding swatches!

    And there’s another kind of useful–say, a yellow raincoat that keeps me dry but also makes me easy to spot when Jack and I travel.

    Henry VIII may be bigger, but in my yellow raincoat I’m no shrinking violet!

    “Useful” is in my style recipe to remind me to design multiple kinds of utility into garments I sew. And when I shop I’ll ask “Is this useful?” and “How is this useful?”

  • Vintage.  There’s no getting around it: I have a special liking for the styles, silhouettes, and details of many patterns from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.  The only time I’m consistently excited about contemporary patterns is when I browse the Marfy pattern company site.
    Sewing pattern Jackets / Shrugs 3223

    When I think of the Elegant Chic style, Marfy patterns come to mind.

    Those patterns come without instructions, which feels scary, but the styles are so enticing I’ll eventually attempt to sew one. Of course, I don’t want my closet to be a costume museum, and it doesn’t have to be. Vintage designs can be adapted, sewn in today’s colors and fabrics and worn in fresh combinations.

  • Enduring. I want to like my wardrobe so much that I would use everything till it fell apart. If not everything in my wardrobe is of enduring design, I will still aim for a much higher percentage. If I want to get rid of an item while it still has much wear left, I’ll want to know what’s unsatisfactory with the object or what’s different in my life now and what would suit my tastes or activities better.

    The weskit? Love. The colors–meh. I can do better.

  • Surprising. I think without Surprising in my style recipe my wardrobe could end up feeling like a bowl of oatmeal: nourishing but not very exciting.

    Flannel pajamas: as exciting as oatmeal. Perhaps pair them with a robe in a fun print?

    Surprising could take so many forms:

    • a classic garment in a nontraditional color (like a chartreuse trench coat)
    • a detail that’s a different size than what’s usually seen (like a large collar or pockets)

      I love the generous-sized collar on this 1959 jacket pattern.

    • a contrast facing for a collar or pocket flap that perhaps only the wearer knows about
    • a clever combination of patterns or colors that “shouldn’t” work–but does

I think of Surprising as the ingredient in my style recipe, like a squeeze of lemon juice, that brightens up the rest of the dish. Surprising is freshness, humor, delight. Whether I’m planning a garment to sew or an outfit to wear, I’ll ask myself where I might incorporate an element of surprise.

Okay, so not every surprise is a good surprise…(from my field trip to The Alley Vintage and Costume, Columbus, Ohio)

Well, that’s the recipe I cooked up on a quiet afternoon earlier this week. After I’ve had my colors analyzed and my figure type identified I’ll evaluate my wardrobe, fabrics, and patterns in earnest. That’s when I’ll really start putting this style recipe to the test.

(Studio photos and the “surprising hat” photo are by Cynthia DeGrand)

How to NOT Use Your Serger


Miss GTS says, “Make yourself at home–thread my serger!”

This plaintive letter recently poured in to Getting Things Sewn:

Dear Miss GTS,

I’ve bought a serger–hooray! So I should be happy, right? But now I’m worried I might break the machine out of the box and actually use it.

Miss GTS, can you help me?


Concerned in Columbus, Ohio

Dear Concerned,

Of course I can help. I’ve been an expert in not using my serger since 2007.

You’ve already taken the most important step: buying a serger. Good for you, Concerned. Miss GTS hopes it was a top-of-the-line model, the better for making your friends jealous. And also, why aspire to being an expert in not serging with a piece of junk?

Just follow these ten easy steps and you, too, can not serge for years to come.

1. Buy a very expensive serger (if you haven’t already), and plan to learn how to make those pretty edges on cloth napkins. Then recall that you don’t use cloth napkins, because

  • cloth napkins get stained
  • you hate laundering napkins
  • you hate ironing napkins

(And remember those napkin wedding presents? From both marriages?)

2. Store your serger in a dark corner. Cover it with fabric remnants you’re collecting to “practice” on. Bonus points for storing your machine in the original packaging.

3. Have a dealer that’s at least a 30-minute drive from home. Sixty minutes, even better. If the dealer is located in a chain fabric store with Muzak, you’re home free.

4. Assume that the manufacturer must have great instructions in the manual and online written by (or at least edited by) a native English speaker.

5. Take a class from the dealer to learn stitches for making “gifts” for your friends and grandchildren.

6. Take a “fear of serging” class at the annual sewing expo and make a very large, ugly cardigan.

7. Don’t go it alone, Concerned. Take local “fear of serging” classes. Swap stories with other timid serger owners about how horrible it is to thread your machine. The one who takes the longest to thread her machine wins!

8. Hang out with enthusiastic serger owners who boast about how many panties per hour they can produce.

9. Borrow serging books from the library that were published in the ’80s and browse the fashions. Lettuce edges! Seam finishes on the outside!  Oversized decorated sweatshirts!

10. Attempt making a t-shirt without getting help. When it doesn’t turn out, give up.

If you faithfully follow these ten steps, you’ll be on the path to success to not using your serger.

Good luck, Concerned. I’ll be thinking of you.


Miss GTS

(A copy of these tips suitable for framing is available for 25 cents for handling plus a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Just send your request to Getting Things Sewn, Basement Sewing Domain, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.  Allow four weeks for shipping.  You’re welcome.)