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.

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6 thoughts on “What Really Counts

  1. OH my, I could have written that letter! I understand completely. I’m in the RTW fast also, and haven’t even cut out something, much less finished a garment. And as far as those notes that even a schoolgirl could do it – well, all girls learned about sewing early on, I wouldn’t compare myself with that. Personally, I’m impressed that you would even consider that garment! Any how, you are NOT NOT NOT the only one in the fast who is not ready to present a finished garment. And I won’t be for awhile yet….

    • Angela, I think we have a splinter group developing here. I’m in the same mental (and sewing ) state as you and Paula. Not only do we have 361 more days of the fast, but the main objective was to refrain from retail clothing purchases! I’m probably going to take a month to organize my sewing room, another to plan what wardrobe items I may need to sew and another to get going on a decent project!

  2. Hi Paula,,
    Well count me in with your way of looking at the RTW fast. I’ll probably sew no more than 10 items in this fasting year. I’m more interested in Miss GTS ‘s look at the “zeros”. I can relate to each one and plan on sticking to her advice. I’m very easy on my clothes and often find myself answering a compliment with a “actually this ______is 15 years old”. I joined the fast probably because I have found myself purchasing the inexpensive tee shirts, shorts, pjs and the like from clothing stores that love to seduce me with their extremely attractive sale prices. My ultimate goal is to stop buying too many of these items and focus on sewing some quality items instead! Of course the “zero” list will be adhered to religously.

  3. As I posted in reply to Sarah Gunn’s post re now not being the time to purge one’s closet, indeed not. I wear 80-90% of my clothing regularly and it eventually shows it. But I only buy or sew things I really like and getting me to shop for clothing is not easy. I wish I had a few more pieces.

    However, my RTW Fast is about me and my needs, not a competition with others. My Fast is all about me. The larger group is for support when I’m tempted to break the Fast. I have sewing goals and clothing needs. I’m in the process of making two lists to guide me on my way. My sewing room also requires some time & effort. At my age I do recognize that there is a time and a place when it really is all about me, in a good way.

  4. Oops, I also meant to thank you for your post. We raised children to know that when you do what is right for you, things tend to work out. It applies to so much in life. And I find that often we are happier for doing so rather than living to compare what others do or have….

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