Friday, January 16, 2015

No Mistakes or, Nobody is Perfect

String panels waiting for final press before assembly
  One thing I've learned the hard way is that there are really no mistakes in doing art, only "design opportunities". Many people are reluctant to learn new things because they are worried that they won't be good at them. They see pictures of perfect cakes, cookies, quilts, decorated homes...and feel like they can never measure up. What we don't see, of course, is all of the work, the screw-ups, the side tracks and "mistakes" behind the scenes. We all like to put our best face forward, after all. In a way we do our fellow artists a disservice by trying to be so perfect all of the time.
  I try to make a scrap quilt every year, since I seem to have an infinite amount of self-replicating scraps. I make a few baby quilts and gift quilts every year, and if  we multiply that by how long I've been sewing times my incapability of throwing out a piece of fabric larger than a postage stamp, you can understand why there are a few scraps lurking around. The strips above are all leftover from various baby quilts, wall hangings, pajamas, Hawaiian shirts and other projects from the past few years.
  I thought it would be fun this time to make a string quilt, since I had lots of leftover strips. I never use a formal pattern because I like to make up my own, so I always end up with a few leftover strips.
I decided to pretend that I had no rotary cutter and no ruler when I made the strings -so in the interest of Art I decided to try being Imperfect. Being imperfect meant that I would cut with scissors. The strings didn't have to be straight.
  Sometimes our desire to be perfect holds us back, artistically. At least, it does for me. I try to make everything "perfect" and of course it can never live up to the image in my head.
Just messing around in the studio sometimes leads me to better art than what I had planned

  Once we visited the Chimayo weavers in New Mexico. The tour guide told us that the custom there was to put a mistake in every weaving on purpose, "because humans are imperfect, and only God is perfect." I wondered, what if I started to put a mistake in everything on purpose?
Would that not be freeing?  Would it help me to do better work, because I would accept that mistakes were human, so it is futile to attempt perfection? The goal should only be to do my best work, over and over again.
  My mom used to nag me when I would fuss endlessly when working on a project, saying there were times to be meticulous, and other times to get 'er done "quick and dirty". Everything is a rough draft, she'd say. Some rougher than others, but an excellent philosophy. If we then accept that everything we do is just an attempt, a "rough draft", then what happens in fact is that we become better artists, writers, cooks, etc, because we are making more of our art and getting better all the time. We make fewer mistakes if we stop trying to never make mistakes. That's very Zen, don't you think? (This has also been shown in many experiments. See Stumbling on Happiness.)
  My strips are string pieced on a fabric foundation six inches wide by 45 inches long. I have five done. My only rule was not to repeat a fabric in each column. which made for very lively combinations.  I didn't try to make them straight. Some were slanted to start with. That's ok. Now I need to decide, do I want more columns? Do I want borders? It is more fun to decide as I go along. I will use a ruler to square my string columns, and to cut my borders, if I have them, because I'm not capable of cutting a straight line that long. The pieces all have to fit together, after all. My goal is to be finished by the end of the month.
  It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be done by January 31.


Mary said...

I agree with you 110%. Love the stocking play and finally, I want to know what a "string quilt" is.

Catherine p said...

I love the attitude and the quilt sounds like wonderful play. Enjoy the process.