Tuesday, January 20, 2015

the pursuit of perfection

Two years ago I bought the most delicious fabric. A shiny burgundy with a gold and white paisley design swirling across it. Delicious. My plans for it involved a simple bomber jacket, something easy and casual wrought in the most detailed and intricate fabric I could find - it felt like the perfect reflection of my sartorial leanings. Last weekend I finally cut that fabric. I pinned the deftly trimmed pattern to it and carefully snipped out the pieces for the jacket it had always been intended for. As I cut, first the pattern pieces and then the fabric, it occurred to me how similar my sewing is to my writing. 

In a conversation with a writer friend recently we mused on the pursuit of perfection, the fear that filled us both that our words could not fall perfectly from our pens. And how this fear stopped us from writing. We were filled with ideas, with ways we wanted to tell our stories and yet this pursuit of some idealised version of perfection acted like a obstacle we lacked the skills to pass. If it cannot be perfect, it cannot be written. Madness, folly; and yet, surely we are not alone?

Sewing, like writing, is an art. The only difference is that the pieces that must come together, the ones that must be joined by careful stitch after careful stitch, are clearly identified. Unlike writing, sewing provides instructions, pictures, clearly outlined courses of action; pin this to here, stitch that to this, trim here and press that. But, still, this pursuit of perfection permeates my sewing, too.

My sewing, like my writing, is constantly second guessed. I question my own skills, my ability to sew through a problem, to fix a mistake, my comprehension of a pattern and its instructions. I wonder every time I reach for my pins and my scissors and my sewing machine if it is all a pointless exercise in nothingness; if the time spent head bent over a machine, pins held in my mouth with pursed lips, eyes focussed intently on the task at hand, is time wasted because surely I will never be able to create anything like the picture in my head. Surely I will never be able to create something perfect. 

And yet, I still sew. I still write (as evidenced by this space). Aristotle said that taking pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work. So perhaps the point is to want to sew, to want to write, more than that to thoroughly enjoy the process. To take pleasure in a nicely stitched and pressed seam or a handful of words that smoothly push against one another.

Perhaps the how in overcoming the fear is simply doing. With every stitch, with every word, with every project that nears its end, we realise that the mistakes we so desperately do not want to make, are only visible to ourselves. And not just that, but that it is these very mistakes that makes our work uniquely ours.

Perhaps it's both? 

I've decided that the jacket I imagined two years ago in that delicious burgundy paisley fabric must come overseas with me. I've decided that despite my doubts, despite the hopeless pursuit of perfection, this jacket will get on the plane with me in April. I'm sure there will be mistakes, stitches in the wrong place, problems masked with the adeptness of a sewer accustomed to doing so; but, like the sentences I write, they will be noticeable only to me and they will be exactly what makes it unique to me.

kb xx