Fear of Beginning, Fear of Finishing

Have you ever Googled “paralyzing perfectionism”? I did it this morning (not for the first time) and got 18,600 hits. You have no idea how comforting it is to know that I’m far from the only one suffering from that affliction. On second thought, you might know exactly how comforting that is, in which case you and I have something in common other than a passion for sewing. This syndrome is why The Couture Counsellor has been incubating for months. It’s why all-nighters are still part of my work life. And it’s one of the reasons why closets brimming with fabulous clothes exist only in my head. The good news is that I’ve been chipping away at those fears. The closet I do have in my compact city apartment is filling up with clothes I made and love and I’ve started this blog without waiting to get the perfect logo designed, find the perfect blog theme/platform, become a better photographer, learn more about Photoshop, learn HTML, lose 50 pounds, blah, blah, blah.
I approach learning about sewing the same way I approach any research project, which is to say I like to be thorough. Okay, I’m a research junkie. It sometimes serves as my primary avoidance activity.
In classes, when everyone is writing down the technique being demonstrated, my brain is comparing and contrasting what this instructor is saying with what other instructors say about the same subject while my hand is scribbling down the information being given. For a long time, the contradictions threatened to drive me the rest of the way to crazy. Then I realized it just means there is more than one way to do just about anything and our job as sewists is to find the one that works for us, or maybe have a couple of different options available for different situations. Take sewing corners for example. Sew to the end? Pivot 90° at the corner? Pivot 45° and stitch across one stitch? Or is it two stitches? Or three, even? The answer is: It depends. That answer will cause normal people to grind their teeth, but it’s an answer we lawyers use all the time, so I can live with that.
Remember when I said fear of starting is only one of the reasons I have so many more garments in my head than I have in my closet? The other reasons are other demands on my time—working for a living, volunteer work for sewing organizations—and the ridiculous amount of time I spent trying to develop a good set of basic fit patterns. I’ll tell you about that experience and the solution I found at the end of that long, twisty road in an upcoming post. If you are on that road now, I can show you a shortcut. Stay tuned.
The title of this post mentions another fear—fear of finishing. That’s a fear that has become much less of a problem now that my hand sewing skills have improved and I’ve learned how to tackle what I call The Fussy Bits. By that I mean hemming, hand tacking, getting hooks and eyes and snaps in the right place and  sewing all kinds of closures so they look neat and tidy instead of knotted and gnarled. We’ll get to advice about those Fussy Bits in a later post. What I can tell you now is that there is no substitute for getting your hands on fabric, needle and thread and sewing some samples and sometimes some less than stellar test garments. You can read about sewing techniques and watch other people demonstrate them and it will give you a better idea of what to do, but it won’t get you all the way there. It’s like the old joke my father loved to tell about the young person who stopped an old man on the street in New York and asked, “Sir, can you tell me the way to Carnegie Hall?” The man smiled and said, “Practice, practice….”

5 thoughts on “Fear of Beginning, Fear of Finishing

  1. Sarah Liz July 29, 2015 / 1:33 am

    Very enjoyable – I have a chuckle with things like this. I have to admit to some perfectionist tendencies – or rather a need to know why something works. However, I am also comfortable with uncertainty, as life is shades of grey – which helps, sometimes, with sewing 🙂


    • Wendy July 30, 2015 / 6:58 pm

      If only I could learn to make friends with uncertainty I’d be a much calmer person.


  2. Michelle 'Mijanou' Rivera August 1, 2015 / 12:57 pm

    This topic has come up everywhere lately and because nothing is coincidence- I read something recently that really put this into perspective for me. When most people stress or panic everyone talks about the fight or flight response we have. What NO ONE talks about is the paralysis… the deer in headlights syndrome if you will. It’s really common- much more common than fight or flight for most of us and it’s SOOOO frustrating. For me, it’s come down to so much of my perfectionism as well. I’ve learned that perfectionism is a response to fear and is definitely in the controlling category. Most of us who grew up stressed out constantly are trying desperately to avoid pain through controlling things that really can’t be controlled. It’s exhausting and leads to this paralysis. The only thing that has helped me is forgiveness… letting go of how things should’ve been.. and therefore taking it easy. I always thought that if I stopped trying to control things, they’d fall apart but it turns out they all come together naturally. Anyways, it’s helped my sewing a lot. Letting myself make mistakes, not being afraid to start, as you said. Practice, practice is these mistakes ❤ Thanks for this post!


    • Wendy August 1, 2015 / 3:02 pm

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts Michelle.


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