Nature Versus Nurture

Recently I spoke with a quilter who was agonizing over the spacing of her quilting lines.  She was obsessing (my term)/being meticulous (her term) about whether to rip out already done quilting because she felt the spacing between lines was about an eighth inch off.  I certainly didn’t notice this in her work nor would I have even considered ripping it out if it were my work.

This got me thinking about the old nature versus nurture question because I am inherently a “good enough” person while my brother is a perfectionist.  When I made my clothes in high school and sewed my facings  in wrong side up I just tacked them down as is.  Nobody would see them.  In college I had some hems held up by tape for four years. It worked, right? Those guys were not interested in the quality of my hems.

In contrast, my brother glued hundreds of little pennants to a string for one of his battleship model kits.  If they weren’t straight he redid them. He went on to become a computer programmer.

We grew up with parents who took very different approaches to tasks.  Our father would decide to touch up the window trim and start slapping on paint without bothering to clean the surfaces first. If the dirt got painted on it just added interesting texture.  Our mother would frantically try to swab the surfaces before his brush reached them. She would stay up all night before Easter to get the armhole of my brother’s suit jacket sewn in just right. Yes, she made our spring outfits each year, including my good spring coat.

Here I am about age 14 in that year’s outfit.

Joanna Easter age 14001

I can’t help but believe that the different approaches my brother and I take came coded in our genes. He got our mother’s fair skin and perfectionism; I got our father’s easily tanned skin and his slapdash ways. We witnessed both approaches during our childhoods, so I don’t think nurture had much of a role, despite my mother’s constant admonition that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing right.

What does this have to do with quilting? One conclusion I have come to reluctantly is that sometimes I have to rip stuff out, that care from the beginning will pay off later. I have looked at too many of my finished quilts and regretted not having redone some piecing or quilting.

I have gotten more careful over the years, but it’s because the nag inside my head is scolding me, not because I have an innate desire for perfection. I’m still not ready to rip out a sleeve seven times to get it perfectly smooth.





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8 responses to “Nature Versus Nurture

  1. Interesting essay. I’ve never been a perfectionist and am incredibly grateful for that fact! I hadn’t thought about my mom’s influence on that, but perhaps it was there. She wanted things right but generally perfect wasn’t an issue. I remember trying to help with a project once when she scolded me about how big an 1/8″ was. (Now I know!) And yet, she made theatre costumes (as well as standard clothing). For costumes, it’s important to remember that the audience does NOT see the detail, they see the impression. Perfectionism would be an inefficient use of time and money for that purpose.

    • I suspect my mother’s perfectionism was motivated by her desire to impress her mother who was a professional seamstress. I gather my mother had refused to learn to sew until she was in her forties.

  2. I try to take the big picture. Quilting is so heavy on details–tiny stitches, even stitches, points that line perfectly–that it’s easy to lose track of the fact that anyone (except me) who looks at the quilt is going to see the dandy whole, not the little imperfections. I do want it to be structurally sound–that’s different–but I’m really quite okay with the little missteps that show it was made by a human being!

  3. patty

    A person who says they are a perfectionist is delusional! To me, it is a matter of doing work that satisfies what I am trying to accomplish to the best of my ability. Yes, sometimes I have to redo something, but that is just part of the process. I don’t use the word perfect, because nothing is perfect especially me!

    • I’m reminded of the phrase “it can be good, cheap, or fast, not all three” in connection with quilting. There are tradeoffs and, since none of us have world enough or time, we make executive decisions about what is good enough for a particular piece.

  4. Lesley

    I haven’t got time for perfection. In fact, I feel quite insulted when someone says to me, “Well, I’m a perfectionist.” I know perfection is not possible, so I settle for the best I can do. Life is too short. I need to get on!

    • I guess I believe in situational perfectionism, at least in quilting. If I know I want to enter a piece in a fancy show then I’ll be as careful as I know how to be. Otherwise, my goal is to make a piece well enough to last and to please the user.

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