Sewing Summit and “perfect” sewing


As some of you know, I was recently in Salt Lake City to teach at Sewing Summit. It was such a fantastic time. Hanging out with hundreds of enthusiastic sewists was a huge creative jolt, not to mention getting to spend time with blogging buddies like Sunni and Mena.

(sorry for the lousy phone pic)

One of my favorite parts of the whole conference was Mena’s talk on sewing your own wardrobe, due in no small part to the fact that she’s a wonderful speaker. She had everyone laughing throughout the hour. And, I must admit, it didn’t hurt that she threw Colette Patterns a whole lotta love.

Mena’s message will probably be familiar to those of you who visit the Sew Weekly. She thinks sewing should be fun, and who cares if it’s perfect? Just get it done and make something you like.

As someone who focuses a lot on technique, this really made me step back and think. Do we try too hard to be “perfect” sewists? To make clothes that look like RTW or even better? Do we beat ourselves up when things don’t come out just so? And does it take the fun out of sewing, at least sometimes?

For me, the answer to the last questions is yes. Sometimes it does. Especially when you’re showing your projects off online, it is really hard not to be hyper critical of yourself and what you’ve made, and to forget that this is not a contest. It’s supposed to be FUN.

The real reason I focus on technique isn’t because I’m on a quest to be perfect. Perfection is way overrated. Perfection is boring.

The real reason is that it’s fun to learn. I genuinely enjoy sharpening my skills and learning new ways of doing things. To me, that’s the best thing about sewing. You never stop learning.

So even though Mena is a “get it done” type and I’m a “slow down and enjoy the process” type, I feel like we’re on the same page. Sewing should not be taken too seriously. It shouldn’t be work, and it shouldn’t make you feel inadequate. And if anyone tries to tear you down because your sewing isn’t perfect, they’re the ones missing the point.

Whether you’re in it because you love the process or because you love the final product, there is room for all kinds of enjoyment.

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

Comments 68


This is exactly what I needed to hear right now. Thank you.

Cathie Sue Andersen

I follow you both with equal enjoyment. Your article was very timely for me. I’m just realizing that I’ve always been a process person. I’ll give my quilts and knitted items away for someone else to enjoy. Weird. I’m just getting back into apparel sewing. Here’s hoping I can enjoy the process and KEEP the final project.


I think it makes sense, because after a while you start to wonder how much STUFF you actually need. I’m definitely that way with knitting.


:) thank you. I was having a difficult weekend over a wadder of a skirt… It’s new territory for me making bottoms..


Right on!

Learning new techniques or just a better way of doing something is one of the best things about sewing!

I want to be satisfied with the things I make but I avoid taking it to the extreme because really who cares about a few minor imperfections?!

I am not about striving for perfection either, because it can really take the fun out of creating things.

Sometimes I feel like I am much to hard on myself because when I look at mid to low end RTW garments things can look pretty off and the majority of people don’t even notice.

I think we are often much more critical of the things we make than we are of RTW.


Yes! I did that one day. I took as critical an eye to my RTW stuff and was shocked! Some of my jersey tops were positively twisted and I didn’t bat an eyelash. But topstitching that is 2mm off is unacceptable…eye opening.


I agree, but then we’re that way about a lot of things, aren’t we? Like critiquing our minor physical imperfections instead of focusing on our overall health.


I agree, sewing should be fun – when it becomes a duty the entire point sort of gets lost. I’ve solved that by going the opposite direction from Mena, instead of ignoring what I know to be the best way to make a garment (according to the skills I for the moment master! One can’t do better than one’s best) I’ve chosen to remove all deadlines. I can give myself a “It would be nice to have it ready for that dance-event” or something similar just to get me out of the sofa and into the sewing room, but I’ll always have a back-up outfit for the event, and I don’t beat myself up for not finishing “on time”.

For me it’s not about chasing perfection, but using the techniques I know to make the garment as good as my current skills can master. Knowing I did my best, that’s what makes me happy with a make.


That’s another really smart approach. I think it would work for me if I didn’t need to keep this blog fresh. On the other hand, blogging motivates me! It’s hard to find the right balance between motivation and turning it into a chore.


That’s def the other side of the coin of this approach, my blog is small and the lovely and kind people who reads it seems to be ok with scarce and un-frequent posting. As I blog for myself and those interested despite my posting-habits, that’s totally ok =) But it certainly wouldn’t work for a commercial/company promoting blog!
Sometimes I’ll get caught between the knowledge that I need to not stress my sewing, and the desire to post a new make…


This is a really important message – thank you so much. There are enough reasons to self-flagellate in life, without adding sewing to the list! I am the first to admit to a horrendous perfectionist streak, but it’s largely driven by the desire to learn. I found it very interesting studying with Beth of Sunny Gal Studios earlier this year. We connected immediately over our shared interest in sewing. She has decades of experience and burns on a white heat – she likes fast, because she’s quick and excellent! I have a few years’ experience and burn on a much lower flame – I’m happy to take my time because I’m still learning. Take 100 different Sewists and you’ll have 100 different approaches. All that matters is we’re having fun, making friends and learning!


Exactly, Karen. You said it so well!


I love what Karen said! and his is great! I generally like having a nice product at thge end of the journey but i also wear my imperfect clothes because only i know they are not perfect. :P


Agree agree agree. I’m a recovering perfectionist. Recovering because my perfectionism started to make sewing a chore and something I beat myself up about. One day I decided that the thing I love to do most in the world was not going to be a source of stress and negativity in my life. So, I started to be kinder to myself and, as you say, slow down and enjoy the process. Now I replace the word “Perfect” with the word “Quality”. That is, sew a quality hem; instead of sew a perfect hem. It feels much better to look at sewing that way.


That’s a really great way to look at it. Accepting imperfection doesn’t mean don’t try.

Sew Little Time

i think with sewing you will never learn unless you throw yourself in at the deep end at times, and if it’s not perfect, well, you tried. probably no one apart from you will ever notice the pucker you are beating yourself up over. perfection is a great thing to aim for, but just because you can’t guarantee you will hit it, doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. i like what Kat said above about aiming for “Quality”. but my worst habit is pointing out the problems/ mistakes in things i have made if someone compliments them. i have to stop doing this!


I think that when we really try hard at something and put a lot of work and effort into it, there is a tendency to take little problems and blow them way out of proportion. And then that’s all you can see.


I once went to a workshop by Marcy Tilton where she called herself “a recovering perfectionist.” That’s a wonderful term! As someone who sews almost all her own clothes, I think there is a time for slow attention to detail (a coat that is intended to last for years) and a time to focus more on fun (a knit top that will have a shorter shelf life.) To only sew for fun wouldn’t satisfy me…but a too critical eye can certainly take the joy out of any process.


That’s funny, Kat used the same term in her comment above!

Tracey Wirth

Hi Sarai!
I also enjoyed Mena’s talk. I couldn’t help but think that both you and her are similar in ways, but also sooooo different. There was an uncanny irony that was so interesting to me when Mena spoke of her “all avoidance” to sewing any clothing that would include any sort of closures and the picture she painted for us when she described herself getting dressed – looking like a “snake swallowing it’s dinner” (because her handmade wardrobe omitted all zippers)!!!! It was nice to hear her perspective, to just really enjoy what you are sewing, and to not take it too seriously. I unfortunately do that sometimes and it isn’t a good way to approach any sort of sewing.
It was wonderful seeing you again.


I totally agree. What I really took away was that there are a lot of different approaches. If getting hung up on zippers might make someone give up sewing, by all means they should just skip them! What’s important is having fun.

It was great to see you too, Tracey! Hopefully we’ll meet up at another event soon.


you know this post is right on time – I’ve been putting off my couture dress project (craftsy class) because I was a little intimidated by the skills of susan khaljie. I just whipped out my muslin material to start working on it. I’m not in a race or competition, the only way I’m going to get better is to make a few mistakes on the way.


Right on!

Maybe we should be asking ourselves in those situations: What’s worse, making a mistake or feeling fearful? To me, the answer is obvious.


Well I’ve seen your sample clothes up close and I thought they were pretty perfect! ^__^

Your message hits home to me though; I’m way too hard on myself, and yeah it totally takes the fun out of it! It’s so hard to separate that quest for perfection from a tendency to be critical. Like you and I’m sure, so many others, my quest for perfection is founded on a love of learning, and that oh-so-satisfying feeling when you look at something you made and can feel real pride in your creation. I’m still searching for a way to feel that same pride for the things that didn’t turn out so well – and as someone who’s still a beginner, that’s most things! LOL ^__^ For now I’ve just been counting them towards the learning process and looking forward to the day when I have enough skill to make at least one or two things that are at least ‘nearly’ perfect ^_^


We can thank Caitlin for most of those samples! :)


What a great thought, to abandon perfectionism. I think we all have that in our DNA or we wouldn’t be sewing to begin with. I think it is that quality, to strive for something a little more perfect, that brings us back to the fabric and to the machine again and again. That said, there is a fine line where perfectionism leads to a virtual wall that stifles our creativity and limits our attempts. Finding the balance is the key to the Sewist, may we all get there some day.

Pam E

Even though I sew professionally (menswear shirts)..when I sew for myself I find I get the best results when I slow down and “enjoy the journey” from beginning to end. Sure, the “tricks of the trade” that I learned during my formal Tailoring and Shirt-Making Apprenticeship certainly help the sewing process to go more smoothly (like the “Shirt-makers Secret” Collar Point tutorial I posted recently on my blog, Off The Cuff Style)…but enjoying the process is what it’s all about for me!


Nice post, Sarai. I try to be quality driven and not obsess too much even though I am a bit of a perfectionist by nature. I can’t say that I accept details in RTW that I wouldn’t accept in made by me – I have always been the type to check seams in clothes, look at the way stripes and checks match up, etc – I was pretty spoilt by my aunt who sewed for the family and who was amazing.. and I won’t let my standards slip by comparing my stuff to low to mid RTW – I can afford those, what I can’t afford is high end – and the few high end things I have are really nicely made. That’s what I emulate. I still manage to have fun in my sewing – like others above, I try not to give myself deadlines, and enjoy the process!

I kind of followed Mena’s blog for a while even though I couldn’t get the concept of a dress a week – I was like, but why? Who needs so many clothes – even more so when she did all your dresses in one week… way too much pressure for me! I stopped following, to be honest, as I couldn’t understand the whole no zipper thing – I hate having to wriggle into things and risk ripping thread and honestly can’t see what the biggie is about installing a zipper. To each his own. She is very sweet and funny, but kind of slapdash – unaligned and obviously different darts and tucks put me off and I stopped following her blog. Yours is the type of sewing I like – what can I do?


So true! Being afraid of making mistakes is what’s stopped me sewing clothes for a good few years now, I had a few projects that didn’t come out the way I wanted (but were still perfectly passable items of clothing) and so I gave up and decided that I just couldn’t do it. It’s silly, practice makes perfect and who needs perfect clothes anyway? I’m only going to wear through them in a few years the way I do with shop bought clothes! And then I’ll just sit down and make some more…


Yes, exactly. That is the worst outcome of perfectionism, I think: giving up altogether. Bravo for realizing that!


Thank you so much for your encouraging words. I am a self-taught sewist and have been sewing for many years. I have always worried that my sewing skills may not be as polished as those of other, more schooled sewists, which has made me all the more careful to produce perfect pieces. Over the last few years my sewing has dwindled a bit. However, recently my daughter asked me to sew my grandson’s Halloween costume. I find that I have been almost dreading it because I’m worried about being a bit rusty and I want to sew it perfectly. As I write this, the pieces are all cut, awaiting the sewing machine and I find myself avoiding looking in that direction when I should be so excited, I can’t wait to begin. Your words have given me the encouragement to allow myself to sew freely and enjoy the experience of creating something special for my grandson. Thanks–I needed that!



So wonderful, Merilee. I still remember the costumes my grandmother made for me as a kit, and believe me I wasn’t inspecting the seams. The love and memories associated with them are infinitely more important!


Amen sister! Since I’m constantly telling my students that it’s okay if it’s not perfect, rather it’s the learning that’s key, I have to practice what I preach! We’re only human and this is supposed to be a fun expression of creativity, not a competition.


Exactly. I have a lot of thoughts brewing about competitiveness too. Maybe for another blog post!


I’m with you, I ‘m a perfectionist but I have fun striving to fine tune my skills. Yes, I want to get it done but I want to have something beautiful to step back and look at when it’s finished.


What an interesting discussion. I love learning new techniques and improving my sewing skills. I do have to remind myself not to rush through things sometimes but that it doesn’t have to be perfect- especially the first time around! :)


Thank you for this. I really needed it after this weekend (while sick, no less) discovering a major mistake I recently made in cutting out a dress. Instead of a well-finished crepe, that project is morphing into something else entirely and I was pretty bummed over a “beginner” pattern getting the better of me.


Don’t fret. Everyone makes silly mistakes, it’s inevitable! I’ve ruined some of the simplest projects in the world just by letting my attention lapse. It happens.


What I try to keep in mind when I start nit-picking my sewing, is that while it may not look perfect to me, in an age of mass produced RTW, most non-sewers will never notice. My imperfect fit or construction is still just as good, if not better, than anything someone might buy. So I’ll strive for the perfect fit, and keep learning all the best ways to tackle each detail, but so long as the end result is something I love, the minor problems are just that.


As a beginning sewing instructor, I could not agree MORE!

liza jane

Amen, sister! I teach art by day and am constantly reminding my students that “no one is perfect.” That’s not the point. I need to practice what I preach a little more!

Anne Sharkey

It was after reading the Colette Sewing Handbook and the five fundamentals that I changed my approach from getting the garment finished as soon as possible to taking my time and focusing on enjoying the process. I now work in stages and even if I only spend 30 mins at a time I focus on honing my skills and as a result enjoying the process more and loving the finished article.

Natasha E

I think for us to consider sewing as a hobby we need to be “process people” to some extent otherwise we are just a small sweat shop factory with a customer base of one.


Thanks for this! I’m new to sewing garments, and sometimes get a bit nervous putting my finished projects on my blog, because they are certainly not perfect. And low and behold, I recently had someone say something negative. They were a bit of a bully, actually, and it made me feel terrible.

Your message is wonderful because it reminds me that I am doing this for myself. As long as I am having fun and learning from the process, who cares if a few details are less-than-perfect. Secondly, your blog is exactly the reason I started sewing garments in the first place – because this online sewing community if full of advice and support. Thank you again, I enjoy your blog and appreciate the encouragement.


Angela, I’m so sorry to hear that. I sometimes wonder if these online bullies go around insulting strangers and giving unsolicited negative feedback in their day to day lives.


I think hiding behind the Internet lets a few people say critical things they wouldn’t dare say otherwise. But to follow up, I posted a finished project today and the outpouring of support was incredible! It warms my heart, and makes me want to share the love. Thanks again!


Thanks for such a timely post. I finished a top last night which I blogged about this morning. I paid lots of attention to matching the stripes on the side seams and totally didn’t think about the shoulders. I’m just going to put those imperfections down to a learning for next time and wear it with pride. And I’m also not going beat myself up when I forget about this learning and make the same mistake again (which is highly likely!).


Perfection is overrated. When I was learning to sew, I ended up with a lot (bold, underline) of unflattering, uncomfortable clothes that were worn once and then given away but I learned so many techniques with each garment and that’s what it was about. I have been so discouraged by today’s fast fashion trend and the bland, synthetic clothes available in RTW that I have returned to sewing clothing. Now, I want an outfit that I can be proud to wear and it must fit well and be comfortable. So, I don’t make as many articles of clothing as I did twenty, thirty years ago, but what I make I sew slowly and deliberately so it comes out well. Do I want perfection? No, but I do want to be able to pat myself on the back for a job well done!

Jordan Elizabeth

Great post with great reminders!

I’ve been working on a coat (and this one IS for a contest), and I’ve been really hard on myself. Just yesterday I went to the mall and scrutinized some RTW coats at different price points to see what I should be doing better – or so I thought. Instead I ended up feeling very good about my work. (Honestly, you’d think even at a lower price point threads would be clipped! And that sleeve lining that just refuses to sit nicely? The $300+ coat had the same problem.)

I am very much a recovering perfectionist. (Sometimes I think I’ve dropped the “recovering” part though!)


I hate when coats that are $500+ have cheap synthetic linings. Total pet peeve, especially when they are being mass produced in china. What exactly are we paying for in that case?

Jordan Elizabeth

Thank you! I’m not the only one!

Synthetics in general are a total pet peeve of mine. I understand their place, but that place is not in a $500 coat.

Natasha E

Yes! This Exactly. RTW isn’t all that and a bag of chips when it comes to construction most of the time unless your buying $1000 coats.


Sewing should be enjoyable and the work that comes out of your hands should make You happy! Always remember that not everything store-bought is perfect either. Take pride in your stitches and wear your own clothing with a smile.


Sometimes I love to take my time, underline, hand baste, embroider and so on – I want everything to be perfect and master new skills. Other times I just want to sew for the sheer satisfaction of creating something… and fast. I think for me it depends on my mood – and how life is going. If I’m happy I sew slower, when I’m sad or bogged down in life I’m after something that feels like an instant reward.


For me a lot of my ‘fear’ or quest for perfection has stemmed from trying to use higher-quality materials. It’s one thing to scrap a project or deal with an imperfect garment when the fabric is $3.99/yd quilting cotton, but as I start to sew different fabrics that cost more and take longer to find/source, I feel that there’s more “at risk.” Your post makes me want to mix in a few more care-free projects now and again so that I don’t lose sight of the fun of being creative!


That’s another thing Mena addressed in her talk. She said she’s afraid to cut into her vintage rayon prints. I totally identified with that, because I have some gorgeous vintage fabrics that I can’t bear to cut.


I love the process of sewing. It’s fitting a jigsaw puzzle together. Too often, it’s easy to get wrapped up in being perfect. I recently made a costume dress for a friend. While fitting it on her in the final stages, I was kinda cringing at all the imperfections I saw on the garment. But she loved it and was so happy that I made it for her, that response allows me to overlook all the flaws I perceive. And when I showed it to my mom (who taught me how to sew), she said it was a really nice job and that I did good. Considering that this was a first project of this type, that makes me very happy. I think if we have the right people inspiring us, we’ll forgive our projects “imperfections” and enjoy the whole process a bit more. Having blogs like yours and Mena’s really help with that inspiration. And for that I say “Thank You!” :-)


Another great point! A little encouragement goes a long way.


When I was an undergraduate in art school, we had a visiting painter who came to speak. I forget her name but her work was just incredible. The one thing that stood out to me about her talk (and I don’t and have never painted) was her instruction to “learn to paint,” post haste, so that every time you worked on something that part wasn’t getting in the way. While I agree with you that we’re always learning, there was something about that made so much sense– you have to get your skills in line so your lack of skills aren’t hindering the more dynamic and creative and yes, fun, parts of the process. With sewing, I definitely haven’t “learned to sew,” but I’m still trying to have fun and look forward to that stage where it’s a more natural process that I can delve into and really be creative with.


That is another really interesting perspective. I do agree that there is a great creative benefit to getting to a point where the skills feel natural. I also find that when you build a solid base, it’s easier to learn new skills.

But I do think a home sewist might need different expectations than a professional artist too. A painter must commit to building those skills, but I think many of those who sew for fun have other priorities to balance. So I see both sides of it.


Love this post. I definitely think that focusing on perfection is actually what keeps from even starting projects sometimes. No one is perfect, especially when they’re just starting out. I need to accept that if I make something and it looks terrible, then at least I’ve learned what NOT to do when I make something else!


LOL right after I wrote this comment, I saw this post on Sew Weekly ( #2 and #3 are great bits of advice!


I am also a “recovering perfectionist” (in more than my sewing, lol). I have fond memories of the 3 years I worked in the costume shop during college (2 of the 3 of us were science majors, lol). Rainy afternoons spent building costumes while listening to Paul Harvey on NPR, the creativity of searching through the “closets” to see what we had that filled the costume designer’s ideas and presenting our finds, learning new techniques to make the pieces needed to fill in the gaps…

I especially remember 2 things the technical theater professor said to me. Once when I said that my sewing skills were “not professional” (i.e., in my mind not as good as a “real” tailor/sewist), he responded that since I was being paid for them (my sewing skills), how exactly did I define professional?

His other thing (and something he said frequently with a smile) was “Good enough for theater.” Which could be translated into good enough for what it needs to do. Don’t fret over the hidden mistakes, or the fact that you know you could have done some part of it better.


I love hearing from all the sewers out there…I only recently rediscovered my love of sewing, and I’m actually at a place where I want to improve and fine tune the “small things” like sean allowances that look neat and hems that go beyond a straight stitch on the machine. I’m having a great time learning all about the details that I avoided like the plague for years. But I am having fun..and that’s the bottom line for me…no timed challanges for this girl, or sewing things that I would never wear. For me it’s fun if it’s practical and I’m learning something new.


As I was reading this post, I immediately thought about the lovely purple and white plaid dress that I made last spring. I had to do major adjustments to the pattern for fit across my bust. So the last thing I was thinking about was matching the plaid. However, when I was finished with the dress, while the plaid did not match perfectly, it matched close enough that you had to be very close to see where it didn’t match. I was NOT unhappy with how it turned out and the last time I wore it, I received many compliments. I was very proud to be able to say, “Thank you, I made this dress!”

Angela Bowman

Hi Sarai, I really enjoyed your talk at Sewing Summit, as well as Mena’s. I realize that we all enjoy our creative passions for different reasons, but you really home for me with “learning”. If I’m not learning, I’m not happy. This applies to not only sewing, but to my job, my relationships, and life in general.

Also, rushing through the process absolutely ruins my enjoyment for sewing. This is why you will never see any assembly-line sales business model from me! It’s all about teaching and learning :)


I think you hit the nail on the head. Sewing is very much about enjoyment and not so much about being perfect. However, I have to admit that I enjoy perfecting my skill at various things. Having been to Mena’s lecture, I was great encouraged by her enthusiasm, but at the same time, I knew that what she was saying about certain things – like the zipper conundrum – is not for me. I enjoy a challenge and I also truly enjoy conquering and perfecting applications like putting in a beautiful zipper.

I definitely don’t think that anyone should stop sewing because their first, second or third zipper insertion wasn’t perfect. Or because they put the sleeves in backwards or made a mistake – LIFE is about making mistakes and learning to overcome them or do it better next time. My sewing is not perfect, but I strive to make those kinds of garments that I love and am happy wearing. That’s the point! Yay! Very well said and great conversation here!

xo, Sunni

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