Sunday, October 20, 2013

Properly Assessing Your Work

Today, I'd like to talk about something we tend to gloss over as sewists- properly assessing the work we do.

There's a huge difference between the words "critique" and "criticize". When you criticize your work, you're unfairly comparing it to some level of perfection you've assumed you are capable of at that moment. Nobody is perfect, and even those people that seem to have all the right skills to produce amazing garb have areas they wish they could improve upon. Judging yourself against a standard of perfection is begging for hurt feelings (which you can most definitely do to yourself.) Criticizing your work sounds like, "That eyelet is horrible and ugly, and no one with any talent at all would produce an eyelet like that." Now that might sound like an over-exaggerated statement, but for those struggling with craftsmanship, it's probably not that far off base from some of the things we've said to ourselves. For me, a typical criticism is, "You look like an idiot." And that's a mean thing to say to myself.

When we critique our work properly, however, we remove judgement from the equation. Let's say our eyelets don't look that great. Instead of insulting ourselves in our evaluation, a proper critique is to assess what may have gone wrong, and brainstorm what may have worked better. "This eyelet is a bit wonky. I think I pulled the thread tighter on these few stitches than on the others. I should probably pay more attention to my tension as I stitch." The difference is obvious. In our non-emotional, non-self-depreciating, constructive critique, we've not only made ourselves more aware of an issue, we've provided a goal to achieve the next time around.

There is nothing wrong with looking at every item you create and noting the "things you would change". In some cases, doing that can be a huge advantage to the learning process. You're essentially saying, "There's still something for me to learn here," in a polite and goal-oriented manner. No insult, no hurt feelings, no judgement. The trick is to do it without adding comparisons into the mix. When we begin to assess our work according to what others are creating, especially when those others are beyond our skill stage, we start grading our work on the wrong scale.

If you must compare your work, there are two appropriate areas of comparison I can suggest. One is to compare your current work to your past work. It's a satisfying feeling to see your progress, and I believe there's very little that is as encouraging than to see for yourself what you've learned by looking at what you didn't know how to do in the past. The second is to compare your work to the scale of progress that leads to your goal- NOT the goal itself. This is very tricky. You need to determine what progress milestones you want to hit, then you need to be realistic with your expectations. For historical costumers, your goal is probably to be as authentic as possible for your period of choice. Your progress scale, then, is to progressively add more authentic techniques, materials and style choices to your work as you learn how to do them/work with them/understand them. Working toward recreating extant pieces, and breaking that goal into its parts is a great way to accomplish that. Just make sure to give yourself time to learn.

Finally, remember that being technically good at your craft is only part of the equation. Be sure to critique your acquired knowledge as well. If you can do a technique with your eyes closed, make sure to assess why you do that technique, and what bearing it has on your goal. In that way, you allow yourself to not only become a better sewist, but to become an expert sewist in time!

So tell me, what part of properly assessing your work do you struggle with the most?

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