Tuesday, November 25, 2008

10,000 hours revisited...

Now you didn't think I was going to let this rest, did you?! I did promise to give you my number and the comments were so interesting that I thought I would share some of them with you too. The post also spawned a post by, Shannon and a mention by Kristy! So I guess it's something that all of us have an opinion on...

Okay my number was around 13,300 hours. And its probably a little on the low side...I have been sewing since I was 11 years old and have never stopped...not during any period of my life haven't I sewn...okay there was a six month stretch while I was getting divorced but this is a person who bought a sewing machine while she was in college and set it up in her dorm room. I remember having an argument on New Year's Eve with my significant other because the dress I had made to wear over my 6 month pregnant body was just a little too sexy for him...oh really now? *LOL*

I made my wedding suit. I made maternity clothing for 2 of my 3 pregnancies. I made my DD's church dresses and outfits for school, school dance dresses, costumes for school and church plays, dance outfits and prom dresses. A sewing machine has been a constant in my life since the Christmas of my 11th year...I don't know what it's like not to own one!

I've said all that to say that even though I've sewn like forever, I don't consider myself an expert. I think there's quite a few things that I could learn to do better and some things that I can't do at all. I can fit my body because I've had years to practice on it...but I would be hesitant to fit someone else. I know how to handle certain types of fabrics because I've handled them for years...in some things practice does make perfect. However, I'm like a fish out of water using something like leather...can we say new adventure?! *LOL*

"Do I think 10,000 hours equals expert?"

No, *shaking head* no, not at all! The reason that I posed the questions that I did was because I truly believe you have to have a talent to sew. There has to be an innate gift that lets you know what fabric goes with what pattern. When something, be it pattern or fabric, can be used in an atypical fashion and still result in an amazing garment. There has to be this intuitiveness working that shows up in your finished pieces...hours and hours of sewing can make you an excellent technician but not an expert. Now of course you are free to disagree with me...you know I love a great conversation...but that's my point of view!

So let's take it to the comments and see what others have to say...

Marji wrote:
"But my initial reaction is, there has to be an inclination and talent or all the hours in the world will never yield the best. Michael Phelps may put in the hours (and we know he did), but he's also got the physiognomy and the talent."

I loved this one by Mel J.:
"Something my Dad likes to tell me comes to mind: "you can have ten years experience OR one years experience ten times over". If all the thousands of hours spent sewing do not include advanced skill building, you CAN'T get to an advanced level."

And Claire was adamant:
"I don't agree with her theory. There has to be talent. I surf a LOT of sewing blogs. I see people who put in hours on end sewing and their work is mediocre and their clothing is unflattering. Then there are those who don't have a ton of hours to invest but the quality of their work when they do sew is impressive - what I'd call expert - and they really have that ability to put out fine craftsmanship. Perseverance, per se, is honorable, but it doesn't make someone a skilled seamstress or designer. There has to be an eye for details, construction, as well as composition and silhouette. I've been sewing for years, but I would never consider myself an expert."

Wendy wrote:
"Dressmaking is a craft that is definitely improved by technique...and technique can really only be mastered by practice, practice, practice, practice."

NancyK said:
"Sewing many hours certainly helps, but if you don't push your boundaries, no matter how many hours you sew isn't going to get you to that expert level, much less the best of the best."

That's definitely a consensus right! How about some other points of view:

Myra says:
"I think it is both. Time invested and increasing the skills as you invest time is one side, but you have to have an "eye" for it, too, so you enjoy it, appreciate it and visualize the finished product before you begin."

Sewsy contributed:
"So, where do I stand on this "work hours in equals a mastery of a particular endeavor?" Well, yes and no. There can be arguments offered up both ways. It depends on the person, I feel, more than the amount of hours."

Finally Athena added:
"It's never one end of the spectrum or the other. You need both experience and talent to be outstanding in any craft. As everyone who commented before has said. How do you add talent and a good eye to a math equation?"

Then there were two comments that I loved...just loved!

Linda said:
"Ah, the old quality time versus quantity time argument."

And Ann Rowley wrote:
"I’m a bit late to this party – but what an interesting topic, and what erudite replies!"

That is so Ann, but she goes on to say...
"I was brought up, by perfectionist parents, with the mantra “practice makes perfect” ringing in my ears. But not only do you need to practice; you need to love doing it, even be obsessive about it. Many times over the years I’ve sewn when I really should have been doing something else. And yes, I’ve done the hours – and some – but am rarely 100% satisfied with what I achieve; although I admit having considerable skills. I hope to go on learning, practicing and striving for that always elusive “best”."

Since Ann is one of my sewing sheros...I'm going to end there! But there were 31 well thought out and well expressed (erudite indeed!) comments. If you haven't had a chance to peruse them, scroll back a few posts and take a moment to read them!

To everyone who left a comment...thank you so much for being willing to share your opinions with all of us! It was greatly appreciated!

More later!!!


  1. Very interesting discussion. Like others have already said, we can see some very prolific sewist on the Web and sometimes you realise they only tackle "easy" or "very easy" patterns. Some seem to make a garement a week, but invariably look mediocre, if not frumpy. Others are almost as prolific but invariably showcase drop-dead gorgeous pieces with very advanced techniques, flawless fit and exquisite fabric choice. They have talent, on top of the numbers of hours put in the craft.

    I thought I was a beginner intermediate sewist until I discovered the Internet sewing community. Then I realised I'm barely a beginner. I have maybe 100 hours under my belt. Dust particules of experience. My work is mediocre at best or good for the garbage bin at worst. I still don't know if I have the talent. I guess time will tell.

  2. I agree with one of the earlier comments mentioned in the post. I surf alot of blogs, too, and see alot of great fitting, sewing work, etc., with great results and some that are, eh, and I won't say where I have seen it. Not that I have all this knowledge, I don't, that's why I surf the blogs and keep trying, to learn more. Just that some things do not "look right". And some of mine are right in there, hence the frump girl post from last week, which I did not photograph, too fugly on me.

  3. I am amazed at your ability to engage the sewing community. That is one of the reasons why I enjoy reading your blog.
    This was an interesting discussion. I am in agreement with the general consensus; the number of hours you put into sewing does not necessarily make you an expert or a great sewer. I know sewers who never read a sewing book, or took a class and they can design and sew anything just by looking at a design or by inspiration. This type of sewer is gifted and they don’t spend a lot of hours sewing in fact they sew occasionally. They are some fabulous and not so fabulous sewers on the Web. I have been sewing since the 9th grade and after surfing the web for the last year I realize my level of sewing is advance beginner to intermediate. I will rather sew 2-3 garments a year and know that the construction techniques were well executed and that the garment looks great on the inside and most important it fit well, than turn out a garment a week and the sewing is mediocre.

    One last point, no matter what your level of sewing is, with “consistent” sewing, your skill will definitely improved

  4. I'm late to your discussion, but I do have a comment or two. :)

    I read Erin's original article and actually encountered the idea and formula 5 or 6 years ago. I thought it was neat to revisit the concept. I'm one who is apt to think it's both time and talent, but it's also appropriate education, a.k.a. the stuff we don't think applies but really does.

    Someone can be the best seamstress but stink as a designer. It wasn't until I read "The Triumph of Individual Style" that I finally understood why the clothes I made turned out less than stellar. When you understand proportion, lines and fabric weight, all of a sudden your sewing turns out so much better! 'magine that! lol

    As far as "expert," we need to decide what kind of expert we want to be. If we're going to be a professional "seamstress to the stars," our knowledge base needs to be different than if we want to sew good fitting, stylish clothing for ourselves and our family. Big difference.

    BTW, love your Dior Dress.

  5. Thanks for the recap Carolyn :) I had to look erudite up in the dictionary, lol. Shows I musn't be very scholarly ;(

  6. Thank you for revisiting this Carolyn. I love the engaging way you address sewing beyond the "I just made this dress" part of sewing.

    Part of what I find so interesting about this discussion, is the idea of "time equals expertise" which really can't be the entire story, versus talent or even just curiosity and interest.

    I am intrigued by the wide diversity of the sewing community. Yes there are beginners and people who do incredibly advanced work. But there are also people who hare happy at various points along that entire spectrum, some of them are more than happy to be excellent technicians but not designers, and I revel in their contribution and gifts. Not everyone wants to sew fabulously detailed couture clothing. Some people are more than happy sewing simpler things, but even then focused time improves skill, and curiosity, intuition, creativity, and just pure love of what you are doing also must play a role.

    A lot seems to depend on what kind of expert one wants to be. And I am not sure that a true "expert" ever really masters everything because their skill and their curiosity drives them forward to learn more and want to achieve more. If one doesn't have that drive to learn, to do better, I am not sure that one can become an expert in anything.

  7. I really agree with you Carolyn. I too have sewn continuously all my life since I was 14. I'm 60 now and sew more than ever. Being retired helps with the time thing. But I don't consider myself an expert either . And as for being talented, my three sisters all insist that I am and I vehemently disagree with them. I guess it's because I tend to feel that I love sewing so much that talent has nothing to do with it.I am skilled however but not in all aspects of sewing.
    There ,I've had my two cents worth. Happy Sewing!

  8. I remember a girl one summer in college who had a sewing machine in her dorm room. She had the cutest summer dresses that generally cost about .50 as she could get remnants in the basement of a department store that carried nice fabric in the late 1960's. That was real sewing inspiration to me back then. Thanks for bringing back the memory. mssewcrazy

  9. Hi Carolyn and everyone,

    Happy Thanksgiving. I'm late to the conversation. This is the first moment I've had to visit you in a couple of weeks because I'm moving my sewing school to a new location (moving is hard work lol).

    Great discussion!

    Here's what I've learned. I, like you, feel that I'm no expert even though I teach sewing. I've been sewing since I was 12, like you. I have made all kinds of things throughout my life. It's my passion which is why I followed my heart to start teaching 3 years ago. I have taught around 500 people which of very few would I call on their way to being an expert. I've had 9 year old girls with very few hours of class where I have watched them blossom into being an expert at a young age. I've also seen this with some adults. Some of my students have started their own successful businesses.

    You can have all the desire and knowledge and still not be an expert. It's something inside you - your gift that enables you to be an expert. From what I have seen watching many people very few of us have this gift. But the desire in us is very strong.

    I haven't had time to sew (well, my own projects anyway) and there are holiday gifts to make - time passes quickly.

    I sure would love to have a sewing party with all the people on this blog. We would have a lot of fun!!

    Enjoy your moments with your family today. We have a lot to be thankful for this year. Hopefully next year we will have our troops home.

  10. I have been sewing for 40 years and have put in way more than 10,000 hours. I have run a sewing business and taught classes. But I am no expert. There are plenty of things in sewing that I have never tried. And lots of things I just don't like to do. Even in the things I specialize in- fleece, home dec- I am no expert. I just know where to find an expert answer so the project gets done the right way.
    I don't have to be an expert to enjoy sewing. I love what I do.


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