Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What are you?

Erin, who authors the blog, "A Dress A Day" had an interesting post today complete with a math equation! Her post is called, "10,000 Hours" and it's about what makes you the best of the best in your field.

She says,
"but here is the two-minute takeaway: when we look at people who are at the top of their game, it's not so much that they are fantastically talented -- it's more that they put in the time. How much time? About ten thousand hours of time, if you want to be the best of the best. (If you want to be merely good, shoot for 8,000 hours, and if you're okay with being just north of mediocre, 4,000 hours.)"

And she gives a formula:

Number of hours you sew a month x 12 months x the number of years you've been sewing equals _____________ hours. This number then designates whether you are an expert (best of the best), good or mediocre. Check her post out! Read it for yourself and then figure out where you are in the sewing game. I have a number because you know I did the math right away...and I'm not sure I agree with it! *LOL* But do the math and then let me know what you think!

So the question of the day is: Are you the best of the best in this craft? Are you just good enough? Or are you mediocre and working on improving? And finally, do you believe this theory to be justified? Can you really be the best of the best without some talent, or is it just about the time put into the process? Talk back to me...I really want to know what you think!

It is an intriguing thought, isn't it?! And maybe I will share my answer later this week!


  1. Too tired to do the math tonight, but I'll def have to go read Erin's post then do the math.
    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.
    Interesting concept.

  2. I can't say I agree with it. My boyfriend used to make costumes for him and his friends when they were kids. He only did it for a few years but I saw the costumes and they were amazing. Me, I have been sewing for a long time and I am still not good, certainly not as good as he was at 12! LOL And this year he made our child's halloween costume, no pattern, and it looked great even though he hasn't sewn a thing in years. I think it's a talent that some people have naturally and some don't.

  3. 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. (Me, I've been sewing 15 years but am still an advanced beginner shifting into intermediate. Kids clothes don't really develop haute couture skills...)

  4. 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. There is so much I don't know and it requires training. Just sitting in my sewing room for hours on end won't teach me what I need to know to improve my skills.

    Think about a child who practices the violin for years but has no ear for music. The same goes for sewing. You either have it or you don't.

    Just my two cents. You asked. :)

  5. Interesting post. I haven't done the maths but I am sure I am way short of 10,000 hours and I have the sewing evidence to prove it! I do think anyone can learn to actually sew very well given enough time and patience, though I think you have to enjoy doing it. However having an eye for design is a whole different ballgame.

  6. I work in an entirely different medium for the most part and have for over a handful of years and consider myself advanced (although no expert) but I think that talent plays a huge part in the final results. Practice too, but, I think there needs to be the "eye" for something as well. I started sewing about a year ago and so many things are beyond me, but I felt this way when I started working in my other medium as well. I think after a few years, which is by no means 10,000 hours unless you do nothing but sew, you can kind of figure out where you will go with it in the future.

    By then you know if you've acquired the skills to do better, and know if you have the talent and the innate feel for becoming great. At least some day. ;)

  7. Well, by that formula, I'm a super-triple-expert. If only! I'm really, really good at some things, but I am not good at other things in the sewing realm. What all my experience has done is make me fearless. I'll tackle anything once.

  8. I love this post.

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

    When you look at, say, a suit that someone created, there are a few components of it: the fabric choice, the line, the construction, and cumulative effect of all of that. I do agree that some level artistry can help, especially in choosing fabric colors and texture and creating or choosing a pattern with nice lines. But then the construction is usually all hard work and patient application of techniques you've practiced. And that construction is what makes something drop dead gorgeous. Some people don't need that perfect construction to be happy with their creation, but there are certainly blogs and forums online where people really work to achieve that, and are incredibly generous to share their journeys via their blogs & forum posts. (I'm thinking of the breathtaking work you can always find on the Stitcher's Guild SIPP thread here, for sure! (; )

    Wow, that was long! So I agree with her that the more you work on you skills, the more likely you are to move towards making something really incredible.

  9. 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. Do I think that hours put in will get you to the best of the best on it's own? No, I'm with Marji here. You also have to want to be the best. Certainly Michael Phelps has that kind of drive. Is it important to be the best of the best? For most of us, this is a hobby, so I don't even think that it's important. Sewing at a level that you are happy with and enjoy is more important in my book. Striving to be the best of the best is too stressful for a hobby even if it is a passion.

  10. 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. I have had no formal training at all, but I am willing to try it and work at it until I get it right. I picked sewing up easily, maybe it's genentic, my mother, grandmother and her sisters all sewed extensively and well, with no training other than at home and I have had very little help from mom. I think anyone who wants to can sew acceptably, but the extra oomph comes from inside.

  11. I wholeheartedly agree with littlemis. I too have seen the work of some sewers in blogland who profess to having had lots of education in the sewing arts, and can give lots of great advice about sewing and pattern manipulation, know lots about fabrics and fibers.... but when you see the work they post, it doesn't match up. Very poor workmanship.

    On the other hand, I've seen pictures of work done by "novices" who turn out really great looking clothes.

    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.

    Now, I'm writing about sewing, not say- heart surgery, so this rant is only about using a needle and thread.

    Personally, I haven't had the time to invest in sewing until recently, and I sew fairly well. I've read sewing related books and articles, tried to keep abreast of new machines and innovations in the home sewing industry, and above all, the enthusiasm and love of all things (garment) sewing related are still with me. I'm thankful for that.

    I think that wanting the clothes to turn out well, and aiming for the best looking AND fitting garment one can make, rather than the amount of time spent overall, counts for as much if not more when it comes to turning out good looking garments.

  12. 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?
    I am a little sad though. I did the math and not even getting close to halfway I feel very much like the amature I am. I've been sewing for pleasure for 12 years and I only have 1,728 hours according to the math.

  13. Ah, the old quality time versus quantity time argument.

    I have to agree with those that say just spending time at a craft does not make you the best of the best. It can make you better, however, not necessarily better than someone who spent less time but used their time more wisely.

  14. I'm reading this book because of the original blog post I saw (referenced here). It intrigued me. He goes on past the 10,000 hours to list other reasons, so far talent hasn't been mentioned, but a drive and passion to work hard is part of the equation. That's where putting in the 10,000 to develop the craft comes in.

    I started sewing 20+ years ago. I love it and it is a passion for me. I havne't always been able to devote hours and hours a day to it, but I do push myself to create challenging project. In fact, a project just doesn't hold my attention unless I'm very challenged by it. So I think that drive has helped me to develop to a higher level than if i'd just merrily made easy projects all this time.

    I would suppose though, that by now I've put in the 10,000 hours.

  15. I've done the math and I'm actually embarrassed at the number - more time spent sewing than I thought in the past 25 years at a machine, not counting the 6 before that of hand sewing and not counting other fiber related crafts.

    I think there is a point to which time put in does equal quality of output. After that point to really acheive greatness, there must be some inborn talent or ability.

    That said, do I think I've arrived at the pinnacle of sewing perfection? Um, absolutely not. I'd say I sew pretty well for someone who has taught themself how to sew. Are there things I could do better or learn to do? Absolutely.

    The day you've think you've arrived is the day you should quit. You have to come to the end of the road as you see it, and what's the point if there are no more goals to achieve?

  16. Like with anything you have to have a love for it, the drive and passion to pursue it and become the best. To be the best at anything requires time to practice, research & read, maybe some training and more practice. Patience to work through it and see it to the end and not give up when you are frustrated. A creative/visual mind set to help you work through the issues when the patterns instruction are complicated and you just don't get and their no one to call at that time in the morning...lol....

  17. You know, I've been thinking about that for two days now -- ever since I read it on Erin's blog. And, for the life of me, I can't come up with a good number indicating how much time I've spent sewing. I really wish I would have kept track of the time spent on my wedding dress. That would have been interesting!

  18. I liked Erin's post also! The dress was beautiful! I've sewn a lot of wedding dresses and dance/prom dresses in my sewing experience. But you know, if we sew the same thing every time, or don't find a project with something that will build new skills then how can we obtain the "10,000 Hour" sewing skill? To be honest, I don't always look for projects that have different things I haven't done before. You know how it is, life seems to make us want to hurry through, get it done, onto the next item! I guess it's time to belly up to the sewing machine and try something harder! Something I haven't done before! Guess I will take it as a challenge! To improve myself this next year of sewing!

  19. I have to come down on the side of "Both!" Without talent, you can spend all of your time at something, but if calculus doesn't cut it for you, you won't ever be a rocket scientist. Likewise, you can have all the natural tendencies of Emeril for putting together astonishing food, but if you don't work at, it won't be happening for you. These are 2 examples distant from that near and dear to all of our hearts, sewing, to express the point that it takes both talent and perseverence to excell at anything! And we'd love to know what your number is!

  20. Interesting question! I have absolutely no idea how many hours I've spent sewing as it has waxed and waned over the years depending on how much time I had. As for whether time alone will make you an expert--I think that depends on the definition of expert. I think after 10,000 hours you'll be an expert at the sewing techniques you use, but it won't make you an expert on all things sewing. 10,000 hours does not equal couture level skills, but it could mean a really excellent t-shirt.

  21. You have to have the talent. I've been sewing since I was 14. My first attempt to learn to sew was a disaster. My first attempt but me off of sewing. If the middle school that I was going to hadn't thrown me into a sewing class(kicking and screaming by the way), I don't think I would be sewing today. It only took maybe two weeks before a light bulb went off in my head and my hidden talent surface. I sew very well; maybe not the greatest but very well(I'm being modest here). You do have to put time into you art, to grow and be better or great. There is always room to grow and improve even if you are the greatest.

  22. I agree with most of you, practice all you want at something, but if you don't have a basic aptitude, you aren't going to get to expert status no matter how much time you put in. As some have said, an eye for what you're doing is probably required. If you can't see what needs improving, you won't know what to work on. And there are some skills that you probably need a teacher/mentor, and if one is not available, you're out of luck on that. Great talent can probably overcome anything, but most of us are not working with that skill set. :)

  23. I think that most everyone here has a similar idea. I agree with that general idea, but I will add that one thing that Erin said in her post is that if you WANT to be the best. If you want to be the best and devote the time to being the best, you will of course challenge yourself to try new things, as well as perfect basic skills. If you are just going through the motions, no matter how much time is invested you will never be the best. I think that an artful eye is helpful in the final presentation(and that may not be something that you could learn), but the skills can be acquired. Now the question is if the desire to sew is an indicator of a pre-disposed aptitude(if aptitude is what you need to be excellent), or if the action of sewing without the desire to be excellent, will produce the same result in the end. I think it will not.

    Well, that was a hard concept to get down in text, :). I hope it made sense...


  24. I've actually never kept track of how much I sew in a week (maybe I should) - I just do what I can with the time I get!

    Now for the question... I think talent has an awful lot to do with results. If you have talent, you're able to produce some fantastic looking results without as many hours working on your craft. I also think that if you're not talented, but put in a lot of hours you'll get good results, but they still may not be as 'stunning' or creative as the person who has talent.

  25. There are certain innate skill sets that you are born with. I have one daughter who has amazing fine motor skills, great for sewing. (She's a dentist.) The other wonderful daughter would throw the needle across the room, but hit her target, gross motor skills. She will never sew. To me the genetic aspect is an interesting and big part of this. I come from a line of amazing seamstresses, one of whom "half raised" me. I would bet many of you out there could say the same. That atmosphere of encouragement and creativity teaches you at a young age to take the chances required to extend your craft and to focus intently on your end goal/garment. THEN you put in the ten thousand hours. So innate ability, which is partly that "eye", doing the time, and the self challenge are what in my opinion get you towards the end prize. For me that end prize is always out there and always waiting to be reached. I will never get there but will always strive. There is always something new to add to the creative process.

    Did I get my ten thou? Yup, and then some, embarassingly.

  26. A coach I had a long time ago says that to be good, "You have to get obsessed, and STAY obsessed" I think he's right. If you have talent, and work really hard to develop that talent, you will get better at what you do. That's why athletes spend hours training - so what they do seems effortless.

  27. Intriguing question. It depends, in my opinion, on how you define 'the best'. For some, it would be pumping out a quantity of wearable garments, for others it might be producing one top quality couture garment a month/year/whatever. My mother sewed all her life but was never very good because she didn't have the passion for it. I sew a fraction of the time she did and I now I produce better work because I WANT to be doing it.

    I am reasonably happy with my skill level, I am actively working on improving things. There are some sewists who would not be happy to be working at my level and strive to achieve a higher quality. It's all relative, in my opinion.

  28. This sounds like a nature versus nurture debate. I think it can be both for sure. If someone has natural talent, they can make it despite their circumstances (in this case, time spent sewing). For those without raw talent, putting in your time and having a passion can result in just as many beautiful things.

    I also believe that time will pass quickly when doing an enjoyable craft, so hours can add up, just based on that.

  29. Hi Carolyn, thanks for dropping by my blog!

    ..interesting question. It's kinda like in art, some people are able to pick up a brush and paint quickly, while the rest of us must go through some training. I can hardly draw, but I'm dying to learn how to paint. And I know that it's gonna take training in both drawing and painting in order for me to get good at it. And so, even though I don't have a natural ability to create art, I have the strong desire to make it. I'm willing to pay my dues, and put in the time.


  30. I think the relevant comparison is construction versus taste. Construction and related techniques can be developed up to a point, taste I'm not so sure.

    Construction takes a long time to learn, as I, the mediocre-but-learning beginner am finding out. If you're talented, learning construction and fitting will undoubtedly come faster: You'll have an intuitive grasp of how to do things more quickly than other people. I was explaining to a sewing teacher that I as a "word person" found even the act of cutting fabric to be more challenging than expected. She said that even people who are accustomed to working with physical media like artists didn't automatically have an easy time of it because a piece of fabric does not behave in the same way as a piece of paper. And as sewers know, every piece of fabric is different. Every garment made from a new fabric or with a new pattern is a test garment.

    I'm someone who is not naturally talented at this -- every intuition I have seems to be wrong, and if two pieces can be sewn together incorrectly they will be. Nor did I grow up in a home with anyone who could sew.

    I've tried to learn to sew before but didn't really have the time and sometimes lacked the right optimistic mood (The attitude of some sewing teachers didn't help. Maybe you shouldn't teach if you don't like questions and you certainly shouldn't be telling students that something is a matter of "commonsense.") It also isn't true that everyone can learn from a book. I'm a very good reader.

    But last spring, I started taking evening courses at a very famous fashion design school. It's a different vibe from little private courses because they're training people to enter the industry and even the evening students take it very seriously. It's a lot of work. After many hours and spending hundreds of dollars on equipment(although I do have a bargain-basement machine), I'm slowly getting somewhere.

    Eventually, I'd like to advance to tailoring and some couture sewing, but I'd never have any interest in making a design like the James dress featured on the other blog; personally, I find it kind of ridiculous, if beautifully made.

    Which brings me to taste.

    Reasonable people could like that couture dress, but often on Internet blogs I see things made by supposedly experienced sewers and my first thought is "Why"? Why did they go to all that trouble only to make that fabric choice and not perfect the fit? I'm not talking about people who tried something new and it just didn't work out -- that happens to everyone, including experienced sewers.

    So I think taste ultimately is as important as construction skill and at least I have taste (or so I believe). If I continue to work diligently on the relatively simple shapes that interest me and get the fit right I think I'll do OK.

    If only it didn't take so much time.

  31. I’m a bit late to this party – but what an interesting topic, and what erudite replies!

    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”.


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