Thursday, June 09, 2011

Experience vs. Enthusiasm

My friend Elizabeth has been turning me onto alot of new bloggers.  Sewists that I don't normally read because hey, I just don't have the time to spend every waking minute on the internet...tho' some days it seems as if I do!  *LOL*

What amazes and thrills me about this younger generation of bloggers (yes, younger generation since many of them could be my daughters!) is the excitement they have for the craft.  It's like watching my own children learn how to walk again...that's what reading their blogs is like.  And it's very, very comforting to me to know that my craft has not been forsaken but it is being enjoyed and carried on.

However, I read this post, "Becoming an Advanced Level Stitcher" on Tilly's blog, "Tilly and the Buttons" that was very interesting to me especially after these comments were left on my last dress post.

Kathryn said:
"I like the way you followed your experience and matched a knit to this pattern that suits you personally. It's a great lesson in studying fabric and determining whether it will work on one's body."

and Clio said:
"...And it makes me realize how there really is no substitute for experience when it comes to sewing..."

It made me realize that the one thing left out of Tilly's and her commenters equation was experience.  Now please understand, I am not criticizing her blog post, the comments left or their enthusiam.  I am adding my own spin to it.  And my take on it is that enthusiam or passion for the craft is an awesome thing.  Learning new techniques is wonderful but it's experience that truly takes you to the next level.

I am a huge Star Trek fan...and I love the Star Trek movies best.  One of my favorite ones is Star Trek Insurrection...where the Enterprise crew goes to this planet where the people never seem to age and they live a life without technology.  At one point Picard walks through the village talking to the leader of the village and he points out some quilts and weaving...stating how spectacular they are.  The leader says that it was done by apprentices and she gives some figures on how many years you have to apprentice before you move to the next level.

All of that to say that I believe that it's techniques + talent + experience that takes you to the next level.  Experience let's you know how to handle a situation that's not working for you.  Experience is liking driving home from work, you know how to get there and what to do to detour if there is an accident on a street near your home.  Experience is a sense memory...a developed muscle that assists you when you are lost.  But most importantly, experience only comes from doing something repeatedly...from being in the same situation more than once...

So I think it's very encouraging that these new sewists (or stitchers as Tilly calls them - love that!) are developing lists of techniques to learn but don't forget that experience (the doing something over and over and over again) will also help get you to the next level and determine if you are an intermediate or advanced stitcher.

BTW, I only consider myself an intermediate and not an advanced stitcher yet and I've been doing this for 41 years...practically non-stop!  *LOL* always, more later


  1. Sometimes I am lazy or impatient and I just want to the skills without being experienced. I have plenty of experience, but more on a basic level. I think my mom did all the "hard" stuff when I was sewing. Now she isn't around to do it all and I am too impatient to want to deal with it. I'm learning it all though. I appreciate learning from everyone else' experience. That is why I love all these blogs! There is so much to learn. I skimmed Tilly's post because I learned that stuff long ago, but it is nice to see that the younger crowd is taking an interest. (I think I am in between the generations?)

  2. Thanks for your post! I am probably what's considered the younger generation and I have lots of enthusiasm and am working on the experience thing. I realized that my clothing department wasn't what I wanted it to be and I thought, I'll just make my own clothes. My mom sews and like Hojnackes said, growing up she did all the hard stuff. So when I wanted to learn more, I totally got a job in an alterations department to be mentored a little more. Now I'm working for my mom in her sewing business and I know I don't know much, but I also can see the value of experience firsthand when I show my roommate who is a blank slate for knowledge and experience. A psychotherapist I listened to not long ago said, "If it is worth doing well, it is worth doing badly until I get better." and that's how I feel about sewing. Each new project I tackle through the shop teaches me something new and at sometime in my life, I hope to be able to make myself as many new garments as you do. Thanks for being you!

  3. The real expert knows how much there is that she doesn't know! I still count myself as intermediate thirty-eight years since I sewed my first seam. There are still many things that I cannot do without looking them up first. And lots of things i haven't tried and which are not on my menu at the moment. But why does it matter anyway? I enjoy sewing, I like what I make. I make things for others and they like them and wear them. Giving myself a "grade" is a waste of thinking time....

  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic. I am not a younger generation but a beginner sewist and I learn something new with every new project, and it's trial and error learning, on some projects I spend more time unstitching then stitching :). It is exactly what you say, mastery is doing the same thing over and over again. I don't make lists of technics to learn but when I look at the new garment that I plan to sew I of course make a mental note of technics that are new to me. And start digging in my sewing books, blogs I follow and internet tutorials. And I just LOVE reading the blogs of more experienced sewists knowing that I am not able to reproduce what they do but simply admire their crafstsmanship.

  5. I couldn't agree more. Experience is what makes you a better sewist. I have been sewing almost as long as you and would also call myself an intermediate sewist but it has been an on again off again relationship.

    I like the look of an invisible zip and was buying one the other day. I was asking advice from the sales assistant about inserting it into knit fabric and was told that she finds them difficult to insert in any fabric and always uses a regular zip. Now, I say, how will she ever get better if she does not try? (She did however, give some advice which was helpful.) I learn a little more each time I try. I am getting better at them through experience. Sigh!... one day!

    I feel that there is so much more to learn which would make it unlikely that I would call myself experienced for many more years.

    So, I think that the youger set have a lot of enthuisiasm which I love to encourage but only time and practice will give them experience.

  6. I heartily agree! I'm a baby seamstress and am just learning the basics... But I've already found that if I make the same pattern twice (or three times!) I learn something new each time! I'm so grateful for the experienced (if not expert!) stitchers out there that I can learn from! I started blogging about my own lessons not because I think I've got it down, pat, but more to make it accessible to those who may be intimidated by the awesomeness of y'all who've been doing this awhile ;)

  7. Enthusiasm is what gets you going first, and if that is lost you will never gain the experience. Experience will give you lovely well constructed garments that you will love and be proud to wear.

  8. How true. A master of any craft did not become such without a wealth of experience. It's the enthusiasm that keeps one at it to gain the experience.

  9. You know I had a conversation the other day on this topic-a lot of peoples perception is that you have to be good at something from the start or its not worth pursuing. I couldn't disagree more! Just the desire to learn to do something is, indeed, enough!

    I too have been sewing for 40 years. I can hardly believe that, but I got a machine at age 4 and have been sewing since!(though I have upgraded my machine!). I STILL have to rip things out, I still make "wadders", I still sometimes try something on and wonder what I could possibly have been thinking. I think it's really vitally important that people with less sewing experience know that it'll get easier, and their garments will get better, but that none of us is ever really "done" learning about this art form.

  10. I just realized that somehow your blog fell off of my feed reader. How did this happen? I thought you had stopped blogging for some reason.

    I'm a huge believer in 10,000 hours of practice.

  11. I read Tilly's post as well and had a similar reaction. Experience is so important in learning and moving to the next level. I am of an older generation than what you are referring to in your post but I am new to sewing, only about 5 years. I consider myself a beginner because I do not have that much experience. I have found that the more I sew the better I am to understand and work through problems I encounter in my projects.

  12. I agree that knowing a set of skills does not mean you can move on to the next level. It makes me think of the saying jack of all trades master of none. I will take off my beginner hat when I can consistanly make garments that are worn often because nothing in my closet is better than what I have made with my hands. I suspect that will take me many years.
    Also what if a person has sewn with knits almost exclusively for 40years but can't do a french seam on a woven. Is she not an advance seamstress ....of knits :) Can you really say you have a mastery of something if you only use it one time for one garment and that's it? My enthusiasm brought me to sewing and its what keeps me plowing along despite my many mistakes.

  13. As Ruth said, there are many things I haven't tried and that aren't on my menu. Most of these are tailoring and couture techniques so I'd term myself an intermediate - if I had to pick a label - even though I've been sewing for thirty-seven years.

    We learn to do by doing. It's calming when the rest of life is stressful to have some smooth sewing project to work on and it's invigorating and challenging when life is flowing rather smoothly to have a new technique or level of creativity to achieve. I love having a hobby that is forever full of opportunities to learn and grow along with the lovely bonus of clothes to wear.

    Wadders and mistakes are a part of sewing at all levels. That and the need to fit are just something to get over.

    I've heard so many times from women that they stopped sewing because they have to fit the garments and they can't be bothered. I find that somewhat sad. Developing a T & T pattern and changing it up over and over as you do is incredibly satisfying and... takes experience. It's when your hands move with ease that your mind bubbles with creativity.

  14. I agree. We have to try on and on, and survive our mistakes...
    Oscar Wilde once said: "Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes." (Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan, 1892, Act III, Irish dramatist, novelist, & poet (1854 - 1900))
    And he's right. Experience is know what to do when things don't go well.

  15. I agree. If it was only enthusiasm my early sewing experience would have been much more fruitful! ;) But they were sometimes naf, and I had to make peace with practice.

  16. I guess I'm experienced, having made one of just about anything you can name over the past 50+ years. I find sewing now much more fun, partly because I don't have to make mostly conservative business clothes, partly because of the new techniques and brave young sewists who show their work on various blogs and forums, and partly because of the new fibers available for home sewing. There's always another challenge around the corner!

    I bought a book last year on couture techniques and was surprised to find that that's how I learned to sew, used to sew. These days, I'm much more interested the kind of personalized design you do and learning new techniques while playing with fabrics I've never seen before. Love your blog!

  17. I agree that experience is an important element, especially since sewing is usually a solitary activity and you're often on your own. But along with experience and enthusiasm, I also think talent plays a big part in advancement of skills and results. All the experience and enthusiasm in the world won't advance you past simply following patterns and their directions as-is if you don't have the inherent stitching talent somewhere inside you to begin with.

  18. Enthusiasm is what gets you started and keeps you going. But it is experience that makes it all worthwhile and also keeps you going. The skills alone aren't enough, it is more in the knowing, and this is true in so many things, not just sewing.

  19. That's exactly what I meant! I would have made the first CJ dress, said "meh" and moved on. But you saw exactly what to change to make a second fantastic version.

    I feel like I'm in my sewing adolescence - I've got some skills, but I still have flops, mishaps and an occasional hissy fit. And most of these are things that experience would help me sort out - fitting issues, fabric choices, etc. I'm trying to be patient with myself and enjoy the learning process. It's always a big victory when I have a hunch and it turns out to lead to a good decision.

  20. I agree! You can't merely cross a technique of your To Learn list and call yourself experienced. You must learn a technique and the apply it over and over before you nail it.

    I learned darts as one of the first things. But I sewed for 7 years before I learned that I need to shift the bodice dart on the pattern to match my bust point for a better fit. Had I crossed "dartmaking" off my To Learn list when I first learned them, I'd be fooling myself. Great post!

  21. This reminds me of a quotation:
    "The error of youth is to believe that intelligence is a substitute for experience, while the error of age is to believe that experience is a substitute for intelligence."
    (Lyman Bryson)
    If we just substitute "enthusiasm" for "intelligence"... ;)
    So, I'm with you - neither replaces the other - each brings something unique to the table. :)

  22. Enthusiasm of the craft will keep these sewist or stitchers motivated; each technique learned are like stepping stones to the next level of experience. But,as the old adage goes, "practice makes perfect...." The more these techniques are put into practice, the more experienced they/we will become. Experience does not come over night, but increases as you keep working at it.
    I, too, like you Carolyn,am an aged and experienced sewist, but I never ever tire of learning because there are always things to be learned. I believe when a person gets to the point where they feel they can no longer be taught anything, then they may as well give it up~ there's no more enthusiasm.....Thus, the reason for my website, Sew Much Talent, where inexperienced can meet expereinced to learn and share....
    Thank you for always willing to share!

  23. Malcolm Gladwell has suggested that it takes 10,000 hours of effort to become an expert, which certainly supports what you're saying. I use this guideline to keep from getting impatient with my progress, though this is more an issue for me in other domains. I sew for fun, and I don't count the hours!

  24. Your words have just inspired me to get back into the game, (sewing). I use to sew my own clothes when a teenager living in Germany back in the 70's as there was not a selection of tall sizes at our local PX-Post Exchange.
    Since getting married, having kids, and well, just living life..I've not made anytime for my most fav. hobby through the years.
    I'm now on the brink of getting back into it. You're words this morning were written as a true sewing philosopher!! Always enjoy visiting your blog! You're a true inspiration!!! Thank-you!

  25. As a young sewist, I've really only been sewing regularly for 4.5 years, I feel as if what I am missing most is experience. It's not putting me off sewing but I do feel like every garment I make is better than the last. This year I am attempting to be more careful with my sewing and taking my time to get things right and pay attention to the techniques. It is great to see how much experience plays a part in your sewing and has made you really aware of what works for you, not just in terms of techniques but with style and fabric as well.

  26. I also read Tilly's blog; it was one of the first sewing blogs I started to follow. I would call myself an intermediate sewer of about 35 years experience. I learnt most of what I know by sewing for my family, who were either too polite or too young not to wear the garments I made. The journey of learning was fun and also quite frustrating at times. I seem to have come full circle and now make clothes mostly for myself. These days the projects have to be sewn and worn within a short space of time. I love my hobby, but I just don't have the time to spend on complicated techniques. Learning from others blogs is interesting and certainly motivating. Sometimes I wonder if their blogging experience far out-weights the sewing experience, but does it really matter. I am learning so much and love the creative outlet that blogging allows.

  27. When I as 19, I worked as a wardrobe mistress for the Berkeley Shakespeare Company, (now CA Shakes). It is a professional Equity theatre, which means the people in the shop also belonged to the craft division of Actors' Equity.

    Those people were masters. I loved working with them, to the point of working extra unpaid time in the costume shop just so I could learn their techniques.

    I would never call myself anything other than an adventurous intermediate because I will never have the time to practice enough to be a true expert like the ones I watched.

    I am with you on experience. Matching the right fabric to the right pattern and my figure, then fitting the thing, requires much experience. Both sewing and with inhabiting my body.

    It's good to see young people interested in sewing, though. I am so happy to see that.

  28. Another enthusiastic youngster chiming in here... I guess all I can have at this stage of life is enthusiasm and book smarts, because I don't have the time to sew as much as I would like. I call myself an intermediate sewist and probably will for ages, but it's just because beginner seems a bit too low (like people are going to think I'm learning how to thread my machine or so), but advanced seems obviously too advanced. We need some better descriptors in the middle there to adequately describe our skills!

  29. Oh, and also, I love Star Trek too! I have a now abandoned blog that was devoted to recipes and pictures from a weekly Star Trek potluck that I hosted while in grad school.

  30. thank you for this post - it's a much more diplomatic way of putting forward a view that I've been keeping quiet on. I too love that there's a lot of new sewists blogging these day because there's so much more inspiration out there, but it sort of niggles at me when they offer tutorials on how to do something when what they produced was a little bit ordinary because they lack experience. Nice to offer advice, but I think it would be beter to link to other sources.

    I've been sewing for nearly 15 years now and only consider myself an advanced beginner.....

  31. Thanks for your thoughtful musings about my post. It's very interesting to read all the comments. Unfortunately a lack of decades of experience is something I don't have a choice about, as I only discovered the joy of sewing when I hit 30.

    I don't know if I'm being overly sensitive, but some of these comments make me feel like I'm being criticised for only starting sewing in the past couple of years (there is a long - some say sad - story behind why this is, which I'm not going to go into online).

    The reason I started my blog was to document my journey as a beginner. I soon realised that the fact that I was starting from scratch was encouraging other people who'd never sewn before to give it a go. And this is what I now see the point of my blog being - to inspire people to try sewing and to have fun with it.

    While I may lack decades of experience, I have unbridled enthusiasm for the pleasures of making things with your own hands, precisely because it's new to me. As a wise person once said (can't remember who!), the best teacher of x is sometimes the person who has just learnt x. Not only because of their enthusiasm, but also because they know how to explain something to someone who doesn't know it, because it wasn't long ago that the teacher didn't know it either.

    Right, I'm getting back to my sewing table. A couple hours' more experience beckon! ;)

  32. I could really write a big comment here but will refrain. I am a new sewist and have a blog (there you go) and I find it a bit patronised that it is assumed that Tilly, and other young sewists, think they become advanced or intermediate just by crossing a technique of a list. Obviously it is known that practice and experience will take you up to a higher level but let's be honest. I can spend the next 10 years of my sewing life doing A-Line skirts and become a pro at them. Am I then an experienced sewist, just because I have decades of it?

    Trying techniques is what allows you find the skills you want to use and then practice at them. Otherwise, we would do pillows and A-line skirts forever.

  33. You're very correct, experience does give the craftsperson a kind of wisdom that cannot be obtained any other way, and it's worth recognizing this. However, experience by itself is not going to make a great stitcher (I like that term too!). You need inspiration, grit, enthusiasm, patience, time, focus, and -- I think this is the important bit -- you need resources that can help you grow. Tilly's list of techniques she wants to try is a tool she'll be able to use to learn and grow, and I think it's a good model for stitchers of any experience or expertise level.

    But the resource I think we are all in need of the most is the advice and fellowship of other craftspeople. My mother taught me to sew thirty years ago, and her attention and counsel laid a foundation I could never have gotten from books or from self-study. This is one of the reasons I love the community of sewing bloggers -- I have learned a huge amount from reading about you all's projects, your trials and your victories, and from the answers you provide to your commenters.

    So, all of you seasoned stitchers, with years of experience under your beautifully hand-crafted belts, please chime in with your wisdom more often! Tell your stories, provide assistance to those new to the craft, and spread the love of sewing by sharing a little of all you know with your fellow needleworkers.

  34. I have to come out in support of Tilly here. As a beginner sewist myself (although I can do a wee bit more than thread my machine ;) I am learning things constantly. Each time I learn something new I get excited by it and want to share it.

    I post about these things on my blog, not as if I'm setting myself up as some kind of expert, (clearly I'm not!) but to say to people "look what I just learnt! It's NOT that scary. This is how you can do it". That is exactly the sentiment that comes across to me on Tilly's blog which is why I like it. I know (and call me crazy but I suspect Tilly is smart enough to know it too), that each time we learn a new technique, it will take many years of practice to get it to a level we're satisfied with (and even then find ways to make it better). But that doesn't mean you shouldn't share your experiences along the way.

    I don't think anyone would agree that merely checking something off a "to do" list makes you an expert at it. But surely part of the journey to mastering something is identifying what it is you want to learn in the first place and commiting yourself to learning it.

    Enthusiasm is indeed no substitute for experience. But what good is experience without the joy of enthusiasm. If I sew the perfect seam every time but never get excited by it, then I've lost something haven't I?

    To me, the terms beginner, intermediate and advanced are very subjective (depends what your benchmark is) and ultimately it's just semantics.
    What's important, in my humble opinion, is that we all have the enthusuasm to keep doing what we love, and that we all continue to share our experience, however advanced it is...

    Thanks for an interesting debate!

  35. wow, some snobby comments here. does that come with "experience" too?

  36. I'm a long time reader of Tilly's blog, she was in fact one of the reasons I took up sewing seriously (rather than just a little here and there)
    My dad has a saying "there is always someone out there bigger and bader than you"
    I think that applies here, just because you are experienced doesn't mean there isn't many others out there with more/wider/longer experience.
    There is no guideline that states one must be over 40 and have 30 years experience to do a tutorial as a service to others.
    Who cares if a bloggers end product is less than top-class profesional level garment?
    They are illustrating a technique to assist others, who may or may not have equal experience or more experience.
    My own mother taught me how to sew as a teenager, now I am teaching her tricks and techniques that I have either figured out for myself or learned from amazing talented people just like Tilly who are genous enough to share their experience with others.
    In short try to be less judgemental with regards to age or 'on the clock' sewing time, you might just learn something.

  37. I'm not sure I completely understand the critique of Tilly here. The nature of starting out is that of course you don't have experience--the only way to get experience is to try, learn, share, talk about it, attempt things, and push yourself. All that requires a LOT of enthusiasm, among other things. It's not necessary to clash the two E's against each other like that so that it's one or the other. Everyone, beginner or advanced, uses both at their own levels.

    I think it's hurtful to criticize someone starting out about inexperience--yes, I know. That's why I'm on these blogs looking for help and advice. And I'd honestly rather get that advice from someone who's excited and passionate about the things they do, and willing to teach me without looking down on my inexperience. Everyone's learning, all the time. The lovely thing about these blogs is that we all get to share our experiences AND our enthusiasm!
    So kudos to us all for learning and sharing!

  38. I just read all the comments quickly and Tilly's blog post, and I have to say that I thought her post was harmless and not warranting any criticism. The main idea was that she wasn't challenging herself anymore and wanted to learn new techniques. I don't think she said anywhere that learning new things is a substitution for experience. Experience, of course, comes with time - it's how you get that experience that matters, and I think that she's taking the right approach, by continuing to learn something new as she sews.


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