Intimidation Factor

I really love a challenge.  I do.  Sometimes I like to see if I can do something JUST to see if I can do it, whether I’m especially interested in the final product or not.  But other times…man, I just get too intimidated.

I’ll be all super excited about making something I’ve never made before and become CONVINCED that I am able to climb any mountain, as the nuns sang.  I’ll get all the supplies and all the patterns and all the equipment.  And then I’ll freeze.

Deer in headlights.  It’s awful.  It looks like procrastination on the outside, but I’m learning to call it what it really is: intimidation.  Most projects I jump into face-first, and if it works, it works.  And if it doesn’t?  No harm, no foul.  There have been a few, however…  No matter how much I gear myself up and gird my own loins, I have simply struggled to complete these projects, even when they have gotten to well-past-the-50%-mark.

wool yarn for knitting cardigans

Knitting a Cardigan

I am a committed and long-term dishcloth knitter.  They’re quick and simple–you can even memorize the pattern and knit anywhere you go.  They have the added benefit of making you feel super accomplished, which means you get to call yourself A Knitter without actually making anything large or complicated.

I wear cardigans almost every day, year round.  Any time I leave the house, I have a sweater in my bag JUST IN CASE.  I adore the cardigan sweater, and would treasure a hand-knit one, especially one that I made myself.  How many times have I bought yarn to start knitting a sweater?  At least three?  And how many sweaters have I actually started?  One.  I swatched it, and then I chickened out.  I don’t know what the hold-up is, really, whether it’s fear that I can’t do it, or that I’ll get bogged down in the middle, or that I’ll make a mistake.  Something about the whole process is so DAUNTING.  I feel overwhelmed at the scale of it all, the number of tiny stitches required to get to the finish line.  I expect it’s what folks who have never sewn a garment must feel like, that sense of impossible mountains to climb to reach the goal.  I look at a sewing pattern as limitless possibility, but man, I look at a knitting pattern as a war to be waged.  And I haven’t been bold enough to get past my own borders yet.

mens sport coat sewing pattern

Sewing a Men’s Sport Coat

Whoo, boy, THIS one.  With this project, I know EXACTLY what’s holding me back: absolute intimidation at the scale of the project and the promises I made in association with it.  I started this project ages ago, knowing it was kinda a big deal.  And I promised my husband, and I blogged it as a series…but the expectations were really hard to swallow.  My husband has a LOT of sport coats, so he knows exactly what he wants and what he’d like it to look like.  And I have never made anything tailored to this degree, not for men, anyway.  I would like to not let him down, and this is the first time I have really felt that way about my sewing.

I studied the pattern, and I made a muslin.  And I made adjustments to the muslin and I tried it on him and tested them out.  I’ve done everything I ought to do, and in theory, it will all turn out OK.  But somehow…I just can’t pull the trigger on the finished project.  And so it lingers, in WIP Land, waiting and waiting and waiting for me to pick it back up.

denyse schmidt tobacco leaf quilt

Making a Very Complicated Quilt

This one I have actively avoided for one very important reason: time.  These fabrics were pulled over a year ago for a project I was calling my #bossquilt (because it was gonna be so BOSS), but I never even began cutting.  Once I saw that it was going to take 978 pieces (yes, you read that right) to get it sewn, I choked a little bit on my coffee and had a hard time even thinking about it again.  Sheesh!  SO much cutting!!

I want this quilt–the Tobacco Leaf Quilt from Denyse Schmidt’s book, Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration.  I want this quilt so badly I can taste it.  But I know that once I start sewing, it’s a long, long, LONG road to the end, and that’s what slows me down.  I hit a wall of thinking about how much effort is involved, and I can’t quite get the first cut made.


You know?  The funny thing is, just writing this all out makes me see how silly my fears have been.  Knitting a sweater?  If I don’t finish, who cares?  I think I worry that I’ll have wasted all that expensive yarn–but isn’t it getting wasted right now, NOT being knitted up?  And the men’s sport coat.  So what if it isn’t perfect?  I can always harvest the fabric for something else, or get some on-the-job training about tailoring while I make adjustments, or use that project as a prototype for later ones.  It doesn’t have to be perfect–and I always give myself permission to make things that aren’t perfect for myself, so maybe the best way to get better at sewing for my husband is to own that the first few projects I make for him might be flawed.  And that’s OK.  And the quilt!  One of the great things about quilting is that you can stop and start and stop and start and stop and start…until the job is done.  It WILL take a long time, but the pattern is so amazing and the fabrics are so lovely that this quilt will be the one thing my children and grandchildren go to the mat over when my will is read.  Totally worth all that effort, right there.

Look at that.  It’s like talk therapy, right here, y’all.

So what about you?  What are your fears and intimidations when it comes to getting a project started or finished?  And could they be the reason your WIP pile just keeps going?  What would it take for those works-in-progress to get picked up again so you can have some finished pieces to enjoy?

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  • Laura J.
    February 24, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    I made a coat for my daughter that I sat on for a good six months before I started. The only reason I even started was because I started thinking that the winter was passing us by (little did I know we’d be under a foot of snow in late March). I just had plans for such a grand and amazing thing, and there were little issues all along with things not coming together right, the fabric being too thick for my machine, button hold problems galore. But now that it’s done, she absolutely loves it. It was meant to be a fancy, Sunday’s only thing, but she wears it every day, and I’m so glad!

    I would really like to make a quilt someday, but I’ve never even picked out a pattern, let alone bought fabric, for fear of wasting money on something I don’t finish. But you’re right. I should just do it. I will. Maybe.

    • Laura J.
      February 24, 2015 at 3:23 pm

      Late February. I only WISH it were late March!

  • Samina
    February 24, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Boy, does this post speak to me. I find that I’m so worried about my projects turning out crappy that I often start them, only to abandon them when they’re not coming along the way I want to. I know that the mistakes are all part of the learning process, but then I get discouraged & find myself abandoning whatever it is for the next shiny thing that catches my eye. I’ve got so many knit sweaters that are *so close* to being finished, that it’s embarrassing. I keep vowing to not start anything new until I finish up the old stuff, but that doesn’t happen either.

    Ditto with sewing – I’ve got so much I want to do, but I’m worried about ruining good fabric, so I live in this paralysis of “oh, I can’t make that – what if it’s a bomb?”. Rationally I know that it’s no big deal if it’s a bomb, but the other side of me just doesn’t want to risk it.

    I need to start a support group – Project Finishers Anonymous!

  • Cassandra
    February 24, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    You are speaking right to my heart with this post!! I suffer greatly from the intimidation factor.

    What if my skills aren’t up to creating my vision? What if I mess it up?

    Sometimes I do need to wait, to learn some new tricks to make it work.

    My biggest motivator is when the fear of never accomplishing my goal becomes stronger than the fear holding me back.. When it feels like I will burst if I don’t make it, right now, and stuff the outcome!!

    Thanks for sharing this with us 🙂

  • Elena
    February 24, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    I share a lot of the fear of failing. A long time ago, I stopped promising anyone anything handcrafted because I figured I’d never make something good enough for my approval–let alone their imagined approval–so I’d be too chicken to finish or even start the project. I have no solutions for that one, other than not promising something and then springing the object on them and surprising all of us involved.

    As far as the time involved in making something, I’ve learned to see the time I’ve spent worrying about how long something is going to take as time I could have been working on it. So that six months I sit and worry about how I don’t know if I can or want to spend a year on making, say, my quilt, I could have been six months into the quilt.

    Maybe one has to be process-oriented to gain pleasure and learn something while working on a project that may never be completed, but I think it’s all good. Ultimately, as Bob Ross used to say, “It’s your world.”

  • Ruth
    February 24, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    Oh dear…. you’re speaking to me right now.

    I remember crying in university because I got B+ for a course that I worked my tail off for. Why? It seemed too close to a C, which is really close to a C- ….. you see how that works?

    Fear of failure is huge for me {sigh} and – since doing up a muslin is not always possible in my TW economy – sewing projects that have a lot of hopes hanging on them (read: made of expensive fabric) tend to give me the willies, because mistakes would be costly.

  • Corinnea
    February 24, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    You’ve made me feel better! Your three fears are some of my exact fears. Good pep talk!

  • Karen
    February 24, 2015 at 10:11 pm

    I wanted to sew garments so I could wear cute clothes. It turns out the unique curves of my figure that make buying rtw difficult also make fitting a challenge for a not so confident sewer. SO I freeze before I even trace the pattern. I have many projects ready to begin and keep seeing more I’d love… What gets me moving? At Christmas I persevered through at least 5 muslins so I could make a dress using $30 of fabric rather than feel guilty spending $300 on a similar RTW. Ha, in the end shoes and accessories cost more than the dress.

  • tisha @quiltytherapy
    February 25, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Zippers. Zippers scare me so much. Projects with them I avoid. I’m going to tackle that this year….some time.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Molly
    February 25, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    I have a quilt that I have not finished. Top is done (not even by me, but that is some of what makes it intimidating), it is layered and backed and even quilted a little, but I haven’t finished it. It is actually on my bed right now (because I needed the warmth), but I have to be careful of laying on it because there are pins still sticking out everywhere! I am getting ready to start sewing a pair of jeans and that is intimidating. I am determined to make it through and make it fun. Also a vintage Vogue dress pattern I have that is gorgeous. I planned to make it, then took out the pattern and read through the instructions and decided it would take me 6 months to get it done. Intimidating! It is back in its package until when I think I might have time and commitment to finish it.

  • Maureen
    February 26, 2015 at 10:46 am

    A few years ago my husband asked me what I would like to receive for Christmas and I told him I had been pining for a serger. I had done my research, picked out the model I wanted and found where he could get it for the best price. I was so excited to get that serger, I bought myself a Craftsy class to learn how to use it. Two years later I haven’t even taken it out of the box. Why? Because I am intimidated. Machines scare me. I felt the same way about sewing machines once and now I couldn’t live without my Janome, but I still feel intimidated by that serger. And I feel guilty because I asked him to give it to me.

    • Samina
      February 26, 2015 at 11:13 am

      Please, oh, please watch your Craftsy class. Pattern also has a great class called, “Take that serger out of the box”. It’s aptly named & very helpful. It really takes the intimidation factor out of that machine. No affiliation – just a happy class participant.

      • Maureen
        February 26, 2015 at 5:27 pm

        Thank you for the pep talk. I love the name of that class so much, I will have to look it up.

        I share your fear of cutting into fabric. Sometimes I think the only reason I sew is so that I can purchase fabric. I can spend hours in a quilt store gazing at the merchandise and when I get it home I enjoy folding it and sorting it into piles for projects. I get too attached to my fabric. I need to start thinking of it as something useful as opposed to an end in itself.

  • lindsey
    February 27, 2015 at 10:51 am

    I do the exact same thing with projects at work that either seem to hard to do or the step after completing that project will be too hard OR if it fails it will be way too hard to figure out why… will have to keep the idea of intimidation (and not procrastination, laziness, or any other excuse I might come up with and just face the fear).

    Also I recommend knitting a baby or child’s sweater first. All of the same steps, but WAY faster, then you know you can do it, and each step will only take you a tiny bit longer.

  • justine
    February 27, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    I started a peaxost for my husband, spent a fortune on wool and horn buttons at Britex, sent away to Japan for a pattern, had two fittings, and then….. never finished about halfway through. It just totally freaked me out. I’ve made him two button downs since, and maybe someday I’ll finish that coat!

    • Deborah
      March 1, 2015 at 12:53 pm

      THIS MAKES ME FEEL SO MUCH BETTER!! What IS it about the coat thing, for men?? I have made a ton of jackets for myself, and something about that darn sport coat just freezes me up. Gah!! We should have a support group… 🙂

  • treen
    February 27, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    My sewing fears are specific things – zippers, pants, setting sleeves into a top, and any item of women’s clothing. I can make skirts and dresses for my kids no problem, which is convenient because I have 5 girls and they prefer skirts and dresses (including nightgowns – just make a dress pattern in flannel) to anything else. I’ve had some fabric to make myself a couple of items for years, and it’s still sitting there untouched. I love Rae Hoekstra’s Washi dress, and a couple of the Oliver+S women’s patterns, and a couple of things on this blog seem fairly simple. But I’ve never been able to pull the trigger on actually getting the patterns.

    Oh, and there’s something else. The idea of PDF patterns is great – instant download. But the printing and taping and all that opportunity to screw it up before you even start!

  • Sarah
    March 1, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    I totally understand what you’re saying here. I often procrastinate starting a project for fear that I will mess it up and waste my time and materials. It’s even worse if I’m sewing something for a friend or neighbor instead of just for myself and my kids! Keep sewing and trying new things; you’ve got an amazing talent!

  • Emily
    March 2, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    YES! That’s exactly it. I have this same problem sewing for myself. Kids’ clothes, bags, quilts – no problem! Sewing clothes for myself?? Well, I bought this pattern and some fabric a year ago… it’s still waiting for me.

  • Paula Laird
    March 18, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    Oh goodness! The list of sewing things that intimidates me is long. I don’t always take the time to fit things like I should so I don’t love the things I’ve made for me, which ups the intimidation to try anything really nice. I’m also bad about finishing things in general. But, about the knitting, I second the advice to start with a kid sweater! If I can knit one, then anyone with youtube can! 🙂

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