We need to be careful who sees our work when it’s still in process. I’ve learned this from writing and from quilting. My quilting experience is particularly surprising, because I discovered that early praise can be as harmful as early scorn.
Back in 1999, I decided to make a quilt about my aunt Fran. She died of breast cancer and while I only met her a few times, I really admired her. She had a passion for living that you couldn’t miss.
I had seen a video of her performing traditional Japanese dance, something she learned while living in Japan. With her read hair, she stood out even in a colorful crowd of kimonos. I decided to make a quilt that showed Aunt Fran with her fan folded, leaving the dance.
I drew my own figures, inspired by Japanese ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) and enlarged them with an overhead projector to make a pattern for each figure. Excited by the fabrics I had chosen, I started constructing the figures without designing a background for them.
They were still under construction when I made the mistake of taking them to a quilting retreat with me. I hoped that, as I finished the figures, I would come up with an idea for a background that suited them. I hadn’t thought at all about the reception they might receive.
I hung my figures on the walls so I could study them from a distance, something I couldn’t do in my tiny home. I discovered that I didn’t need need to worry that some harsh comment would poison the project. My quilting friends loved the figures. They couldn’t say enough nice things about them.
I auditioned some fabrics for the background while they kept up the compliments. To my astonishment, their praise and enthusiasm for what I had done wound up paralyzing me as effectively as scathing comments would have. I couldn’t come up with a plan for how to finish the quilt because I was suddenly afraid of ruining it.
I knew the figures were good, but I also knew they weren’t perfect. Everyone’s glowing comments made me see them as precious, as if they were perfect. Suddenly, I was terrified I would destroy what I had made. What if the background didn’t live up to the dancers? I had already done so much work and I didn’t want to waste it.
The quilt is still unfinished. I have since had an idea for the background and I’ve bought the fabrics for it. But fear is still holding me back. I need to let go of my expectations and just dive in.
Getting feedback on a work-in-progress proved fatal for me. I wasn’t looking for input, but I got it. Even though the comments were positive, they became a block for me. Now, I am much more careful now not to show anyone my projects until all my decisions are already made.
Have you ever had positive criticism poison a project? Can you show others your work-in-progress or do you have to protect your early creations?