Thursday, December 2, 2010

Piecing, Harmony, And The Comfort Zone


There's a tricky balance between a) pushing yourself outside your current comfort zone and b) having everything fall apart. I've been testing that balance for the past year. I call it my Year of Living Dangerously or YOLD. At times it seems like I'm dancing down a yellow brick road, and at other times like I'm asleep in a field of poppies. Welcome to Oz, where I'm about to tear away the curtain and reveal the reality behind one of my artistic fears. I hope this story helps you find courage, too (or at least a medal that says "Courage"), and a nudge to explore the boundaries of your own comfort zone.

This year marked my 10th anniversary as a full-time, self-employed fiber artist. Ten years in, it's reasonable to expect some things to change. Challenging economic conditions effect what people are able to spend on workshops. Social media that didn't exist a decade ago has altered the way information is exchanged. And technology presents new opportunities inside the studio and outside it.

So a little over a year ago, I made a list of objectives for my YOLD. It included some stuff that was especially scary for someone who, at that time, was still on dial-up and had never seen a Facebook page. Except for "post something on You Tube," I've done pretty well with that list and my comfort zone in the digital world is much greater than it was a year ago.

To balance all the time I knew I would be spending at the computer, another major category of YOLD objectives was to spend time working with my hands in unfamiliar ways. I took a one-day blacksmithing class. I bought a spinning wheel and took a 5-day spinning workshop. I've been making friends with my sewing machine.

And this week (drum roll please), I made a pieced table runner. That may have been the scariest task of all.

Table runner made with 3 of my Spoonflower fabric designs
Maybe piecing isn't scary for you, but I've successfully resisted it for half a century. I love when other people cut perfectly good fabric into small bits and sew it together again. But I got the idea at an early age (might have been 7th grade home ec) that my seams would never be straight enough. That my measuring and cutting would never be accurate enough. That I am lacking the precision gene it takes to piece.(Ahem. This is the scary personal revelation.) That my piecing might not be perfect. And if it can't be perfect, why try in the first place?

When I recognize this kind of fear in a student, I pull up my Gentle, Supportive Instructor pants and together we get past the field of poppies. When it's only Me, Myself and I, I just blows it off. It's not like there aren't plenty of other things I could do besides piecing. But this time, Me and Myself got together to chant, "It doesn't have to be perfect." It wasn't three-part harmony, but it worked.

Quite frankly, a couple of pieced table runners isn't going to send my work in a new direction any more than a blacksmithing class did. So what's the point?

The point is, I pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone, which is more limited by perfectionism than anything else. I made something that wasn't perfect, and learned from it. My comfort zone is now a bit larger. And when the next big challenge comes in my other work, I'll remember that courage isn't the absence of fear but the willingness to take a risk anyway.

So what's at the edges of your comfort zone?

7 comments:

  1. Nice article on courage Donna and congratulations on your brave new year! I love your table runner.

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  2. Hey, I think just seeing a Facebook page is a challenge, along with blogging, etc. But I have been thinking along those same lines as concerns my work. Love your vision of pulling up your Gentle, Supportive Instructor pants. And the chant about not having to be perfect is good--that's always a problem for me! Thanks for the thoughts.

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  3. Thanks, Sherri. I believe you can't throw a spool of thread without hitting a closet perfectionist!

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  4. Omigosh! You did it again . . . how do you get inside my head, and find the place where the deepest darkest secrets are hiding. I know I can sew a straight line (I had the kind supportive grandmother who taught me to sew), it's the being creative that I know I can't do. I'm fine with a pattern, I'm fine with throwing the directions away, I'm fine with changing everything about the pattern, but ask me to start from scratch to "create art" and I freeze. Not so much a closet perfectionist, but a classic fear of failure complex. Ah well! I think next year will be my push out boundaries year . . . POB, here I come!

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