When is “Good Enough” Good Enough?

I have a little email kaffé klatsch every morning with some sewing friends. We trade projects, stories, hilarity and life-happenings. It’s really a lovely way to start my day. Yesterday, we got talking about a picture we saw on a major pattern company’s website. I’m not going to name any names, so please don’t ask. But we were all horrified. The picture showed a garment that can be most kindly described as ill-fitting, even on a young, fit model. Add to that the puckered seams and obvious lack of pressing, we all drew a collective gasp. How could a pattern company – a pattern company who makes a concerted effort to engage new sewers – publish such shoddy work? Why did they decide that it was good enough?

Which brings me to today’s navel-gazing post title. When is “good enough” good enough? What makes us decide that we have had enough of the fitting, the pressing, the ripping and re-stitching, and just let the work go out into the world? I’ve certainly been guilty of the “good enough” syndrome. Actually, my dad had an even better description. “Close enough for guv’mint work,” he used to say. If I’m dealing with a knit top and the fit is a little loose or tight (though not sausage casing), sure, I’ll finish it up and let it go. But my gala dress? No way. That had better be pretty close to perfect. Speaking of which, I’m one sleeve and a hem away from being completely done.

The answer to my question, for me at least, is that it depends. Clearly, a dress that is for a special event will garner more attention to detail than a knit top for working out. But even then, I will not let a garment out of my sewing studio without certain things being done: good fit through the shoulders; thorough pressing – as I sew, not just at the end (I hate puckery seams); hems and necklines smooth (again, no puckers); seams, especially armhole seams, checked and free of caught stitches and pinches (have I told you I have a thing about puckers?). If any of those criteria aren’t met, I go back and fix them before the garment gets an audience.

So how about you, dear readers? What are your criteria for “good enough”?

Happy sewing!

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26 thoughts on “When is “Good Enough” Good Enough?”

  1. It really depends on what I’m making. If it’s a casual top which likely won’t get worn more than a season or two I’m pretty relaxed (as long as the issue isn’t the neckline, that must be perfect). But, I tend to be a perfectionist with most other things and will rip and redo until I’m satisfied. Even the things that are “good enough” are always better quality than RTW!

  2. Wow, your post brought back memories…of when I was first learning to sew. If my seam was crooked or the zipper was not just right, Mom would make me carefully remove each stitch with a seam ripper, press and then sew it again until I got it right..according to her standards. Thank Goodness, she instilled in me the desire to to not skimp on the details …. as what we create is a reflection on us. Today, I sew less but to answer your question … I still hem by hand and the stitches cannot show on the right side of the fabric. When I purchase something, I examine the finish, the seams, the fit and if it is not right, I won’t buy it, no matter how good the price. For that reason, I generally buy from a specific store where I know their quality is consistent and is apparent.

  3. Like you, it depends. That said, if I’m going to the trouble of making something, I’d like it to be as good as it can be given the constraints of : time, patience, intended use, fabric quality, comfort, etc. Hey, I can buy crap in RTW. 🙂 I have to admit, as I’ve “matured”, my perfectionist tendencies have waned-a little. Now I say to myself “do you want perfection or do you want to wear it?”. And “perfection is the enemy of good enough”.

  4. If it’s knit tops, pajamas, etc., I let some go not quite to perfect standards, depends on the use. A dress, mine or the girls, I try for the best I can – I am not as advanced as some of you are, but do the absolute best I can. That’s why I look at construction details closely first and compare it to available time and sometimes pass on an elaborate pattern if I cannot devote the time to make it nicely and opt for a simpler pattern. If we are trying to convince others home sewing is fashionable, we should try to make it look nice.

  5. Hmm, yeah, I’d say I agree with when you call it “good enough”. I’d like to add to that, quick costumes can be done good enough, as well as children’s wear which will either be grown out of or worn to death anyway. Like you, little catches, unpressed work, etc. doesn’t go out of the studio no matter what the project.

  6. Those are definitely my standards. I also try to have the work look as clean as possible at every step. I could never have worked this way as a teenager. I simply wasn’t sufficiently anal.

    Sometimes I’ll see links on blogs to Etsy shops with clothes for sale that look terribly sewed or aren’t pressed properly. It’s pretty amazing.

  7. My criteria are pretty much the same as yours; my dressmaker grandmother, who taught me to sew (and fit, and rip, and re-stitch) used to remind my sister and me “You want people to be amazed when you tell them you made it yourself, not remark, “Yes, it looks like it”. Her never-to-be-broken rule of sewing was PRESS before the next step on that portion; as well as stitching and pressing in units to save time. She learned this the hard way during the Depression, ripping and re-sewing men’s suits into women’s suits: without pressing, she’d say, there’s more work in the end.

  8. There is a difference between quick seasonal wear and more “lasting for several seasons’ worth”.

    I require that they don’t look “Becky-home-ecky” – thus pressed, no puckers, even hems, etc.

    – because I have friends who DON’T sew, and yet they immediately turn all my clothes, my children’s clothes, or clothes I make for gifts and look at my seams, etc.


    1. That is amazingly bad! It would have looked better had the back ALSO not matched. Then we could call it a design “feature”. 🙂

  9. I taught beginning sewing for a while. When studets would ask me if they should rip something out and redo it I would ask them what their goals were. There are many times that good enough is good enough. I might show or describe to the student what the difference would be. I think being overly perfectionistic is a quick way to kill a budding interest in sewing. But it is also important that the student (or you) end up with a garment that you will be proud to wear and claim as your own. For my self, I always consider what my purpose in making this piece is – some things just don’t need perfection, others thrive on it.

  10. I am a perfectionist and a bit of a control freak. But in my defense I work in aerospace, where attention to detail is an absolute must or you risk losing a multi-million dollar spacecraft, so it’s in my nature to be this way. With my sewing, I have ripped out and redone seams on casual shirts. I strive for perfect zippers, perfect top stitching, and perfect hems. I let mistakes go only when they are beyond being fixed and either the mistake is not noticeable or the item is not going to be seen in public (some pajamas I made have the print entirely upside down). Does it affect my sewing? Absolutely. Things that should be simple to sew take me much longer. I don’t learn from my mistakes because I don’t want to make mistakes!

    I’m reading a book right now called “Play to Win” by Larry Wilson. One of the main themes of the book is that most people play not to lose. They play it safe because they don’t want to fail. If you play to win, by taking risks and trying new things, you gain a lot more out of life. Applied to sewing, this means I should learn to live with some mistakes and accept the “wadders.” By doing so I will get more out of my sewing. I believe this is true, but it’s hard to change when I still believe I can control every stitch I make.

  11. Sad,but true. It depends on my weight! If i can knock things off without too much alterations to the pattern(thin)then I tend to be very discerning. When I have to do quite a bit of altering(fat)Im exhausted and not so much. When my weight goes up not so much sewing. Presently, not much sewing! (smile)

  12. Hi – Your post brought back memories to me also. My 1st real project was a plaid dress and I was about 12 yrs old. I think it took me over 5 hours to lay it out because I wanted everything to match. Today, I do not like seams puckering and am very picky about my stitch quality. I press through out the process and desire a better than store bought look.

  13. I was watching that “How it’s Made” show on the Science Channel and the “item” was a custom tailored suit in Bangkok. The grain line for the sleeves was completely off. Ripples and twisting galore. Shockingly, no one seemed to notice.

  14. I’m a bit of perfectionist myself, but I tend to be more forgiving with my own clothes. When it comes to a client, I will pick a garment apart until I feel it’s right.
    I tend to lose zeal for a garment that I’mworking on if it’s less than perfect in my world; then the end of completion never seems to come quick enough.

  15. I would like to claim to be a perfectionist, but in reality there are times when I just have to let things go. There are the limitations of one’s equipment to contend with also. I would like to think that I attain at least the quality of high-end RTW. If I aspired to couture quality with every garment, I certainly wouldn’t have much in my closet to wear.

  16. I do want my work to be flawless, but sometimes, it just won’t turn out that way. HOWEVER, I am not a pattern company trying to sell my wares. The photographer for that pattern company had all kinds of tools, tricks and opportunities at their fingertips to make that wardrobe piece look flawless, but didn’t. That’s what it surprises me.

  17. I’m much more meticulous than I used to be, and I always, always pressed as I sewed. That being said, sometimes “the best is the enemy of the good,” and finished is better than absolutely perfect. But I never let something out the door if I would be ashamed to say I made it.

  18. I’m getting better at being picky. Slowing down while laying out the pattern helps me avoid issues like the Vogue dress Bel pointed out, notice the stripes are not just mismatched, it looks to me like they cut the one front skirt panel the wrong direction. I won’t go so far as to say slowing down always helps though.

    And I’ve learned the hard way about pressing as you sew. No, I don’t sew perfect items, but I am learning the wisdom of “haste makes waste”, or as I usually say “the faster I go, the behinder I get”.

  19. To Bel and Gail (and everyone else) – that’s very interesting. That’s not the picture (or pattern company) I was talking about, but it seems like it’s more common than I thought. I wonder, though, if that dress is an original Tracy Reese? I’ll have to look for the issue of VPM to see.

    Here’s a funny story related to that. I wrote an article several years ago for Threads Magazine called “Go Against the Grain”. For that article, I made several garments, including the off-white jacket that they show on the article page. Well, that fabric, a quilted silk, was an unmitigated bitch to work with. I laid everything out as carefully as can be, hand basted and machine basted, then checked to make sure all the crosswise lines lined up perfectly. The back had a center seam, and no matter what I did, those damned lines just wouldn’t line up across that seam. They always shifted. I finally had to throw up my hands in frustration, since I re-cut the back and still couldn’t get it right no matter what I did. I called my editor and told her. She said, “Don’t worry about it. That’s why God created Photoshop.”

  20. I had this very discussion with myself while working on a shirt recently. I have perfectionist tendencies but with 3 young children and 4 days of work I’ve learned to relax at times in order to keep the process moving forward. As my time sewing is limited and I’ve been unable to make myself buy RTW the fall wardrobe depends on my ability to re-work what is truly necessary and work around items that no one will notice. During my recent shirt project I noted that the bust dart could be raised slightly; however the thought of re-working the dart had potential to make the project too cumbersome and I would probably end up putting an unfinished shirt in the bin of similar ill-fated projects. I believe this is why I’ve avoided pants up to this point. I know there will be a lot of re-working and at the end of the day my brain often can’t handle so much thinking. For my shirt, I made the note for any future shirt with this pattern, and happily moved forward.

  21. I am with you…it depends on the outfit and who/what it is for. No one notices the little flaws unless you point them out so don’t sweat it.

    My philosophy comes from the Crow Indians in Montana. They say nothing is perfect except God. They will purposely make an imperfection if need be. I don’t usually have to worry about making an imperfection. 😉

  22. My mom always says, “well, it’ll do” about so many things, not just sewing. It drives me crazy. It usually means that she is “settling” for far less than perfect and that it’s only good enough to just barely get by. I don’t want perfect but it would be nice if she could strive for a bit better than just adequate and mediocre.

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