Obsessing over perfection can kill creativity

Obsessing over perfection can kill creativity

Words and images by Rosie Cockerill-Evans - fashion graduate, pre-Raphaelite goddess and 00’s pop extraordinaire.

My style is best described as all over the place. A big brash mix of 16th century royalty, meets John Wayne cowboys, meets party girls on a mission to 1960’s mars, mixed with Stevie Nicks, anarchistic punk wannabes, 70’s soul train disco queens, 90’s indie music stars, rebellious prairie farmer girls and S Club 7-esque Bratz dolls. 

It’s messy.

The colour spectrum is my playground; textures, pattern and detail are the playthings. I love dressing up. It’s the messy creative hobby that often never leaves the four walls of my bedroom. I love creating new characters and styles, making, cutting, chopping and mashing clothes together to create Frankenstein-like outfits that take on a life of their own. 

This process of frenzied creation, taking something from my head and using fabric, yarn and makeup to pull it out into the world, is what I’m really about. 

I’ll want to be a glam-rock highway man one day and won’t have the appropriate outfit, so I’ll go to my piled high fabric boxes and pull out lengths of green taffeta. Even though I would have preferred it in blue it will be fun to try it in green, and maybe I don’t have the perfect pattern for the trousers but I can merge these three patterns together and then stick this pocket on top of that one, and hang on, I have some buckles somewhere that would look fab on the leg.

Obsessing over perfection can kill creativity and I think every creative, whether an artist, designer or realiser, could do with being a bit messier. 

I hesitate to call myself an artist, as I studied Fashion Design and the ‘fashion as art’ debate feels corny so many years on, but it leaves an uneasy taste in my mouth to call myself a designer. I have no interest in the business, mass production, social climbing and brand awareness that is involved with being a designer. 

Greta Gerwig calls herself ‘The Realiser’ instead of ‘The Director’ for her first film Lady Bird, because like me, she is pulling these ideas from her mind out into the physical world, rather than having the elements already and simply directing them where to go. I like the energy of the term ‘Realiser’; it feels more creative and productive. You are the process, you bring the work to life.

There’s an energy in my creative process that I struggle to define, but never want to let go of. I rush and plan in my head, not with mind maps or POAs. I change my mind halfway through the project and alter the original imaginary blue prints to fit my new idea. I rarely plan my creations beyond making a rough pattern from paper and choosing which thread to go with the fabric. Sometimes I don’t even know what the garment will be until I’ve cut into the fabric and stitched the first seam. This can end badly. Exhibit A: the beautiful golden woven blanket I bought second hand and tried to make into a pair of jeans, before realising the fabric frayed so much I couldn’t finish one line of stitching before the holes began to appear. My tutors at university often told me I had to figure out every detail and foresee every problem pre-emptively before starting on the final piece. This left me feeling stifled, trapped and defined by the rigid markers of what had to happen. If something would happen that didn’t fit this strict plan, it was wrong. 

And in my self-doubt, it made me feel like I was wrong. Like I shouldn’t have bothered, like I was lazy, like I didn’t care enough to know exactly what stitch, what hem and what finish I would need before I’d started. 

But I do care. Everything I create is a part of me, and when I bring it out into the world I care about every detail. For me, those details often come through energetic bursts of problem solving, rather than slaving over paper and research until you lose the excitement and drive to make something. So many of my friends at uni, who are incredibly talented and creative, never got to realise some of their best ideas because they couldn’t get over the planning stage and obsessing over every possible choice, in case they made the wrong one. Obsessing over perfection can kill creativity and I think every creative, whether an artist, designer or realiser, could do with being a bit messier

This process of frenzied creation, taking something from my head and using fabric, yarn and makeup to pull it out into the world, is what I’m really about. 

Messy, especially in the fashion world, is a dirty word. Clothes need to be factory-line perfect or they are worthless. Immaculacy shows skill. Who would buy something that had messy stitches, hand painted detail or raw hanging hems? 

I would.

If it interested me, made me laugh, or made me feel something when I wore it, there’s something sincere in the mistaken stitches. There are the remnants of someone’s hand as they created it. One of my favourite designers is Raffaella Hanley whose label Lou Dallas looks like it has been made for a low budget theatre production of Fern Gully the Last Rainforest, in the most beautiful way. There’s raw edges, hand dyed materials and fabric pulled by hand embroidered illustrations, which makes every garment feel individual and alive. 

In an interview, she calls her style ‘sloppy couture’. The sewing techniques look like they could have been made by someone finishing their GCSE textiles, but the beauty and incredible design couldn’t have. It’s that classic line of someone critiquing abstract art and saying, ‘my five-year-old could draw that’. Yes, they could, but they didn’t.

The term ‘sloppy couture’ doesn’t mean laziness on the part of the creator. While it can be an intentional style choice, I don’t like to think of my work as planned to look messy either. For me, the messiness is often just an outcome from the energy that I put into creating and making. Monster Chetwynd is a visual and performance artist, who is known for reworking iconic moments in cultural history, with a hand-crafted style of improvisation and spontaneity. She was criticised for trying to make her work look ‘intentionally bad’ and was described as being ‘amateurish with her aesthetic’. In her response, she explains that she’s actually just ‘excited and impatient to make things’. 

Little messy me wearing slightly off and imperfect clothes is a comfort; a soft textural protest for individuality.

In Grace Lee’s video essay Evil Dead: Loving the Unnatural, the term ‘deliberate urgency’ is used to describe what some might see as sub-standard craftmanship. There’s an excitement and desire to complete, to be able to show others what you’ve created. It’s a way for the creator to overcome the pain of spending masses of time to attempt to produce perfection, and to instead be able to hold onto the original energy of when the idea was first born. As someone who had a lot of their life put on hold when I struggled with a serious illness in my teen years, the idea of slowing down doesn’t appeal to me. I spent too long not having the energy to create what I wanted, so I’m not going to try and limit myself now.

One of my practices is knit. Heavy industrial machine knitting that makes loud sounds, cuts your fingers and produces wobbly shaped pieces that are stitched into garments. And hand knitting, with wooden needles twisting yarn round my fingers until I come out with even wobblier shapes. Knitting is a beautiful process and it is one of my favourite skills, but I hate how nit-picky it can get. So often I’ll unravel pieces just to be told to re-knit them, because of a slight hole or mis-alignment in the pattern. Because it has to be ‘perfect’. 

In Kyoko Mori’s memoir Yarn, she tells of the ‘folklore among knitters’, which is that ‘everything hand-made should have at least one mistake so an evil spirit will not become trapped in the maze of perfect stitches’. I wish I had found this during my final few months at university to show my tutors. The appeal of the handmade is that it’s made with care, and even the mistakes are precious.

I don’t believe that perfection isn’t needed. I can make things that are perfectly stitched and pressed, and made with such detailed care it surprises me. But they’re not the things that bring me love and joy, and they’re not the things I’m excited to show people. I don’t think clothes should simply be flawless replicants. Wearing them definitely doesn’t make me feel flawless. In this big weird world so focused on preaching perfection and rigid ways on how to conform your identity, little messy me wearing slightly off and imperfect clothes is a comfort; a soft textural protest for individuality. I’m not really trying to find my aesthetic as a way to define myself. I’m instead realising that an aesthetic as a style can be energetic and spontaneous, rather than premeditated or planned.

A big exciting mess is really quite freeing. 

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