“Practice isn't the thing you do when you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good.”
There’s been a lot of talk lately about experts, and the ten thousand hours of practice and what makes us masters of our field. But how do we tackle hour two, or twenty or two hundred of amateur hour? How do we stick with it when the things we make just aren’t as good as our ambitions? Let’s be honest, being a beginner sucks. We live in a world that promises instant mastery... from being an instant photographer to an instant web designer, to an instant pop star. We’ve not comfortable staying in the beginner zone for long. As Veruka Salt so aptly put it, I want it now, daddy!
About 10 years ago, I ran a little sewing school out of my studio. Each class comprised of about ten 30-something women who had dreams of making their own clothes. In the year that I taught those classes, I learnt a valuable lesson that I’ve tried to keep with me. I would often have a student who was overly harsh with herself. She would want to do things perfectly; She wanted to know the perfect way to cut the fabric. She wanted to know the perfect way to press the presser foot. She wanted to know the perfect way to sew her hem. At some point during the class, she would freeze. The rest of the students would be sewing away, chatting happily, but she would be sitting stone cold, starting at the needle, terrified to go forward because she might make a mistake.
Invariably, I would have another student who dove right in. She understood that the first thing she made was probably not going to be very good. She would laugh about her mistakes, happily reaching for the seam ripper when she’d messed up, again. By the end of the class she was confidently running her little sewing machine like she was out for a Sunday drive. She was right in thinking that her first effort was not going to be a Chanel jacket, but there was much more chance that she would get to there eventually.
I try to take this attitude with me towards my own studio practice. It doesn’t take being a perfectionist to become a master, it takes being a prolific maker. As Ira glass so puts it, “It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.” Last summer, I decided I wanted to be able to actually make the shoes I was designing. I took a wonderful shoe making class in the mountains of Arizona. Foolishly, I imagined that after that one week-long class I would be a master cobbler. I’d forgotten my own lesson.
This Spring, I’ve set myself a challenge that I hope will force proliferation and fight against prefectionism: To make 50 pairs of sandals in 50 days. It’s sort of a marathon shoe-making project, with the hopes of building my skill level, creating a space for creative flow and raising some money for charity. I’m calling the project The 100 Soles Project, and with each pair I design, make and sell, I’m going to donate a portion of the proceeds to The Shoe that Fits.
The 100 Soles Project launches May 26, with the goal of raising money for The Shoe that Fits. Follow the project on Instagram @bryrclogs #100solesproject