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Episode 83

How do I Quiet My Inner Sewing Critic?

Do you criticize your sewing more than you would someone else's? We all have an inner critic—a voice that critiques the things we do or make. This inner critic is not something you need to fight; it’s something you need to understand.

We all have an inner critic—a voice that critiques the things we do or make. It might seem counterintuitive, but this inner critic is not something you need to fight; it’s something you need to understand.

In this episode, Sarai and Haley talk about what to do when your inner critic stops you from creating. We’ll talk about where that inner voice comes from, some experiences from others in the Community, and some ideas for how you can relate to that inner critic.

Podcast Transcript

Sarai
Hi, everyone. Welcome back to Seamwork Radio. So today we’re going to be talking about what to do when your inner critic stops you from creating. And today we’re going to cover where that critical voice comes from and how other people in the Seamwork Community experience, it and some specific practices that we’ve come up with and also ones we’ve heard from the community that can help you to get around it. We’ll start with our icebreaker today, Haley. Our icebreaker today is what’s the most overrated sewing tool and the most underrated sewing tool. So one of each.

Haley
I think for overrated, I must say something controversial, but I’m not a huge user of seam gauges or sewing gauges, some people call them. I love my clear ruler and I just use it for everything. I feel like I can be so much more accurate with it, and that leads me into underrated. And I think a gridded clear ruler is super underrated. I can’t live without it. I feel like it helps me to be super precise. I like the ones that have little holes in them, too, so you can use it like a Compass and stuff. I’m just a huge fan. My daughter is really obsessed with it. And she’s broken two in the last six months or so, which is rude. Children are still my favorite tool.

Sarai
Toddlers are just so rude.

Haley
Tell me about it.

Sarai
Are you talking about the thin rulers are talking about the really big quilting ones that are really wide?

Haley
Yeah. I like the two by 18 inch flexible clear ruler. I have one of the big quilting ones, but I feel like I only really use that when I’m doing things like cutting bias tape or actually quilting. But I love the flexible clear rulers. And I’m also particular. I like the ones with the red grid over the ones with the blue grid.

Sarai
That’s very specific. I like both, but I like the thick ones because you can cut with a Rotary cutter next to them and not have to worry about nicking it as much because they’re thicker. They’re a lot thicker than the little skinny ones, but they’re both really helpful.

Haley
Yeah. What about you, Sarai?

Sarai
I was just talking about this with Meg and Sienna on our team. I don’t know if I would consider this overrated because I don’t think it’s something that’s really popular, at least among Germans. But those fork pins, some people just love them and they’re used more in the quilting world than they are in the garment sewing world. But if you don’t know what they are, they’re pins, and there are two prongs on them and they’re connected at the top. And the purpose of them is to really hold fabric in place. So if you’re sewing adjoining seams, it really holds them in place so that they are lined up when you’re done sewing. When I first heard about them. I was like, wow, that’s so cool. The concept is great, but when I actually tried them, I just do not get it. They seem really thin, so it’s always really hard to get them through multiple layers of fabric. To me, the result has not been much better than just using two pins separately. I’m sure other people have had better luck with them. Maybe it’s just a me thing, but to me, that’s just not a tool that I need in my toolbox.

And then underrated, I think something that’s really underrated are pinking shears, because I used to have a lot of vintage clothing. I still have some, but, you know, really older vintage clothing. And back then, a lot of seams were finished simply with pinking shears, and they’ve stood the test of time. They’re still holding up all these years later. And I think pinking shears are just the super easy way that you can finish your seams without a serger, because back in the day, people didn’t have home sergers. Not many people use them. They’re not suitable for all fabrics. So that’s a big part of why they’re not always used. But if you’re using more of a stable fabric like cotton or something like that, I think they’re great and really easy to use.

Haley
That’s a good one.

Sarai
Yeah. If you have an icebreaker for a future episode for us, if you’re a Seamwork member, you can go to Seamwork.com/go/icebreakers, and that will take you to a post on our community where you can share yours. And maybe we’ll use one on a future episode.

But today we are going to be talking about the issue of your inner critic. So what we’re going to be talking about is not necessarily the fact that you critique yourself, because I think we all do that. But it’s more when it stops you from actually creating, when it stops you from doing what you want to do. Because of that criticism, I thought I would start by talking about something that I learned recently that was sort of a neat framework for exploring where this voice comes from and why you have it and kind of how you relate to it, which is I recently read this book by a neuroscientist named Jill Bolte Taylor, and if her name is familiar to you, she had a really viral early Ted talk called My Stroke of Genius, where she talks about the fact that she had a stroke that completely took the left side of her brain offline, as she says.

So basically, for a while, until she fully recovered, she had only the right side of her brain and how that really changed the way she experienced the world. And if you haven’t seen that Ted talk, I highly recommend it. It’s really, really interesting. She’s a great speaker, just an amazing person. It’s called My Stroke of Genius. We’ll link it in the show notes. But she recently wrote a book called Whole Brain Living, and she breaks down this concept of the right and left brain. And the way she explains it is basically that you have four sort of characters within your brain. So everybody knows you have a well, not everybody knows. A lot of people know you have a right side and the left side of your brain. So you have these two hemispheres of your brain, and a lot of people kind of think, oh, the right side is a creative side. The left side is the analytical side, which is true to an extent, but it’s a little bit more nuanced than that. So what she explains is that you have two characters on each side of your brain, so you have a left thinking part and a left emotional part.

You have a right thinking part and a right emotional part. And I’m not going to get into all of the different functions, but it’s the left emotional part. So that kind of more analytical side of your brain, but the more emotional part of that side of your brain, and that’s the side that’s always looking for problems and always on the lookout for things to worry about and be anxious about. And that’s a big part of where your inner critic comes from. And it sounds like a bad thing, but it’s actually really critical to our survival. We need that part of our brain to always be looking out for problems just in order to survive, in order to look for danger and for things that are going wrong in the world that we need to be aware of and we need to address. But it’s also where the voice inside your head that tells you, I’m not good at this, I’m going to fail at this. This isn’t going to work out. Those kinds of messages come from. It’s that part of your brain just trying to protect you. And so I thought that was a really interesting way of thinking about it, because it’s not necessarily something that you need to fight.

It’s something that you need to understand and accept and know why you have that and figure out how to relate to it in a more healthy way. So I’ve found that really, really helpful as a way of thinking about it. And I feel like this is something that a lot of writers and a lot of artists and creative people have talked about over the years. Steven Pressfield is an author. He wrote a book called The War of Art. If you haven’t read it, it’s really good. He calls this the Resistance. This is kind of the part of yourself that doesn’t want to do the work that doesn’t want to that kind of fights you every step of the way when you’re doing something creative. And it’s just a natural part of who each of us is as human beings. I think it’s really interesting to think about where it comes from. It’s not a bad guy. It’s trying to help you. It’s just doing it in a way that’s not always productive, necessarily. So, Hailey, I wanted to talk about our own experiences with this, so I was wondering, when do you feel the most self-critical?

Haley
I think that during the creative process, when I’m in my own head or in my own sewing room, that part of the creative process comes really naturally. And of course, I’m critical of myself. I frame those critiques in more helpful ways in my mind of how I can improve something or make it better, whatever that kind of stuff. But for me, when my inner critic gets the best of me is when I come out of my little shell of creating and want to share that creativity with the world, whether that’s sharing something I made on social media or presenting my designs to the team. I feel like it’s just, for me, so vulnerable, sharing that kind of stuff. And I get into that kind of like fortunetelling mentality of trying to guess what people are going to say or think and usually guessing kind of worst case scenarios.

Sarai
Yes. It’s that part of your brain trying to protect you. That’s really interesting. I think a lot of people probably feel that way. I think for me, it manifests very early. Just getting started on something can be challenging for me. Part of it is that I have this really fraught relationship with time, and I always feel like, is this the best use of my time? Is this something that I want to spend my time on, or should I be spending it on something else? And I think part of that does come from the inner critic and this need to be perfect and do all the things and choose the best thing and optimize everything in my life. And I think that’s very related to the inner critic, that kind of perfectionist voice. So that’s to me where it really manifests. I have all these projects in my head, and I can’t seem to get started on any one of them oftentimes because I’m afraid of not doing it perfectly or making the perfect choice.

Haley
Is there a time that you feel like your inner critic stopped you from doing something that you wanted to do?

Sarai
Yeah. Right now, actually, another thing that I really enjoy is writing. If you’re on our email list, I send out newsletters once or twice a week, and I really love writing those. I just love writing. And I really have wanted to start a new writing project outside of work. I’ve been really interested in doing that for a long time, and I used to have a daily writing practice, and that’s kind of fallen by the wayside. Ever since I moved and the pandemic and all this other stuff, I really want to do it, but there’s something that’s holding me back, and it’s definitely that feeling of resistance. I just can’t seem to take the first step, but maybe just talking about it will help me to do that. Now that I’ve said it out loud.

Haley
I’m going to ping you in a week and be like, are you writing yet, Sarai?

Sarai
It’s kind of related to what you said, Haley. It’s kind of a combination of the two things. It’s a combination of sharing my writing because I do write. I do a lot of journaling, and I do a lot of personal writing, but it’s that combination of sharing it and then also just wanting to make sure that it’s perfect and my concept is perfect, and I’ve done all the planning and all that stuff before I even get started doing it. And that’s that perfectionist in me, I think. What about you? Is there something that you’re interpreted to stop you from doing creatively?

Haley
I also have something right now that it’s stopping me from doing. I’ve been wanting to get back into drawing outside of what I draw, designs and things like that, just for my own personal practice and getting back into doing watercolors. I used to paint, and I bought not a bunch of stuff. I bought just some new watercolors and some watercolor paper and dust my brushes out of my garage. And I literally, like, right behind me as we’re recording. I have a pile of it all set up and ready for an opportunity. And I’ve had plenty of opportunities over the last month that these have been sitting there. But every time I’m just like, maybe another day, I don’t have enough time to do what I want to do right now. And what would I even paint anyway? And these very kind of limiting beliefs.

Sarai
That’s so funny because I did the same thing. I like drawing, too. And I took out all of my supplies from the garage. Like, right here my paintbrushes. I organized them last weekend and everything. But the funny thing was I had this big box of supplies in my garage, and I took it out, and I brought it upstairs, and I opened it, and it was like 90% blank pads of paper, which I think is a metaphor for something. It was this huge box of watercolor paper and mixed media paper and sketchbooks, and a lot of them had a few pages filled or nothing filled in them at all.

Just this huge amount of blank paper. And I feel like that kind of says it all about, I think, how we all feel about a lot of these creative pursuits that we really want to get into and just can’t seem to get over that bump in our minds totally.

Haley
I think it’s really hard, especially like, we’re talking about these kind of new projects and getting over that hump of getting started. For me, it all starts with these very limiting beliefs. You’re either good at this or you’re good at that. Like you’re either book smart or you are an athlete. Are these just, like, silly things that we try to shoehorn children into, and then it ends up affecting us the rest of our lives?

Sarai
Yes, I feel very strongly about that, too. I feel like I was definitely a product of that kind of environment where you couldn’t be good at math and science and also be interested in art. You have to pick one or the other those kinds of things. I think another limiting belief, which comes more from adulthood than childhood, is just that everything needs to have some kind of a purpose to it. You need to be able to sell it, or you need to be able to do something with it, or you have to share it on Instagram, or it has to have some kind of purpose outside of whatever it serves for you personally, which I think is a real limiting belief that I have. Like, I think about doing things like drawing and painting, and I think I would love to do that. It really makes me feel good. It really helps me to slow down and enjoy the moment. But then what? Then what do I do with it? Is that the best use of my time when I could be and I think that comes down to the earlier episode we did on the Cult of efficiency we were talking about and this idea of trading time for money, and that’s the only good use of your time is if you can use it productively, quote, unquote productively.

So that’s another thing that I feel like is a really big limiting belief for me, not necessarily making money from it, but just having some kind of, like, a reason, a purpose beyond what it does for me.

Haley
Yeah. Like, even with these someday paintings in my mind, I’m like, well, it’d be really cool if I could frame some of them and put them in Charlie’s room or do this or this or that. And why can’t I just paint something? Because it’s fun and it can just hang out in a notebook and make me happy five years from now when I flip through it.

Sarai
It’S hard because I think sharing your work is also very motivating and a big part of why people create, too. So I don’t know, like, everything, I guess it’s a balance.

Haley
We have a whole bunch of tips. And now after dwelling on all of my insecurities and living, I feel like I personally need to hear them.

Sarai
I’ve dealt with this many times. And even though we’re both struggling with it in various ways, which I think people probably have felt that way, and we will continue to feel that way throughout our lives, I’ve also overcome it many times. And I’ve started a lot of things and developed a lot of practices and hobbies. So there’s no perfect way to do this. But I think there are some things that we both probably have learned that maybe we can help you. And we also surveyed our community and got a few tips from other people on what they do to overcome their inner critic.

So the first part of it, I think and this is probably true for dealing with a lot of emotional issues generally, is just acknowledging the feeling, really noticing, first of all, that you’re even feeling that way, I think, is always a really important first step. And if you even get to that point, I feel like you should congratulate yourself. Like, if you notice, oh, I’m doing that thing again. I think that’s such a big accomplishment because most of the time we don’t even notice it. We don’t even question it.

So to me, that’s the first step. And then after that, it’s just asking yourself, okay, why do I think that Where’s that coming from? And is it true those are kind of the practices of starting to learn to reason with yourself and kind of talk back a little bit to that voice, because like we were saying earlier, it’s not necessarily a bad part of you. It’s not a bad voice, but it’s something that you need to keep in check with the other parts of your brain. So learning to reason with yourself, learning to reason with that inner critic, and kind of have more of a discussion with your inner critic rather than take what they say at face value. And then the next one is going back to what Haley was just talking about, about limiting beliefs. I think it’s really helpful. It’s been helpful to me to just recognize the patterns and the limiting beliefs that I have that come up over and over again. Like I was just saying about perfectionism. I think that is something that I have struggled with throughout my life, and some of that is probably something I’ll always struggle with.

But noticing that that’s what’s happening is so helpful. So it kind of goes back to acknowledging the feeling, but also acknowledging that this is something that comes up regularly for me, and it’s something that I can deal with that I’ve dealt with before, and then I can deal with again. The next thing that has been really helpful to me and this is something that I tend to preach a lot is self-compassion. And I think that having compassion for yourself and care for yourself, not just kind of like this, oh, it’s good to love yourself, and it’s good to but more having specific practices that you can turn to when you’re starting to feel that way that allow you to talk to yourself in a way that is kind and in a way that makes you step back and kind of realize that you’re going through something and that happens, that’s something that happens to everybody and that it’s a moment to just be nice to yourself and find ways to practice the same compassion for yourself that you would for other people, which is kind of the next thing that I would say is the way that you would speak to yourself should be the way you speak to a friend, the way that you would talk to somebody else who is going through the same kind of questions and issues that you’re dealing with in that moment.

So I think that’s a big part of self-compassion is just learning how to speak to yourself. Not a lot of people, at least I didn’t really think about until I started kind of investigating these things. Obviously, we all have voices in our heads that say different things to us at different times. But really recognizing that you have all these voices and that you can talk back to those voices and the way that you choose to do that will have a really, really big impact on how you approach things has been really instrumental for me, at least. I’m not just talking about positive thinking, just always think positive. That’s kind of the opposite in a way of what I’m saying. I think acknowledging those sad feelings and those hurt feelings and those worried feelings and really sitting with them and being kind to yourself, no matter if you’re having those feelings or not having those feelings is what I’m trying to get at, rather than just, oh, just talk to yourself and say positive things. I hope that makes sense to everybody.

Haley
For me, it’s more about kind of circling back to one of the previous tips and questioning the feeling. It’s okaying the feeling if my inner critic is making me feel really scared, it’s okaying that feeling with myself and then digging into why that is because if a friend was telling me that they are doubting themselves and feeling this way, I would be like, why do you think you feel that way? What’s going on? I wouldn’t just be like, don’t feel that way.

Sarai
I think that’s where sometimes positive thinking, that’s positive thinking kind of leads people into shaming yourself for feeling bad. And it’s like, oh, I should not feel that way. I should be thinking positive. I should be happy about this all the time. And I think that is not really realistic. It doesn’t allow you to kind of deal with whatever the stresses that you’re feeling at that moment. It just kind of suppresses it. I just want to say we’re not therapists or anything, but these are the things that have helped us personally in dealing with these problems, which I think all of us have different ways of coping, which is why I wanted to share some of the tips from our community as well. Haley, do you want to read the first one? Yes.

Haley
So this first one is from Diane, and they say “my inner critic has stopped me from trying to do many things over my lifetime. His favorite trick has been shaming me for whatever I learned to call it out and even talk to it if necessary, saying, bug off. Yeah. Thanks for the thoughts. Now moving along. It gets bored when it’s tactics don’t work.” I love that this one cracks me up. I love the idea of calling out the voice in my head. I’m over here recommending, acknowledge the feeling, question the feeling. And Diane’s like, no.

Sarai
Just tell it to leave. Yeah.

Haley
Makes me laugh. And I love that. Diane, thank you for sharing that with us. And I hope that other people enjoyed that tip as much as I do.

Sarai
Well, I think she’s getting at something important, which is. Well, I think it does come back to kind of acknowledging it and then naming it for what it is. Right. It’s just my inner critic coming up again, telling me, I can’t do that. You can leave now.

Haley
Yeah. Being totally unhelpful. And if someone in real life were to come up to me and give me some kind of unhelpful criticism, that’s exactly what I would say and be like, the point of that is what?

Sarai
And just like you’re in a critic, it’s going to get bored. Like Dan said.

Haley
Yeah, totally.

Sarai
You’re not responding.

Haley
If your inner critic is a bully, you should treat them like a bully.

Sarai
The next one is about using humor, which I think is another really good tactic that we haven’t talked about yet. So this one comes from Amy D. And Amy said, “My inner critic can give me unexpected anxiety, and I’m not an anxious person. Therefore, when I feel anxious about a project, that becomes my red flag and then I pretty much start laughing. I laugh because I realize that I’m giving way too much influence and authority to a piece of fabric technique or whatever it is, I remind myself not to sweat the small stuff and take a break”. I love that Amy seems like a very healthy person.

Haley
Yeah.

Sarai
I admire you, Amy.

Haley
I do that a lot. When I feel like I’m taking a project too seriously, I’m like, what are the stakes here? I’m not performing open heart surgery. This is a dress I’m making for myself for fun. Using humor to lighten the mood is usually I’m not going to say always, but usually. And in this case, especially a good bet.

Sarai
I don’t know if I ever get to the point of laughing at it, but I do sometimes think.

Speaker 3
Oh, this is silly.

Sarai
This is ridiculous. Come on.

Haley
I roll my eyes at myself a lot. My inner teenager is responding to my inner critic.

Sarai
My inner teenager is a big part of who I am, I think.

Haley
Yeah. Now I just have to put up with her instead of my mom putting up with her. Okay, we have one more tip from the community, and this one is all about sewing as self-care and it comes from Carla. Carla says “working past criticism is always difficult, and self-criticism is always the hardest to get past. I found if I think of my project more along the lines of self-care, like I’m going to get my hair or my nails done, I find the anxiety of will it even turn out sort of fade into the background because I’m more focused on enjoying the process than focusing too much on the high bar that I might have set for the end project. What’s that saying? It’s not about where you end up, but how you get there” end quote. I just wanted to delineate where Carla and me started and stopped.

Sarai
This is Haley now. [Laughs]

Haley
But I love that idea of thinking about it as like going to get your hair or your nails done, which both sound like really lovely things to me right now and probably tells me that I need to do some self-care.

Sarai
Oh, my gosh. I haven’t cut my hair in like eight months.

Haley
It all happens in the bathroom. Just little DIY haircuts.

Sarai
Yeah, I really like this one. I think it kind of goes back to some of the things we were talking about earlier, Haley, about maybe drawing or painting or things like that just being a way to enjoy your time and not having to have some kind of other motive around it, just thinking about it as a way to take care of yourself.

Haley
Yeah, I’m going to take Carla’s advice and do a little painting after Charley goes to bed tonight.

Sarai
That’s a great idea. I will admit I’m not the greatest at self-care in this way. I think there are certain things that I make time for, reading books and things like that, but I’m not great about just doing something just because it’s fulfilling without having some kind of product come out of it. I think I’ve struggled with that since I was a child. So it’s really interesting that somebody conversations now about self-care that weren’t happening ten or 15 years ago that have shifted my thinking about this and really made me question myself in some really positive ways.

Haley
And the waters just get even more murky. I mean, there always are. But for people like you and I who have not a very clear line between our work and our hobbies, sometimes both of us sew as part of our job. Both of us write as part of our job, even drawing trickles in there as well. So it can be really hard to figure out the difference sometimes.

Sarai
For my brain, I struggle with whether there needs to be a hard line sometimes, but it does create a murkiness, like you’re saying. Well, these were some really awesome tips. Do you want to recap all the tips we went through, our tips and then the tips we got from the community?

Haley
Yeah, you bet. I’d love to. So today we’re talking all about that in our critics, and we gave some tips on how to combat it when it’s getting the best of you. So tip number one is to acknowledge the feeling. And then tip number two is to ask yourself, Why do I think that? And engage in a conversation with yourself so that you can really get to the root of it. Number three is recognizing the patterns of your limiting belief. This can be really helpful because you can reflect back on how you’ve overcome them in the past and how that might help you today in the challenge that you’re having in this moment. We also recommend exercising self-compassion. And we’re not just saying be nice to yourself and practice toxic positivity, we’re just saying to treat yourself the way that you would treat a friend. And then we also have some really great tips from our community. Diane recommended to call out your inner critic and tell it to bug off, which I love. Great idea. Amy D recommends using humor and to laugh at yourself when maybe you’re taking yourself just a little bit too seriously.

And then Carla recommends practicing sewing as self-care and treating it like you’re going to get your hair or your nails done or something super lovely for yourself.

Sarai
I also want to mention that these tips came from a thread we have on our community. And if you’re a Seamwork member, I recommend going and checking that thread out. Because there were a lot more tips. We couldn’t include them all. We had to really had to whittle it down. So just tips, but also just other people’s experiences that were really interesting to read.

Haley
We had some really great conversations, and those are continuing to happen. So we will definitely link that in the show notes. So if you’re a Seamwork member, you can go ahead and join in on that conversation as well. We also talked about the Ted talk My Stroke of Genius and book Whole Brain Living that’s by Jill Bolte Taylor, which will also link in the show notes. And if you liked this episode, we ask you to please leave us a review. It really helps other people who like sewing and like talking about and listening to sewing find us. And it helps us to know that you dig what we’re doing and makes us feel good. So maybe do that if you have a little bit of time or just like it, give us some stars, write us a little review. We love to read them, and sometimes we even read them here on the podcast.

Sarai
All right. Thanks so much. This is a great conversation. It made me want to go out and draw and paint and write and do all the things I know.

Haley
I’ll have to post some pictures of my painting projects on the community.

Sarai
Yeah.

Haley
Hold myself accountable.

Sarai
Yeah. You and I will start a little accountability group. All right. Well, with that, I’m Sarai.

Haley
I’m Haley—and this is Seamwork Radio.

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