The Mighty Ugly

In last week’s blog post I talked about a rather ugly little tapestry I did. I’ve found more affection for it over the last week. Anyway, that little bit of “ugly” reminded me of a book I never got around to reading when it first crossed my path a few years ago. So this week I picked it up. Kim Werker’s book, Make it Mighty Ugly is smart and funny and full of great tips about being someone who makes things. Kim is a creative who started Crochet Me, became an editor at Interweave, sold Crochet Me to Interweave, and is now running a support network on Patreon for the weird crafters among us while she writes more books (she has written a handful already). I don’t think Kim would be upset to be characterized as an organizer of weird crafters either. Her whole book is about learning to find your own creativity and silence the demons that tend to dissuade us from making stuff.

Her premise which came from an experience where she made a really ugly doll at a party, is that if you can make ugly stuff, it can start creativity flowing and help you face the demons that whisper in our ears. In fact, I hear some of the things Kim talks about from my own students.

I’ve worked in the crafts industry for a decade, and there has been one refrain I’ve encountered more than any other, one that remained a mystery to me for many years. “I’m afraid to try that.” I’d respond with a double take (yes, every time). “What now? It’s yarn,” I’d say. “It won’t hurt you, and if you screw up, you can just unravel what you did and start again.” I would be met most frequently by a blank stare, as if I clearly hadn’t understood what they meant.
— Kim Werker, Make it Mighty Ugly

The book is full of exercises both to help you hear those voices that block your joy and to get you making stuff without reservations. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it might well be yours. I think Kim’s message is important. And if you resonate with her tag line, Camp Counselor for Grown-Ups, you might check out her website.

I feel like I have a lot of students who are perfectionists. It may be that there are no more perfectionists in my tapestry community than in the general public, but I tend to feel their perfectionist tendencies quicker than I pick up on other concerns they might have. This is probably because I’m a recovering perfectionist myself. (And it might have something to do with weaving attracting people who like a certain sort of order.)

In my own practice I continue to remind myself that I can’t set out to create a masterpiece. I’m in the middle of a massive writing project and I no longer have any idea if any of it is good or not. Fortunately other smart people will help me discern that in the long run. All I can do is dig in, feel the hot fire of a deadline racing toward me, and keep working. It will be edited and edited again and eventually it will be a book. I think maybe that is the only thing I really have to believe about it.

The same thing has to go for tapestry weaving. It might be that I weave something and then weave it again another way and then again and again… and the good thing about that is then I have something that art people call “a body of work.” How cool is that? I thought I was just correcting mistakes! I find myself looking at weavings my online students make and recommending they try that idea again. I mean this in the sense of, “That is a great idea! Run with it! You’re going to have a whole set of wonderful tapestries soon.” And I hope they take it that way.

Looking at social media, it often feels like everybody is consistently producing beautiful work, which can feel discouraging at times. So thank you for sharing this - it’s encouragement to keep going!
— Vera, commenting on last week's "ugly" blog post

Social media can be insidious. I think two things are happening when we look at a Facebook fiber group and feel like absolutely everyone there is making fantastically beautiful stuff and our work looks like we aren’t out of kindergarten yet.

  1. People mostly only post their best efforts. I wish we’d all have the courage in some spaces to post our mistakes for comments and support by our friends… but of course we have to be careful with that because people on Facebook and the like can be ruthlessly cruel. I see far less cruelty in the fiber space than in a political sphere, but I have certainly been on the receiving end of some pretty pointed comments even when it is just about weaving. I still wonder (because I’m an eternal optimist), why is it so easy to forget that there is a person on the other end of those posts?

  2. We think less of our creative efforts than we should. I have hated things I’ve made that someone else not only paid good money for but absolutely loved. Our perspective is skewed when it comes to our own work.

Kindergarten isn’t a bad place to be. Kindergarteners are wise and open-hearted and they see things those of us who have had too many hard knocks can’t see any more. So if you feel like you’re in weaving kindergarten, for goodness sake, embrace it! Use it to open your eyes, look around, notice what is hard and above all, play a little.

It’s almost perversely easy to fall down a rabbit hole of fear, because creative expression is so personal. We’re talking about our ideas here, our vision. Our execution. We are entirely responsible for it. If we show someone and they don’t like it, what does that mean for us? And if we, ourselves, don’t like it? How sad and frustrating that would be.
— Kim Werker, Make it Mighty Ugly