Sunday, December 29, 2019

Guest Post by Melanie, The Sewmelier. #SewHonestFeedback

What's a blog if it isn't being used, right! So when Melanie from The Sewmelier mentioned that she had written this piece about honest feedback, but also about boundaries, kindness and lots of other thoughts and opinions, but that she worried it was a bit too long for Instagram, I offered up my blog. I don't have any ads on my blog, so I don't make any money on it (just in case you were wondering), but it's a subject that is also close to my heart, and I would love to help share her, in my opinion, great thoughts on this matter. Mie


Thanks for having me on the blog today, Mie, to share my thoughts on topics very dear to me: useful feedback without hurt feelings, how honesty can easily become painful, why I think making mistakes is actually wonderful and how I interact with designers and sewing businesses to give feedback - or simply #sewhonestfeedback ! So let’s jump right in with 



HOW TO GIVE FEEDBACK.

Keeping things real and honest talk are both paramount to me. Honest feedback isn't always easy to take, and certainly not easy to give. But when it's done usefully and thoughtfully, it is just what we need to learn and grow as individuals (and amateur sewists). There's no reason at all to shy away from giving or receiving it!

However, with me constantly asking the Instagram sewing community to step over that invisible line of "if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all" by requesting your honest feedback and insight to me, I want to talk about how we can do so safely, without hesitation or hurt feelings. So here goes what works for me and might (hopefully) be helpful to you too.


Giving constructive feedback – my personal notes

Be invited to give your opinion. If a person is not asking for my feedback, I simply don't give any. (This obviously doesn't apply to professionals/businesses, when I pay for a product.)

Be honest. Only honest feedback is useful feedback.

Be constructive. If I have no solution/advice/reference to provide, I don't criticize at all. Encouragement is always welcome.

Be very specific on what they can / need to do.

Be empathic and polite. Keep in mind: a person is trying her/his best to create something. Likely a lot of thought, time and money went into this process and these efforts should be treated with respect.

Be positive. Whenever possible, I end on a positive note and try to say something encouraging. Learning can be hard and our encouragement might mean the world.

There is so much to be gained from also connecting and exchanging with other sewists during the process of creating and learning– and not only to share or comment on an already finished make. Asking for and receiving feedback and knowledge in the midst of making something is such a big chance to progress with our skills! However, there is a difference between being honest and being mean.


HONESTY. A FINE LINE.

What can we do to make sure our feedback is helpful and not hurtful? This, of course, is a very subjective line to draw. However, I have found some basic standards to be very helpful to avoid honest feedback from turning into something painful. Because it really would be a loss to have to opt out of giving feedback just to make sure we aren't crossing any borders, right?.


Over the past years I have constantly asked our Instagram sewing community for feedback. Trust me when I say that I've gotten all kinds of it! Like, ALL kinds. Mostly helpful and kind, sometimes not so much. (But ALWAYS a chance for personal growth! Even the painful experiences can turn out to be something beneficial, but that’s a story for another day. And I most definitely wouldn’t recommend on giving hurtful feedback on purpose...).

So what should we keep in mind, when giving honest feedback to our sewing friends or other creative persons?

What is “correct” or “true”? Often this is hard to say, when it comes to a hobby as creative as sewing. So, I try and share my opinions as opinions, my suggestions as suggestions, and not as facts or “how it has to be done”. My personal beliefs aren’t necessarily the ultimate truth.

The maker's opinion counts. In the end it's all about how the maker FEELS about her/his make and really not so much about whether or not I would technically consider it a success/fail.
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‘Every man to his taste.’ Each person has their own unique preferences, and all are (at the very least!) acceptable. I stay away from commenting negatively on someone’s taste or style.
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When is a fail a fail? As long as the maker hasn't officially declared his make a definite fail, I am extremely careful with stating I consider it one. This can be VERY hurtful. Even, when the maker wonders publicly if it might end up as a fail.
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Pointing out options and alternatives. Proposing to "try and save the fabric" or "chop up a make" to try and cut a new pattern from it etc. also implicitly suggests I consider the make a fail, at least in its current state. It is absolutely helpful and okay to point out alternative options, but I want to tread carefully here. Preferably, I start such suggestions along the lines of "IF you should decide it's not working out for you, you could try to do XYZ...".

Criticizing finished makes. Easy one: I never ever do it! This is NOT constructive feedback, especially not if someone is presenting it proudly to the community. If the person who made it is satisfied, that's all that counts. (Exception: if the person is not satisfied and asks for specific feedback on what she/he could have done differently or why it ended up the way it did, we might chime in.)
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Making fun of a make. Very simply: I don't ever. Unless I know the person extremely (!!!) well and I am absolutely sure she/he’ll get a good laugh out of it, too. (Even so, I usually won’t do it.) Chances are I'd step on someone's toes and ridiculing or belittling a make is definitely not useful feedback.
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Just a hobby? Yes, for most of us it is! And there is a significant difference between providing feedback to a professional/business as a customer and providing feedback to a fellow amateur sewist, who is doing this as a hobby and pastime.

Being more honest isn’t about saying things “just as they are”, because how we perceive things is very subjective. To me, being more honest is about being more clear, more specific, more empathic, more authentic and more generous in voicing my opinions. I always try to keep the observable facts about a make or problem in focus and share my perspective and opinion about those facts.


MAKING MISTAKES

Part of me is actually very fond of making mistakes. The other part, though, is afraid of making mistakes, tries to avoid making them or hides them when they happen. Simply because they can make me feel ashamed and like I’m failing. The truth is, setbacks and mistakes are inevitable and can be a tremendous gift, and the most productive and highly potent learning opportunities.


Sharing our mistakes and struggles

So why is it so hard to embrace the concept of making mistakes as a very natural part of the process? Why do I have to push myself to share and talk about them proudly? Well, in my opinion this is especially easy to answer for the social media world: when all these awesome, finished makes pop up in our feed, we are led to believe others magically create out of perfection. We don’t see the blood and tears that might have gone into the process of making something. We just see the shiny, glittery, successfully finished makes in these little squares and start to think, that whenever we ourselves make a mistake, THIS is a problem. A failure. Maybe even WE are a failure and that these mistakes set us apart from all the other successful sewists we (think we) see on Instagram on the daily.

But then, failure is human. EVERYONE, even the most impressively shiny and skillful and perfect sewing feeds are owned by people like you and me who make mistakes and struggle sometimes. And we should always keep in mind, that the majority of us are mostly self-taught. We love our hobby dearly, but making mistakes is basically our only chance to learn and make any progress at all. By connecting and sharing these mistakes and giving feedback on what happened or where we got stuck, we can grow and learn together. And possibly spare a fellow sewist from going down that same route.

Insta is brimming with all these successful makes and very little progress shots or fails. Probably very simply because we tend to kind of clench our teeth through all the blood and tears and proudly hit the “publish” button when we FINALLY arrive at a somewhat wearable make? At least that’s true for me. But I also try to step back and see the chance of learning in my mistakes. (And sometimes I just throw a hissy fit, haha.) But whichever, I love to share it with you and I highly appreciate others sharing their process of making something - INCLUDING all the struggles and mistakes. Especially the struggles and mistakes πŸ˜‰.


MISTAKES IN PATTERNS AND FEEDBACK TO DESIGNERS/PROFESSIONALS.

Also, making mistakes is not only ok for us hobby sewists. It is also very much okay for professionals and businesses! To me, the only thing that will ever count here, is how a mistake is handled, how a professional or business reacts to customers pointing out a (suspected) flaw. I am deeply convinced, that customers providing honest and thoughtful feedback to a business, is one of the most powerful assets you can strive for as a professional. And as a customer nothing makes me quite as happy as a business actively interacting with its buyers, taking an interest in their views and thoughts on their products. The gain is mutual here: the business gets ahold of information on what their customers really care for and expect from them. And the customers might just get the product they would love to have. Sounds very much like a win-win, don’t you think?


Often, we don’t want to “bitch around” whenever we come across a possible mistake in a pattern or its instructions, or the layout or design or drafting doesn’t make us a 100% happy. We see the person, the maker who is behind this, and we feel her/him and all the hard work that went into this pattern. And if you ask me: THIS is part of the beauty of our community! We care, we empathize, we usually don’t “bitch around”. But. To me, this is not about being a nag or pain in the ***. About making someone else feel bad or ruining his business. This is about expressing my honest opinion on a product I purchased and share with others, no matter if my experience was positive or negative. To simply be honest. To provide constructive feedback.

I feel like in our Insta sewing community the general threshold for giving any negative feedback AT ALL on a pattern or designer is incredibly high. It sometimes makes me wonder, if we would react the same way when buying something in a store and then discovering it’s broken or misses a couple of buttons or has gone stale. Speaking about my personal experience with a product on social media should be just as natural and ok as it is to return a faulty product to the real life store – as long as I stick to the basic principles of giving polite and constructive feedback!


*** Thank you so much for reading all this! (If you actually got this far, you’re a real champ!) I am forever grateful for our open-minded and generous online sewing community, where people can feel safe to share their thoughts. ❤️ I truly hope you found my words encouraging and inspiring to keep things real and honest, to actively take part in giving constructive feedback to amateurs and professionals and about patterns you purchased, and to never ever believe for one second in the big social media deception of “perfection everywhere else”. πŸ˜‰ XXX Melanie @thesewmelier ***

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Thank you SO much Melanie. Lots of wise words, thoughts and opinions.

EDIT: Melanie had some technical problems leaving replies to your comments, so in the end she emailed them to me, and I copy/pasted them in. I know she's not the only one having problems leaving comments, and it's a general problem with Blogger. And unfurtunately not anything I can do anything about, except switch blogging platform and that would cause me a lot of other problems, that I'm not ready to deal with right now. Thank you for understanding!

17 comments:

  1. Great post Mel! I love watching your stories and remember the ‘boomerang coat’ ;) saga well... I completely agree, if there are objective errors then we should be discussing them with the company. We are generally using scarce resources of time and money on our hobbies. I think the key thing you pointed out here is how the companies respond to this information is what matters.

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    1. This is a reply from Melanie: Hi Marie! Thank you so much for your reply and your kind words 😊 And yes, I really do believe in customer feedback being the one thing you should actually LOVE as a company. I hope we can continue to move towards an honest conversation, that is beneficial to everyone! X Melanie

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  2. Loved this! I don't put mistakes out there for others to see and maybe I should. We all make them and we can all learn from them. Thanks for your honesty.

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    1. This is a reply from Melanie: Thank you so much for your comment! I would love to see more mistakes “out in the wild” – often shared mistakes are what I remember when I sew something up myself, which makes them so very useful! X Melanie

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  3. Really thoughtful and clear post :)

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    1. This is a reply from Melanie: Thanks a lot! 😊 X Melanie

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  4. Thank you for a clear and kind post. I have only once been given cruel and untrue feedback after posting a review of a shirt I made for my hubby, he was messing about with his guitar in the photos and someone accused me of hiding his 'pot'. How rude.

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    1. This is a reply from Melanie: Thank you so much for your comment, Claire! And ugh, people really sometimes ARE rude online ☹ I guess it’s the anonymity of it all. But I’m glad it was just the one comment! Same here, I usually get loads of lovely and useful responses. X Melanie

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  5. I don’t post many fails or wadders because people INSIST on giving “helpful feedback” about how to save it. But I didn’t say “I’m unsure” or “I don’t know about this”. I *said* it’s a fail. So it’s a fail people!!! Lol!

    I’m not really fussing, just a little silly.

    Heck just yesterday, a poster commented that I shouldn’t use a “negative” in my username (dressmakingdebacles).

    I will never give any unsolicited feedback on someone’s finished garment. Ever. For MOST this is a hobby. Most will come into improved technique with time and experience. And if they don’t well...they don’t have to. It’s their sewing. I post tips in stories like, pleeeeaasssseee press your knits as you sew; even those constructed on the serger. But if people want to walk around with wrinkly knit seams and hems well...more power to them I guess!

    I will criticize poorly drafted sewing patterns til the cows come home. There’s no need to toe a line with a business selling a product.

    I don’t think I care enough to go through so much effort to moderate my tone. I’m not a mean person so *i* know it isn’t coming from a mean place. If it seems like a convo is devolving or like someone is being affected/offended, I just...I don’t have the energy for that. It isn’t worth it.

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    1. This is a reply from Melanie: Haha! It’s so funny how people tend to get really bothered and upset whenever we declare a make a fail! Happens to me too, basically all the time! I think they’re actually being empathic, so I personally think it’s sweet when they plead with me to save it or point out how they think it looks lovely – however, this has never changed my mind up to now and in the end my opinion counts. πŸ˜‰ And I certainly understand what you mean by you don’t want to be “moderating your tone”. I think the way we express ourselves and communicate with others is deeply personal and depends on so many, countless factors (personality, country & culture we live in, upbringing, etc). But still, I personally think it is absolutely and always possible to stay true to yourself AND give constructive feedback at the same time – without being hurtful. I for example do very well with openness as long as it comes from a kind, empathic place. But I also feel like online communication can often sound a bit harsher than we intended it to sound… Thanks for your thoughtful and interesting comment! X Melanie

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  6. I agree with KS Sews regarding criticizing sewing patterns. We do put so much of our valuable resources - time and money, that I wished the sewing community saved me some grief about some independent patterns and the big 4 alike. For example, the many tips on sizing regarding the Wiksten Hoari really helps, as well as the issues regarding the Sappora coat.

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    1. This is a reply from Melanie: Thanks a lot for your comment, Janet! Agreed, we deserve well constructed and working patterns for our money. I think keeping an open dialogue definitely is the first step here! X Melanie

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  7. I frequently say "There is no such thing as good unsolicited advice."

    And when it comes to giving feedback on pattern/instruction issues, I don't see it as being mean to a designer; I see it as saving potentially hundreds of other makers from encountering the same issues that could have been avoided if I'd just said something. And a designer will likely feel grateful, in the same way a person feels grateful when you quietly point out that their shirt is on backwards - it's much better to know and be able to fix the issue early on, than to walk around all day looking like a fool because nobody bothered to say anything.

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    1. This is a reply from Melanie: Thank you for your comment, Pixie Girl! And I absolutely agree: a healthy approach to receiving feedback is paramount! Unfortunately, not all businesses and individuals have it, and it for sure needs tons of practice and experience to actually enjoy being criticized. But I’m convinced: honest feedback is the way to go 😊 X Melanie

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  8. Free patterns!

    Lots of designers offer free patterns, I believe as samples of what their work is like. I once made an item from a free pattern that had instructions that were so bad in almost every respect that it was almost a miracle that the item, an artist’s apron consisting of mainly rectangles and straps, ever came together. Afterwards, I wrote quite a long review of the pattern, trying to say constructive things like “it would be better if .....” but when I read my review, there was no way I could publish it. In my head I kept thinking, “well, it was a free pattern after all” and I felt sort of ungrateful even though I had spent quite a bit of time and indeed money on the apron. So I didn’t send my review.

    What do you think about providing constructive criticism on free patterns?

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    1. This is a reply from Melanie: Hi Jude and thank you for your comment and thoughts! I think you could have absolutely published your honest and constructive feedback, even on a free pattern! I would probably start with saying that I appreciated them offering it for free to try working with their patterns but that I encountered some difficulties sewing it up and would want to provide some constructive feedback, based on my personal experience. And then the feedback. To me, that’s fair and absolutely useful for the business too – as long as I stick to the general rules of providing constructive feedback. Let me know what you think about this 😊 X Melanie

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    2. And this is a reply from Mie: I agree, we should also be able to offer constructive feedback on free patterns. In fact I did it the other day with the Wrap Top from Peppermint Magazine. I found it very big in sizing plus I was missing a center front marking, which was both things that could be useful to others to know. I definitely hold more back when we are talking free patterns, but I mention the really important things. :-)

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