Friday, December 28, 2012

Are we too nice to each other?

I've been thinking about this for a while, but wasn't sure it would be a good topic to bring up.  Then I realized that I'm probably not the only one who has thought about this, and it may provoke some interesting discussion. 

When I discovered the online sewing community back in 2009, I was so happy to find a supportive group that shared freely and encouraged each other; it was a breath of fresh air compared to most online groups that seem to spend much of their time cutting down other members, calling them gay, and then eventually turning every conversation into a political insult fest, culminating in comparing each other to Hitler.  No matter what I seemed to post on Burdastyle, or later on this blog, there was always someone who would step up and compliment the project.  It was a great pat on the back when I decided to start sewing again after a 10-year hiatus.  I had a toddler and a new baby, and was pretty sleep deprived, so I readily admit that things were a bit wonky for a while.  OK, they are still wonky sometimes, but it was good to know that other people who knew what they were talking about were telling me I wasn't doing a shitty job.

After a year or so of sewing and blog reading, I started to notice something:  people are really hesitant to criticize each other's work, even when there is a glaring problem.  Really hesitant.  Sometimes there is a fitting problem that a simple tip could help solve.  Sometimes it's apparent that someone has overestimated their size and would look so much better just by sewing a size down.  Sometimes the design lines are lost in a busy print and a solid fabric would work much better.




But I rarely see this kind of comment.  Maybe once or twice I've seen a comment that points out a problem, and it is usually phrased very obliquely ("maybe you could try ABC, but I love it just the way it is").  I once saw a comment on a dress that Gertie had made, saying something to the effect of "that neckline gapes a little; maybe you should pinch some fullness out there", and it was followed by a flurry of comments saying how nothing was wrong, and the dress was perfect. 

Why are we afraid to critique each other's work?  Is it because the online sewing community is almost 100% female?  And we're taught that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all?  Are we really so sensitive that we can't take a little constructive criticism?  I would never want to hear, "Wow, that looks like crap on you!", but I would hope that if something was obviously not working with one of my projects, someone would pipe up and tell me how to fix it.

So, what do you think?    

52 comments:

  1. Well, I am not experienced enough to comment on technical aspects, and the rest of the stuff, I think it's just their style. I have noticed that if sewists ask for criticism, people will offer it. I don't want to take the fun out of sewing for anyone.

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    1. You're absolutely right: As soon as I posted this, I read another blog where someone asked, "What do you think of this project? I think it looks terrible on me." And other people chimed in to say that it didn't suit her, and then explained why. Because the opinion was solicited, no one hesitated to speak honestly (well, type honestly). That's what makes all the difference.

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  2. Well said. And I'm not just saying that to NOT disagree with you!!! Yes, there are times when we could use a little tip that would make something look just that much more polished. I think it might be easier if it's construction related, rather than style related. But then, I could have used someone's input when I made some of my early DUDs!! I've left them on my blog as a reminder of what I should NOT do!! I do feel critiques are very useful; it is, after all, a way to see (a garment) from another point of view. It might just be harder to write, without the aid of tone and body language.

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    1. Saro makes a good point about personal style. That's tricky. She's right too, that readers will offer critiques when asked.

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    2. Oh yeah, I would NEVER criticise someone's style because that's their creative expression. But I do sometimes want to type, "you really aren't a size XXL - you would look so much better in a smaller size", but I don't want to discourage someone, expecially if they are just starting out.

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  3. I have definitely noticed this and I think it happens for a couple of reasons. First, I would never offer a helpful comment unless someone explicitly said, 'please help me fix this'. Second, I think very very few people can offer kind, tactful critism. I know I suck at it. Oh, and third, I've only been sewing for two years; and with a full time job and two kids I don't get to dedicate a lot of time to my hobby and don't feel qualified to offer an opinion outside of "I love it!".

    For those reasons, I don't think I have ever offered a suggestion on how to improve a garment. But then I don't comment much overall as I read most blogs on my phone which makes in a PITA to leave comments.

    That said, I would love to get nice, helpful comments on what I sew. I may add a statement to the end of posts asking for them. That is if I ever catch up on blogging.

    Nice topic!

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    1. Yeah, maybe I'll start adding a statement at the end of any post where I want honest opinions...something along the lines of "please rip this one apart". ;)

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  4. I have noticed it too, esp in the forums.. I guess most people just want to encourage.. And like Saro mentioned, I plan to specifically ask for constructive criticism going forward.

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  5. I have to agree with the other comments. Most of us are untrained and sewing blind. If I have an idea I usually share it, but mostly I am just amazed at what everyone else can do. I have gotten a few constructive comments on my blog and most of them read like light bulbs going off in my head. I've never had a snarky comment...geez fingers crossed!

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  6. Great post, and you have depicted thoughts I am sure we all wonder about. Me, personally, would love any advice/help/tips offered (and yet I have never opening asked for suggestions...to date!) I do feel that the politeness offered by like-minded sewers is like a little daily pick-me-up...

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    1. Yep, I know that if I go to work wearing something new I've made and no one says anything, I can count on another sewist to say something positive.

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    2. oops, I meant to add: I can count on another sewist to say something positive and make my day!

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  7. there is no way to know how someone will respond to constructive criticism, so i think most people err on the side of kindness. I don't think most people want to discourage anyone's sewing attempts. After all, most sewing is at least as good as RTW. ;-). I have found that help is asked for, there are plenty of nice people willing to help.

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    1. Yes, it's hard to know how someone will take your comment unless you know them IRL. I know I've put my foot in my mouth inadvertently too many times to risk it online and get some kind of internet reputation as the rude sewing scientist.

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  8. love this psot, and am shocked you were hesitant to broach the subject. i was under the assumption you are hesitant in NOTHING.

    it's definitely not because we're mostly female. i have met pah-LENTY of cats in my line of work. i think it has to do with knowing how much you grow the longer you sew, and positive reinforcement is a sure way to keep the sewing going... and plus, really, most of us are self taught going about this with the help of our online friends, it's really kind of amazing when you think about it. there are times when i wish we could be a bit more blunt-- i've thrown some admitted clunkers ot there, with clear instructions to not, for god's sake, tell me it looks good, but it's still hard for people to say it.

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    1. I agree. It's not a woman thing. It's an i-know-how-much-effort-went-into-sewing-that thing, and criticism can make someone feel like hours upon hours of work were for naught — even if it's not perfect. And hey, maybe you like your necklines gaping — what do I know?

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    2. I did hesitate because I tend to have foot-in-mouth disease, and sometimes it's hard to say exactly what you mean when you're not speaking in person. Really, I'm astounded that we as a community are so supportive of each other and seem to have banned criticism from our ranks.

      I think you've hit the nail on the head there: we are not in competition with each other; we are all learning and we all make mistakes, and who am I to judge? I spent 18 years in school being judged, so I don't need it now when I'm sewing for fun.

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  9. I've been thinking this exact thing recently. For myself, if I don't ask for help in my post, then chances are, I'm not looking for criticism, I just want to share what I've made.

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  10. I gotta tell you I hesitate because of personal style and having ever met any of the blogging community in real life. Everyone has their own and while I may not think it suits their body type it is what they want to wear. But to go along with that I have for the last year been formulating different posts in my head about body types and what works and doesn't. If I have never talked to you in real life I don't feel like I can judge your work negatively.

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    1. You're right - if you've met a blogger in real life, you know a bit more about their personality and style than if you're reading someone's blog cold. Usually people are their own worst critics, so if someone asks whether a particular garment suits them or not, they already have doubts.

      I'm pretty bottom heavy and I remember looking at an old photo of myself in cropped, pleated trousers that only exaggerated it...and wondered why no one had ever told me! But I guess that's a pretty touchy subject for some; we never want to be told that something looks unflattering!

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  11. I've been fortunate- most of my commenters have been intuitive enough to know when I needed to be told where the problem was and when I really just needed to be told not to chuck the machine. I end up either not commenting or making generic 'what a great color on you' comments if something looks wrong, but I can't define it.

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  12. Also wanted to add that when people do ask for advice, I learn alot from the comments!

    And Sarah C, I'm interested in the body type posts - I'm an apple shape and am just figuring it out now!!

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  13. I guess I don't have anything to offer that hasn't been said... If someone asks for help with fit or construction, or a genuine "I'm not sure if this really suits me, what do you think?", I'm happy to comment if I have something to say. I do sometimes think that people might look better in different colours or style or a closer fit, but I'd really rather not take the fun out of a garment that took time and dedication to sew, and that they love for the cute print that wasn't available in another colour, or whatever... That said, I don't lie in my comments, I just try to find something I really like and comment on that - so it might be possible to read between the lines... ;)

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  14. I'd like to throw in with a couple of extra questions:
    Do you think this goes beyond just projects, and we're reluctant to say negative things about fabrics/suppliers/pattern companies except for the Big 4?
    Do you think this is exclusive to the online sewing community? Or do the users of Instructables, or other making blogs also often only offer positive feedback?

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    1. As far as crafty groups go, I've only been immersed in the sewing community online - I'm not familiar with Instructables (must look that up). I do feel hesitant to criticize start up companies, because I know how tremendously difficult it is to start a business.

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  15. I want to answer everyone, but I'll have to get back online later: we had 50cm of snow and my driveway isn't going to shovel itself! Thanks for the feedback

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  16. Great post. I think this "positive comments" thing started to bother me when I realized I was on a roll of positive comments that maybe weren't entirely honest. Honesty is really important to me, so I've found myself commenting less in an effort to leave more genuine/honest comments. And if I can't say something nice, I try not to say anything at all. Unless help is asked for of course. But like other people have said, it's hard to leave tactful criticism. I tend to be blunt, and I wouldn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Overall I think the positive sewing community here is incredibly awesome, and people's kind words encourage me to keep posting. Despite a lack of criticism, I've managed to learn A LOT in a year of sewing/blogging, just by trial and error. I'm very grateful to be a part of this online community :)

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  17. Brilliant post - and if you don't mind, I'd like to continue the discussion on my own blog sometime! It's worth talking about, I think! I usually only comment if I really love what has been made, or if I have a bloggy friendship with that person and we always comment on each others work! If I don't love how something fits or flatters, I probably just won't comment.

    I think the type of comment also comes partly from how the post ends. Does it invite compliments, or ask for concrete advice? Your post here invited serious discussion and opposing opinions, so people are leaving more in-depth responses. I'm always happiest when I can end a post with a thought-provoking question that leads to an insightful conversation. I think of it as a teacher thing... I mean, professionally it my job to get people thinking and talking, so I always want to do that same on my blog. (Sometimes there just isn't much to say beyond, "Hey! I made another t-shirt!")

    We all want to support and encourage each other... but it would be useful, especially for in-progress posts, to get more constructive advice about specific issues. Maybe if we got in the habit of asking outright for useful input? Something along the lines of, "How could I make this _______ flatter my ______ more?" or "What technique would you use for _____?"

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  18. This reminds me of a post I read a while back about reviews of books (poetry books in this case), arguing against *ever* publishing negative reviews. My first thought was "but reviews should be honest!"... which is true, but the writer brought up two points. 1) we have the choice of what we review (or, in this case, comment on), and 2) Who does a negative review (or negative comment) help? Certainly not the writer/original poster. Obviously constructive criticism can be a different beast, but if it isn't solicited, the odds that it's ikely to be well-received (or received at all?) is pretty slim. I think for me the clincher is that, as bloggers, we're 90% hobbyists, here. It's more important to have fun and feel good. Those of us who are striving to be better (which I sometimes, but not always, count myself among ;) ) will strive, and ask for that feedback, either on the blogs or from RL sewing teachers, but I don't think unsolicited negativity really helps anyone.

    To wander off on a tangent, then there's the issue of photo quality. I have pulled off some damn good photo shoots of some VERY problematic garments, and at other times (especially lately) had some pretty rotten shots of actually-good items. And photo quality DEFINITELY puts a slant on comments---both quantity and content! ;)

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  19. Your right I've been thinking the same and I've openly invited constructive criticism, that's partly why I set the blog up was to take the bad as well as the good, in a bid to help me improve.
    I have found that if there is something I've made that hasn't worked out and I've been honest about it the comments usually follow suit and like wise if i feel i've done a good job, the comments reflect this, but in general the majority seem to go with 'if you haven't got something nice to say, the don't say anything at all'. which is not a bad thing, but being honest is best, and personally I would rather point out a bad point but also make a positive observation as counter reaction to it that way the person won't feel so bad, but if there is no positives to be observed then I'll pass comment.
    It's a good discussion point though, glad you brought it up.

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  20. Yes, I totally agree. I think it may be because we don't know each other IRL and are nervous about hurting feelings... especially because we know how hard we each work on our projects. Make you a deal - I'll be honest with you if you can respond in kind?

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  21. Hey everybody - I've been offline for most of the past 24 hours because 1) 50cm of snow! 2) after spending hours shovelling 50cm of snow from my double driveway, we got another 10cm last night, and 3) I've been babysitting a friend's son who doesn't get along with my son, so I had to supervise them constantly to prevent them from killing each other. Whew.

    I appreciate all the opinions you've written here. I didn't mean to imply that I don't appreciate positive comments - I love them! - but sometimes I feel like if I could only manage to phrase it without being rude, I would offer some constructive criticism. And I would hope that those of you with more experience, especially in fitting, would not feel intimidated to do the same for me. I think that I'm going to put that disclaimer at the bottom of my posts from now on. And if I don't want to hear a word against it, I'll make that clear as well! (i.e. "I love this and don't anyone dare say anything different!") :)

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    1. I know exactly what you mean - so many times on various blogs I wanted to offer a suggestion, but didn't want to upset /and or offend the author. Tone can be so difficult to convey, and I think I can be (unintentionally) blunt iRL so I'm reluctant to comment in a constructive critical way - unless it has very definitely been asked for. Postive comments are great to help encourage people but I often feel bad if someone gets all gushing comments and I don't want to be the lone voice saying ''it's great ...but maybe...'' . Great topic - but overall I'm glad the sewing community err on the side of being nice :)

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  22. Interesting post; and I agree with a few points brought up in the comments: definitely politeness is nothing to do with being female: I reckon if you really did post "please rip this apart" then plenty of people, including women, would jump straight in and do just that, immediately, and then you might wish you had not asked!!
    My view is that if someone asks for advice *during* a make, then I would give it: but *after* the garment is finished and the maker is proudly displaying it in a finished shot, and they clearly love it; then what is to be gained by (say) telling them a solid would look better than a print, or that a size smaller would be better. THE THING IS ALREADY MADE!! Besides; they made something for themselves, yo. Automatically a win, imo.

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  23. I've loved reading this conversation, so many good points! I think for me, even if I see something that looks a little "off", I just choose not to say anything at all. It's so hard to convey tone in print, in a short comment, that I would be terrified that my constructive criticism would be taken the wrong way. And I would feel awful about that.

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  24. Maybe it's the scientist in you that lets you ask these questions. You know how the good Lord Kelvin supposedly said: "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it."
    And sometimes the sewing community (to me) feels a bit like it's very reluctant to measure, for whatever reasons. Maybe because it feels too far removed from the more emotional aspects of having achieved something, and being praised for it? Because there is no good objective measurement for the success of a hand-made piece of clothing? And hence any, however well meaning and helfpul and constructive, critique feels like it's hitting home a little too closely?
    Just my 0.02c :)
    Happy New Year, and may it bring whatever you wish for!

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  25. I think this is a really important discussion to have. I've been sewing for a while, but I'm new to garments, and I'm even more new to sewing from patterns. I've always made it up as I went along and I have very little technical skill. Without the help of other, experienced sewists, I either will not grow or growth will be veeeeery slow. My feelings definitely aren't going to be hurt by someone saying "that could have a different fit, here's how you do it."

    Of course, this is also my philosophy in real life. I'm in a field where I identify I a problem, research it, and determine a solution with given resources. Discussion and feedback is not only encouraged, it is necessary to come up with a viable result. I think it's the same with sewing (for me).

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  26. Thanks for bringing this up...it's something that I've been thinking about too, because criticism (constructive, of course) is how I learn. I think knowing that the author is looking for help is really what makes it okay, but I've gotten unsolicited criticism before and even though I was a little surprised at first, in the end that's what I learn from. I really appreciate the sewists who do offer help, especially when I have a blog comment relationship with them and know they speak from a place of knowledge and not just cattiness!

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  27. I look at it this way--- I view being a part of the online sewing community like being a part of a real life sewing club. If you showed up to a real life sewing club meeting, and someone was showing off something new they made, would you say, "that's great, BUT you should've try pinching out a dart over here...."? Nope. I wouldn't anyway. The item is already made. Unless it was solicited. Which I think happens on blogs for the most part. Someone will say, "I love this dress, but why is it doing this weird thing over here?" For the most part, I am in awe of most things I see on people's blogs. I rarely come across an item where I think someone needs my advice. Or, they already know what the problem is, identify it themselves and plan on fixing it the next time they make something. I firmly believe in building people up unless they are specifically asking for advice. There are too many online forums where people tear each other down. Plus, you never know how tone is perceived when typing something. I, for one, know I'm much better at offering criticism in real life conversations than I am on the internet (I teach art and we do lots of critiques of work). Interesting discussion!

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  28. Wonderful thoughtful comments! I was going to second Tanit-Isis and say that the photographic evidence doesn't always tell the whole truth. If you can't see something in person on the body for which it was made, it's hard to get too critical. I, for one, take lousy photos! (I'm much better at scenery and texture than the human form.) And I'm personally not especially photogenic at the best of times. :) So it's really hard to analyze fit and figure suitability from one of my crappy pics. And as a few people have mentioned, a lot depends on personal taste which is very subjective. I love funky clothes in murky colours. Someone else might prefer bright prints and retro styles. Who am I to tell them they've over-fitted the bodice? Especially if they're happy with it that way.

    If I want help or criticism I'll ask for it directly!

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  29. Interesting question, and I agree with many of the comments here. I wouldn't go up to someone I know in real life and say, "Hey, you know what? You could do with applying less blusher," or "Your shelving unit is a bit wonky". If someone explicitly asks for constructive criticism or for help with something, then that's different, but even then you have to be extreeeeemely talented at being tactful to not cause offence. Unfortunately writing online means that you don't get to hear the author's tone of voice or nuances, so even some things which are written with the best of intentions can be taken in the wrong way (I've said a few things in the past that have been totally taken the wrong way and it made me feel terrible).

    As for me personally, on some occasions I've explicitly asked for help with a technique or fitting issue and have been very grateful to receive that help from the online community. But when I've written about a project that I clearly love, and haven't asked for feedback, I find it mean-spirited when someone says something like, "Your stripes are a bit wonky". In my opinion, it doesn't matter if it's not perfect - you made it yourself! The DIY spirit should be encouraged, not knocked down.

    Glad you brought up the topic!

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  30. What an interesting discussion. I have only been sewing for a year and my creations are quite simple and a big step down to a lot of the quality out there. I blog to track my progress but I must admit - I am totally addicted to receiving comments. I guess it is validation that we seek.

    I don't have sewists around me in my family and friends so rely on the sewing community for feedback.

    If I am not happy with a garment that I have made I usually show it on my blog (if it is in a condition to be shown LOL) as part of the learning process. There have been times when I have asked opinions and the comments have been constructive.

    I also think it important not to crush the spirit of someone who is proud of their work - it may ruin all their joy in making the project - and certainly wearing it.

    I do like receiving constructive feedback - it is just a fine line to walk.

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  31. Thanks for this discussion ! As just about everyone else has said if someone asks for advice then constructive criticism would be OK but if not then offering even well meaning advice could go terribly wrong.I have noticed that sometimes even a positive or neutral comment can be taken the wrong way on sewing blogs . On Amazon I have seen negative reviews of sewing books turn nasty and personal as well. I think it is easier and much safer to not leave a comment if we see something not quite right. We do not really know the people behind the blogs mostly .

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  32. I also find it problematic to judge what is good or not when it is not to my taste. I have seem some very young bloggers create interesting stuff out of jersey that I would never wear, but have seen teenagers wear, so I assume I am just behind the times. Other people snort and mutter 'wallmart sewing' under their breath. Alternatively some older ladies create technically perfect, flowery monstrocities with enough ease to accommodate a small child. Again, maybe when I older I'll be the same. Both are very proud of their skills, both have different skills, all have more skills then me.

    I only blog to hold myself accountable, because I had the sewing machine for months without taking it out of the box. I have gotten some really great suggestions and no negativity, but I would find a lot of criticism pretty hard to swallow after I spent hours on creating something that is maybe not perfect, but as perfect as I can get it for now :-)

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  33. Very interesting discussion. Thanks for bringing it up! I must admit that if I don´t like something I simply shut up as I don´t want to offend anyone...especially when it comes to personal tast...e.g. I don´t like leopard prints can I say to someone I don´t like the print they chose?

    What´s funny is that some time ago I was showing some garment pictures to my mom (who´s also a self-taught seamstress) and she was bluntly saying...this garment has such and such problem...this is not fitting right...I was kind of shocked to see such honesty because I tended to see only the beauty and achievement...though in real life I am someone who´s pretty straightfoward.

    I think we should welcome constructive criticism...

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  34. I want to thank everybody again for chiming in on this subject. There are a lot of names I'm seeing here for the first time, and I had no idea that there were so many readers, let alone so many who wanted to discuss this.

    I'm on board with the general consensus here: if we know each other IRL, we know how to comment without being misconstrued as rude; otherwise, it's best to err on the side of politeness. OTOH, if someone asks for a critique outright, then all bets are off! ;)

    I hope you all enjoyed the debate as much as I did, and that you won't hesitate to keep commenting on my posts, either good or bad. Just keep it clean, because my family reads this too. Ah, who am I kidding, they have dirtier mouths than most....

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  35. You need to try Russian community, eh! there you will get a looooooooot of critical comments, I think! I don't know why.

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  36. I really enjoyed this post and the accompanying discussion!

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  37. I also really enjoyed this post and the comments. Thanks for posing the question.

    I am given to understand that modern behavioral psychology research has demonstrated that positive reinforcement is much, much more effective at shaping behavior than negative reinforcement. Most of the time, even people who should know this (teachers, parents, spouses!) don't really act on it, but maybe the sewing blogosphere has developed an ethic of positive reinforcement. If so, that would be an interesting case study, because the sewing blogosphere does indeed seem to be a healthy and thriving internet subculture, with lots of engaged and excited participants.

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  38. Here's another observation. I'm hestitate to even look at some of the Stitcher's subject threads since most of what is written after someone publishes a pic or link to their blog/flikr/etc. is a 'boatload' of looks great posts. The ratio of new garments/question type posts vs. praise seems to be 1 to 10-15.

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  39. Nothing much I can add, but just wanted to show that I like this post and I agree, constructive criticism is always good. I'd like to be a person who can take criticism, if you can get over yourself it's a great way to learn!

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  40. I love that you brought this up, because it links to a conversation I had with my husband about feedback and hobbies. I'll just say I agree with you, and go write some notes for future blogging purposes. :D

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