Eric Banisadr my blog

The Dunning–Kruger Effect

For a brief period of time, I thought I had this tailoring thing down. After all, I can use a sewing machine now. Even so, I’m starting to realize the importance of experience in tailoring, and I’m feeling a lot less confident about my skills. This change was started, in part, by my experience measuring curtains. Every time I’d do it, they would be slightly off, and when Carlos did it, they’d be spot on.

I’m pretty sure I’ve passed the peak of my confidence for a while, based on my understanding of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which is a psychological principle that states that amateurs will overestimate their abilities, until they learn enough to realize how little they know. It’s more easily explained in graphical form, by the below image I stole from psychology today.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

At this point, I’m starting to notice that it’s the little things about tailoring that differentiate a good tailor from a bad one. A small error in measurement can quickly spiral into a crooked curtain, and an unhappy customer. Also, there’s something to be said for getting it right the first time, since a tailor’s time is valuable. Over his 20 years of experience, Carlos has learned not only how to get it right, but exactly which corners he can cut without ruining the final project.

For example, when measuring a hem, we measure to the spot where we want the fabric to end, and draw a line. Then we measure an extra inch or two for the hem, then another half inch allowance which will be folded in and stitched. Both the end measurement and the hem measurement have to be perfect, in order to be straight. But the seam allowance doesn’t since it will be stitched inside a folded hem and never seen again. Thus, Carlos usually eyeballs half an inch, freehands a dotted wax line, then cuts along the dots. All this happens quite quickly, since he’s done it many times before.

My internal sense of how long an inch actually is doesn’t tend to be very accurate though. I tend to overestimate it, almost by half sometimes. Little differences in every skill are what separate me from Carlos.

Improving Slowly

I’d like to think that I’m being self-aware by attempting to recognize where exactly my gaps in skills are, in order to improve them. Usually, when I work on a certain project, I do two or more of the same thing—curtains, pillow inserts, etc. Usually, the last one I do comes out substantially closer to perfect than the first. In each case, I find myself learning on the job.

While I’m glad that’s a sign of clear progress, it’s somewhat nerve-wracking to be learning with real projects. Sure, if I mess something up I can un-do it and try again, but that’s never optimal, and I’m worried that I could damage something permanently. So far, I haven’t made any major mistakes, but I’m sure the day will come. This Wednesday, Carlos had me trim the edges of a $700 piece of fabric. He let me know that it was expensive up front, so I’d be extra careful, but if my hand slipped it could’ve been a pretty costly mistake.

I didn’t realize until then that fabric could be so expensive. The fabric I cut was three yards of dark blue wool with a gingham-like pattern from Loro Piana. Loro Piana is Carlos’s supplier for Italian fabric for custom made garments. This particular fabric will be used to make a blazer.

At some point I’d like to move from household goods to actual clothing, but I’m starting to realize that may be much harder than I’d think it would be. Carlos has promised to teach me everything he knows about tailoring, so I imagine he’s just having me start with easier projects so I can build up a base of skills. Even so, it’s a little bit frustrating that I haven’t got to the “interesting” part yet.

My Routine

As of this week, showing up to my WISE project has finally started to become routine. I show up, say hi to Carlos, and take off my jacket. Then, I go into the back room and find whatever it was that I didn’t finish from the last time I was there, and pick back up where I left off. Usually, I spend the majority of the time working without much input from Carlos, except when I’m unsure of my work. Most often, I’ve measured something incorrectly.

I’d say that I’m not very happy to have the same schedule every day, because it doesn’t always feel like I’m learning something new, or that I’m improving by leaps and bounds. Even so, that’s part of what I signed up for; both the practicing of basic skills, and the time spent doing the boring work that Carlos would rather not have to do.

Even though I’m not a big fan of the routine, it hasn’t started to worry me yet. If it goes on for another week or two, my plan is to bring in a shirt of my own, and ask Carlos to shorten the sleeves or something. Otherwise, I could consider asking him for a job, because I could always use a bit more money, and he’s already offered, somewhat.

At the end of the week, nothing much has changed, but I’m still very glad I picked this project. Hopefully, I’m making progress toward becoming a capable tailor, even if it’s not so apparent to me at the moment.