The more you put yourself out there creatively—and the more you make things with your two hands—the more you will fail. It sounds harsh, but some of your sewing projects in the future will fail. So what should you do when you encounter a mistake?
Here’s the thing, making a mistake is an opportunity to grow your creative practice. Your response to a mistake is an opportunity for you to be playful, identify new techniques that will make your sewing even better, invest in some new tools, and possibly correct some bad habits.
So here are three simple steps to follow anytime you make a mistake. Each time you reach for your seam ripper, repeat these three steps:
- Let yourself feel bad.
- Figure out how much time you’re willing to put into fixing it.
- Come up with a plan B.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.
3 Steps to get past a mistake
In episode 89 of the Seamwork Radio podcast, Sarai and Haley share some of their most memorable mistakes, from stretched-out jacquard fabric to a shift dress that looked like it was made of paper. Haley has a pretty chill approach to mistakes because “failing takes practice and failing gracefully takes practice,” she says. And Sarai adds, “responding to failure takes practice.”
Here’s how you can practice failing gracefully.
Step 1: Allow yourself to feel bad. Using a seam ripper isn’t fun, and it’s a huge bummer when you ruin irreplaceable fabric. While you linger on this step for a moment, try to remember what made you excited about the project in the first place. Maybe you can rekindle a little creative spark. Also, remember that everyone makes mistakes. There isn’t a single person on Earth who sews who hasn’t made a mistake.
Step 2: Figure out how much time you're willing to put into fixing the mistake. Sometimes your fix is going to be really obvious. For example, if you insert a zipper in incorrectly, you need to rip it out and put it back. Other times, your mistakes might be complex. Maybe your mistake was in bagging a lining, and you’ll have so many layers to unpick. Evaluate how much time you're willing to put into fixing your mistake because that will help you with the decision-making process that you are going to take in the final step.
Step 3: Identify how you can fix it, make a little list, and then come up with a plan B. While you’re getting creative with your plan B, think about how you can learn from your mistake. Maybe you don't have the right tool for the job. Maybe you need a different kind of presser foot to do a really great rolled hem. Maybe you need an entirely new technique. Even in the throes of your worst sewing failures, there's the possibility of a creative solution. Even if you end up with an unsalvageable garment, there's a lesson or two to learn.
When you’ve completed these three steps, pick a sewing project that is an easy win—something you’ve sewn before, so you’re less likely to make a mistake. But hey, if you end up making a mistake on your easy win, just go back to step one and start again. We’ve all been there.
Tips for repurposing mistakes
- Turn dresses into tops or skirts. Unpick it at the waist and add a hem or a waistband.
- Color-block an area if you’ve made a mistake and ran out of fabric. This works especially great if you need to add length.
- If you serge a hole in your fabric, make a cute patch or practice some mending.
- Use the fabric for scrunchies, headbands, underwear, or other smaller projects.
- If your garment is too small or too big, give it to someone else who will love it just as much as you would have.
- If all else fails, use your failed garment as stuffing for a dog bed or a handmade pouf for your living room.