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Episode 89

3 Steps to Help You Get Past a Mistake or Failure

Some of your future sewing projects will fail, so what can you do when you make a mistake? In this episode, Sarai and Haley share 3 simple steps to help you get past a mistake or failure.

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?

In this episode, Sarai and Haley share 3 simple steps to help you get past a mistake or failure.

Podcast Transcript

Sarai
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to Seamwork Radio. So today we’re talking about three steps to help you get past a mistake or failure. We’re going to cover how our own perspective on mistakes has evolved over time, when to know if you should stop a project that’s not going well or just persevere, and our three steps you can go through when you’re frustrated by a mistake. All right, so our ice breaker for today. What is the worst fabric choice you have ever made, Haley?

Haley
Oh, gosh, I think that the worst fabric choice I’ve ever made was I had drafted this sheath dress, and it had a princess seam, and it wasn’t a traditional princess seam. Instead, it came to, like a really severe corner at the waistline. Creating it was very like, I don’t know, future. I thought I was really doing something anyway, princess seams, but make it future.

Sarai
Anyway, the future of princess seems.

Haley
Right angles. So, I chose this, like, stretch jacquard. And first of all, it was just like a weird texture. And then it was really stretchy for a stretch woven and getting those corners that had to be like they’re definitely the focal point of the garment. And very central and right on the waistline, I had to get them both perfectly symmetrical, and this fabric was just moving around and stretching. And by the end, I had ripped out the seam so many times that it had just totally stretched the fabric. And it had made the waistline a dome shape because it was so stretched right there at the waist. And I washed the fabric and steamed it and tried all of my tricks. I just could not save it. It may have been kind of an ugly garment anyway, but it probably would have been kind of cool, at least if I had chosen.

Sarai
Yeah, those jacquards can really stretch out sometimes.

Haley
Yeah, it was wild. What about you, Sarai? What was your most regrettable fabric choice?

Sarai
Well, I wrote about this one. I don’t know if this is my most regrettable. I’ve definitely sold some things in the past and like polyester, whatever, that just did not hold a press and looked probably pretty cheap and terrible when I was younger. I just had another one that came to mind, actually. So I’m going to share, too. So one of them I wrote about in our newsletter recently, which was that I made it was also a sheath dress, and I made it out of this. I guess it was sort of like a cotton shirting type fabric. It was like a lightweight cotton. So I needed something crisp for the dress because it was very, like, tailored style. So I wanted a really crisp fabric, but it was also very thin. And the fabric was this, like, peachy tanish color. So when I finished it, because it was so thin, it just looked like it was made out of paper. It looked like a dress that was made out of a paper bag. You could see every wrinkle on it. It was just not a good look. So that’s one of them.

And then I was thinking about when I was really young and I had first learned to sew, and I had kind of crazy high school style, and I would just buy whatever fabric I liked the look of. And I remember I had the skirt that I made. It was like a mini skirt, and it was made of purple cotton velveteen, but it had an elastic waist, so it was really, like, bunchy at the waist. And then it had this organza black organza ruffle, like that pre ruffled trim you can buy. I wanted to mention that one because that was probably a bad fabric choice, but I really liked that skirt. And I wore it all the time. Looking back on it now, it was a bad fabric choice, but at the time, it was dope.

Haley
I loved it, giving everything you wanted it to give.

Sarai
I wore it with, like, band T-shirts with the neck cut out, and that was my look.

Haley
I can tell you that Haley in high school would have approved of this ensemble, for sure.

Sarai
So if you have an ice breaker for us that you’d like us to do in a future episode, you can leave it for us on the community. If you’re a member, you just go to seamwork.com/go/icebreakers, and that’ll take you right to the thread on the community where people share their ice breakers. So love to hear one from you guys.

Haley
So today we’re talking about mistakes or failures. And when Sarai and I were discussing this episode, we were like, we should share one of our recent failure. And this one came to mind for me. And this was, I guess, not so recent. But a few years back when we were working on the Crosby swimsuit pattern, when it was in development, we were working on the bonus member bonus variation. And if you’re familiar with that pattern now, the member bonus that you have in your mind is very different than what we had started with. So the Crosby swimsuit is very vintage inspired, has the lovely gathers along the side seam. And for the member bonus, I wanted to do a high neck, halter version. So we set out. We are doing all of the development, sewing all of the samples and every single fitting. This high neck halter was not working. And it was this combination of the anchor point being really central on the body and then all of that excess fabric you have from the gathers, it was looking a hot mess. It was not a pattern that anybody was going to want to sew, but we just kept going and going and going on it and not really stopping to reevaluate. Is this working?

We just were so set on this idea that we didn’t stop. This was probably about within my first few months of being the designer here at Seamwork. And with Seamwork, we are on a very rigid monthly deadline, rain or shine. We’re going to put out two new patterns every single month. And it was this huge lesson for me about how to deal with failure. And it gave me some kind of tools that I use now as pattern designer, but also in my personal life on how I deal with just flops when they show up, because when you sew, you flop, you flop a lot.

Sarai
Yeah. So what ended up happening? You want to talk about what ended up happening with that particular design?

Haley
I think like eight protos and something ridiculous, which just for our listeners knowledge, by the time we start working on a bonus variation, the pattern itself has been usually fit approved, and so all of the fit kinks have been worked out. So typically for a bonus, for us to get that little design detail right, it takes us two prototypes, maybe three on something more challenging. So eight was just a lot. It was a lot. And finally, I think that there may have been tears and it may have been me, the pattern makers, and I have this heart to heart, like, there’s no way this is going to work. And we had to stop and kind of reevaluate.

I went to my desk, I sketched a whole bunch of ideas. I brought it over to their desk. We decided on the one that we thought was going to be the most valuable to members, the most exciting to people, but also was going to be something that we could make happen in a couple of weeks because we were running up against this deadline. But that was the outcome of that. And I will say that people really like the member bonus.

We basically omitted all of the gathers and the surplice style neckline. And just for more of a scoop neckline. And it’s really cute. It’s really simple. But people love it. I feel like they make it just as often as they make the regular version of Crosby. So ultimately it ended up working out really well, but not until we had literally run ourselves into the ground working on this idea that just was not going to work with the constraints that we had.

Sarai
Isn’t it funny that sometimes you will just be so committed to something just because you’ve already put so much work into it that you kind of ignore the simple solution?

Haley
Yeah.

Sarai
And sometimes the simple solution is the better solution.

Haley
Yes. It felt like admitting failure. I knew the idea was possible, but it wasn’t going to be a bonus variation anymore. It was going to be an entirely different pattern. So that’s what I mean when I say that the constraints just were not going to work for us. But ultimately, I think that I’m happier with where it ended up, that I would have been if we had gone with the original design. But I just got so stubborn, and I think it’s really common to get into this really, like, stubborn mindset when you’re coming up against mistakes or failure.

Sarai
Yeah. It’s almost like you tell yourself I should be able to do this, so I’m just going to keep working harder at it instead of rethinking things and maybe taking a step back.

Haley
Sarai, do you have a time that you’ve ever persevered on a project when you probably should have just stopped?

Sarai
Oh, yeah, I’ve had many times where that’s happened. I think most often it comes up when maybe the design doesn’t suit me or it’s not going to fit me correctly. No matter what I do, it’s not going to look great on my body or it’s not going to look to my preference anyway. I think that’s when it’s hard to know when to stop because you begin maybe the fitting process or you start actually sewing the garment and you kind of realize this, but you think, well, maybe I can fix it. How do I know if I can’t fix it that’s I think when it comes up the most for me in sewing, do you think that your tolerance to failure has changed through sewing or through other types of craft?

Haley
Oh, yeah, definitely. I think that more and more, the longer that sewing has been part of my life, and like other miscellaneous crafts, the less I blame the mistakes on me as a reflection of me and my personal failings. So I take it a lot less personal now than I did in the beginning. I think that’s because when failing takes practice and failing gracefully takes practice, and the more you put yourself out there creatively and make things with your two hands, the more you’re going to fail. That’s just kind of like a fact and some a little more graceful about it now. But I still fail at a lot of things. I always say that my rate of failure is like one out of every four projects.

Sarai
I think it’s interesting that you say that it takes practice because I think also responding to failure takes practice. And I think sewing or other forms of craft teach you how to respond to failure or different ways that you can respond to failure just because it happens pretty often when you’re making anything that you’re going to have a mistake or you’re going to have something that goes wrong or an overall failure, catastrophic failure. So I think it’s just something that you get used to. But you also learn maybe some different ways to respond, and I think that can come through in other parts of your life as well as you learn, you don’t have to take it personally or you don’t have to see it as a flaw in your skills or your abilities. It’s just part of the learning experience. And I think that’s a really valuable lesson. I think for me, I’ve learned that with sewing just because I feel like with sewing there are a lot of mistakes. Like frustration happens, I make a mistake or have a moment of frustration or can’t get my machine to do what I want it to do at least once during every project.

And so it comes up pretty frequently with sewing. I think the other thing that’s really changed my relationship to mistakes is knitting, though, because with knitting, it’s so slow and so time consuming. And if you make a mistake and this has often happened to me, you realize that you made a mistake, but it was way down, several rows down, and it’s just going to compound if you keep going. So you have to rip back and undo all this hard work that you’ve spent maybe even weeks doing and do it again. And so with knitting, if you’re going to keep doing it, like you’re going to have those moments and just realize, okay, well, I now need to spend an extra three weeks on this sweater that I wasn’t anticipating, and that’s okay. I can be okay with that because I’m here to enjoy the process and enjoy making something with my hands. So I think that’s really helped me to really just appreciate that mistakes are all a part of it. And if you have to redo it, you have to redo it. It’s just normal. Do you find that you still get frustrated a lot when you’re sewing?

Haley
Oh, yeah. I mean, every time I have to rip a seam, I’m like, Dang it, I get frustrated, but I don’t know if I, like, react as much as maybe like I did in the past. I don’t think I’m a very reactive person in general, when I get frustrated, if it’s like, beyond if I feel like a physical response to my frustration, I just usually walk away and go get a cup of coffee or something, come back to it. What about you? Do you still get frustrated when you sell?

Sarai
Yeah, I think there’s always moments of frustration, like I said. But over time I’ve become less upset about them. In the beginning, it was definitely very upsetting when you would have a seam you had to rip out or something worse or even just a project not working out or your tensions off or your thread is getting tangled or whatever. Those kinds of things can drive you nuts. And I think I used to get really upset about them sometimes because you tell yourself that this is supposed to be fun, why is it not working? Just work yourself into a tizzy about it. Partially. It’s probably just people do tend to get a little calmer as they get older, but I think also just getting used to making mistakes. Like we’ve been talking about. I think it’s a big part of it.

Haley
And I think that the more sewing experience you have, the easier it’s less frustrating when you realize what went wrong. When you’re a beginner, you kind of don’t know what you’re doing still and your machine keeps doing a weird thing or you can’t figure out why the tension is this way. It’s frustrating because you may not know the why behind the mistake. So it’s a lot easier to blame yourself for doing something wrong if you don’t understand the why.

Sarai
That’s really true. Yeah. You become better at diagnosing what the problem is, and so that makes it less frustrating because you know how to fix it. I think that’s a big part of it. You’re right. How often do you feel like you have a sewing fail? You said one out of every four projects. Do you think that’s like a complete fail?

Haley
Yeah, that’s like a complete fail. This project is, like, unwearable or I’m going to have to give it away to someone who I know will wear it or, like, salvage the fabric some way. I would say, like, yeah, maybe. I think, like, one out of four. That’s kind of bad.

Sarai
Wow.

Haley
No, it’s not. Things just don’t turn out the way you want. I also allow myself those failures, but I would say I fail at some point in every sewing project. Yeah. I don’t know. I should really do the math on that and see if my rate of failure has changed. I’m going to go, like, count all of my recent selling projects and update you on that rate. What about you, Sarai?

Sarai
I don’t think my rate of failure is that high, but I think it’s because I’m not that ambitious in my sewing these days. I tend to make things that I know are going to work or that are just easy projects. And I’ll sprinkle in a few more challenging things when I feel like it. But I’m really enjoying some easy sewing these days. Just stuff that either because it’s loose fitting and comfortable or it’s something I made before or it’s just very simple project. That’s what I’m enjoying right now. So I think that helps with having a lower rate of failure.

Haley
Oh, for sure.

Sarai
I still have them. For sure. Yeah. And sometimes if I have a mistake, I’ll just live with it. And sometimes the whole project gets scrapped. It depends, but they come up for sure. So let’s share our steps. We have a few steps that we’ve come up with. You want to go through them, Haley?

Haley
Yes. So this is more or less kind of the process that I use as a designer that comes up against, like, mistakes from time to time or just roadblocks. And I also apply this to my own personal life a lot.

So three steps. Forgetting past your mistakes. Step number one is just to allow yourself to feel bad. I think when you don’t let yourself feel that feeling that it’s going to come through during the rest of the project in one way or another. So I think, like taking a break, stepping away, make yourself a cup of tea or a cup of coffee, then remember why you were excited about the project. I think that this can be a really helpful exercise because sometimes it can be so frustrating when you make a mistake or you’re on the brink of failure that you want to give up entirely. And remembering why you were excited about the project in the first place can reignite that spark of excitement for you. And also just remember that everyone makes mistakes. Everyone gets frustrated. Remember that I fail one out of every four times, and maybe you’ll feel a little bit better.

Sarai
I think this is actually a really important point. I think it really helps me, not just in the case of sewing or when making mistakes or anything, but just anytime I’m feeling bad. One of the things that helps me is just remembering that everybody feels bad sometimes. It’s not just me. I’m not alone in this. Like, this is a universal thing. Everybody feels bad, and it just kind of in that moment of frustration or anger or just being exhausted or overwhelmed or whatever you’re feeling, it connects you to other people. And I think that’s really helpful and healing when you’re in a bad place.

Haley
Yeah, definitely. And I think that kind of having this pause moment to remember all of these things really helps you move forward with these next two steps with a little bit more Grace for yourself. Step number two that I suggest is to figure out how much time you’re willing to put into fixing it. Now, sometimes this fix is going to be really obvious. It’s like you set the zipper in incorrectly and you need to rip it out and put it back. In. Other times, there’s going to be, like more complex scenarios. And I think that it’s really important to evaluate how much time you’re willing to put into fixing it because that will help you with the decision making process that you are going to take in step three. And step three is to identify the ways that you can fix it, make a little list, and then come up with a plan B. If those fixes don’t work, then what am I going to do? So that can be like, how are you going to salvage the fabric? Are you going to make 20 scrunchies out of your…

Sarai
20 scrunchies?

Haley
Are you going to turn the dress into a top or a skirt, which I have definitely done before. Think about what you could do with the fabric if you spend some time on fixing the mistake and it’s just not working. Also think about how you can learn from it. Maybe you don’t have the right tool for the job. Maybe you need a different kind of presser foot to really be able to do a really great rolled hem or whatever the technique that you’re trying to tackle. Maybe you need a new technique. Think about what you can learn from it, because even our worst failures, most unsalvageable failures, there’s a lesson to take away from it.

Sarai
Yeah, I think those are all such awesome tips. I feel like that process, just having those three steps in your mind, it’s three steps. It’s easy to remember. I think that’s just so, so helpful, because when you’re in that frame of mind, when you’re feeling frustrated, that’s a moment where you’re least likely to, I think, tell yourself the right thing. So it’s nice to have something that you can turn to that’s just like, boom, boom, boom.

Haley
Yeah, definitely.

Sarai
I’m just going to recap those three steps for everybody so that they can cement them in their minds. So the first step is to just let yourself feel bad. If you’re feeling bad and if you need to, you can take a break. Remember why you are excited about the project. And just remember that everybody makes mistakes. So kind of calm yourself and let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling. And step two is to figure out how much time you’re willing to put into fixing whatever the problem is. And then step three is identify the ways that you can fix it and also identify your plan B if that doesn’t work. So those are the three steps. Hope they’re helpful for you all. And if you’re looking for something that’s more of an easy win, something that’s really easy to sew, then we recommend our free Quince pattern, which you can download on our website for free. The Quince is a really easy, versatile Robe style jacket, and it has two lengths and mix and match design details. So it has up to 16 variations, which is really cool. And you can also use a really huge variety of fabrics.

Sarai
So you’re less likely to choose the wrong fabric for this one because there’s really no bad choices for Quince. And it’s also one of our most popular patterns. So, if you’d like to get it for free, you can download it at seamwork.com/go/quince. And we’ll put that in the show notes as well. And if you liked this episode, please leave us a review. We would love to hear from you. We have a review from oh, my goodness. How do I say this? Haley? Hey Balinduhh.

Haley
Nailed it.

Sarai
Balinda with duhh at the end. Okay, so Hey Balinduhh says “I’ve always had a thing for sewing, it is my creative outlet, but after a hiatus, my passion has been reignited. I find myself relating to most of the guests the show has, and it’s been really enlightening, to say the least. I’d highly recommend to anyone, especially if they’re in a creative slump.” Thank you so much, Belinda. That’s really kind of you. I love that.

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