Failing – It’s All A Matter Of Perspective

Sewing Fail

If I was in the workplace, I wouldn’t be calling this a fail. It would be a learning curve, a challenge, part of a wider strategy and a reach for best practice. It definitely wouldn’t be a fail. But it is. A fail.

On Saturday morning I was on Instagram, proudly photographing my WIP. By Sunday evening, I was trying on my new dress and watching the twisted front seams flap about. This would never be a dress to wear outside of the house or in front of witnesses, so it went into the bin and I went back to the sofa, surprisingly sanguine and with a minimum of swearing.

I was entirely undone by fabric choice. Bought cheap as chips off Walthamstow market, it had a lovely drape – too much drape for my dress. And it was riddled with faults, some of which ran straight down the front of my bodice. Ultimately, I should never have cut this stuff out.

It’s not entirely a wasted experience – nothing ever is. I thought I’d go through some of the lessons I learnt, making a dress I’d never wear.

Adjustments: I needed to take a good inch off the bodice length and I’m thinking of going down a size and doing an FBA.

Sizing: I thought I’d cut out the right size, but I was swimming in this dress. I’m going to go back and measure the paper pattern pieces to get a better picture of sizing.

Tweaking collar seam: on a second make, I’d shave a few mm from the under collar’s seams to allow for ‘turn of cloth’. This technique (magnificently explained here) allows the seam line to roll neatly out of view. This isn’t covered in the pattern instructions, but I know about this step and should have employed it.

Order of steps: there are some steps I’d tackle at a different stage in the sewing.

Familiarity: I am now familiar with the pattern, it’s fresh in my mind and I should be able to work on a second make much more quickly.

Fabric choice: I won’t work with something full of faults (!) and I shall work with something that presses crisply. I have just the fabric in my stash. I should have saved my pennies at the market.

So! No lesson is ever wasted. Not even lessons in failure. I’m going to truck right on into a second make. I shan’t tell you what the pattern is – I should be able to show you soon. Hopefully.

Tell me, please – what lesson did you learn by failing?

If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative. Woody Allen

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32 Responses to Failing – It’s All A Matter Of Perspective

  1. Don’t change circular needle length mid-scarf! Just this weekend I called time on the ‘pilot phase’ of the project, un-ravelled several months worth of scarf, changed colour combo and I’m currently much happier with result… Will it last?!

  2. surreyjan says:

    Treat it like it was a muslin, meant to be a practice run. Better to have used cheap fabric to find where you need to make the refinements. Now you can go ahead with the real garment with added confidence and knowledge that it will be heaps better than the muslin.
    My experience shows me the second time I make something from the same pattern it’s ten times better than the first. When I look back over some of my first attempts that I thought were a big achievement at the time I wouldn’t wear now even to do the gardening!!!
    This is what our sewing hobby does for us, takes us on a journey that ever improves.

  3. I find I usually crack it on my third attempt , yeah my third one! That’s a lot of fabric!

  4. So many I don’t know where to start, but READ the instructions, funny but it always helps! And SLOW down, and accept when it”s time to PUT the sewing away and go to bed…

  5. I am failing at blogging, among many other things. That fabric looks lovely. I can see why you bought it. You could donate the flawed dress to someone who is learning, so they can reused it. I myself am a baby sewist/sewer/seamstress and I only use old garments to sew. I know, I know, using beautiful fabric would inspire me most but I am built this way – I can’t practice with anything of value or I fear my gramma will rise from the dead to kick my ass.

    By the way, it always amazes me how fast you put garments together. Wow.

  6. Esta says:

    I just recently used shiny and sparkly lycra to sew a babydoll dress, because the lycra was the only knit fabric I had on hand. The result was a ridiculous garment – half lounge-wear, half disco-wear. It will never be worn, but I can say I’m not afraid of knits anymore! So in a way it was a success after all.

  7. jay says:

    What a pity! I love the print. If I were in London right now I’d head up hopefully to Walthamstow market regardless of the awful warning.

  8. read the directions. check the finished measurement, posted on the envelope and on the pattern pieces. make a muslin from some garbage fabric i have laying around, BUT it must have almost identical drape/stretch or it is a waste of time. when using slippery fabric [velvet, brocade, satin, silk] thread baste and pin. don’t be afraid to say, ‘enough’ and toss it in the scrap heap. i donate bags and bags of ‘done’ to Gift for Teaching, they cut the stuff up for kids craft projects. oh yes, something will never look right on me no matter how much i want it. i’m just too short.

  9. Sewing vinyl without a walking foot! I made vinyl raincoats for a show I was costuming. They were atrocious 😜lesson learned! Now I use my walking foot abygone I sew sticky or stretchy fabrics, it has changed my life!

  10. Mertxe says:

    Dear! I’ve had tons of fails! Most of them, they were poor fabric choices. I wonder, can you use the same fabric, if you are going down a size? That would be tiresome, but a good solution, not to waste the fabric. Not a matter of money, but a matter of doing things right. If there is something I’ve learnt through my failures, is, never take shortcuts. When in doubt, do it the right and tiresome way. It always, always pays up.
    On the other hand, I am starting to have doubts, when using comercial patterns (when they are selfmade, there no such porblem), regarding the size to choose. They tell us we have to choose the size based in our breast measure, but I have big tits for the rest of my body!!! When compared with standart measurement tables, my breast is bigger than the rest, so I suspect, we should always go with a smaller size, related to hips or waist, and make a FBA. I am afraid, you are in my same position, hehehe!

  11. UtaC says:

    Great post. I honestly don’t like failure. But life has thought me there is always always always without fail something to be learned from the experience. That is my approach to handling it. Redoing a project or ripping it , its all part of the learning curve as you put it so well and it makes us better. Frustrated for a moment, but definitely better and confident once we get back in full force. Its all in our attitude in the end. 🙂

  12. Marie says:

    Measure twice, then measure again, especially if you have no extra material to play with. I had a metre of the most perfect material with which to make a kimono and accidentally cut the back 10 inches too short.

  13. Ruth says:

    What did I learn by failing? To be braver. That none of my failures really matter. That my failures shatter no earths. Chuck it out and start again. I don’t blog so I don’t document my failures, but I do tell my friends. Not when they happen, but if they start singing my praises about my sewing I remind them that sometimes I flop badly and have to chuck out the whole shebang. Of course, if it’s knitting, I just frog.

    In fact, my life’s motto now is “Frog, frow out or finish!” (Read that with a London/Essex accent). Otherwise the failures become a block.

  14. it was a toile, not a total disaster as you want to make it again!

  15. dara says:

    I read an inspiring quote yesterday,I’m thinking about posting it on my sewing room wall,” Success is not final, Failure is not fatal, It is the COURAGE to continue that counts” Winston Churchill Hope this brightens your day! It brightened mine!

  16. redsilvia says:

    Robyn’s comment about checking the finished measurements is one hard won lesson I’ve learned. I also compare those measurements to a garment I’ve already got and like the fit of. Some of those big 4 patterns have 5 or 6 inches of boobie ease and that’s crazypants.

    I like the fabric you chose for your fail so I can see what seduced you. It’s like that super cute guy you went out with who didn’t have a job/apartment/manners. You just don’t listen to your instincts sometimes and get reminded that you should. World keeps turning. Best!

    • Suzy Roberts says:

      A great post…and honest too. And, of course, we all do it and kick ourselves afterwards. A very experienced sewing friend sends makes that don’t work out to “the naughty corner”. As for me I can’t make anything without at least one niggle, one thing I know I should have done differently. So I keep a computer record of each pattern and each make with different sewing and fitting issues. All sounds very organised doesn’t it? … except that I often (no usually) launch into a new project without consulting the notes.

      Every sewing project should teach us something…if only when to give up, throw it in the bin and have a glass of wine instead. Thanks for your blog…it’s always entertaining, informative, thought provoking and I just love Ella.

  17. Oh man, sometimes I think I only learn the hard way, i.e. by failing in an ugly enough way that it seers itself into my brain that I should NOT do that again. The good news is, when I learn something, I really learn it. Even though sometimes it makes me cringe, I don’t really mind learning by failing. I think of it more like, well, THAT is a lesson that I never have to learn again!

  18. Don’t know if I would have been so sanguine. If I make a fail it puts me off my stride for weeks and I go into a giant sulk. I used to always make the biggest size I could find (and I was a lot slimmer than I am now), things would still be too small around the chest, but the shoulders and the waist would be swimming on me. Now I take the time and do an FBA and a broad back adjustment so that is a good thing. I have also learnt never to sew when stressed out/tired as I always make a pig’s ear of things then. Looking forward to seeing your dress Mark II.

  19. Liz says:

    Save the buttons from your learning curve (none of my fails go into the bin with zips/buttons/anything that could be used to better effect elsewhere)! Also, I have learnt not to sew complex items while pre-occupied with a headache 🙁 I cut the length of my new winter coat without including a seam allowance…There is a big lump of annoyed-with-myselfness sitting in my chest right now

  20. I use that phrase on my family learning courses. I ask parents ‘do we learn from failure or success?’ and it provokes good discussion about how children make mistakes because they are learning new stuff ALL the time. I have to leave projects like that for a while and then return when the pain has gone – or bury it!!!!!! Good Luck with phase two, don’t forget to cut the buttons off the old one. Jo xx

  21. Caroline says:

    Hi Karen,
    I learned recently that for me, diagonal bodice darts on a fitted bodice cannot easily be converted for something looser fitting! So, I used my failed make and made another,more successful top!

    It’s at:
    I’m sure that you’ll be much happier with your second version! I certainly was, although I used a completely different pattern to make mine! Your fabric looks lovely though. It is a shame that it was faulty. 🙁 x

  22. Claire says:

    An old manager of mine used to say, “Every day is a school day!” We are constantly learning and making this item was you learning some more.
    I’ve had plently of ‘failures’ in my time. Usually bad fabric choice. Only recently I made some plaid trousers that I spent ages on and thought they were fab but when my sister saw me in them she laughed and asked was I in fancy dress? So. I haven’t worn them yet. Are they a failure?
    Other mistakes / things I’ve learnt….. Add support to a waistline of a dress – a fab dress now has a baggy waist :-/ Bad interfaceing choice – where can you buy decent stuff that doesn’t bubble when you wash it? Ensuring there is enough ease. I once made a beautiful dress from a self drafted pattern and the waist fitted but I couldn’t sit down in it or eat! I didn’t throw it though but I altered it. The main thing I’ve learnt is checking the measurements of the pattern before cutting. I’ve learnt to check shoulders for me because mine are quite square and making something that pulls across my shoulders is a frustrating experience!
    Good luck with your future makes and keep learning!

  23. craftycreeky says:

    I’ve got a fail that looks at me reproachfully in my sewing room! It’s your classic wrong fabric for the pattern, the problem is it’s beautiful silk dupion, still trying to decide what to change it into!

  24. i think that’s a Hawthorne. is it?

  25. LinB says:

    My last fail was not a failure to me, but it surely seemed so to my husband. He told me that my new trews made me look like Tweedle-Dee. He was right. So, I wore my blouse untucked and we went on our merry way. It helps to have an honest critic, and it helped him survive that day that he went for -Dee and not -Dum.

  26. Lorrain says:

    My best advice is to think! think! think! , one learns by doing things, don`t feel bad if its a failure,
    just let go and look on the positive and ` press on regardless, that was my dad`s motto in the army
    WW2. Once in my haste grabbed my roller-blade instead of my tracing wheel to trace the dart, and messed it up, could kick myself. Now I think one step ahead, check measurements and try to visualize the style and fabric combination, but there is always a risk involved, just reflect on all the projects that were successful, and start fresh.

  27. Nilla says:

    I have learnt to check the pattern pieces and make alterations before even cutting into the fabric. I’ve been too optimistic regarding fit for too many years, resulting in unflattering garments. And of course the inevitable wrong combination of fabric and pattern. These things happen more seldom with experience, but I look at it this way: if I never mess up completely, then I’m not challenging myself enough. Let’s not be so hard on ourselves, after all, we’re creating something from scratch here!

  28. Rosie says:

    Ah fails, so disheartening. I often wonder just how many sewing lessons there are out there that I can learn through failing as they never seem to end! I stubbornly cling to a never-toile mantra, but I’m starting to acknowledge that for time consuming projects (e.g. a winter coat) or something that uses a precious fabric, a toile is a wonderful invention for avoiding a weep-inducing-fail. I also wonder how many fails actually would not look like fails to other people. For instance, a fit fail; it might not fit you but it could be perfect for someone else. Obviously, you made it for you, but I often wish for a means of re-circulating a mal-fitting homemade garment that wasn’t selling it.

  29. ooobop! says:

    My first thoughts were, ‘noooo…. not that gorgeous fabric’! I can see why you were drawn to it. But totally not a waste. Remind yourself that it was cheap and probably more enjoyable to make up than most cheap muslin fabrics! I’ve used a faulty fabric once, unknowingly but it was cheap too so I guess that’s a signal for future reference! Good luck with the next. It will be ace, for sure! xxx

  30. Pingback: Being Nagged By The Hawthorn Dress | Did You Make That?

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