Failing To Succeed – An Expert Guide

Well, I don’t know about you, but this has definitely been one of my weeks to fail. The force of jetlag was strong, but I tried to ease myself back into sewing with a make-up bag, using this tutorial. I’ve used it before, but had total brain fail around the boxed corners. I now have a make-up bag with diagonal corners. Failure number one. I tried to photograph this failure, but winter days led to blurred, grey photos. Failure number two.

Ultimate Shift Dress Neon ii

Not A Failure

Then I cut out and sewed a third Ultimate Shift dress. Tried it on. Too tight! So tight that the back seam ripped as I took it off. Third fail. Tried to photograph the ripped seam, but poor light hit again. Fourth fail.

By this stage, I was actually failing to blog about my failures. Fifth fail.


Failure is a theme I’ve often discussed here, but it can’t be emphasised enough. If you choose to create, you choose to fail. It’s always going to be part of the process, and a wise person builds failure into their business model, their hobby and their life.

We’re agreed then? I must be very wise indeed. So wise that I’d never actually share a blurred photo of a disastrous make. I mean, that would make me … a failure?


Please tell me you’ve had more success this week. Actually, scrap that. I want to hear about your failures!

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52 Responses to Failing To Succeed – An Expert Guide

  1. megsewing says:

    Haha I agree!! I’m sure I don’t learn anything until I fail miserably and start again knowing what not to do! The first ultimate shift dress I made I couldn’t get it past my bum and I flat felled seamed the thing!! Luckily second time was the charm! Failure is absolutely the thing that moves you forward and sometimes leads to interesting ideas 🙂

  2. racurac2 says:

    I had only one yard of jersey fabric and I cut two fronts!. Then I did not read the instructions (you know: this is easy peasy…) and did NOT glue the collar part to the front (on the paper pattern)….arrrggggg I’ll use the jersey toe sew some undies next year…!

  3. Jan Brown says:

    No problem there Karen. Jacket sleeves terrible and too short, Shirt for birthday gift set in one sleeve inside out, Pillow case for my son, wrong side of fabric. I’ve unpicked more seams than I’ve sewn and my seam ripper is BLUNT!!! But am I down? – YES but only for today. Tomorrow has to be better doesn’t it?

  4. JaneyB says:

    I fleetingly wondered what the hieroglyphics on the traced off waistband pieces of my Brumby skirt pattern meant and chose to ignore them. After sewing it to the main skirt all became clear – they basically meant cut it one size larger!! Waistband now unpicked, skirt re-gathered. Just need to cut another waistband.

  5. I finished my classes at Sew Over It for the Francine jacket with my garment not even at the week two stage – the size across the back shoulders had been yo-yoing from 12 to 16 to 8 each time resulting in more pattern alterations – it has been a bit of a fail to say the least but I plan to press on with the detailed instructions – wish mad luck!

  6. Too many to mention, and some just so, so basic but no matter, tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our skills further, and then one fine morning… The lottery of being creative 🙂

  7. I cut 4 pocket pieces for my Hudson pants and no pocket facings. 1. Then I tried to cut pocket facings from 2 of them and cut 2 left facings! 2. I finally have these pants to the waistband closing stage. I ran out of time before needing to prepare for Thanksgiving. 3. Tomorrow is looking bright indeed!

  8. I hate it when a plan fails, although have also learnt through experience never to sew when v tired and never with a glass or 2 of wine close by. Some how things go back to front, and my seam ripper goes into overdrive.

  9. Jen says:

    Sewing is just SO demanding compared to knitting, my personal comfort zone. I’m currently trying not to think of sewing as a place of diminishing returns, but it’s a struggle.

  10. MJ says:

    When people tell me they want to be able to sew like me, I tell them they would have to invest a lot of wasted time and materials to get this good. You are not alone!!!

  11. Yvonne Bennett says:

    I have some rather amazing screw ups, but none come to mind at this moment. I’m up past my bedtime and cannot stop laughing at your hilariously written, but not yet funny, post. Then when another poster mistyped she would “toe sew some underwear” that sent me into a fit of giggles the likes of a bunch of 6 year old girls. It IS comforting to know I’m not alone in failing!

  12. Sewniptuck says:

    Spent a day drafting a draped front skirt, couldn’t work out whether or not I’d added seam allowance because nothing seamed right, after I chucked the pattern in the bin realiesd I’d eradicated one dart – Fail. Did it all again, everything looked good. Cut out my much stroked precious fabric drape looked like I should insert a joey for safe keeping – Fail. Had cleverly thought to situate the lighter part at the bottom where it would not highligh tummy, forgot after cutting aforementioned precious fabric, lighter part is kinda centred over thigh area, nearly cried, but have a party to get to!!! Am I learning? Not so sure, may take a taxi to the party!

  13. Angela says:

    You know, I found your piece quite heartening. I completely ruined two quite expensive pieces of crepe de chine only this last weekend – and right at the end too! It happens to all of us from time-to-time. Often all the blogosphere offers are beautiful Instagram worthy makes, but your perfectly imperfect admissions have made me feel that perhaps I might try another project this weekend. Thanks! PS love your style!

  14. Mags says:

    My worst was a pair of leggings following the seamwork pattern. Clearly the ponte used did not have enough stretch as I couldn’t even get them over my feet.

  15. KW says:

    I have made an amended version of the Lisette Portfolio dress often. They usually look OK but each time the fit is different, whether or not I can lift my arms in the long sleeve version is variable, even the length is different (how does that happen?!) Two weeks ago I made a complete fail in which my sway back alteration managed to actually emphasise my sway back by making my whole back area look like a 3D relief map. I have generally used some sort of cotton fabric but have come to the conclusion that the actual weave density (is there such a thing?) has a big impact. I tell myself I am learning very important lessons of patience and resilience. For the last couple of weeks I have stopped listening to myself!

  16. rosealys says:

    I thought I was well on track with all my Xmas presents until I measured the cardi I’m knitting for my mum and realised it was muuuuch too big so I had to rip back 16″ knitting and re-do. Now I’m knitting like crazy every skate moment and hoping I’ll have time to see all the other Christmas presents before I go home for Christmas in less than 3 weeks…

  17. Wendy says:

    How many tshirts have I made? Gazillions at the last count! How then did I manage to serge and topstitch a neckband back to front this week? I love the fabric so much I’ll just have to wear it with a scarf.

  18. amanda says:

    I had an absolute fail with a shift dress this week too- decided to use french seams but somehow got my seam allowances wrong so its a very tight squeeze around the hips- I’d stupidly trimmed the seam allowances down to so not left myself much to work with- i think the only option is to eat less chocolate for a few weeks so I can fit into it!!

  19. ClaireOKC says:

    You are so right. I’ve had a professional design business for 30 years – failure is a part of my business. The “success” of my business has been how to best overcome failure. Now, that’s not to say that every day I have failure or that it’s a constant….that’s part of what makes it so discomforting….you go along fine and things are going swimmingly then suddenly out of the blue comes failure and another, then none, then 20, then things are fine. It’s not predictable, it’s not at a constant rate nor quantity nor quality – it’s haphazard at best. But….you do eventually get better and you do overcome them. But as you grow and create more, you will find new failures that you didn’t even know you could fail at. By this time, hopefully you will have enough experience with failure that you will learn that each failure can be overcome.

    Creating, which is so abstract it’s hard to talk about, The very process is an invention of something that is inherently going to cause failure; you are creating something that has never been created before – a pattern with a fabric that has never been matched. There are going to be individual challenges and problems that will have to be solved to complete the project the way you want it. And any professional creating person will tell you that they have failures all the time. What sets them apart from those who get stopped by failures? They look upon them as just another step toward completing their project – it’s that simple. Failures don’t get pros down – they just work through them.

    Here’s another perspective. I’ve seen students so incredibly close to completing a technique and they are on the correct path, but stop thinking that they are going to mess up the whole project by going past the most recent failure – which sometimes isn’t even a failure. Continue on – plug on. That doesn’t mean full steam ahead, but plug on, because most of the time this will take you through not only a solution but a breakthrough in your sewing.

    You can also do certain things to not set yourself up for failure: 1.) allow enough time for your project – even “over”-time, 2.) don’t take on something way ahead of your skill set – that doesn’t mean not challenging yourself, it means staying within a step-by-step process. Sewing is one of those skills that is best taken on by going one step at a time – skipping steps can almost always set you up for failure, 3.) Be gentle with yourself while you are learning and 4.) if you feel that you can not make anything correct – go back to something you’ve done before to gain some confidence in your sewing – an apron, a knit top, a shirt – whatever. #1 is really the biggie. Pros who work under deadlines are REALLY professional and have garnered a set of skills and a mind-set that will allow them to work under this incredible pressure.

    Loved your post!!!

    • Thanks for such a comprehensive and thoughtful answer. I very much agree on scheduling. I always build myself roomy schedules to allow for something going wrong, because something WILL go wrong.

    • Cookie says:

      I am printing your comment and posting it by my sewing machine. This and the blog above are the encouragement I personal need when dealing with my perfection issues.

  20. Robin says:

    I had a fail become a success recently. Linen pants turned out about a size too big. Washed and dried, and voila, now a perfect fit. Note to self – don’t count on that next time for any other fabric choice than linen!

  21. Susie says:

    This was such a great post for me to read right now as I finished a dress last week and the bottom of the zip looks like half a cats bum and I’ve been so upset about it I haven’t even tried it on. I’m still new to sewing so it gives me hope to read that even someone as accomplished as you can have a bad week.
    Thank you!

  22. Sheree says:

    Spurred on by your recent ultimate dress makes and seeing the video on YouTube with all the dresses that Lisa (the owner) has made, I bought the pattern myself this week. Now getting nervous. Nothing worst than trying on and finding things tight! Been there too many times in the past.

    • Don’t get nervous. It’s a really great pattern. Maybe be very honest with yourself about body measurements and consider how much give there is in your chosen fabric. And if in doubt, cut extra large seam allowances so you have some room for manoeuvre! Maybe baste your main seams first and try on. You’ll be absolutely fine!

  23. PsychicKathleen says:

    I always wonder, “Do I HAVE to do it wrong first all the time?” But that’s only when I’m feeling completely disgusted with myself. I write things down in my pattern instructions so I don’t do the same thing AGAIN and then get so into the flow of my work I forget to actually READ my learnings from my past mistakes and wouldn’t you know? I do them AGAIN. That’s when I want to bang my head on the nearest wall 🙂

  24. I am on my second pair of jeans (ever!) and trying to learn from the failures of the first pair. Although wearable I didn’t do the fly right so I have caught my stomach skin more than once in the zip Ouch! So learning from my first failure is quite apparent at the moment. Jo x

  25. Well. It’s failure you want, eh? Let me tell you, this second venture into sewing has been rife with fails. My very first project, a sewing machine cover from self-drafted pattern was an absolute and utter success! Subsequent projects, however, have been exercises in frustration (with the notable exception of a reversible x-back apron which is quite fabulous – although fabric differences caused some wonkiness).
    Through all of the turmoil I remind myself that I used to sew well…..and will do so again, it just takes time! Your blog truly serves as constant inspiration. 🙂

  26. Bunny says:

    Unfortunately, I had my moments this past week as well. My second upholstered cushion took five passes around the perimeter and numerous hours to connect the final seam on the cushion which of course was about 150 inches around. I did get it done though and the receiver of the cushions was very happy. I feel your pain.

  27. ellegeemakes says:

    This week I cleaned out my closet and decided to donate ten garments to charity . The part that bothered me about this? They were all ‘makes’that i didn’t wear because in the long run they were failures .., the fabric choice was off or the fit wasn’t comfy or the style made me look horrid. I was saddened by this very real evidence of failure but tomorrow I will head down to my sewing machine and take a chance that the next make is good. After all the process is as important as the product?

  28. Failure is definitely all part of the creative process. I think that we do learn a little from each one. I work as a (boring) scientist in the day job and each experiment that does not give the expected results definitely is just as useful at informing the way forward (sometimes more) than one that does work. I try to carry that thought over into everything, although I do get sad when I waste some “precious” fabric. Oh, and my failure for the week is to have put my back out again moving house. Definitely a painful process. 🙂 Xx

  29. Margo says:

    Who doesn’t have failures!!!??? It’s a part of life…well…at least my life. LOL I really just try to learn and move on. Great post!

  30. I’ve been pushing to finish two shirts for my hubby’s birthday in 2 days, but this morning I sliced right through the front of the bodice (is it still called a bodice for menswear?? Inquiring minds!) with my seam ripper when I was trying to rip back some bad topstitching. So now I am hoping that I have enough fabric to cut a new front… *sob*

  31. Having a very similar couple of weeks! A suede skirt went directly in a fabric recycle bin, accidentally chopped the lining of another wayyyyy too short and my latest project didn’t fit one little bit despite having made it before! Bring back the sewjo – wishing you a better next week 🙂

  32. oooh i have some horrors- i blog the lot, including the really stupid mistakes, like sewing sleeves in upside down or trimming a final seam and chopping a v out of the front of the garment…very common that one. The successes are usually in greater number…

  33. LinB says:

    There are no “mistakes.” There are only “design choices.” Some of my design choices have been decidedly less successful than others (insert deep, throaty chuckle here). I console myself that I have, instead, been remarkably successful in my choice of mate and friends. We do not all have the same gifts. How fortunate for the world we live in that this is so!

  34. redsilvia says:

    “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” via Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

    You do your best, it doesn’t work, you move on. Don’t beat yourself up. Plus you’re not responsible for the light in winter!

  35. Val, North London says:

    When I was 19, my mum helped me draft a pattern block and I made a beautiful tailored shirt-dress out of some fabric she gave me, complete with tailored buttonholes. I hated wearing the finished dress because it was bright blue and made me feel like an air hostess … so I dyed it … but it ruined the fabric, which turned out to be a lovely wool blend that couldn’t take the battering in my college halls of residence washing machine (probably ruined that too). Once I started work in London, mum asked why I didn’t wear ‘that lovely dress’. It led to a conversation about irreversible acts and making mistakes, learning and moving on – so in hindsight, it was probably the best thing I ever made.

  36. Jo says:

    I’ve spent the past 5 days starting, failing, and then failing to restart knitting a hat. Last month, I’d cast on, knitted, bound off, and was wearing said hat in a shorter time scale. Feeling the fail here this week.

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