Embracing Failure

Something I’m trying to improve is not beating myself up when a sewing project fails. Rather than threatening to throw my machine out the window and burn all my fabric in a backyard bonfire, I’m moving towards a stage where I have a bit of a swear, walk away and then see “failure” for what it is, just part of the learning process.

I’m looking at you Drape Drape top 2012. When I eventually worked out how to get it on it looked like an enormous pair of y-fronts.

See? Look at these learning stages from 2009. One of these things is not like the other. Two of these things are kind of the same.

I was doing my usual “oh why do I bother? I’ll just head down to the bloody high street like a sane person and be done with this shit!” rant a few months ago and, after I’d calmed down enough to be reasonable, Emil told me “You’re just learning. You’ve just learnt something new through messing something up”.

This is something I tell my students on a regular basis. At this point in the year pretty much ALL I seem to be doing at work is marking essay drafts.  When I hand back their drafts full of corrections in green (never red) ink, the students look disappointed that their first draft wasn’t perfect. They then go on to focus on all the negative points and completely ignore anything positive they’ve produced.  About a year ago, I took to highlighting the good parts, with a yellow highlighter. My usual line is “see all this stuff in yellow? It’s good. Use it again and again in any essay you can apply it to”

I guess the colours in my marking scheme are like a banana. Yellow = good. Green = not ready yet.


That’s something else I need to remind myself. Yet. “I can’t do that” should really be “I can’t do that yet”. Let’s not get carried away with this, it probably doesn’t apply to everything. After all, we don’t keep leaping off the shed roof thinking we’ll eventually work out how to fly much past the first few attempts. Sometimes you have to tell yourself “I don’t know if I definitely can’t do that yet”.

And sometimes you need to say “Aw, fuck this”. And walk away. But that’s OK because it gives you an opportunity to try out some creative swearing. So you still get to learn some new combinations of profanities. Like when I made this obscenely difficult and low-cut Drape Drape all-in-one.

Obscenely low-cut Drape Drape all in one.

I’m embracing the learning process. In fact, I’m finding that messing up means I have to be more creative in the ways I salvage fabric from things that don’t go to plan. And that’s when I’m happiest, I like the challenge. I like the satisfaction, and the surprise, that comes with pulling off a success when it started as a fail.

I also just want to be honest about what I do. My blog isn’t slick and full of perfect seams and aligned stripes and I’m fine with that. I’d like to be better, sure, but I’m not competing with or comparing myself to anyone. The online sewing community is really, really very supportive when it comes to this. It’s one of the few spaces where people are genuinely co-operating selflessly and I’m grateful for that and all the people I’ve met via twitter, and the sewcialists.

This post was partly inspired by this excellent comic by Stephen McCraine and partly inspired by an excellent, honest human being and friend Sandra who passed away a few weeks ago. Life’s too short to pretend to be perfect.

About Vanessa

Sewing and assorted nonsense. For reasons that escape me, I left the sunshine and beaches of Australia for the crisps and glitter of London in 2001. I now live in the middle of some kind of feline drop-in centre in East London battling for space to make costumes and clothes. Over on twitter and instagram as @smittenness Email over here ------> smittenness@gmail.com
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12 Responses to Embracing Failure

  1. It’s always nice to be reminded that I’m not the only one who is not magically good at everything. I find the honest blogs, with failed projects, unflattering pictures and poorly matches stripes, to be much more inspiring and encouraging than the blogs where everything looks perfect. I have nothing against the polished blogs of beautiful people in carefully selected poses, with perfect hand-crafted clothes, but I simply don’t recognise anything of myself in them.

    I don’t write any essays, but if I did, you could correct them anytime 🙂

    • smittenness says:

      Aw, thanks. I think you really summed it up well when you said “I don’t see myself in them”. That’s what it is. I like reading all manner of blogs, I love the glossy ones, the haphazard ones whatever. I like the personality that comes through.

      No more essays! At the moment, I bloody hate marking essays. The fewer I see of them the better!

  2. Emmely says:

    I am very certain that everyone who sews, has had a lot of failures during their sewing carreer. I certainly have mine and like you I think it is good to show them to other people.
    I like that you also tell students which parts of their essays are good. I am going to copy that. Not that I have to mark many things, but I’ll do it when I have to.

    • smittenness says:

      Thanks. Sometimes the process of sewing is more fun that the actual result, mistakes and all! It’s not easy making my students see the good stuff they produce, I really have to force them to look!

  3. Laura Patsko says:

    Hi Vanessa
    Lovely post & very thoughtful to mention Sandra at the end (I also dedicated a recent post). She would definitely support more learning, more fun, and less being so hard on ourselves for trying. And thanks for linking to that comic – I loved the bit where the baby tries to talk!
    It’s not sewing-related, but have you come across Failure Fest? This was so much fun at IATEFL this year – here’s a link http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2013/sessions/2013-04-11/iatefl-failure-fest Inspired by this, I blogged about my own failure too (the first in a long series, I suspect) and included links to other teachers’ learnings from their failures at the end of the post (here comes another link: http://laurapatsko.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/bloopers-1-lost-in-london/).

    • smittenness says:

      That IATEFL stuff is hilarious. I’ll go through the links at the bottom of your post properly tomorrow.

      I wanted to in some small way reference Sandra. She was always so, so supportive in everything and just so honest about things. I miss that. I miss her.

  4. prttynpnk says:

    This post is a reread and reread kind of post! I need to remember that it isn’t always perfect for anyone else either, but it’s the progression and the eventual win and oh, wqe have a gorgeous community of support, don’t we?

    • smittenness says:

      Aw, thanks. I do love how supportive, fun and funny the community is online and it really makes twitter for me. It’s nice to be able to share and converse, like the real life days, rather than a bunch of shouting into the void and no listening.

  5. Nicole May says:

    I relate so much to this. For me many of my failures come from rushing, as I never want to take more than a weekend to sew anything, but I am trying to get my head around taking longer and really working on something. I have some vintage patterns that terrify me a little, but I am hoping the slow and steady technique will be the way to go.

  6. ellebougies says:

    I’ve just found your blog and it and you are hilarious and amazing. There is so much goodness here. Thank you for that!

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