Monday, 2 December 2013

Mistakes


What follows was actually written a month ago, but I didn't post it straight away, as I actually felt I needed something to go right before I could bear to post about all the things that had gone wrong. I now have three lucky things that have gone right (one of them was the croc-in-a-swamp bed made by my son, but at the time even helping with something that went right felt like an achievement; the other two are yet to be blogged about), so I can now post this from the standpoint of not feeling too broken-hearted.

A few years ago a lady wrote to me asking how I manage to go on sewing when things go wrong, because she was struggling with this. I knew what she meant - that awful feeling when you realise that you've just spent hours working on something that doesn't fit or when your overlocker has unexpectedly sliced through the centre of the sleeve that you'd nearly finished setting in and you just want to throw your sewing machine out of the window. However, generally, no matter what the frustration is, my wish to make things doesn't really leave me for very long - my compunction to sew overwhelms the frustration I feel when things don't go right. So generally, it's a case of taking a deep breath and moving on to the next project. This last project I found harder to do that with though when it meant abandoning weeks of hand-sewing...not once, but twice.


In the past, when I've created a wall-hanging, I've always previously left the thin card glued in place - it stabilises the piece and there's no need for it to come out when it's being placed in a frame. So I'm not sure what possessed me to start taking pieces out when I was nearly finished with this...but I did. However, the silk was so fragile and the pieces were so tiny that almost as soon as I'd begun I knew it was a mistake...to give you an idea as to why, this standard pin gives a sense of scale of each piece...



...and this picture (yes, really) gives you an idea of just how little card is even exposed once the tiny pieces are wrapped in fabric - on some the seam allowances overlap each other entirely. Only a crazy person would go messing around in there! But I did and quickly realised it was a mistake, but by then the pieces wouldn't go back in and the tension of the piece was completely ruined. Without the card, there was a visible softness that didn't sit well next to pieces that still held their card and those pieces were too small and the silk too fragile to have the card removed.


So, with this finished piece ruined, I decided to start all over again...only this time with the intention to redesign the piece slightly (which is why there are pen lines at the centre of the rose - my husband drew those on as I was trying to explain how I wanted the centre to be). As I was making the first wall hanging I'd become increasingly aware that the centre of the piece reminded me of the generic black and yellow danger symbol for radioactivity! Once I'd seen this I couldn't un-see it and so in many ways the wall hanging was already ruined for me. So, I redesigned the centre of the rose, to have a more spiralling effect and set off again, feeling slightly weary, but optimistic that I knew all the pitfalls this time...


But what looked fine to me close-up, once all pieced together and viewed from a distance just looked fairly awful...the pale colours in the centre just disappeared to nothing once I was standing any distance away from it (the piece on the left in the photo below - the piece on the right is the finished, but ruined, wall-hanging) and instead of the soft furls of the inside of a rose, the dark gold pieces look spiky and angular.


So back to the question at the start of the original post. What do I do in this situation? Probably what any normal person would do - I sat on the edge of my bed and cried. I felt like the most talentless sewer ever to be in possession of a needle and thread and wondered whether I'd be better off spending my evenings reading books, going out more and drinking more wine (I develop a rather carefree attitude to getting the stitches in the right place after a glass of wine, so I mostly avoid it), rather than wasting hundreds of hours optimistically stitching mistakes.

Anyway, once this initial stage of snottering miserably into a hanky was over, my husband convinced me that I didn't actually need to tackle the same project for a third time...that I really could just put it in a drawer (or bin) and forget about it. What a novel idea. When I'd spent the last seven weeks imagining this (beast) on my living room wall and had even written up much of the pattern for it as I went, this hadn't even occurred to me. I'd just imagined myself having to sew the damn thing ALL OVER AGAIN...possibly forever, like the Miller's daughter forced to attempt to spin straw into gold night after night, but without Rumpelstiltskin to come and take over.

So I've left it. And here is what I did: I made the croc-in-a-swap-bed with my son, which was possibly the most restorative-to-the-spirits thing I could have done; I cleared out all my drawers and cupboards (thank you for your help with that, fabric-buyers); I went to a Josh Ritter gig with my husband (and more recently The Lumineers); I went to a friend's house for dinner; I went for a very muddy walk in the countryside with my family and Nell and a dozen of her golden retriever brothers and sisters (I realised half way around that I had my wellingtons on the wrong feet, but they were too muddy to attempt to right this imbalance). I basically did a lot of other things that weren't sewing… for about a week. And then I started sewing again, because I can't actually stay away from it.

Happily, I'm looking at the photos in this post and not feeling sad. I've nearly finished a new fabricy piece for one of our walls using much more modern fabrics and a simpler design that I like much more and, as always, I'm reminded that sewing for me is essentially about the process and not the outcome, so even though this gold and duck-egg beast will never hang on our walls, I can still remember all the lovely things that I did while sewing it and how optimistically enthusiastic I felt about it at the outset!

How do you handle setbacks?

Florence x

Ps. In case you're wondering - with pieces this small and with such delicate fabric you'd need to baste the papers in by hand with needle and thread if you were intending to use it as a quilt and wanted to remove the papers - I used fabric glue because, when I was sane at the beginning of the project, I anticipated that I'd be leaving the card in. Using fabric glue doesn't seem to be an issue with quilting cottons as they're robust enough not to fray when the glued papers are removed.

17 comments:

  1. Oh I feel your pain! I agree the first piece was beautiful.
    But how lucky we are to have understanding husbands who don't tell us what a waste of time our sewing is and help us when we have lost hope! You did the right thing... sometimes we just have to move on. I am sure you will be sewing many amazing things in the months to come.

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    1. Yes, I do feel really lucky to have a husband that understands - so pleased you do too :)

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  2. Glad to know I am not the only one who has had a spate of sewing disasters of late. I threw mine into the gloomy corner of the sewing room, stomped out and drank wine. It's all part of the process though isn't it, having failures? And think how much better we make new sewers feel when we muck it up good and proper! :-)

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    1. Mistakes as community service! I like that idea :)

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  3. Hooray for feeling better about it! I think it looks beautiful even still. I completely understand, and I do much the same that you do - have a good cry, glass of wine, and cuddle with my dog. I agree with T, it really does help when talking to new sewists to give them the confidence to forge on! We all muck it up every now and again!

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  4. What a shame that the project didn't go right for you this time… but I love the way you wrote about it all the same. It makes me realise that everyone makes mistakes in sewing and yes, you can abandon a project that is causing you pain! When things go wrong for me (as they often do) I just put it away for a while and only bring it out again when I'm feeling in the right kind of mood for it. Sometimes there is just a tiny bit more to go, but I know it is the best thing to put the project aside and stop breaking my sewing machine needles!

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  5. Hiding the source of agony, and having a good temper tantrum are the way I handle these moments. Quickly followed by chocolate. We are very hard on ourselves aren't we? I made my daughter a Moaning Myrtle costume for Halloween, and decided to use a cryptic tutorial for the robe. Bad idea! I'm just glad I used an old sheet as a muslin. You make so many beautiful things (and I count these pieces in!), it's only fair that you make a turkey once in a while.

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    1. Yes, chocolate really helps! Sorry to hear about the Moaning Myrtle mishap - my children would have loved that costume too.

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  6. You sound like you're done with this project. I wouldn't put it in a drawer (it'll haunt your subconscious)--I'd put it in the trash. Which will feel so hard, but will ultimatley be very liberating.

    I made a resolution a few years ago that I wouldn't keep reading a book I didn't like just because I started it and felt like to be a good reading citizen I needed to finish it. I've applied that to my textile life. I don't have UFOs anymore. I have projects I love that I'm working on regularly. If I start something and it sucks, I re-evaluate why I wanted it against whatever the suckage issue is and multiply that by how the thought of working on it more makes me feel and divide that by the number of days in the grecian calendar. :) The end result is the same: life's too short to keep working on things you don't enjoy anymore or to let something haunt you from it's informal grave.

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  7. Oh dear, Florence! I finally got round to making a skirt I'd had half-cut out for about a year, and the result is disappointing. It involved tons of fiddly hand-finishing, too. I have worn it once so far but it's definitely not going to become the favourite garment I'd anticipated and it made me wonder why I even bother with this sewing nonsense. Ugh. But you know, I bet someone would buy your "failures" from your Etsy shop (definitely the second one that doesn't have the baggy bits). Maybe even the first one could be semi-salvaged by doing something horrendous like iron-on-interfacing the whole thing (and then using as a cushion cover?)... x

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    1. Oh that's such a shame - I think it's even more common to have these kinds of things with clothing isn't it - no matter how beautifully something is finished it still can be a complete failure if it doesn't fit, can't it.

      I'm afraid that I couldn't actually bring myself to try and sell the fabrics that I didn't love myself to other people in my Etsy shop (they went to the charity shop), so I would be much less capable of putting one of the gold and duck egg beasties in there! x

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  8. And this is one reason I call my quilting "hobby" a journey. You may have taken an unfortunate side-trip, but you're back on the road full of new and shiny. No regrets, just moving forward to see what's next. Not always easy but still very very good.

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  9. Oh, I did giggle about the snotting miserably... I know that feeling when a make doesn't result in quite the manner planned! The next make will be a dream!

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  10. I just started something without a pattern and after spending a couple of hours cutting out 218 3 1/2 squares and then realized that there was a quicker way that involves piecing and then cutting which would make it more consistent and less pressing so what do I do, I put all the pieces I cut off to the side took a trip to Michigan and now on the way back ready to start completely over. In the past I would've just kept going with it hating every step of the way and then realizing instead do wasting a few hours of recutting I wasted more time doing it my stubborn inefficient way. End product would end up the same but the road would be a lot rougher. Thanks for sharing your story!

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  11. Hi Florence, I'm very late in responding to this blog but have to say I totally identify with your frustration. My mum (85) says she'll not let anything get the better of her and I'm totally in awe of her. She spent ages knitting a complicated fair isle jumper for her young granddaughter (ripped it back twice due to patterning errors) only to find that on the big day it was too small for Livvy! I'm in awe of her because she very graciously handed it to me and suggested I might like to find it a good home - me - I would have cried! Thank you for explaining that for most of us the joy is in the doing rather than the end result - I now understand why I do what I do even when others don't! Helen

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x