Frustration – the flip-side of “flow”?
In writing about the importance of sustaining creativity, I talked about the concept of ‘flow’ – the state in which you are completely absorbed in what you are doing. I am fortunate to find that state of flow often when I am sewing. But it isn’t always the case! If we were to look on the flip-side of ‘flow’ I think we might find ‘frustration’. Mistakes and difficulties are inevitable when you sew – and not just when you are a beginner let me assure you! So we will all feel frustrated at times so I thought it would be worth discussing this topic in this learn-to-sew series.
I can sometimes be hot-headed. I admit it. When I was in my late teens and early twenties and began sewing quite a bit, mostly my own clothes, I vividly remember getting frustrated – A LOT! I was on a sharp learning curve and tackling projects that were more challenging. Let’s just say I wasn’t always successful and I would get cross – OK, there were probably tears, yelling, swearing. I may have even thrown things. I really needed to find a better way of dealing with my sewing frustration! For the most part, I did. So here are my tips for avoiding sewing frustration but, more importantly, for dealing with frustration when it arises.
Tips for handling sewing frustration
Accept that mistakes happen
I think the first thing I had to accept was that mistakes will happen. There will be times when something goes wrong – you interpret the pattern incorrectly (or it just isn’t clear!), your machine plays up, bits don’t fit together, the garment doesn’t fit you or any number of other mishaps. It will happen. If you are pushing yourself to sew things that are a bit more difficult or challenge your skills a bit more, it will happen more often. And I want you to be pushing yourself a bit because that is the way we learn and improve. As Bram Stoker said in Dracula, “We learn from failure, not from success.” I’m not sure that that is absolutely true but it might be argued that there is more opportunity for learning from our failures – or at least our difficulties. But to learn from the difficulties we need to push past our frustration over them. So…
Adopt a ‘can do’ attitude
If you can approach your sewing with the right attitude you will be more able to handle the frustrations. Understand that you are learning and be kind to yourself. This is true whether you are a new beginner sewer or a more experienced sewer learning something new. Be positive and confident that you will master this and you will produce lovely things with practice and a bit of trial and error. Sewing is something anyone can learn. There are challenging techniques that might take a long time to master (I’m thinking of haute couture tailoring) but home and garment sewing is something you can do and you’ll be producing lovely things in no time! There will be bumps on the road but with an attitude of ‘I can do this’, you will be more likely to persevere. Think about what you would say to your child if they were learning and be that kind voice in your own head.
Choose appropriate projects
As I mentioned in a previous post, the state of ‘flow’ is found in the appropriate intersection of skill and challenge so finding appropriate sewing projects for your skill level is important. Find success with simple projects then build your skills slowly. Patterns often give a suggested skill level and there are many sewing books which take you, step-by-step, through projects of increasing difficulty, adding new skills and techniques which build on what has been mastered already.
In my post Setting Yourself Up to Sew I mentioned that cotton or poly-cotton are good fabrics to use in your early sewing projects. They will cooperate with you as you learn. They do not slip so much as, for example, satin would, so sewing straight, neat seams is easier. They also have enough, but not too much, substance to them so that they are easier to deal with than chiffon or a heavy denim. Stretch or knit fabrics have added challenges too. They require different techniques to sew them successfully. Cottons are also pretty easy to unpick without damaging the fabric. Now I don’t want you to avoid anything but cotton forever but I do want you to have early success to learn the basic techniques before adding the challenge of the peculiarities of these other fabrics. Whatever fabric you use though, choose the right needle as discussed in Threading Your Machine.
Practice and experiment first
My next piece of advice is to test things out first. Before launching yourself into a new project with a different fabric or technique, use some scrap fabric to practice. Adjust your stitching for the fabric you are using. Do some buttonholes on a scrap of fabric. Learn to insert a zip neatly in a couple of squares of similar fabric (then sew them together and – voila! You have a cushion cover!) Play, experiment, explore! You won’t feel the pressure then to get it right first time on your project.
Set realistic goals
Set realistic goals for yourself in terms of time also. For me, there is nothing that will bring about frustration faster than coping with problems and mistakes when I am pushing up against a deadline. If you plan on making something handmade for everyone for Christmas, don’t wait to start until you peel back the first window of your Advent calendar! Don’t start making an outfit for an event the week before you are attending it! Give yourself plenty of time because my next piece of advice is to…
Take a break
Just STOP! This one took me a long time to learn but once I did, it was a game changer! When something goes wrong and you feel your patience ebbing away, put it down. Turn off your machine and walk away. Come back later – after a cup of tea or a good night’s sleep – and approach the problem with a fresh outlook. I find it much easier to unpick something as the first thing I do for the day rather than the last. And when things start to go wrong it is often because I am tired. Being tired is not a good state in which to sew. Well, it isn’t a good state in which to do anything much except sleep, is it? I can’t tell you how many more projects got finished if I left a problem before I was tearing out my hair and only returned to it when I was rested enough to deal with it again.
Finally, if you have really got yourself into a spot and can’t work out how to solve it, ask for help. If you don’t have a sewing friend or relative to ask, Google it! Is there anything you can’t learn from YouTube these days? There are also lots of forums online to have a look at for advice or Facebook trading groups where you could ask for in-person help. I also recommend buying a good ‘sewing bible’ to have on the bookshelf beside you. The one I have is called “Sew It Up” by Ruth Singer.
So, do you have a project you need to pull out and have another look at? I’d love to know how you get on. I’d also love to know how you deal with frustration (sewing or otherwise). Do you have any other tips? Share them in the comments below.