Recovering from creative mistakes is an important skill. Not developing strategies to cope with mistakes can lead to a lot of extra heartache. Mishaps happen to us all when we are making things and they can dampen our enthusiasm for the activity which is a shame. Even after 40 years of sewing, I still have ‘oopsies’. I’ll give some examples below but what this post is really about is how to recover from them and retain a love for the activity.
A couple of my ‘Oopsies’!
Once, while preparing for the Handmade Market, I was cutting out some pieces for my cube doorstop. Of course, I was making a number of them at a time. Because the pieces are all simple squares and rectangles, I didn’t generally bother with a pattern. I would just measure them up on my cutting mat. That does run the risk of making a mistake and, yes, I made one cut a centimetre too short. But I had a stack of five pieces so that meant I cut five pieces one centimetre too short. Yes, that was an ‘oopsie’! I no doubt uttered stronger words than ‘oops’ at the time!
I definitely used stronger words – and shed a few tears, over the wedding jacket incident – the most memorable of my sewing disasters. In Five Principles for Neat Sewing I mentioned that a long time ago I learnt a very valuable lesson about using an overlocker. I was sewing a jacket to wear to a friend’s wedding. I don’t know for sure but I’ll bet it was about Wednesday night before the Saturday wedding. Despite knowing I don’t work well under pressure, I am really good at leaving things to the last minute. I can’t say if rushing to get my outfit finished contributed to my mistake but the stress I had put myself under did contribute to the emotional breakdown I had when it occurred!
Anyway, back to the story. I actually hadn’t got very far with the jacket (some sort of consolation I suppose) when I was finishing one of the side seams with the overlocker. Garment seams are rarely perfectly flat because they are designed to fit around the curves of our bodies of course. So the fabric wasn’t laying flat on the overlocker bed and I didn’t take enough care to keep the fabric of the back piece of the jacket clear of the overlocker blade. It got caught up with the seam allowance and, yep! I cut right through it. The short version of the whole sorry tale that ensured was that I bought something else to wear to that wedding!
Strategies for Recovery
I was pretty much a novice with the overlocker back then but I sure learnt a lot of lessons that day. Caution with blades was one! Understanding that there is not a lot of room for error with an overlocker was another. I think I am still learning how to ‘cope’ when I have a big mishap but I have come a long way in developing techniques for handling frustration as described in my Finding Your Sewing Zen post.
Put it Down, Come Back Later
There have been plenty of other disappointments and mishaps in my many years of sewing and other creative pursuits but I have learnt some strategies to deal with them, the key one of which is to put it down (or possibly throw it down!), walk away and put some space and time between you and the mistake. You need a cool and clear head to deal with it and I find that is best done a little later on – one of the techniques I talk about in Finding your Sewing Zen.
Returning with a cool head, sometimes you can recover from mistakes or problems and complete the project. There are other times, though, that you have to cut your losses and start all over again. Or not.
Find the Sweet Spot
But don’t let the mishap defeat you! Know that everyone has the occasional disaster and many more frequent “oopsies”. They can really take the wind out of your sails, yes, but they are all part of the process. And if you are not making mistakes, you’re probably not learning because you are not in that zone between what you can already do comfortably and those skills that are still too challenging. There is a sweet spot in between where you will be challenged enough but not too much.
If you are feeling a bit deflated, do a couple of simpler projects to find satisfaction in making once again. Regain some confidence and then go back to stretching yourself – little bit by little bit. And maybe, when you can look at it again without tears, take that lovely ‘failed’ project and give it another go – or ‘upcycle’ it into something else fabulous!
In the end, it is how you respond to the challenge of having made the mistake that is important. Learning the skill of recovering from creative mistakes will ensure you keep creating long into the future.