“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison

Expecting to get everything right first time in a complex activity like sewing is rather unrealistic.

For those of us who worry about mistakes – perhaps it’s best to “re-frame” our thinking about them. They’re opportunities to learn from, not bad things to beat ourselves up about. They just show we haven’t yet got our skills to the point where we can make something we’re happy with, we need to practice a bit more.

Dealing with mistakes uses important skills. Mistakes show us we could change our technique. We need :
– the sewing skills of correcting mistakes,
– the learning skills of finding how to improve our sewing, fitting, or pattern making technique,
– the self-care skills of recovering from getting upset, and from disappointment ♥️

The only thing you can’t recover from relatively easily is cutting mistakes, anything else can be unpicked. So do take extra care when using any cutting tools.

Un-do the sewing

from LDT2011 at Pattern Review

(I would add “Keep Calm and Completely Re-Thread the Machine”.)

Make friends with your seam ripper.
It’s much quicker, easier, safer to use for unpicking than scissors.

You need a finer one (left) to unpick most machine stitching. A thicker one (right) works well for larger stitches – for basting, and much hand stitching.


Get a seam ripper with a cover, and keep it well away from children and pets as it’s sharp.

Two methods for using one.
Here’s a video from Deborah Moebes at Whipstitch.
Look carefully so you don’t poke holes in the fabric !
Only use the second method if your fabric doesn’t pull out of shape.

Then pull off all the little pieces of cut thread. Some seam rippers have a tool to help with this.
And try again 😀

What went wrong ? Were you tired, frazzled, hungry, thirsty, trying to hurry ?
Or do you need to find out how to do the sewing better ?

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Find how to do it better

Well, that’s the whole point of this blog 😀

Do we need to :
– find a different method,
– or repeat the present method, making small improvements each time.

It may take a while for us to find the ‘right’ teacher for us. We all have different learning styles, and teachers have different teaching styles. They teach different methods, and make different assumptions about how quickly someone is comfortable with learning new techniques. So an ideal teacher for someone who wants to jump in and have a go may not be the best teacher for someone who likes to take new things slowly and carefully. In these days when every penny counts, many teachers try to cram as much as they can into the class time, which does not suit all of us. I like recorded videos so I can go at my own pace.
We may need to try several teachers before we find someone who is a match to our learner needs.

What’s the best method of learning for you ? Here’s a Sewingplums post on what helps you learn. And here is a post on the many styles involved in sewing.

Perhaps you are trying to do a sewing process which involves too many new sources of uncertainty. Is there a way of breaking it down into small steps, practicing them individually, and building up slowly to the bigger combination of items. (For an example of this, see the facings post.)

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Self-Care after a mistake

How do you react to mistakes ?
Some of us laugh.
Some cry.
Some scream.
Some get dispirited.
Some battle on.
Some get very self-critical or anxious.

When you make a mistake, do you need to cry or scream?
Do you need a pause to rest and cheer up or calm down?

If you need to scream, sadly Shirley Adams sewer’s frustration tool is no longer available.
Basically : make a monster-shaped rag doll from the worst bit of your “wadder” (failed project), and bash it around. She did have a good poem to shout while doing so 😀
Here’s an example of the simplest sort of doll pattern, from Bev’s Country Cottage. Once you know the principle you can draw your own pattern easily.

I used to accept ‘the prevailing wisdom’ that it’s best to try to change my beliefs:
‘Even though I made a wonky patch pocket, I deeply and completely accept myself. Making mistakes is how we learn. I am still a good person. And the world has not come to an end.’
At the extreme, I have said to myself : ’It’s silly to be frightened about choosing the right elastic’,
even softened to ‘It’s not necessary to be frightened about choosing the right elastic’.
Maybe that works for some people.

But trying to force yourself not to be afraid is just another stress, so makes things worse.
I need to beware of pushing myself through fear. That way lie phobias and much more trouble.

After long experience of being ultra-self-critical, I know the only things that work for me are acceptance and compassion : self-care.
Reassure myself : ‘It’s okay to be frightened about choosing the right elastic’,
and be kind and soothing to myself, while I recover enough to recognise without alarm that choosing the right type of elastic for a project is just a skill to be learned.
And gently try a bit of re-thinking about the importance of my mistakes – “okay, getting my elastic choice wrong for the fifth time is annoying, but it doesn’t endanger lives !”
Also accept that when learning something, I need to allow for quite a lot of recovery ‘time out’s !

Perhaps my reactions are extreme, but for many of us there’s a balance to find. Caring about quality is good, but perfection is impossible. “Perfection is the enemy of the Good” – and can be very stressful.

It is difficult to change from a mental atmosphere of criticism to one of encouragement and support. But with practice it can be done 😀
The first steps are :
– notice that it is happening,
– accept that criticism is your first attitude to yourself. Trying to force a change in that just adds to the stress by piling on another layer of criticism. “I’m wrong for telling myself I’ve done wrong.” Oh dear, that really is not helpful !
Our inner critic needs Thanks, not being told it’s wrong – it’s trying to protect us from an even bigger disaster.
– then try to imagine what it would be like to be encouraged instead. What would someone kind and caring say to you ?
♥️ 👍 “Well Done for trying !” 👍 ♥️
♥️ 👍 “Yes, it is disappointing when things don’t work out as you hoped. Take time to feel upset.” 👍 ♥️
♥️ 👍 “What would be an easy next step ?” 👍 ♥️
♥️ 👍 “What would you like help with ?” 👍 ♥️

There’s a podcast along these lines at Seamwork about your inner critic (scroll down for transcript).

Here’s Deborah Moebes of Whipstitch on sewing and self-compassion.

If you tend to use sewing as yet another thing to beat yourself up about, you might find it helpful to look at the book How to sew clothes from All Well Workshop, or the Mindful Wardrobe course from Sew Liberated patterns.

The same applies to guilt about spending time and money on making practice items. It just is not possible to learn, or to get confident, without first making mistakes, and perhaps many poor quality items. So we need to include the costs in time and materials for making practice pieces as a natural part of our sewing planning and budget.
What would an encouraging and supportive person say to you ?
♥️ 👍 “Well Done for trying ! Repetition is how you learn ! What materials and help do you need to make your practice special ?” 👍 ♥️

How many times do you need to repeat this process until you feel confident you can do it ?

Here’s Deborah Moebes of Whipstitch on repeating as the way we learn.

Can you simplify the project or your learning sequence so you’re less likely to get upset ?
It’s impossible to learn without making mistakes.
But some of us get more upset about them.
Unless you laugh about mistakes, it’s best to try a project which only needs one new skill, or has very good instructions.
I’m definitely a ‘slow and careful’ learner. I make many practice samples until I feel confident enough to do a new technique ‘for real’. And I get very upset by errors in instructions – best for peace of mind to move on to another teacher as quickly as possible 😀

Here’s a post from The Craft Sessions about fear of making mistakes, and fear of correcting them.

Those of us who focus on mistakes tend to home in on everything wrong with our finished projects.
Though once a project is finished we can see the whole item, and mistakes tend to disappear into the overall achievement 😀
So try to celebrate and enjoy what you managed to do, and your learning skills.

“No mistakes – only designer touches.” Clotilde

Sarah Veblen actually has a whole class at Pattern Review on coping when things go wrong (not free).


There’s another related issue – disappointment.
You may not have made any mistakes, but you may have put much time, money and effort into making something, only to find it doesn’t give you pleasure.
Or someone makes a negative comment about the item, or about all your hard work !

You may have some grieving to do.
Or some anger to express.
Perhaps you need a treat to help you recover.

What can you learn from this about your preferences ?
Perhaps there is something about the technique which has not given the sort of result you like.
Or about the item itself : the colours, fabrics, style, placement of style elements, fit . . .
What would be a good way of revising your future choices ?

What would an encouraging and supportive person say when someone dismisses your achievements/ interests/ commitments ?
👍 ♥️ Well Done for trying. 👍 ♥️
👍 ♥️ This person does not find the same things important as you do. 👍 ♥️
👍 ♥️ What have you got from this project that you are pleased about ? that you are happy, perhaps even proud of yourself, to have done 👍 ♥️

– – –

👍 ♥️ 👍 ♥️ 👍

Look after yourself

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

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Originally written January 2015, links checked October 2021

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