If You Don’t Try, You Can’t Fail

August 12, 2014

Taking Advantage of Yourself

I am currently unemployed (hopefully to be employed soon, so light those votive candles, cross your fingers, and wish upon a star for me!), so I have an “abundance of time” on my hands. Theoretically, I should be pumping out projects right and left, filling my copious free time doing all the creating that I couldn’t do with a full-time job to juggle. But I’m not. I’m sitting here, idly scrolling through page after Pinterest page, doodling dresses, and dreaming of being done with all of them already. Partially to blame is my inherent laziness. Without a firm deadline, I sometimes find myself taking the sloth’s approach to creativity: Naps!

Plus, I’m cute, so projects should be practically finishing themselves for me, right?

However, I also get bored easily, hence all the “research” going on to fill the time. I’ve got no less than 8 projects roiling in my mad grey matter and at least 3 projects already out on the cutting table, stalled. What am I waiting for? Money, perhaps? Well, yes, as always money is a huge limiting factor, but I have projects that are pretty much fully stashed, meaning I have everything from the fabric to the trim to the hooks and eyes. I’ve definitely got the time, so all that’s missing is the manpower. Why is nothing getting done?

It sounds exceptionally silly, but many things–not just costumes–never get done because of that pesky fear of failing. Have you ever found that perfect fabric for the perfect project, yet the yardage sits in your stash, wallowing in the darkness? It’s a situation I encounter frequently. So long as it sits on the shelf, that fabric retains its glorious aura of possibility that I’m afraid to spoil.

Perhaps it was the cost. Nice fabric doesn’t come cheap (unless you are incredibly lucky). In addition, pre-20th century dresses often require 5 or more yards of fabric to complete, so the cost can add up rapidly. After investing so much money in a fine fabric, I sometimes don’t even touch it again for months afterwards.  One slip of the scissors, one misplaced pattern piece, one careless dribble from the iron…oh, you bought the last of the bolt and you turned up a quarter-yard short? Perhaps you could piece it….or keep it safe and sound in the closet, taking it out to admire its stunning beauty and pet it occasionally.

Don’t worry, my Precious, you are safe here, with me, forever….
(This pic links to a cool sensory board project for toddlers, FYI).

 If you’re not a crafter or you have good resources, it seems a little weird to worry so much over something as simple as unfolding that pristine stretch of [insert fabulous fabric of your choice], but when you’ve invested so much time and creative planning into this one fabric, the fear of losing it becomes very real. The fabric doesn’t even have to be expensive. Perhaps it was the tail end of a bolt, but it had the perfect pattern, or it was just the right shade of green out of a thousand or it belonged to your great-great-grandmother and is over 100 years old.

It’s like Schrodinger’s Cat is wallowing around in my stash, shedding maybe-or-nots all over my fabrics!

Gosh darn it, theoretical-Fluffy!

Many of my projects stall out before I even get the fabric home from the store because even a simple $3/yard cotton has so many possibilities, but only 4.5 yards. As long as I don’t cut it, it retains that wonderful fuzzy feeling of hope, but the instant I cut into it, it’s fate is sealed and there is little room for mistakes–of which I am prone to make many. But, cutting into the fabric is the first step towards completing a project. Once I’ve mustered the courage to take that leap, I chug right along…at least until I get to the actual sewing.

Another fear factor is skill level. You have fabric and you’re not afraid to use it. Wonderful! However, maybe you’ve never sewn an 1870s ball gown before. That’s a lot of pieces, and holy bananas, am I interfacing my interfacing?! For a beginner (and even an experienced sewer), getting the hang of the way a pattern or draping works takes a ton of trial and error. Even with a steady hand, a basic knowledge of technique, and 4-5 mock-ups behind you, sewing the final garment can be nerve wracking. Besides the sewing itself, there’s the temptation to compare yourself to others.

“Didn’t [insert idol of envy here] make one of these last event? Hers was sooooo good! How did she avoid getting hot glue all over her roses? Why didn’t her bodice binding wibble and wobble like a top after happy hour?”

“Maybe no one will notice…”

Historical costuming can sometimes feel like a championship ball game with hypercritical referees blowing the whistle on everything from color choice to the number of stitches used.

I’m sorry, ma’am, but those balls do not appear to meet FIFA regulations.

 Since I costume for pleasure, not perfection, I’m not one to bother too much with such things, but comments about it do still strike a nerve. There are certain eras I’ve been very hesitant to wander into because there are so many scholars and reenactors in the period that anything short of perfection will bring a vicious hailstorm of unwanted commentary down on your head.  I do my research and I do my best, which is all I need, but whether that meets other people’s needs is out of my control. I’ve struggled with it for years (indeed, it’s what inspired me to start this blog in the first place). Worrying about whether my costume is “acceptable” interrupts many a project halfway through. I question my trim choices, my pattern choices, my life choices…

But at the root of all this isn’t a lack of funding, skill, or approval. It’s myself. I am a chronic worrywart, people-pleaser, and penny pincher. And it’s strange, but while all of those things seem to limit me, they are also what drives me forward. Sometimes you’ve gotta turn that frustration, anger, and fear into butt-whooping motivation!


Some people find sewing relaxing, therapeutic, and simple. However, maybe you like wearing costumes, but don’t really care for the sewing. That’s okay. Sewing isn’t sunshine and roses all the time. It can be boring and maddening. I’ve been a reluctant seamstress on many projects just because I’ve gotten flat-out tired of ripping out seams or having to re-cut a pattern piece after the cat/beast decided it tasted delicious.

If you sit around waiting for perfection to fall in your lap, 99% of the time, you will be sorely disappointed. You’ve got to rumple that perfect fabric, slice it, dice it, and stitch it back up again the best way you know how, historically/technically sound or not. If rage-sewing is what gets you through, do it! Safety pin what doesn’t work later.

K-Stew’s got you covered!

To activate my Super Stubborn Sewing Powers, I motivate myself by identifying my catch points throughout a project–the places where all motivation sputters and disappears and sewing ceases to be fun– and use them to break my project up into stages.

Catch point number one is cutting into that precious fabric. I make sure that I do all my pattern cutting at once. No going back!
Next, I sew the skirt to get it out of the way (unless I’m making a one-piece dress. Then I’m kinda stuck doing it last).
I actually really enjoy sewing bodices, but I hate sleeves. After putting together the bodice, I might take a week or two to get the sleeves the way I want. In my opinion, sleeves can make or break an outfit, so I feel justified taking my time.

I’m sure you’ll find similar catch points in your sewing. If you can identify them and work around them, you’ll find the process goes much quicker. Everybody has sticking points, including Mrs./Mr. Perfect. Even if you’re not a naturally competitive person, self-depreciation can be a huge hurdle to pushing a project forward. If you start hearing the nagging voice of insecurity or ridicule invading your head, channel it! Oh, so I think I can’t sew stretch jersey? SUCK IT STRETCH JERSEY! YOU JUST BEEN SEWN!
Critics and critiques are great motivation, even if they were rude and unwanted. I don’t have the will power to simply brush off such jabs. They sting! Don’t be afraid to be capricious in response. If you encounter an obstacle that can’t be plowed through, find another way around, but boop it on the head first to establish dominance:

If none of that works, well, you can always write a blog post about it later…



16 Responses to “If You Don’t Try, You Can’t Fail”

  1. Helen Fratena Says:

    What are you doing inside my head!? You mean I’m not the only one with these thoughts? As long as I don’t cut into that fabric, the garment is still perfect in my head. Reality is less than perfect. Catch points, eh? Yes, probably.

  2. Jen Thompson Says:

    I love this – so much is true for me too! Here I was just moaning over my summer ending and how I didn’t sew half of the projects that I meant to sew. And so much of it was just because I couldn’t make myself start.

    A friend of mine has a wonderful saying when she is working on stuff – “fail faster!” We are always going to mess up. We just have to learn to face those failures and get past them quickly so we can learn from them move on to the next stage.

  3. Beth Says:

    Ugh. I needed this today. I’m working towards my first 1880’s ensemble, and I’m terrified of the bodice, so I’m dragging my feet on all the other pieces (undergarments, skirts) so I can put off starting the bodice as long as possible.

    But today I’m going to cut out an overskirt! As soon as I get off the couch…

  4. Gaynor Says:

    Made my day – thank you

  5. My name is Artemisia Moltabocca and I’m a procrastinating costumer. Thank you for sharing the mirror. Time for me to start that 1840s outfit, and the 1810s outfit, and the tailored jacket out of my expensive shetland tweed, and that World of Warcraft armor, and….GAH! *breathe* (Note to self: this is a catch point)

  6. What you wrote is so what I am… Plenty of projects that didn’t see the light of the day because I’m afraid of failing on them. 4 years ago, I worked on a cosplay that took me 1 full year to be complete. I made it because I felt I have to, so I worked very hard on it. But in the end, it was a fail. Not a full fail because it was not so bad after all for a big costume (it was Mistress of Pain from Diablo3), but a fail for me because I felt I should work harder on many things for it to work (the legs were just a complete mess). After that con, I didn’t sew for at least 8 months because I couldn’t stand the simple idea I could fail again, even on a easier costume. Maybe it sounds stupid. Sometimes I can move on and create others things. But sometimes it doesn’t work and I have to wait before I can do anything else.
    I’m not afraid about some kind of projects (after all, I’ve made some corsets, petticoats, complicated embroideries, all for cosplay or not), but the single idea of failing at something I want to success in/be pretty can block me for a long time. And that, I think I can’t really fight again

    (sorry for the typos I’ve made; English is not my mothertongue, but I try to improve it ^^)

    • Liz Says:

      Wow! Mistress Pain is an intense cosplay and even if you weren’t completely happy with the legs, I can admire your bravery at tackling such a project! Multiple legs are tough in any case and hers are mechanically intense. I have also had my share of failures as well (For example, I haven’t attempted to make an Elizabethan dress after a hideous experience years ago). However, after trying other things with moderate success, I have slowly rebuilt my confidence. With a few small victories behind me, I am starting to see what went wrong and what I can do to fix it. It also helps that I have “lowered” my standards, so to speak: I’ve stopped looking for perfection and started to see that what I make should be fun. I’ve also started to look outside the conventional avenues of creation and began experimenting with different materials, patterns, and even what the costume is in the first place. Maybe I will ready to re-tackle my Elizabethan project soon, but this time I will do it my way, and I know you’ll find your inner Sewing Hulk again soon! :)

  7. Margaret Rose Says:

    I will come over for coffee one day, and tell you the story of the Professional Seamstress and the Royal Coronation Dress that Almost Didn’t get Made, for all the reasons you pointed out. Even a pro gets nerves now and then.

  8. kylla Says:

    I don’t recall writing this post….
    Thank you for not making me feel that I’m the only one that does this. :)

  9. This is so true… I’ve been guilty of this kind of thing lately as well. And I have several projects that need completing, which wouldn’t be very difficult. I just…. shy away and stay on the computer till my brain goes numb.
    Sometimes I despise myself.

    • Liz Says:

      Same here. I have two skirts that need to be done, but I HATE cartridge pleating with a passion (well, doing them. The final effect is nice). If it was just for me, I wouldn’t worry so much, but one dress is for someone else and I hate making them wait. :(
      It’s so much easier to look at more “examples” than do the actual work. DARN YOU PINTEREST!

  10. Alison Says:

    This is a great post, and EXACTLY what I needed to see today. (Or rather, tonight.) I hope you find yourself on a creative and productive streak soon, and I hope that an amazing job is waiting for you on the near horizon.

    Thank you too for the notice about the Regency Wedgie Society! I laughed at that for a bit longer than strictly necessary. :)

  11. valarielynn Says:

    Knowing certain parts of a costume are my hardest to do keep me from finishing many projects. Right now there are three hanging here staring at me, and something is keeping me from picking them up. I have lots of beautiful fabrics waiting to be made into *something*, even tho at the time I purchased them I knew exactly what they were meant to be and the price was great. I find it’s so much easier to buy pretty fabrics than get them made. So that’s my confession.
    I have a sign hanging over my computer that says “10am Start Sewing”.

  12. Liz Says:

    I’m so glad you’ve been inspired to pursue a project! A crafting community website sounds interesting. I’m currently on Etsy and have used eBay in the past. I even dabbled in Artfire and WePay, but I, too have been having trouble freelancing to support myself while traditional employment eludes me. Do you have a facebook page? It is much essier to converse there than through WordPress comments.

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