If You Don’t Try, You Can’t Fail

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?”

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.

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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!

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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:

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

*guilty*

 Now, BACK TO WORK!

A Sampling of Sample Books: Organizing “The Stash”

Sample Books

I don’t really have a unfinished sewing project suitable for challenge #2 of HSF, but I do have a new year’s resolution to work on. Even though I’m not the best seamstress, I hoard fabric as though there is a shortage. Not only are there too many beautiful fabrics out there to count, they are also infinitely handy. I’ve wrapped packages, repaired rips, lengthened skirts, made all sorts of pillows for impromptu guests, wadded fabric up to pad certain *ahem* areas that didn’t quite fill out as they should, and tacked up raw yardage in many a dorm or apartment that wouldn’t allow screws in the walls for curtain rods. All this fabric collecting means that my closet is filled with scraps, samples, remnants, and miles of random fabric, much of which I have lost track of. As fun as it is to go treasure hunting through the pile, sometimes I wish I was organized enough to know what fabrics I have in what quantities. Oh, the frustration of finding the perfect stashed fabric only to run one half-yard short!

It appears modern clothing designers have been having the same fabric-shortage problem, too.

You can bin, label, and stack fabric to keep it tidy, but what about creating an easy-to-access list so you don’t have to fling open the closet doors and rifle through storage tubs just to see if you have 5 yards of chartreuse taffeta? Computer databases offer one way to organize your collection, but even with pictures, computers can’t always capture the true nature of fabric, which is very tactile.

I bought this fabric from online. It’s actually more blue than the picture and heavier than it looks (if a fabric can “look heavy”).

Enter the sample book! Long before computers, people relied on swatch and sample books to organize and buy fabric.

Fabric Sample Book, circa 1763-1764

Swatches are exceptionally useful since you can touch them them and view the coloring in different lighting (which is very important for some fabrics, like the shifty faux silk above). Sample books also make referencing really easy. It’s much easier to flip through book pages than diving into the bulk of the collection, especially if you are a seamtress or tailor who serves clients not quite as passionate about fabrics as yourself!

Fabric Sample page, circa 1763

Sample books have been around for a very long time. Most began popping up in the 18th century when fabric weaving was becoming more commercial. Sample books really took off during the Victorian era when the industrial revolution hit and bigger, more complex gowns came back into fashion again. Prints and woven patterns were often grouped by fabric type, color, or style so comparisons could be made directly between fabrics. Even with spiffy little drawings and thorough descriptions, it’s hard to judge a fabric by an antique catalog print!

The conundrum of trying to prove this point by showing you pictures of sample books is rather amusing, but at least the effect of  their bright colors compared to the black and white print of early catalogs is undeniable!

Geometric Sample Book, circa 1855
Check out that Einstein wave pattern one. Who would have thought such a Star Trek worthy print would be 150 years old? Someone needs to Steampunk this, pronto!

Cotton Samples Book, circa 1850-1915

Silk Dress Samples Book, circa 1890-1900

Tie Silk Sample Book, early 20th century

Not all sample books were for fabric alone. Early sample books were more like sampler books, documenting an individual artisan’s skills and wares, like this embroidery book full of monochrome embroidery designs that would have been applied to the shirts, chemises, cuffs, and collars of the wealthy:

Embroidery Sample Book, early 17th century

A more unusual sample book this sentimental hair-token book made by Ann Elizabeth Brubaker:

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Hair Keepsake Book, circa 1854

This example is a cross between a sample book and an album. Elizabeth filled the pages with fancily woven and shaped locks of hair from her friends and family, a common pastime in 19th century Europe and America just like scrapbooking is today.

I decided to start a sample book for my fabric stash after I vowed to clear out clutter for my New Year’s resolution. I bought a plain-page, leather bound journal from Hobby Lobby for $8 to use as my base book.

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The elastic band is really handy because the fabric samples add plenty of thickness to the book, so it needs a little help staying shut. It’s about 10 inches long, so it’s small enough that I can carry it around to the fabric store to match things (Yes, I am that obsessive of a collector. Still working on the actual “finish the project” part, though).

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Antique sample books glued the samples down and were more permanent, making them great references for modern costumers. That’s one way to make a sample book, but I use mine for organizational purposes, so my book has to reflect what I actually own. Otherwise, I’d end up getting excited over a swatch only to feel the burn of disappointment, which my new sample book should help prevent. Since I’m not a big department store with a steady, huge amount of one fabric that will last forever, I mounted my samples with loops of scotch tape so I can move them around to see if they match things or remove a sample that I’ve used up. I make labels on cardstock and tape them in the same way so as the stash changes, my labels can change, too, without damaging the pages.

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If it’s relatively flat, it can be put into a book. Even some trims and ribbons can benefit from being “booked.” Bear in mind, however, that whatever you add to the pages will bulk up the thickness of the book. A sample book may get thick enough it gets tough to close. If your stash is even more prodigious than mine, it may be wise to take the organization a step further and create separate books in categories that match the personality of your stash like “Silks” or “5 yards+” or “Williamsburg Projects” or “WALMART.”

(my whole stash would pretty much fit that last category)

Happy Crafting!