Have you ever had a project that went wrong from the start and disaster kept dogging your steps?
Yeah. Me, too. Reading my blog, you may think all my projects are disasters. This is not true! I swear! It only looks that way. I have had many successful projects, but I tend to blog about things that go wrong because I learned something important from those less-than-perfect experiences, and because I think there’s a need to hear about other people whose lives haven’t been edited for presenting a perfect version to the world..or at least the part of it that’s online. We all like to hide our flaws, but I think there is something to be said for showing the world the real life where things aren’t quite so airbrushed and edited.
It’s funny how we tend to focus on our failures in private and our successes in public.
Failure is the ladder we climb to reach success. It’s how we learn things, how we create our brains with new neural pathways, and how we learn to manage risk when we grow up. Failure shapes us. It is the tool that we use to become something better than we are.
Failure is not necessarily the end of something, either. I have seen a lot of posts in the comments on other blogs about failed projects that were thrown away, “wadders” deemed useless because they didn’t fit. I noted how discouraged it made their owners feel. Sometimes they gave up after an experience like that, avoiding that pattern or that type of garment for the foreseeable future. Sometimes they blamed themselves for failing, focusing on the perfect image they didn’t achieve instead of what the failure had to teach them.
Today, I want to tell you about a big failure of mine and how it changed into a success with lots of trying (and more failing) until I conquered it.
About five years ago, I began work on a dress in robin’s egg blue pique, using Lisette Patterns’ Traveler dress, the version c with the collar and the gathered skirt. I had a lot of trouble with it because I was very much a novice and had never tried anything so complex before. It was a project with more pieces than I’d ever done; it had a button placket, gathered sleeves with sleeve bands, a gathered skirt, an invisible zipper, a collar and darts. Whoa, that was a big leap from my first five projects, which were easy beginner grade. I’ve never been one to be intimidated by starting something hard when I’m learning, so of course I jumped in knowing virtually nothing.
Predictably, just about everything went wrong from the start. The fabric got caught in the machine frequently. I think I was probably using the wrong thread tension and maybe the wrong needle, too. It took me a while to realize universal needles are not entirely universal, which was a big disappointment to me since I thought I was good to go with anything. After all, it said universal on the package, and that’s what universal means, right? Nope! Then I discovered much later that one size needle isn’t right for every project, either. So off to the store I went to get some more needles..this time in multiple sizes.
This fabric also frayed a lot, and that did not go well for me because I didn’t know about french seams or finishing with bias tape then. Between my messed up thread tension and the fraying that caused all that seam ripping and catching fabric, I did some damage to the fabric. I ripped out more seams, reworked, found it too tight, ripped yet more seams and tried again. What a nightmare!
It gets worse: I then installed the invisible zipper wrong, not once, but twice. It was rough going, and only my third zipper ever. I finally got close to finishing it and then…my life got really complicated as I navigated the scary world of divorce…those were some dark times. The dress, forgotten in the midst of my troubles, was abandoned.
When I did begin work on my project again, it was 2013. I was now single, much happier, more experienced with sewing, and the dress didn’t fit right. Which I thought was something I’d fixed before, but evidently, no, it wasn’t! Worse than not fitting right was that it wasn’t at all flattering. The color was great, but the dress itself just wasn’t working for me. I looked like a reject from Little House on the Prairie! That dress had PROBLEMS. It was short waisted and I am not. The shoulders were both too tight and off by a few inches. The collar and sleeve bands were too tight and uneven. Ugh! I couldn’t comfortably lift my arms, let alone cross them without cutting off the circulation somewhere. But it wasn’t really the pattern that made it fail, it was my choices and inexperience that made it fail.
Obviously, I should have made some adjustments for my longer waist, checked the collar width against my neck, and not gathered the sleeves quite so tightly, while also placing them closer to the neckline to allow for my narrow shoulders. I know all that now, in large part because of that failed dress.
Recently, I made the Traveler dress again, in version b, with a completely different fabric and using what I learned from round 1 of my fight with version c. It came out much better. In fact, I love the new version. It’s a relaxed, breezy shirt dress in a plum bamboo rayon that I can wear with leggings and a sweater on cool days, or just by itself with cute shoes on warmer ones.
Amazing, huh? That just goes to show that the right fabric and right pattern with fitting adjustments taken into consideration early in the process makes a successful project, which I learned through failure.
What to do about the pique dress that didn’t work? There was no help for those fitting issues at that point, so I made the painful decision to cut it apart. It was hard to admit all that work and frustration wasn’t going to get me a dress. I laid all the pieces out, plus my scraps, and sighed heavily. There was enough for a dress, but it was in pieces now and it had to be carefully reworked. I felt the reworking it needed might be beyond my capacity for self-inflicted torture, so I put it away. I would get it out again much later, thinking, maybe a sundress? I cut a few pieces, but I didn’t like it with the pattern I was using and I felt the skirt wouldn’t work after all. It was going to end up too narrow and it was going to be another failure. I could tell. Once again, I put it away in defeat.
Some more time passed, and when Colette Patterns released the Dahlia dress, I felt a glimmer of hope. I began to consider the sundress version, especially after making a flannel version with raglan sleeves for winter. If I made a few minor adjustments, I could rescue my dress. I could reincarnate it! I didn’t need sleeves and I could cut the skirt pieces to make a slightly narrower version from the pattern. The bodice was simple and easy to squeeze out of the leftover fabric. I very, very carefully put it together and managed to make a good dress this time. I used french seams on the inside, and finished the outer edges with bias tape as the pattern suggests, so there will be no more fraying. Hooray!
There are a couple of sections with snags in the fabric from the stress of reworking it so much. I covered some imperfections with more trim, creating a pleasingly pretty effect at the skirt hem with multiple ribbon bands. The rest of the snags are in less obvious places, like near seams or on the inside where the aren’t visible.
There was one I couldn’t entirely work around, right along the vertical grain of the left side skirt panel. It was kind of obvious, and it bothered me. When I tried the dress on in the mirror, I stared at that snag, wondering “How obvious is it? Would anyone notice?” I decided if I noticed it every time I wore the dress, that might be a problem. I had to remind myself this was a style opportunity, not a big, ugly, stupid beginner mistake.
How do you cover up a long, ugly snag in an obvious spot?
I tried playing with some applique, but it seemed that applique was just going to make the dress a lot busier than it already was with my six inches of ribbon above the hem. More ribbon trim was out anyway, because I used it all. Something less attention-getting, then. Something that could blend. Maybe a pocket?
I had some material left, so why not? Style opportunity! Even better, a style opportunity I could put my keys in. Ever notice how women’s clothes either don’t have pockets where you need them or have teeny little bitty pockets you can’t even fit your credit card and car keys into? I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just don’t want to lug a purse around-even a small one! They get in the way.
Give me pockets any day.
Patterns: Colette Patterns’ Dahlia, Lisette Patterns’ Traveler Dress.
Fabric: baby blue pique, plum rayon woven, respectively
Needle: 80 for Dahlia and 70 for Traveler
Difficulty: moderate. Fitting the bodice is a little challenging on the sleeve version on Dahlia. Traveler has a placket and was a little challenging because I’m not great at buttons.
Would I make it again? Heck yeah. I made two Dahlias already and I love my Traveler.