On Failure

Well, hello there! I have something very awkward to confess to you. And that’s that I don’t have anything worthwhile to show you at the moment. So I’m going to talk to you about project failure.

Project failure is one of those things that anyone who crafts will run into from time to time, and it’s always unpleasant. A project can start out well enough, with a clear idea in mind, and a general plan of attack, and can turn into a total fiasco by the end. And that’s what happened to me for Tutorial #5, the Not-So-Baggy Baggy Shirt.

See, I had this concept in mind. I love wearing men’s shirts. I love their comfort and their androgyny and the length. But being a girl with some boobage, wearing a baggy shirt usually means that when I wear a man’s shirt, it falls straight down from the boobs and makes me look frumpy, not charming. So I wondered if I could put in some subtle tailoring that would make a shirt still look baggy, while not actually being so. My great hope was that I would be able to wear the shirt as a dress, with leggings and boots.

My project started out promisingly enough. I decided to take in each side of a men’s XL shirt about…two inches, for a total of eight inches taken in (total of four on the front, total of four on the back, you know?) I sewed along that line, and the shirt fit a little better, but it was still baggy in the back–and furthermore, the armpits puckered now, with this weird bunch of fabric that didn’t seem to know what to do with itself.

Fair enough, sleeves, I thought to myself. I tried to pin them on the inside while looking on the outside and watching for puckers, trying to make a smooth line. 

(Believe it or not, this is what impotent fury looks like: a bunchy shirt.)

I tried that on, and it looked a little bit better, but the shirt was still baggy. Then I tried taking it in at the back so that it would fan out above and below the waist.

Well, that just made other issues. Eventually I threw the shirt down in frustration, realizing that shirt construction is incredibly complicated and that tailors are a little insane.

But I didn’t walk away from this experience with a complete and total loss. In fact, I learned some things which I feel I can pass along to you, the reader at home. Hopefully you’ll be wiser than I. Failure is inevitable from time to time, but you can minimize your forehead-slapping and bouts of depression with these handy tips.

  • KNOW YOUR SKILL LEVEL. This doesn’t mean never try anything new. But if you’re embarking on something you’ve never done before, look for some directions. Think an extra minute before you sew or cut or mark or strike that first hammer blow. Ask a friend if what you’re doing seems sound, even if they don’t know anything. Just the act of explaining can often turn up unexpected problems.
  • DRAW A DIAGRAM. Even if you can’t draw. Use all of your brain to examine the problem, not just verbal reasoning and in-your-head planning.
  • MEASURE TWICE. If you’re about to cut something, or break something, or irreparably change something, take one last look. If it’s clothing, try it on your body. If you’re smashing up pottery, take a last check around the Internet to make sure it’s not priceless. You get the idea.
  • Finally, DON’T PANIC. This is the most important rule. If something goes wrong and you’re starting to get flustered, walk away for a little while. Not forever, of course, but give the problem 24 hours or so. Read a book, ride a bike. Come back when you’re not convinced that this is a devastating failure.

So, is there a happy ending to the story of the shirt? Well, sorta. I’m in my 24-hour cool-down period. Tomorrow I’m probably going to pick out the stitches and make something else, or try a different approach to the same project. We’ll see how that works out. Until then, I’m giving myself a day to revel in my other successes–for example, acceptance into the Susquehanna Review, a wicked awesome literary journal. Not that I’m bragging or anything. Er. Yes.

Anyway, failure. Failure is going to happen when you try to make stuff for yourself, more often if you’re new, but throughout your life regardless. And failure sucks. But it doesn’t have to be the end of your materials. Remember, if all else fails, if the project is too frustrating to look at ever again, don’t be a jerk. Recycle. And by that, I mean smash your project to pieces and use them for something else. It’s surprisingly therapeutic.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Meg C.
    Jun 15, 2010 @ 12:26:01

    Have you thought about adding either tucks or darts to your shirt? They’d probably make it look more like an oversized women’s shirt, but they’d also give you the fit you’re looking for without bunching the armholes or doing anything weird like that.

    By the way, I am enjoying your blog, and I envy how many neat things you’ve already made this summer.


    • thecraftersmanifesto
      Jun 15, 2010 @ 21:50:12

      I tried pinning in some darts but decided not to sew them because I thought they gave the shirt too much of a “feminine” look. I wanted to go with mostly straight lines…while curving at the same time…really, the project was ill-advised. 🙂 P.S. Thanks! I’ve been feeling super-productive.


      • Meg C.
        Jun 16, 2010 @ 17:51:13

        Yeah, I can imagine that darts would create that kind of problem. I do like tucks, though. They can create some interesting effects with volume and might not look quite as typically feminine as darts, but I’m not certain. I’m sure you’ll figure something out, though. :3

  2. Derrick Douglass :: ChiefRemixOlogist :: ThriftStoreRemix
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 10:38:02

    A great and timely post.

    I recently wrote about failure on my blog :: http://thriftstoreremix.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/learning-the-hard-way-by-derrick-douglass

    Since each piece I create is new and original, project failure is a factor that is always omnipresent. Interestingly, it is the propensity of failure that makes my art and home furnishings exciting and original.

    Thankfully, I have accepted that failure is a great thing. Failure and success are both teachers so long as I listen to and learn from the lessons. My failures have given me new skills, taught me how not to do things and when to give up.

    Failure is good. Let’s embrace it and keep on movin.

    Derrick Douglass :: ChiefRemixOlogist


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