When you can’t start stitching: fear of mistakes

Here’s another post in my series on sewing, stitching, creativity and inspiration, where I’m looking at the way that sewing and stitching of all kinds can affect mental health, mood and well-being – both positively and negatively. This is about my explorations and experience, rather than any expertise I have (I don’t!), so I’d LOVE to read your feedback, comments and thoughts in response to these posts.

It was fantastic to read your replies to my first post about the power of setting limits in your stitching as a way of getting started when you are too overwhelmed by ideas. This time round I am going explore how fear of making mistakes can impair creativity, and share some ideas and possibilities for reducing the power this fear can have over us.

A header image with the words unlocking your creativity. Used as the title image for series on creativity, stitching, sewing and inspiration

Why do people stress about sewing?

Helen, commenting on my previous post about creativity, mentioned that it is strange that people get so stressed about sewing and stitching when it supposed to be a fun and relaxing hobby. It *is* weird that that happens to some of us, I agree, but the reasons aren’t difficult to figure out.

Getting stuff right makes us feel great.

Those wonderful smiles from our approving parents…. praise from our school teacher…. For some of us this can become just a little bit addictive and doing well, doing good work, getting perfect marks, can become a lifelong dedication.

‘The way to succeed in life is to never make any mistakes’

Worse than the addictive feeling of being right, or being the best, we also associate making mistakes with personal failure. In her excellent TED Talk ‘On Being Wrong’, Kathryn Schulz shows a picture of a quiz paper covered in mistakes and sums up our reactions:

So there you are in grade school, and you know exactly what to think about the kid who got this paper. It’s the dumb kid, the troublemaker, the one who never does his homework. So by the time you are nine years old, you’ve already learned, first of all, that people who get stuff wrong are lazy, irresponsible dimwits — and second of all, that the way to succeed in life is to never make any mistakes.

This is brought home to me every time I teach an Absolute Beginners sewing class. The fearful faces! The shaky hands! The fear of things going wrong! We start the class with some deep breaths and a reminder that it’s ok to make mistakes because they are part of the learning process. So, that’s my first tip…

There are good things about mistakes….

 

…Focus on the learning

When you’re learning something new, it’s not a mistake, it’s practice. Even if it goes very badly wrong, you will have learned something. Here’s an aphorism attributed to Mark Twain (aren’t they all?!):

Good judgement is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgement.

You can’t get good at something without bad experiences along the way. But you can minimise the likelihood of mistakes and their effects – a bit like having dual-controls in the car when you are learning to drive. Here are some possibilities:

Start small… I love the idea of taking small steps to success. Want to learn how to Free Motion Quilt? Don’t start with a complicated feather pattern on a full-sized quilt. Like to learn dressmaking? Maybe don’t go for the tailored trousers and wool fabric that frays like a demon.

Make small steps to success!

Start small, start achievable, do some practice on cheap fabric, watch some videos, go to a class or do one online, get some advice from an online group. Whatever works for you.

And if you’re the sort of person (like me on a good day!) who hates this kind of advice and wants to crack straight on with the tailored trousers, good on you – go for it! But you are going to have to adopt a fairly philosophical approach to bodges, mess-ups and downright disasters.

Picture showing how I messed up the stitching of a bag to illustrate point about how mistakes can be bodged
My attempt at a cross body bag with an inset zip. My method made stitching the lining into the bag really tricky, so I had to bodge it with some dodgy hand-stitching that I worry about every time I use the bag!

…Focus on the making

We stitch and sew because we enjoy the lovely finishes, but also (more importantly?) we enjoy the process of creating. Enjoying the colours and prints of beautiful fabrics, appreciating the textures of different yarns, relaxing into the rhythm of stitching, thinking about the friends we are making for, daydreaming about our next project, as we work. Enjoy the journey. Don’t fret too much if you take a wrong turning. It might be a dead end…it might be a lovely detour…it might be a wonderful shortcut!

If remembering to stay in the present and just enjoy the making is hard, be kind to yourself and make good decisions about which project to pick up if you are already feeling stressed. Personally I always turn to crochet or chunky hand-stitching when it’s important to just lose myself in the rhythm. Working with colours and patterns that we love can be so soothing.

Playful pink crochet flower in the making
Playful crochet flower in the making

I confess to struggling with this. Having been brought up by folks thoroughly schooled in the Protestant Work Ethic who believed that you always need to do the bad stuff before you get to the good (homework before TV, finish the veggies before you get ice cream), my default is always, ugh, I must finish this really tricky bag constructions before I can make a crochet flower. I am learning to be nicer to myself – and if you have had a similar upbringing, well, this column might change your life.

…Work with the mistakes

This isn’t always going to work but sometimes that mistake can be the bit of grit that makes the pearl in oyster. One of the things about handmade is that your sewing projects can express your individuality and authenticity – and sometimes the mistakes give you a freedom to do that as you work out a solution to salvage a situation.

Small log cabin patchwork pincushion made with Liberty lawn and a crochet edging
When I stitched this pincushion a few years back, I mucked up stitching the edge, so added the crochet lace to hide it – I loved how it turned out.

In Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, Stephen Nachmanovitch uses a French word – bricolage – to express this resourcefulness. Bricolage means making do with the materials you have to hand. He describes a performance situations where everything has gone wrong:

You are forced to do a little bricolage, improvising some new and crazy contraption…. The redirection of attention involved in incorporating the accident into the flow of our work frees us to see the interruption freshly, and find the alchemical gold in it.

To go deeper with this approach – it’s good to contemplate the fact that the hiccuppy, bumpy nature of creativity is a reflection of our lives.  We think one thing is going to happen, we plan for something, all the arrangements are in place, then something else happens instead, and you have to run with it, adapting and doing a bit of bricolage as you go.

So sewing and stitching can be a philosophical life lesson.. and more than that, they can…

…Retrain your brain

So this idea is a bit out there, and is really born out of my experience of living with an annoying anxiety disorder and keeping a reflective cognitive diary. I’m sharing my thoughts in case they ring true for readers out there who’ve had similar experiences…

Making stitchy mistakes gives you the perfect opportunity to work on retraining your brain. How you react to tricky sewing situations is completely within your control. Neuroscience tells us that the brain can learn new ways of thinking more positively about all of life’s little annoyances (more about this in a book review over the next couple of days), and here’s a chance to have a go. At the end of a sewing session that hasn’t gone as well as you would have hoped, take a leaf out of the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy handbook and record your thoughts and feelings, (make notes, it makes a difference – there are loads of apps you can use for this – I use this free app), taking time to reflect on them and get them back into proportion and perspective. Your sewing went wrong, but it’s not a big deal and you’re still a good person. The brilliant thing about this is that if, like me, you live with anxiety, it’s definitely a transferable skill. Learn to accept mistakes made as part of the journey of stitching, and in a small way, the tweaking of those neural pathways means that we are learning to accept mistakes as part of the journey of life.

OK. Phew. That was a lot and has taken me a week, on and off, to write. I’d love to hear what you think!

Bergère de France evening at Hollies Haberdashery

I had a really super evening at the end of last week when I attended An Evening with Bergère de France at Hollies Haberdashery – my lovely local fabric/yarn emporium. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the lure of mulled wine, mince pies, and (most importantly!) yarn was enough to tempt me.

tucking-into-mulled-wine-and-mince-pies
Tucking in!

We were ably guided through the Bergère de France yarn collections by Fiona, the sales rep, who came armed with loads of gorgeous samples, pattern books and ideas! We got to take away a design book and pattern instructions too.

Bergere de France design book.jpg
Design book

I was much taken by this jumper and scarf, both knitted up in lovely Filomeche yarn (a really great quality wool/acrylic mix).

jumper-and-scarf-in-filomeche-yarn
Fair Isle jumper and chunky scarf in Filomeche yarn

But fully aware that my knitting skills would not be up to the task (although I could maybe just about manage the scarf…!) I spent my money on a kit to make a very light and sparkly stole, using Angel (a mohair mix) and Lumiac (a very pretty yarn with sequins).

stole-pattern-using-bergere-de-france-angel-and-lumiac
Beautiful stole kit

It is an aim of mine to improve my knitting skills in 2017 – so it is good to make a start in 2016.. it is going well so far, but still I sit, hunched over my needles – I wonder if more mulled win would help?

It was lovely to be introduced to the different yarns by an expert!

beautiful-bergere-yarns
Bergère de France yarns at Hollies Haberdashery

And with my sewing/crochet hat on (not literally, haha) I was really inspired by some of the accessories that Bergère produce. Here’s a bag made using their faux leather bag pieces:

Faux leather bag with knitting.jpg
Faux leather and yarn tote bag by Bergère de France

My brain started whirring and imagining a bag made with crochet, fabric and faux leather. I also totally loved the stitchable vinyl, made up into this really stylish little pouch:

zippy-pouch-made-with-punched-vinyl
Vinyl zippy pouch by Bergère de France

Again, I really like the idea of combining the vinyl fabric with standard fabric to make big pouches and bags. And how great would a personalized stitched vinyl luggage tag look on a handmade bag?!

Such a fab and inspirational evening, especially at this time of year when I was feeling a bit crafted out. I highly recommended it if you get a chance to attend an event like this near you.

P.S. I attending this as a paying punter rather than on a press freebie – so many thanks to Sarah at Hollies Haberdashery and Fiona from Bergere de France and the other attendees for letting me take some pics, and for a fun evening.

Mini-tutorial: making a brooch back for a crochet or knitted flower

I’m stitching brooch backs on lots of crochet flowers at the moment, in preparation for our Artists and Makers Market: Christmas Edition at Spode in Stoke – I am so looking forward to filling my stall with lots of lovely goodies for our first ever Market at our Studios!

finished-crochet-brooch-2

I like the backs of the flowers to look as pretty as the front, so I make a nice sturdy wool felt base (which really helps the flower to keep its shape, long-term) with a proper brooch back. So inspiration struck for this blog post – if you’re as much of a neat freak as me, here’s my way of putting those final finishing touches to a lovingly crocheted or knitted flower.

It works particularly well with my crochet flower pattern – not surprisingly, but can be modified for all kinds of crochet or knit flowers, as long as they have a flattish back.

Making a felt back for a crochet or knitted flower

You’ll need some wool felt, stranded embroidery floss and a brooch back for this project. Oh yeah, and a crochet flower… Here’s a pdf version if you want a copy of this tutorial to refer to.

Measure the back of your flower and subtract about 1/2 inch.

step-1-for-felt-crochet-back-tutorial

You need to cut 2 circles of felt with the diameter that you’ve calculated. I use freezer paper to mark and cut out the felt – freezer paper will stick temporarily to the felt without marking it, and can be peeled off and used again to make several circles. But if you don’t have any freezer paper handy, don’t worry, you can mark a circle directly on the felt with a soft pencil. For this flower the measurement I used is about 3 inches.

Cut a circle with the required diameter from freezer paper and iron on to the felt.

step-2-for-felt-crochet-back-tutorial

Cut out. Peel off the freezer paper and repeat to make another circle to match.

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Take 3 strands of embroidery floss, thread a needle and make a knot in the end of the thread.

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Bring needle from back of the felt to the front to start.

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Working around the flower, stitch a running stitch about 1/4inch from the edge of the felt, all round, making sure that the stitches catch some of the yarn at the base of the last round of crochet stitches, but also ensuring that the stitches you make can’t be seen on the front of the flower. You don’t need to worry if the stitches are a bit messy, they’ll be covered up later.

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Take the second circle of felt and position the metal brooch back centrally, but slightly towards the top of the circle.

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Mark the felt to indicate either end of the brooch back. Make a cross for the hinged end of the brooch back, and a line for the other end.

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With a sharp pair of embroidery scissors, snip where you have made the marks, then unfasten the brooch back and push the hinge end and the catch end through the felt – the brooch back pin also needs to get fed through the felt. This is how it should look:

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And on the back it will look like this:

step-10-for-felt-crochet-back-tutorial

Stitch into place on the back, making sure that your stitches only go through the top layer of threads in the felt, and don’t show on the front.

step-11-for-felt-crochet-back-tutorial

Here’s how it should look when you are finished:

step-12-for-felt-crochet-back-tutorial

Place over the top of the first piece of felt:

step-13-for-felt-crochet-back-tutorial

Join the two circles of felt with a running stitch (a bit neater this time, because it will be visible on the final brooch), to finish off.

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And so your flower is complete, and ready to wear!

finished-crochet-brooch-3

All the links in this project are to my wonderful sponsors – Cloud Craft. A great shop to go to for all your hand stitching needs, and for wool felt fanatics too.