I recently worked on a quilt project, four placemats for my dad. The fabrics were selected to reflect his experience as a Boy Scout. He was an Eagle Scout, and he worked at a scout camp. One of his duties was to care for a fox on loan from the local zoo. Foxy made a big impression on my dad, so, of course, he had to be part of the quilt.
I used a quilt-as-you-go technique for these mini quilts with two-inch strips set on a 45-degree angle. To keep the pieces straight, I start in the middle and sew to one corner, and then I flip the quilt over and sew from the middle to the opposite corner. I learned the hard way that starting from one side can result in some distortion. 🙁
These went together pretty fast, and the strips covered the batting and the backing fabric almost perfectly. I trimmed the quilts to neat rectangles and then sewed the binding together. For the first time ever, I sewed all the mitered seams correctly without having to redo them! Yes!
Then I started sewing on the binding. This is where I first goofed up. I join the edges of the binding in a mitered seam but miscalculated the overlap, so the binding didn’t match up. Then I noticed an even bigger goof-up: the foxes were upside down.
The backing fabric features the Boy Scout Oath with a definite top to the material, and the eagle fabric was laid out in a particular way as well. When I flipped the quilts to sew from the middle to the left, I flipped the foxes, so they were right side up as I was sewing them. Alas, this rendered them upside down in the finished quilt! Things like this happen to everyone, even experienced sewers, but it’s not fun.
At this point, I just had to get up and walk away.
In the past, this is where I might have abandoned the project. I am sorry to admit that I have been short on grit more than once in my life. But it’s something I have been working on, so the next day I returned to the sewing room to assess the situation. Luckily, the fox fabric is the second strip from the edge so I would only need to remove two pieces. I had plenty of material and even had extra strips cut. I decided to try removing the binding only from the affected corner. I wasn’t sure if this would work but decided it was worth a try.
I pulled out my seam ripper. Actually, I probably have eight seam rippers. It’s a small but indispensable sewing gadget prone to being misplaced. So, I have purchased multiple seam rippers over the years. My Clover 463 seam ripper is probably my favorite. Seam rippers are ingenious tools and helpful for all kinds of sewing and non-sewing related tasks.
I made my corrections in stages, so it wasn’t as frustrating to undo the work that I thought was done. I removed the binding first and then came back twice to remove the two corner pieces. Luckily my first quilt was correct. I always do one as a strip guide when making multiples of the same style. It didn’t work perfectly as a guide, but as I said, these things happen in spite of the precautions that we take to ensure a good outcome.
I ultimately sewed on the new corner strips, trimmed the quilts and sewed on the binding. I hand sew the binding in place as the last step, and I am happy to report that they turned out great.
Mistakes are an inevitable part of the creative process. It helps to have tools in your toolbox to recover from errors and other setbacks, gadgets like my trusty seam ripper.
What are some other tools that can help you handle setbacks?
- An eraser.
- Bleed-proof white opaque watercolor paint from Dr. Ph. Martin.
- Reframe what success looks like. Many innovations are the result of mistakes or happy accidents.
- Call a friend (or a coach!) for encouragement and perspective.
- The Stoics.
- Do deep breathing exercises like the 4-7-8 method.
- Build your grit.
- Read Brave not Perfect by Reshma Saujani.
Mistakes are also an inevitable part of life–not just creative work. It’s a great idea to get good at failing: Acknowledge and label your feelings, don’t label yourself as a failure, and cultivate a sense of humor. Most importantly, remember that failure is an event, not a personality trait.
Fall down seven times, get up eight. You’ve got this.