Sewing fail: How to handle a big sewing mistake

Don’t let a sewing fail steal your sewing joy! With some perspective, you can recover from a big sewing mistake without losing your mojo. Read on for my approach to a sewing fail.

If you sew, you’ve had at least one failed project.  Maybe “failed” is a strong word, but you’ve had at least one project that left feeling as if it had failed.

I had one of those projects just the other day.  It was just a simple zip pouch, something I’ve done countless times.  I know the steps by heart.  But here’s the thing about sewing – we rarely make the exact same project twice.  There’s almost always some new element, some detail we change, even if it’s just fabric choice.  So ultimately most of our sewing projects are experiments.  Usually they work out how we expect them to, but inevitably you’ll have a project that doesn’t come out like you had envisioned.

Sewing fail:  How to handle a big sewing mistake

Anyway, I was making this pouch – a little zip pouch made from an oatmeal wool melton with the most adorable mini Dresden plate on the front.  I took care along each step of the process because this was going to be the sweetest little pouch everrrrrr. 

Everything was rockin’ along on my sewing project until I finished the last step and turned it right side out.  And there they were.  Two ugly bumps on the sides of my pouch.  It turns out that the wool fabric combined with the zipper tabs created too much bulk at the corners. And that bulk ended up as two awkward little ears sticking out from either side of the pouch.  Eeek!

Sewing fail:  How to handle a big sewing mistake

You can only see the one “ear” in this photo, but I promise you it was a very awkward pair.

After fiddling with it for a few minutes, I realized there was just no way I could massage those little ears back into line, no way I could press those side seams to make them not look wonky. 

So what to do now???  What do you do when the project that you started with such high hopes turns out to be a dud?

I’ll tell you what I did.  I walked away.  Just put it down and walked out of the room.  (I’d like to tell you I went and treated myself to a fancy cup of coffee at a trendy coffee spot, but in all honesty I went to my daughter’s school for parent teacher conferences.  How’s that for self care? Ha!)

Walking away from the project for a while will give you perspective.  I don’t know about you, but all flaws in a project seem huge and glaring when I first notice them.  But after I walk away and come back with a clear head, I can see the mistake with fresh eyes.

At this point you’ve three options.

You can fix it.  This is probably the most obvious option.  And not a fun one.  Really, who actually enjoys ripping out work only to go back and do it again.  But… if the flaw is easy to get to, or doesn’t require ripping out too many stitches, just go ahead and fix it.  Now, what constitutes “doesn’t require ripping out too many stitches” varies from person to person.  I have a fairly low threshold for “too many stitches”.  But I also take into consideration how much energy I’ll expend trying not to notice the flaw if I DON’T fix it.  Sometimes it’s easier to just go ahead and fix it, even if it means ripping out a lot of stitches. 

Sewing fail:  How to handle a big sewing mistake

You can leave it as it is.  With a little luck, a bit of perspective will help you realize that the mistake is not the earth-shattering disfiguring mistake that you thought it was when you first saw it.  In the overall totality of a skirt, for example, a little wonkiness at the top of a zipper is not that big of a deal.  After all, you’re gonna cover it anyway with a shirt.  Just let that go and be proud of your skirt!  Or maybe your topstitching (in contrast thread, no less!) on a bag is less than straight.  If it’s not in a spot that’s noticeable, just leave it as is and be proud of your bag!  No one but you will notice and you’ll still get tons of compliments about your pretty bag.  You see where I’m going here? 

You can trash the entire project.  Sometimes, the mistake really is a big enough mistake you can’t leave it as is, and there’s also no practical way to fix it.  If you’re sewing clothing and you’ve cut the pieces on the wrong size or going the wrong direction and you don’t have enough fabric to recut them, it may be best to just throw it away and chalk the project up to a learning experience.

Or maybe it’s fixable but it’ll take, like, a million steps to do that and you’re really not feeling up to that.  That’s okay.  There’s no rule that says you have to keep every sewing project you start. 

Tossing a project can be pretty painful if you’ve got a lot of money invested some nice fabric.  If that’s the case, can you repurpose that fabric?  Maybe a failed top could be a beautiful bag lining or pillow front.  Granted, it’s not the project you set out to make, but it’s better than just tossing the fabric.  On the other hand, don’t feel compelled to keep the fabric just because you can.  If it’s going to bother you to look at the fabric that might have been something else, just toss it in the trash and feel no guilt.

Whatever you decide to do – leave it, fix it, or trash it – your sewing fail is not a “fail” at all if you got something out of it. 

Maybe you didn’t end up with perfection in your finished product, but is that the point of sewing?  Not for me.  I sew because I enjoy it.  And I don’t have to achieve perfection to enjoy the process. 

Maybe you learned something that will help you on future sewing projects.  It takes time, and mistakes, to hone your sewing skills.  In my case, I learned to be more careful of the bulk in the corners of a zip pouch.  Those layers really do add up! 

Maybe the problem wasn’t your sewing skill but the design, and letting go will let you move on to another design that works even better? That’s happened to me more than once. 🙂 I’ve got a whole post all about that here.

So what did I end up doing with that big-eared failed zipper pouch? 

(drumroll please…)

I fixed it.  When I first walked away from it, I told myself that I’d probably just leave it as is.  BUT… when I came back to the project, I STILL found myself trying to adjust the sides so the ears wouldn’t be as noticeable.  That was my sign.  I picked the whooooole thing apart and remade it without the zipper tabs.  There’s still some bulk at the ends of the zipper, but there are no weird lumps.  And now I can look at it and smile at that precious mini Dresden plate design on the front.

Sewing fail:  How to handle a big sewing mistake

Who knows… on another day or another project, maybe I would have decided to just let it go. Deciding what to do with a big sewing mistake is often pretty subjective and based on lots of variables – your personality, your sewing level, the money or time already invested in the project, just to name a few.

That big sewing mistake can be pretty disappointing when you first spot it. But with some perspective, you can recover from it and still feel good about your project – and maybe even look forward to your next sewing experiment.

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6 Comments

  1. Denise February 26, 2019 at 1:16 am

    Once in a while, I have a project that just refuses to be made. It has taken me many years to be able to accept it and move on. But I’ve learned that the most valuable resource I use in sewing is my time!

    Reply
  2. Pat Stoughton February 27, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    Some of mine have ended up in the trash. lol

    Reply
  3. Donna February 28, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    I am a determined beginner, learning mostly from the Universities of YouTube, Google and Pinterest. I make mistakes on nearly every project, so I’m learning to love my seam ripper lol. Yesterday I was making a simple sunglasses case and got ahead of myself – completely leaving out an important step. Frustrated with myself, I tossed it in the garbage. Then retrieved it and decided to try again. One thing I decided to do was start a journal. Writing down tips I’ve learned, what went well and not so well, etc. Thanks for sharing your project – it’s nice to see real issues sometimes rather than just all the perfectly executed, finished projects.

    Reply
    1. Orange Bettie March 13, 2019 at 3:29 pm

      Oh, I love this idea!! I’ve been sewing for nearly 20 years and I’m still learning new things with each project. The “mistakes” are the spots where I’ve learned something new. –Anne

      Reply
  4. Noreen March 5, 2019 at 5:41 pm

    I thought it was cute with the “ears”. If it isn’t easily fixed, I try to find a way to love it as it is. Or I donate it – I can’t bear to waste things!

    Reply
    1. Orange Bettie March 13, 2019 at 3:23 pm

      Thanks so much! Donating is also a great idea!! I’ve done that with clothes I’ve made that just don’t fit or flatter. They’ll fit someone else, just not me.

      Reply

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