I’ve been ruminating again on process.  How sewing is all about process.  How I abhor process and yet keep picking activities where process is the main theme.  And it got me to thinking about how I would rather skip from A to Z without learning about all the letters between.  Z being an expert sewist who makes no mistakes and never has a wadder. 

Although I intellectually understand that mistakes are learning experiences, I still want to be the person who never makes a mistake.  The one who never creates a wadder. 

But what if we reframe the term wadder so that it has a positive meaning rather than a negative one.  What if we thought of wadders as badges of honor.  As proof that we have learned something along the way.  As proof that we took some risks, that we had faith in our abilities.  I look at Carolyn who recently stepped out of her TNT comfort zone and tried a new pattern.  She didn’t like her first dress with this new pattern (although I thought it looked fab), but she’s already changed the pattern and is going to try it again. 

I have always feared failure and wadders, sewing ones or otherwise.  You see, I’m a perfectionist.  Perfectionists don’t like mistakes.  I once told a mentor of mine that I couldn’t possibly be a perfectionist because I wasn’t perfect yet.  As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized that I was one.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not a perfectionist in every part of my life.  I do pick and choose my battles.  High on my list is loading the dishwasher perfectly, but my apartment is far from neat.  I will settle for a zipper slightly off at the top, but not at the bottom.  I will jury rig a lining so that it won’t show below the hem of the fashion fabric, but take a finished garment completely apart to fix it. 

But what does perfectionism do for you?  For me?  Nothing good.  The bad it creates (anxiety, fear, disappointment), cannot be good for me.  In fact, it’s what holds me back.  It’s why I am so slow to start each new project.  It’s why I procrastinate.  It’s why I hired my teacher Thea.  I wanted her there for every project, each step of the way, so I wouldn’t ever have a wadder. 

What is there to be afraid of though?  Am I going to let my perfectionism or negativism stop me from learning?  From progressing from a beginner level to a couture level (who knows if I will ever get to that level, but I will keep trying)?

So, I am going to reframe my sewing world.  I am going to be positive.  I am going to embrace wadders for what they are, as pieces from which I learn a lot, like what not to do or how to do it better. There’s enough negativity inherent with sewing when you throw body image into every aspect, from fitting your patterns to what size you are in pattern sizing.  Why make a learning experience a negative thing? 

What do you think?  This is the question of the day.  Should we reframe the term wadder?  What should we call it?

Happy wadding everyone!

20 responses to “Reframing

  1. Are you my long lost twin? We seem to share several of the same issues; perfectionism is something that holds me back too. What’s worse is that I often try to make excuses for it.

    I think from now on I’m going to call all my wadders “learning experiences”….and I’m sure to have LOTS of experience by the end of the year. LOL!

  2. I think the only way to improve sewing is to be brave, try new techniques and just dive in and do it. Of course thinking that and acting on it are two different things so I can totally relate to your post.

  3. You know what? Recently I realised that I have very very few real “wadders.” Lots of “it’s OK, wearable, but not love” items but very few wadders. I think it’s because like you, I’ve realised sewing is a process, but that failure is not the end of it. Failure just means “try something different.” As a result, I do a little looking around, a little re-sewing, an alteration or two here and there – and with perserverance I can almost always get something wearable at the end. The thing to realise when it’s not working, is not to abandon it, but change tack.

  4. I agree with pretty much everything you said. I also think that activities like sewing invite perfectionistic personalities – if you didn’t want your clothing “just so”, why bother? My perfectionism rears its head when I don’t even get up the nerve to start a project for the fear of messing up (the trench coat is in serious danger of being such a project!). My solution is two-fold: sew something simple where I truly don’t mind messing up (or not a lot), such as a bag or, mostly, children’s garments. And, start sewing before I realize how large and difficult the project is.

  5. Great post Elizabeth. I can sooooo relate to what you say. Like you I am afraid of making mistakes. Over the years things I have done have usually come easily to me e.g. playing sport, school studies etc. I thought that either I could do something or I couldn’t and I never persevered with things I couldn’t do. Sewing has actually taught me how to learn i.e. to practice and learn through mistakes and I am slowly realising that I can tackle bigger and more complex projects. Like Marynanna, I also realise that through tweaking and problem solving I have turned “mistakes” into wearable items.

  6. These are very good thoughts! I’m quite new to sewing, so lots of mistakes to my credit (!) but I have learnt from each one what to do differently the next time around.

  7. Oh thank you for this post because that is exactly how I feel! My very first attempt was a wadder and has left me scared to start anything else in case I ruin it again. I hate, hate, hate making mistakes and, like you, want to hit Z straight away.

    I’m procrastinating about a shirt I started to make, I worry that I won’t cut along the edges of the pattern properly and that will ruin it. I worry that the pins will leave marks in the fabric or will tear the pattern. I worry I won’t be able to put it together. I worry most of all that I’ll fail. Again.

    But you’re absolutely right and I’m going to start looking at the failures as lessons rather than a negative thing. And I’m going to stop putting it off and finish cutting out this shirt!

  8. Great post! I think I used to be much more of a perfectionist. Over the years I’ve gotten more daring and now I’m mostly happy to jump in and try something (although a really nice piece of fabric still scares me.) A couple things that help me are working on projects that I’m not too invested in, reminding myself that its only fabric and if I mess something up I have an excuse to get more, and rewarding myself just for the number of things I complete (I love making lists of the things I’ve made— makes me feel much better than listing the things I think about making but don’t.) I guess that’s my way of making my mistakes into “badges of honor.” Oh, another thing that helps me is to put the garment away for a while and take it out again later. I’m often disappointed right when I finish something because it isn’t exactly what I had hoped. It takes me a little while away from it to notice the things I do like.

  9. This write up is spot on for sewing and for life.

  10. Sewista Fashionista

    The term wadder does somehow sum up the frustration you feel. You can change the term but it will still make you mad when something you have worked on doesn’t work out.

    Like spottedroo I put my wadders away for awhile. I pull them out later and find:

    I have been totally nitpicking a barely detectable flaw making my wadder now a wearable.

    Or it is still ghastly. But time has healed the wound a bit.

    For the real wadders I assess if the style flatters me at all because if not I chuck the pattern and call it a life lesson. (Hey, why get upset if the pattern is a dud, or if that style just isn’t for you – I tell myself those things are outside of my control. )

    If the style does flatter but I have made a sewing mistake I think of a way to fix it: alter the pattern or consider dropping design details that are beyond my sewing abilities.

    So my wadders are learning experiences for me but I baby step my way into acceptance. Kind of like putting my perfectionism on a leash – I still have it, but I have more control over it.

  11. Great post 🙂 I’ve never called them “wadders” anyway. Somehow that word is too cutesy for me!

    I think they’re largely unavoidable because even if you don’t mess up, not everything is going to look great on you anyway. If you go shopping, something that looks great on the hanger and is made flawlessly might still not look good when you try it on. With sewing, it just takes a little longer to get to the point where you figure that out! So really, it’s no more of a failure than that. I think we all learn something from them regardless of what we call them, so go with whatever terminology makes you happy 🙂

    For me personally, I try to intersperse my gutsier projects with a “sure thing” every couple of garments- something that I know I can sew without difficulty and in a fabric and cut that I know I’ll wear a lot. Just to keep the momentum up.

  12. I blogged about wadders a little while ago. They’re a great learning experience, if nothing else.

  13. Great post! it’s funny – I’ve come to sewing via knitting, something I’m very, very comfortable with. Where my knitting is concerned – I swatch – take a test drive so to speak, with the pattern and the yarn. I’ve knit entire projects, only to discover it doesn’t fit properly or the color looked better in the skein rather than knitted up, or the style just doesn’t suit me. And it’s never really bothered me. A sewing project gone “not as planned perfection” bothers me though. I know there is no knitting police, ready to haul me to jail for wonky sleeves. My salary will not be lowered if I make the singlemost ugly pair of socks on the planet. My children will not stop loving me if the sweater will not fit over my head.

    But with the sewing, I have been fearful. Time to stop that! Thanks for the groovy post.

    dmj in kc, mo

  14. Great post! I often have ‘fabrics too beautiful to cut’ so I hold onto them forever, afraid of cutting into them and making the wrong project! I have less ‘wadders’ but a lot of unstarted projects. It’s fear of screwing up holding me back before I even get started! Which is ridiculous, especially when no one but me knows that it turned out differently from the imaginary dress in my mind.
    I guess that can end up being true for the rest of life, I only want to do things I’m good at. And avoid the ones I am terrible at, like bowling. Which means you miss out on a lot.
    So just dive in! Bowling, sewing, maybe you won’t be good at everything but at least take the opportunity to learn something, and hopefully enjoy the process!

  15. Elizabeth, I can so relate to your post. I can find myself choosing ‘easy, fail-safe’ projects in preference to something that requires more fitting or adjusting to save the disappointment at the end. Also I can procrastinate about going into my sewing room to finish something because I’m not sure I”m going to like it or it’s going to fit as I want it to.
    I’ve had to tell myself that I can learn this sewing thing, I can learn to fit my unique body and I’d better start doing it because I’m wasting a lot of time procrastinating. Looking at ‘wadders’ as a learning process is a good thing but I find it quite demoralising still!

  16. Pingback: Drama Queen Jacket: Finished, but not quite right « The Selfish Seamstress

  17. I think it was Elizabeth Zimmerman who coined the expression ‘fearless knitting’. I’m not a particularly fearless knitter but I am a fearless sewer – I’ll try anything! As a result I’ve made many more sewn wadders than knitted ones. Sometimes you’ve just got to hold your nose and jump right in. It’s hard because fabric and notions aren’t cheap and nobody wants to spend hours making unwearable garments but I’ve never yet sewn a wadder that I haven’t learned something from. Even if it’s only ‘I’m not doing that pattern again!’. Now if I could only capture that sense of adventure when I pick up the knitting needles…

  18. Great post! This is a super obvious statement, but when I’m worried about messing something up or not sure if it will look good on me, I make a muslin. I almost always do muslins on wovens. Then it’s not a wadder at all, as muslins are *made* to be thrown in the trash. They don’t waste too much time, either, if you do them “right” (nonperfectionistic-ally) – no collars, no zippers, no facings – just enough to get the fit right and/or evaluate if this style/pattern even suits you.

    I can’t even tell you how many of these “test runs” I’ve made and thrown away, often after a good laugh at what they looked like on me. I made this one shirtdress in white muslin that was way too straight up and down for my figure. My husband christened me “Nurse Ratched” in this thing and said, Quick, throw it away, or burn it!

    Sandra Betzina has a quote in one of her books about how over 50% of patterns are probably not worth making. She makes the muslin and if she doesn’t love it (or think that it could be lovable with some tweaks) she throws the pattern away. I do the same!

  19. Actually I was referring to projects where you probably did do a muslin and things still went horribly wrong and were unrecoverable or unpalatable to work on ever again. A muslin is great, but is not 100% fool proof.

    But you are right. A muslin does go a long way to ensuring success though. And I consider them de riguer for new patterns for me because I am still a beginner.

    Thanks for bringing it up. Muslins definitely needed a plug in this post. And maybe wadders need to be called muslins then — Genius!!!

  20. I call them trials (and sometimes the verdict is “guilty!”) or practice (I practice piano every day, and that’s not wasted time even though I make mistakes). Sometimes I say I’m auditioning a pattern, but when it came time to cast the play I picked the understudy.

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