How to Overcome a Sewing Failure

Image of a blackboard with the word "Aargh!" in yellow chalk.

I’ve been romancing the By Hand London Tamzin for a long time. I bought it when it was released and have been planning to sew it ever since. I finally put it on my project list for my 2023 summer sewing and even had the perfect fabric to sew it with.

I had such visions of this dress. I knew I was going to have to make some changes—the sleeve was going to be less puffy and much shorter, the skirt would not have any tucks to allow the gorgeous print I selected to really shine, and the waistline would be brought up to become an empire waist. I started on my first muslin.

I ended up sewing four muslins, and with each one, my vision of this beautiful Tamzin became more distant. The pattern is well drafted, the size is very inclusive, every version I’ve seen online is gorgeous… but I just could not get it to work for me. I really, really wanted it to work, but it didn’t.

When a project fails to deliver the expected outcome, it can uncork a lot of feelings. You may feel angry that all the time and effort you spent was for nothing. Frustration takes over the joy you were feeling just a moment ago. You might feel defeated because you really tried but could not make the project work. So what do you do when the dreams of a gorgeous garment turn into a real mess?

1. Take a Break

Image of a the back of a cat head. She is on someone's lap.
My Idea of a Break

When things are not working, take a break. Frustration can cloud your mind. A fresh look at an old problem can really make a difference. There have been many times when the answer to a sewing problem came to me way after I had put it away.

2. Go for an Easy Project

Give yourself a chance to be successful. After experience a sewing breakdown, find an easy project that you know you can finish quickly and easily. This boost of self-confidence will get you going, and you might even feel up to going back to the pattern that gave you so much grief.

3. Go for a TNT Pattern

Image of a woman wearing an empire-waist black dress with white half moons and stars and black books. She stands with her arms open in front of a wall covered in vines.
One of My Three Aubepine Dresses

A TNT (tried and true) pattern can definitely make you feel like a lean, mean sewing machine. If your last project left you feeling down, a TNT pattern will bring you out of that hole. What you really need right now is a sewing success, and a tried and true pattern can give you that.

4. Move On

There is absolutely nothing wrong with moving on. No sewing project is ever a failure—with each one, you will learn something. If you are feeling bad about wasting fabric, find use for what’s leftover. You can cut another pattern from your unsuccessful project, or you can use some of it as a muslin.

5. Try Again

Image of a cat under a table. The words "I will try again tomorrow" are written.
Keep on Trying

There are many reasons why your sewing project did not work. Maybe you need more practice, or the fabric that you used was not quite right. Whatever it was, you can always try again. Just make sure that you sew a muslin to preserve your more expensive fabric.

Not There Yet

We try so hard to avoid failure without realizing that there is no growth without it. You will have projects that will not be successful, and that’s okay. Every unsuccessful garment is a chance for you to learn something. Celebrate your failures as you celebrate your successes—they are both essential in making you a better sewist.


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