Thursday, March 21, 2013

DIY Month: Fear, Frustration, and the Mid-Project Meltdown

There is one thing that DIY fashionistas will rarely tell beginners, and that is this: sometimes, it's scary or frustrating or downright rage-inducing to make your own clothing.

First, there is the cost. Fabric is expensive, and sometimes patterns are, too. Unless you have a lucky clearance find, somebody's clearing out their stash, or you've got a nice coupon, it could be very expensive to make your vision a reality. This is especially true in full-skirted fashions like lolita. Skirts that frilly take quite a lot of fabric.

Then, there's the fear that the vision you have in your head and what you sew will not align properly. Maybe it won't lay right. Maybe the skirt won't be as full as you had hoped. Maybe it will gap in all the wrong places. Maybe your lining will hang out. Maybe everything will end in ruination and the thing that you envisioned as this:

will end up making your life look like this:

Myself, I often have what my mother and I have dubbed the "Mid-Project Meltdown" when I am making clothing. This does not happen when I am making stuffed animals, jewelry, purses, or any other useful items. Only clothing. I suddenly find myself in fear that I have screwed everything up and that the thing that I have made is not good enough, not neat enough, does not fit well enough. Usually, this comes in after the first attempt to sew in the zipper, which inevitably ends up crooked. Sometimes, it shows up after finding a single issue with a rolled hem that forces me to rip out the entire thing. But it still shows up despite the fact that I've been sewing since I was six.

The worst thing is that this frustration is different for every person. For me, it arrives between zippers and hems. For other people, it's gathers and ruffles. For still others, it's the minor heart attack that happens when a pattern's yardage requirement reads "six yards" while their dream fabric is still nearly twenty dollars a yard.

If you run into this sort of road block, do not freak out. Breathe. I have some tips I can offer, especially for beginners, to help you work through those moments of panic. They certainly help me.
  1. Remember that "Mr. Seam Ripper" is your friend. There is no straight stitch that you cannot undo, no accidental pleat you cannot fix, no bobble that cannot be smoothed out. Yes, I know that you don't want to have to go back and fix it, but the fact is you can. That in itself is a blessing.
  2. Take a break. Just a short one to clear your head. Take a walk. Watch a funny youtube video. Do something to take the edge off the stress.
  3. Don't give yourself too close of a deadline. Give yourself the time you need to make a mistake and fix it, because if you don't you'll end up doing up a hem with masking tape and promising yourself that it will get sewn later. (Yes, I have done this. It's an old 4-H tradition that is usually explained away with "It's 2 am and fashion review gets judged tomorrow, but the craftsmanship doesn't get judged for another two weeks")
  4. Shop around when it comes to fabric. Wait for sales. Look for other fabrics to make sure what you buy is really what you want.
  5. Start small. If it's your first project, start with something simple. Start with straight seams and elastic waists and work from there. I know we all have big sewing dreams, but big projects are built on a foundation of basic skills. Build those skills first.
  6. Have backup. This is really important for me, because I will never know absolutely everything and I like to have people around me who are willing and able to help, even if it's a small thing. For me, it's my mother first and foremost, but I the women of my family all sew as do many of the men. For you, it might be family, friends, or even an online forum. Have a support system. It helps more than I can say.
Don't let the frustration get to you. Take a break. Take a breather. Call someone who might be able to help or who will understand when you rant about wanting to throw your sewing machine out a window.

You can do this.

For those who are extra stressed, please take a moment to giggle at the homemade pincushion who has accompanied me on many an away mission. I modeled him off a voodoo doll, but nerdier. He's one of the most helpful relievers of sewing stress I've ever had, and I call him Lieutenant Leslie.

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