My Sewing Shame

April 4, 2020

This post may contain affiliate links

Have you ever messed up a sewing DIY so badly that you just want to give up? Yeah, me too...but don't. There's always a fix.

What To Do When Your Sewing Project Goes Wrong

Many, many years ago, my old Italian grandmother would come out from Queens stay with us and she would sew.

She would tell my mother, Harriet, you need new drapes.

And like it or not, within the week, my mom had new drapes.

She sewed on an old Singer machine that was parked in my mom and dad's room. Floor to ceiling, complete with linings, fringe and valances, she whipped them up without a hitch.

Come watch, she would say.

And I should've, but at eight, I was more interested in the pool and my cat.

My aunt was an accomplished seamstress, as well. Other side of the family, but just as talented. She made quilts, clothes and my cousin's prom dress.

She did her sewing at her own lovely Connecticut home. A place I spent weeks at every summer until college.

Let's sew, she would say.

Colored Bobbins On  A Lace Fabric

And again. I should've, but other than a few cross stitch tricks, I didn't learn much. I was more interested in playing dress up, or as I grew, going to the mall or roller skating with boys.

No. My interest in sewing didn't show up until many years later, when I was a new homeowner and found out how much it cost to have custom curtains made. Yikes.

Up until then my only experience with a sewing machine had been in home ec class way back in 8th grade. Fuzzy memories of an ill fitting dress did not leave me with a ton of hope.

However, I was determined to make my own valances and with the help of a friend, and my mother in law, I did.

Was it hard? Not really.

Sewing is mostly architecture and engineering. At its core, it's about design, measurement and construction. The actual stitching is just there to hold it all together.

And while most people tell me I could never sew...they could. It's really no different than driving a car. Just push down on the pedal and move in the direction you want to go. Easy.

Sewing Trim On A Lace Valance

Way back in 1999, I used a pattern to make that first set of valances. Since then, I've just been winging it. I map out the look I want, measure, fold and pin until the shape is set and then run it through the machine.

If my machine cooperates, stitching is honestly the easiest part.

So this summer, when I found a gorgeous green Waverly paisley print at the fabric store and a coordinating trim at 70% off, I thought making a new valance for my master bathroom would be a quick task.

After all, I'm a pro now.

I've made pillow covers and sink skirts. I've skirted tables, ruffled chairs and I've made more valances around here than I can count.

I mean, to this day, my most popular post is How To Make A Box Pleat Valance On A Rod.

The very curtain I was going to replace.

Blue And White Paisley Blox Pleat Valance

Well, apparently there is such a thing as being too cocky...and boy, was I ever.

In August, I mapped out my beautiful design. I was going to use two fabrics - the new one and scraps of the one I used on the bathroom shutters.

I hadn't decided if the plan was to simply patch them together the way I did with the sink skirt and chair skirt or box pleat them, but I had it pinned and ready to go.

Green Waverly Valance

For months.

In December, when I finally got around to sewing it, I still had no idea. However once I started cutting, I ditched the pleat idea and was going to stitch it together in a patchwork fashion.

It's an easy job, usually, just takes a little time to map it all out properly, deciding how large each panel should be, etc.

Well, I don't know where my mind was, but it certainly wasn't fixed on sewing. Somehow, some way I measured wrong. And not once, but twice.

Measuring Fabric The Right Way

So when I was done cutting and ironing and pinning and sewing, the valance was too short, widthwise.

Lengthwise I could deal with...it could be mitigated with fringe or even by lowering the rod, but there was no way to fix a short width without adding more fabric - which I couldn't really do since my leftover piece was shorter.

And because I'm cheap, I didn't buy any extra fabric, I had very little room for errors. And yet, here I was with a big mess. Ugh.

Frustrated, I ripped out all of my seams. Several times.

Of course, this had to be the one time my machine decided to do a proper job. They were tight, it took me forever and I was quickly getting bored of the task.

But I'm not a quitter and even though I got a deal on the supplies, I wasn't quite ready to add them to the scrap pile. So reluctantly I forged on.

By the time I got around to adding the fringe, I was so fried, I didn't pin it in place. I was going to wing it. This was another big mistake.

Buckled and Crooked Sewing Seams

When I was done, it was crooked and buckled. I totally deserved it for cutting corners, but still, I couldn't believe it. There on the kitchen table sat my new valance and it was terrible. Terrible.

It was too short, so it wouldn't cover the window frame, it had crooked seams and the fringe was not hanging right. It was a total mess and I was done with it.

NOW, it was ready for the scrap bucket. I was so disappointed and mad at myself for not planning it all out better. Me, queen of the box pleat valance and the girl with a sewing tab in her menu.

Inexcusable.

But you know what? It happens.

A lot actually. Very few projects go off without a hitch. There's always something. Even with easy DIYs, nothing's really all that easy.

Oh, it might not be anything big...a burned finger, a smudged stencil spot, a crooked seam...but the point is I keep going. If I abandoned my projects after every bump in the road, I would have very, very few completed projects.

Including my bathroom valance.

So I picked myself up, dusted myself off and made a new plan.

Thankfully, I had a scrap of the green paisley and enough trim to make a plain valance just large enough to cover the window. No pleats, no coordinating shutter print.

Just one fabric and it was fine.

I didn't need to cut anything, since it was barely going to make it across the window, so I just hemmed the bottom and the sides.

Then I created a rod pocket large enough to fit my 1 inch rod, about 1 1/2 inches, by folding the top over and running through the machine.

Sewing A Rod Pocket

Lastly, I carefully pinned the fringed trim in place this time and slowly stitched it together. Like I was out for a Sunday drive.

In the end, I didn't get that lovely two toned, coordinated valance that I had mocked up so many months before.

I got a basic rod pocket number instead.

Does anyone notice? Doesn't anyone care?

Not a bit. The look is basically the same and now it's done.

Green Paisley Valance With Fringe Trim

And honestly, if I hadn't decided to share this silly sewing failure no one ever would've known that there had been a different plan to start.

So I say keep going, no matter what comes up.

Pivot, change, adapt, but most of all don't give up.

What you end up with might be better than what you planned.

Oh yeah, and listen to your elders when you have the chance.

I sure wish I had.

What did they try to teach you?

42 comments

  1. Kim,
    My Mother taught me how to sew when I was 10. She worked in the garment industry all her life. When I was in 7th grade, we had Home Ec. The teacher was trying to show me the "right" way of cutting out patterns and other things related to sewing but I had been doing it for years and had my "own" way which got me in trouble! LOL!! I was making almost all my own clothes by 10th grade. My mother would bring home cut offs of fabric , thread, zippers , etc. that were not being used and I would sew like crazy. It only cost me the price of the patterns that I bought. My sons never had a store bought Halloween costume when they were growing up and I made more valances and curtains then I can count..... BUT NEVER did I ever think that I would now be making masks for my family to wear.....But I am thankful that I have enough fabric and elastic to make masks for 9 immediate family members... Thanks so much for taking the time to always stop by and for leaving such sweet comments!! Stay safe, healthy and happy , my friend!!
    Hugs,
    Debbie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, Debbie, I didn't realize you were such an accomplished seamstress. I wish I had more skills. When my kids were small they started in musical theater and I used to help with the costumes. I sewed a lot back then, made a lot, altered dresses and reworked things. I never made anything entirely from scratch though. What I would love to be able to do is reupholster or more accurately slipcover my sofa. That's a huge job though. I doubt I'll be taking that one on. Way beyond my tolerance for pain! Haha!

      Delete
  2. What did they try to teach me ? You already know, sewing and patience.

    You know I never learned to see. Patience I'm getting better at now that I'm almost 54. Slow learner what can I say.

    You always create beauty keep going.

    Stay safe my friend.

    Cindy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Cindy. I am not really patient either, especially when it comes to crafts. I like quick and easy but for some reason I deal with sewing. I think because it's a means to an end...especially when I can't find it in the store.

      Delete
  3. Actually I wasn't taught much of anything. My great-grandmother had raised 8 kids, then her granddaughter (my mother) and then there was me. She was too tired by that time and just told me to not get underfoot. I failed Home Ec, but that could be because I rarely showed up. However in my 30s I decided I was going to make quilts. The first one was a monstrosity because I was winging it (never could follow a pattern) and sewing everything by hand. But then I learned the quilting stitch and I was making a quilt (by hand, mind you) every other month. I think you might like quilting, Kim. It's very soothing. I have to say, I like your end result better than the mock-up.
    Brenda

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My aunt was the queen of quilting, Brenda. I really wish I would’ve paid more attention. I think I would enjoy it…maybe I’ll start with something small to test the waters!

      Delete
  4. Have done something similar numerous times over the years. So frustrating! But your finished valance is lovely!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is frustrating, Mary!! And yet I just can't stop sewing!! And thank you for your kind words. I really appreciate them.

      Delete
  5. The valance is darling. Sometimes trials and errors...LOL

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly, Linda...all part of the process!

      Delete
  6. You got me thinking about fails over my 58 years of sewing. I sewed to earn extra money in college, professionally for a decorator when my kids were little and did a little side work for a bikini factory.

    My biggest fail was my first quilt. We were newlyweds with very little money so I had to choose inexpensive fabrics. I used a yellow mini gingham for the pieces that required the most fabric. But it wasn't until I finished that I realized that the cute pinwheel pattern I chose didn't really show because the large amount of gingham overshadowed the pinwheels

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carol, I've always admired your sewing skills. If I could do half the things you do, I would be so happy...especially if I could make slipcovers for my couch!

      Delete
  7. Hi Kim,
    I learned to sew in Home Ec in school. Unfortunately I loved the cooking aspect of Home Ec than the sewing sessions. I remember sewing several different seams and then we had to finish making a pair of jeans!!! Yep we had a harsh teacher and that was my first project that failed miserably. I wish now we would have had a better teacher and started us on something simple to maybe keep our interest and not feel like a failure doing a pair of jeans! None of us passed this part of the class. Hmmm wonder why?!!! I think that is why I never took to sewing. I can sew a straight line but not much more than that. Even with trial and error you stuck with this and made a beautiful valance. Hey not like it is cutting into our social time right lol! Have a good weekend.
    Hugs,
    Kris

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sewing in Home Ec was not a great experience for me either, Kris! I made a stuffed animal. Badly. I made a dress. Badly. I was a mess. At least you did well in cooking. I think I blocked that part out! Go figure. Ha!

      Delete
  8. I was taught how to sew clothes by my mom when I was about 12 years old. I would sew something and then wind up not finishing an outfit. My mom always came to the rescue to finish it for me. I don't think I had the patience back then. I do remember that it's a lot of prep work with cutting and pinning! Yes, I can see how the sewing peddle is like driving a car. I am glad that you did not give up with the project and the curtain is just beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow...having a mom that sewed must've been awesome. I wish I paid more attention to my grandmother and aunt, there are real gaps in my knowledge base. Thanks so much for your sweet comments about my curtain! ☺️

      Delete
  9. We all make mistakes in the best of times Kim. Heaven knows no one is going to fault you for messing up during the time of Corona. I think your end result turned out great. Don't be so hard on yourself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Mary! I really like the way it turned out.

      Delete
  10. My grandmother loved to quilt, and when I was a teenager we made a quilt together. I grew up sewing my own clothes, and learning to sew long before I ever took a Home Ec class. I loved Home Ec, it was my favorite high school class. I sewed many of my children's clothes, and gave it up finally when fabric and patterns became more expensive than shopping at the store. I am thankful for learning how to sew, and have had many failures along the way, but like you said, there is usually a fix, sometimes it just takes a while for it to get figured out in your head! I am currently working on masks right now. I've already used up all my elastic, and my nurse friend showed me a new trick with masks, using shoe laces, so I am working on those now. Always enjoy your stories Kim, and you always make me laugh too :) Blessings to you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Marilyn. Sounds like you paid attention in class and it really paid off. The more I drew, the better I get at it, but it's a lot of trial and error. I'd just like less error. 😉

      Delete
  11. I really love how it turned out, Kim! Might not be what was in your head, but it is beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
  12. It turned out great! I really like that fabric. And good for you for keeping on... I probably would have given up. Thanks for sharing your issues - it makes us not so accomplished seamstresses feel better. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Mari! I fell in love with that fabric. I know I use a lot of red in my decor, but green is really my favorite color.

      Delete
  13. Your sewing history of learning sounds like mine Kim. When Mama tried to teach me, it was the last thing I wanted to pay attention to. Somehow I learned tho because years later when I was interested, I remembered a little about the sewing machine & how to thread it. So picture me trying to sew a Square Dance skirt with so little sewing knowledge. I can't count how many times I ripped it out.

    I was stumped trying to ruffle & gather a hem. I kid you not. I had so much fabric I thought I needed that it extended down a hall & doubling onto itself into a bedroom. It was really laughable. Finally got it made, LOL.

    Anyway, your curtain looks great. You're the only one that really notices those little flaws you know. But I know what you mean. I wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than perfection either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Isn't it always the way, Florence? Sounds like you figured it out on your own! That's awesome.

      Delete
  14. My mother is very accomplished at sewing, quilting, crocheting - you name it. A great cook and gardener to boot. Taught me nothing. I learned most of what I know through Home Ec class ( which I loved) and my own trial and error and creativity. I have sewn bridesmaid dresses, curtains, costumes for my kids in school, and clothes for myself in college and late high school. I even made myself a bikini! Every now and again I will see something on a blog and think "I can do that" and I do! My daughter is not interested in learning to sew at all. To each her own. Once my Hubby gets out of my sewing.office and back to work, I might whip up a something.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A binkini?!? Wow...now I'd love to see a post about that!!

      Delete
  15. I never really liked sewing. Home EC 8th grade I had to make a skirt with a zipper, waist band and a button. It turned out terrible. For some reason I decided 4 years later to make my graduation dress. I am glad I had a gown to wear over it! As an adult, I have sewn most of the curtains in our houses. I even made a pinch pleat curtain a few years back. I do it out of necessity, because of the cost. I don't enjoy it but I am proud of it when I am done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pinch pleats? Wow! That is impressive, Penny.

      Delete
  16. Hi,
    I am not the best when it comes to sewing. I do have a sewing machine. I have made simple curtains, pillows and fixed a few things. My mom is a seamstress. She made my prom and wedding dress! And much, much more.
    This was a fun post Kim.
    So what did you do with the fabric that you stared with? One time I had to cut off my fabric that I had ripped out so many mistakes on. I did cry during that project because I ruined the original fabric.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've always wanted to make clothes, Carla. When I was doing costumes for theater, I learned a lot, but I really did more refashioning than making things from scratch. I'd love to make a wedding dress though...that's so special. What a wonderful gesture.

      Delete
  17. I took up sewing when I was young.
    The one thing that I remember, always iron a seam when you have finished it. Don't wait until it is finished to iron the whole thing. One seam at a time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Christine, ironing is so important. I always skipped that step, but I don't anymore. It actually saves time in the long run.

      Delete
  18. Indeed things can go wrong with sewing! I had a few headaches myself. My grandma liked to sew and it was from her that I got the interest. She did teach me the basics but I had to learn the rest on my own. I would say that I am still a beginner. Your work is lovely. Take care Kim!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm a beginner, too, Angela...after all these years. Still learning and taking tips anywhere I can get them. And thank you!

      Delete
  19. My mom knows how to sew and she tried to teach me (and my sister) and it was a total flop. Both of us hated it. Then I took Home Ec in high school and one of the quarters was sewing. I couldn't even make an A-line skirt! I hated the class so much that I ditched it every day and hung out in the band room, playing my flute. I ended up flunking the class, lol. When I was in my 30's, I had a friend try to teach me to sew. Nope, still hated it. I am not kidding, I can't even sew on a button!

    I think some people can sew (you) and some people can cook (me). :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I struggle my way through sewing, Melanie, trust me. I'm not great at it, but I get the job done. In all honesty, I'm a much better cook than seamstress. I just like sewing a teeny bit more than cooking!

      Delete
  20. Your valance is lovely, Kim. I admire your tenacity, and it certainly works for you :) Actually, my elders taught me quite a lot. I've always been domestic and so anytime I saw my mom, or my aunt or neighbor doing something I'd never done I wanted to learn how to do it. And they were only too happy to indulge me. I'm so glad I had that curiosity, as it has served me well all my life. I've always made my own valances, and cafe curtains. I quilt, do needlework, and cook. All these things I was taught at a young age. As an adult my curiosity is still intact, and I am always finding new things to learn, such as rug making. While right now all my supplies are in storage, I look forward to doing that again. This week my granddaughter and I cooked together. Oh, that was fun! She's a good cook already at the age of 18. ♥

    ReplyDelete
  21. Good on you for not giving up Kim. I love sewing but if I have to pull a seam out more than once, that's it. I give up and I've never been able to follow a pattern either. Which has worked out okay so far, but I tend to do the same when it comes to cooking and I'm afraid that always ends up in a disaster :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh pulling out seams is a terrible job. I run out of patience quickly when sewing jobs go that way...and I'm not a great with recipes either.

      Delete
  22. There's a saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. True for sewing! You know just enough to get into trouble by winging it when you still really need more direction or structure. But you definitely learn this way!

    ReplyDelete

Hey~ before you go, let me know what you think!

I love comments and respond to them all.

*Please refer to our privacy policy if you have questions regarding your profile and note that comments with links will not be published.