"Mistake" or "Design Challenge"?

The longer I sew, the less I categories mishaps as “mistakes,” but rather I think of them as “design challenges.”

Three stories:

1st Story: The picture above is from White Chocolate Deco, made last November. I altered the pattern just slightly, as my own measurements exactly matched the 1936 size 16. Fantastic. I cut, I sewed, I finished, I pressed, I faced the mid-section and did perfect double lines of top stitching. With just the sleeves and buttonholes left, I decided to try it on. I’m not usually a “naked sewist.”

Hubris (in the form of neglected flat pattern measurements):

I could not get the front edges to meet, let alone overlap properly. After much head scratching and consulting my mother I realized that the 1936 woman would wear a girdle, which would need little wearing ease.


I unpicked the beautiful top stitching, unpicked everything until I had the blouse mid-section free. Then I carefully measured what I would need to add in order to comfortably wear the blouse, cut a scrap of fabric and pin-tucked it. I thought a plain square would scream obscenities. I inserted the pin-tucked section and likewise extended the facing with a plain square.

Everyone loves the pin-tucked back detail. Everyone. It was a big, huge mishap that turned into one of my favorite design features.

Story the Second: Wallace Skirt, named for a favorite student. The student in question attended the first night of my LBD class a few weeks ago. Following an in-depth class discussion on the care of delicate fibres and whether they should be washed, she eagerly took home 2 meters of top shelf black silk, armed with careful written instructions.

A few days later she came to see me at work to tell me a tale of woe. She rammed the silk into her top-loading washing machine along with her son’s sports uniforms (?!!), poured in a liberal scoop of bargain washing powder, set the machine to high and went out for the day.

Speechless. I had no words.

She then said as she pulled it all out it occurred to her she ought to have washed it alone. So once again dumped on a good measure detergent and set it to high. It sat there all night. The next day she put the crumpled mess through several rinse cycles and then hung it out in the sun.

I thought I ought to talk to you before I did anything to mess it up” Seriously? What else could she do? Light it on fire?

Imagine you washed your hair. With battery acid, no conditioner. Then you went to the beach and swam. Then it dried in the sun and seabreeze. That’s what this poor, beautiful length of silk felt like.

I pressed it, I starched it, I rubbed it between my fingers, scratched my beard for a while, then returned it to the store. I gave her a fresh length (which she successfully handwashed later) and bought the mess for myself at staff discount. For a few moments I feared she would keep the distressed silk and I wouldn’t have a fun project, but I did convince her of my genuine interest and goodwill. She’s a really positive, fun, intelligent student, just a little right-brained.

I took it home to rehabilitate it. Long story short, after a vinegar soak and several very gentle rinse cycles using very expensive fabric conditioner, I laid it flat to dry in the shade, sprayed with Best Press and then pressed it. The fabric is amazing.

I felt that picture (click it for a better view) captured the indescribable texture. Granted, it is a stretch to call the color black, but it has these beautiful gray striations through it that I could never re-create myself and could certainly never buy. It has the hand of old vellum and silk, as if they had an off-color love-child. I’m nearly finished making it into Paulette c.late 40’s:

More on Wallace later.

Story 3: Another LBD student cut her bodice front not on the fold. (It’s actually a Pink Linen dress rather than a Black Silk, but it suits her and the linen is stunning. Not everyone wants a perfectly fitted black dress and I don’t impose my aesthetic on them.) The bodice is self-lined, so the lining was cut not on the fold. Of course, not nearly enough linen left to cut another bodice front lining. We could have used the skirt lining material, but it wouldn’t have that finely-finished feel that you get from a self-lined bodice. She was crestfallen.

I was rather pleased because I know that since she made the mistake and was upset about it, she will never ever ever again neglect cutting on the fold. I had told her so many times. I like her and saw she learned her lesson so I said I’d play with it.

Obviously, you can’t just sew the two cut pieces together. I took it home and cut a 2 1/2″ strip. That would be each seam allowance, and then the equivalent of two more seam allowances so the whole piece would be the same size and shape as the original pattern piece. Then for fun and to reinforce the join I did two contrast lines of decorative stitching along the seam line.

She loved it. She’s thinking of using it as the exterior, with some black piping under the bodice. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

So if something doesn’t work out to plan, set your mind thinking how to make it even better than the original. Experiment. I find experimenting with mistakes to be especially liberating, since I’m already working with something most sane people would wad up and toss in a corner.


  1. You have a very creative brain and the patience of a saint! Love your white blouse,and I may just borrow that pintucking detail and use it on a jacket. Your black silk is indestructible, and will probably withstand anything else you can give it! Nice save on the student's dress.

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