I'm working on a profile for the next issue of Stitch and it's got me thinking about making mistakes. My interview subject's philosophy is an interesting combination of doing things by the book and winging it. It's a topic I've thought about long and hard. When I learned to sew, my mom was very much a follow-the-pattern-exactly kind of gal. She was like that about much of life, but I also think it was the way things were in the "early days" of sewing. So I was taught not to bend the rules when it came to sewing.
My interview subject had a great story about cutting a hole in a nearly completed dress. In order to repair it she had to cut it off and reattach it in an order different than recommended in the pattern. It worked fine and she said it was a valuable lesson about improvisational sewing. It's easy to imagine there's just one right way to do things—the way you've always done them or the way you may have been told to do them. But if there's one thing quilters have taught me, it's that there are myriad ways to accomplish any task: to bind a quilt, to applique, to cut fabric.
A few years ago I interviewed Avis Shirer of Joined at the Hip for the American Patchwork and Quilting web site and she told me about carefully saving some beloved red plaid fabric for years, waiting for just the right project on which to use it. She finally found the perfect quilt and put it together and was very happy with the result. But somehow, after the top was complete, she managed to cut into the red plaid. She had used every last inch of that fabric and because she'd had it for so long she couldn't find any more. At first, she said, she sat down and cried. But then she finagled a fix—some sort of little applique that turned out to be very charming, very personal, and made the quilt far more special than when she'd finished it the first time.
It takes a certain confidence to embrace the unexpected and tell yourself it's fine. But it's so much more fun when you do. And as my Stitch interview subject said "Sometimes when you make mistakes and fix them, the result is so cute. And you wouldn't have thought to do it way if you hadn't screwed up."