Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Creative Life Series: On Failure

It seems almost unnecessary to write a post to creative types on the subject of failure. Creatives are by their very nature experimental, and experimenting is by its very nature about trial and error. Creatives have an innate thirst for trying lots of new techniques and crafts and methods. Inevitably, sometimes they will work out brilliantly, and other times, not so.


Crafters in particular understand failure. Oh, we really do. While a musician might play one or two instruments really well, a dancer might have a specialism in one discipline, or an artist might favour oil over acrylic, hobby crafters tend to be multi-crafters. Serial crafters. I have a theory that if you find you are good at one particular craft, you are likely to be equally talented in a number of other, related crafts. For example, a jewellery maker might be good at wire work. A cake decorator might be good at polymer clay modelling. Because of our multi-tackle method of our hobby, though, we naturally experience more failure, because we try lots of things and so there is lots more that can go wrong. And I sometimes wonder if this gets some of us a bit down in the mouth.

Is it failure though? I think there are two types of so-called failure. One is wonderful, while the other is a tragedy.

The "I tried making something and it went wrong" failure:

I have lost count of how many craft projects I've attempted that have gone wrong. In fact, in mulling over this subject I wrote some of them down and amused myself so much that I'm going to share the list with you next week. But did I actually fail every time a project went wrong? Of course I didn't! As Edision would say, I'd simply discovered yet another way of how not to do something next time. I learn so much every time something goes wrong. Sure, it's frustrating, and disheartening - expensive even - when a craft project doesn't turn out like I pictured in my head, or, worse, as it looked on Pinterest (oh, Pinterest, you cruel, mocking mistress!) but making something that no one in the history of the universe has ever made before should involve a certain amount of trial and error. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and it would be neither fun or special.


The great thing about crafting is that there are so many gazillions of projects to make that one failure can teach you a lesson you can apply to many hundreds of other projects in the future. The important thing is that you have fun, and keep on crafting, (there's a bumper sticker right there). The Ancient Greeks used to purposefully put one imperfection into every pot they made as a reminder that no human is perfect. You can tell that story stuck with me because I tell it often, but it's become almost a mantra for my own creativity too, and indeed every other task I take on in life. Strive for excellence, not perfection. Flaws in our work and projects not working out can be one of the best things about crafting, really, because those failures are the moments when we learn so much about our craft, about how materials work, and most importantly, we learn about ourselves.

Every man made item that has ever been is the result of man failing and trying again, failing and trying again. As crafters we have the privilege of being creators, bringing into existence items that have never existed before, and never will again. The failures between starting a project and a finished article we are pleased with are what makes that item unique. There will never be another.


The "I tried that craft once, but I was crap at it" failure:

Of course, the real failure comes not in ending up with a wonky, er, 'breathable' jumper that only your mother could love. The failure comes in the curse of the multi-crafter, which is this:

Getting over-excited and wanting to try loads of crafts is one of the best things about being a crafter. But all too often it can mean we try a craft, struggle, decide it's not for us, and then declare that we are 'a knitter, not a crocheter' or are rubbish at sewing... and we close ourselves off to the beauty of trying again and getting better and instead rush off to try something else. And then something else...

The only failure in crafting comes in abandoning a project halfway through, and therefore never getting to know it in all its complete, wonky glory, or trying something, deciding we're just not cut out for the world of flower arranging, or glass etching, or embroidery, and giving up entirely. 

And I've done that a fair few times too. In fact, if it wasn't for the amount of times I've gone crying for help to my patient mum or a crafty friend, I'd have plenty of abandoned craft hobbies on my list. But the last few years have brought me a sort of confidence when it comes to giving new crafts a go, and an understanding that the true value comes in having fun trying, not necessarily in being good at it. In other words, a sort of bloody mindedness and devil may care attitude. It's my job to explore and learn!

You could put the boot on the other foot and say that we have to give lots of crafts a go before we find the one or two that we excel at, and that is certainly true. We can't all be good at every craft, or indeed enjoy every craft. But when it comes to failure, I say we don't sweat the makes that don't work out as planned, and we don't ever utter the words, "I'm not good at xyz" unless we've given ourselves the time and patience to really find out.

The words you're looking for are, "I'm not good at xyz... yet." And you can apply that to every new thing you try in life.


Crafting. It's clever stuff, ain't it?

P.S: You can read the first six installments of the Creative Life series here.


  1. I can totally relate to this post! It has made me look at failure in a whole new light. Normally if I fail at a craft, I go off in a huff and declare that I am rubbish at everything I try! I must bookmark this page so I can come back to it again - knowing I'm not the only one who feels like this certainly helps!


  2. I loved reading this! So true - mistakes are the best way of learning. (And Pinterest IS a cruel, mocking mistress!) :) X

  3. Ah, but this little mistakes are what make them handmade!!!!

  4. All my makes and bakes are a little bit wonky; they make them personal! I love every one of my huge, ugly failures; I've bundled them in the back of my craft cupboard and pull them out to make people laugh. My fox fail is still my favourite: xxx


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