Making mistakes work for you

Many of us have this notion that mistakes are things we learn from so we can do something better, but what if you make a mistake and you can’t fix it? As an artist, this is an opportunity to make your work more exciting.

Usually we have this idea that when we make a mistake, we learn from it so we don’t do that thing again. For instance, how many times did you sew two pieces of fabric together in the wrong orientation? Didn’t take too long to figure that out, right? Or how many times did you cut improperly? These sorts of mistakes are good because they make us more careful in our work.

But, then there are the “mistakes of planning,” I’ll call them. They aren’t caused by the same inattention the above errors are. When these mistakes happen, your stomach drops because you feel there is no return from this sort of mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I still get that feeling, but it doesn’t last as long because some of these sorts of mistakes have lead to the end product being much more interesting.

This quilt, with the spiral in the middle, I’d initially intended to have bugs and music on it. When I went to the store, the best I could do was this lobster print. It was black and the lobsters were big, but they were important and I couldn’t release them. Instead, I worked them into the design and put them into the flying geese, which was when I discovered another mistake: one of the lobster parts was flying backwards. Baby quilts are a great place to experiment with design because the baby won’t care.


Another mistake turned into a feature was when I made my older daughter’s bed quilt. I got to the borders and discovered I didn’t have enough of the fabric to go all the way around. Ok, fine, I thought, I’ll just do one edge pink and the other salmon. Which worked if I didn’t have any fabric in the corners. Back to the drawing board. That’s when I realized there was a secondary pattern in the main pieced part of the quilt that was a sawtooth star. Great, problem solved! I would just put sawtooth stars in the corners! It’s now my favorite part of the quilt.


Fast forward a few years and my work is diverging from traditional quilting. The mistakes I’m making now are real opportunities to stretch as an artist.

My normal mode of operation is very “think out loud.” I try not to fasten anything down permanently unless I’m sure, but sometimes things happen that I didn’t prepare for and then I have to adjust.

The last panel for Trajectory: Escape Velocity, in my head, was going to be quilted in the same manner as the first panel. So, off I went and quilted the panel — without looking at the first panel. This time, I quilted it much more densely than I had done with the first panel. Oops, it buckled like mad. I figured, I’ll cut a hole in the middle and then it will be flat and then I can figure out how to cover up the hole. I remembered someone talking about doing something like this. And the panel was unique; it was made from a piece of hand dyed fabric. I couldn’t just scrap it and start over.




Well, I cut the hole and it was still wavy. And that was after I enlarged it at least twice. I put it down and went to bed. The next day, I came back. I couldn’t bring myself to cut into it more. Then I found myself thinking, it’s fabric. Why does it need to be flat? What if I make this work for me? I decided to go with it and it has become a dimensional panel with a hole in the middle. These are special features of this panel. It suits the message I’m trying to get across and it actually is much more interesting than if the panel had been flat with no holes.


So, sometimes mistakes are an opportunity to practice flexible thinking.

8 thoughts on “Making mistakes work for you

    • Thank you! I was quite pleased with how that wavy panel turned out, in the end, but I did have some serious moments of panic before I got there! It is a good lesson for me to accept a certain level of serendipity in my work. I’m so glad I can inspire you as you are often quite an inspiration to me!

  1. No wonder the stars in the corner are your favourite part of the quilt now – they work so well, drawing attention to the secondary pattern and making the design so much more interesting. Those corners definitely look deliberate!

    • Right? 😀 The original pattern did not have the stars in the corner. Were I to have done it deliberately though, the borders and stars would have been bigger, to be the same size as the stars in the body of the quilt. Thank you so much!

  2. This is such an important concept for a beginner like me. I just finished designing the blocks for a quilt I am making for my daughter. Found myself one block short and on the table were the leftovers from cutting the fabric for a wimpel I made for one of my bris babies. The pieces were just big enough to for me to create the additional block I needed and the colors blend. Only one block is a bit “weird”… reminds me of Athabascan beaded necklaces I have. They all have a “ghost bead” which deviates from the design and is intentionally placed into the pattern for good luck.

    • Fantastic! I love to hear stories like this. I hope you will share a picture. I love those little quirks. I think it gives an element of interest. My very first quilt, I used a fabric that didn’t quite go, but I loved it. It works in the piece, but it taught me to do things “imperfectly” from the beginning.

    • Is wabi sabi sort of intentional though? I hadn’t planned for the quilt to be wavy or have a hole in it, but after it happened, I felt it was perfect. I’m embracing imperfections in all its forms. 😀 Thank you!

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