The Myths About Making Things (The Case of the Radio Times Laundry Bag Pattern)

When I was a kid I tried a bit of everything. I cooked cheese souffle that looked just like scrambled eggs, I made holey knitting, half-finished embroidery, I also got frustrated with the crappy art stuff kids seem to be given and didn’t do as much drawing as I should have. Then there was this huge lull which comes with being a teenager and going to university. But over the past couple of years, since I’ve put my time into my artwork and photography, I’ve been trying my hand at quite a few other things, because I’ve realised that I am actually quite good at this stuff, and my hiccups as a kid were just lack of experience. These days, because I’m like “I’m good with my hands”, “I’m good at making things”, I have a crack at everything. And I still hiccup, and berate myself for not concentrating better… but in the past week I’ve come to the realisation that there are more than a few myths about making things.

The project in question, which drove me to this realisation, was a pattern for a laundry bag I saved from a copy of the Radio Times while ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’ was airing. I needed a new laundry bag, I can make things, so why not? I thought.


But during the course of this very simple and short project I came across exactly the same problems I have every time. And I’ve had something of an epiphany.

1). Instructions will always be difficult to follow no matter how well they’re written!
You, like me, probably have the idea that if you can follow instructions and patterns and if all the information is there, there shouldn’t be a problem. But the fact of the matter is that you if haven’t sewn a lot of things even the simplest of patterns is going to seem complicated. If you can’t see or feel how it’s done you end up having a bit of a brainfart. I’ve embarked on a few projects over the past couple of years: knitting and sewing, with the idea that I can follow instructions and if there’s anything complicated I can learn it as I go along. But it’s so much bigger than that. It’s reading, understanding the foreign vocabulary, and visualising it in your head. And then it might not even be right.

2). The financial cost will out way the personal gain (when you’re really frustrated)
There’s this idea that if you make something yourself you’ll be saving money, but honestly I have made jumpers which, in wool, have cost me the price of three hoodies. This Radio Times pattern itself says “save pounds by making your own bespoke bag”, but you don’t really. I usually justify the financial cost against the fact that I’m getting some enjoyment out of the making. But when you get frustrated with your work it’s very easy to overlook that, and wonder why you just didn’t go out and buy something similar made by a skilled person.

3). Hofstadter’s Law
Hofstadter’s Law regards the difficulty there is in estimating the length of time it will take to complete complex tasks. So no matter how well you plan your project it will usually take a lot longer to complete than you originally thought. And chances are the reason it’s taking longer than you thought is because when the project is in the beginning stages you often have to stop and re-read and understand instructions. The longer you work on the project, the more complicated it gets, the more often you have to stop. Which lengthens the project even further. And then you have to factor in mistakes, and undoing mistakes. Making things is always a great taxation on my mind. I’m an idiot for thinking this was supposed to be fun.

4). Hubris.
Hubris is from ancient greek and means an overexaggerated sense of your own abilities, an arrogance. I’m very guilty of this. I’m good at making things and fixing things so in my mind I should be able to follow simple instructions and complete a project easily. But the fact is this, I take on projects that are far too complicated and because of pride I loath to leave them unfinished. So, I push through: frustrated and stressed the whole time. I decide to take a break, and then realise the break has lasted a few months, and all I can remember about this knitted waistcoat, wraparound dress etc. is that I hated making it, so it becomes one terrible chore.

So everything I’ve made I’ve finished, but the process has frustrated and exhausted me, and I find it strange that it’s taken me this long to really realise it. There is one thing I never finished. I once started a wraparound dress, which I was thankful to bail on after I lost weight and realised that the badly half-made dress wouldn’t fit me. That was a project that was doomed from the start. I chose it as my FIRST sewing project, what an idiot idea. I also followed the advice of a family member, which didn’t help. But the fact is, is that it was too complicated a project, with techniques I didn’t understand, and had to attempt a few times before I got them right. And my knowledge of how to accomplish sewing tricky angles was just non-existent. It still is.

I’ve learnt my lesson now. This is what I’ll tell myself in future: stay small, do anything too complicated and you’ll end up regretting it. Is it really worth the financial cost? Don’t get a big head, this is a skill, not something you’ll do perfectly by just having a bash. Oh, and don’t think just because the fabric has straight lines that you’ll be able to follow these and create perfect sewing. The fabric will move and stretch, don’t trust it!

All this being said, I quite like my new laundry bag. Even with its faults. It’s what I should have tried to make when I first started sewing. It can serve as a reminder of my false start to sewing, and hopefully it will prevent me from getting to cocky in the future…


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