The Research Conundrum

I’ve come across this quite a bit recently, and I want to express that research is good, but experimentation is mandatory.

I’ll elaborate. I give a lot of advice on sewing and building costumes and props and so forth, both in person and various internet forums. I’m old, I’ve probably built/ sewn/ handled one of those before and have a good memory for such stuff. I’ve experimented and succeeded with a lot of materials and techniques. Because I’m old, I didn’t have videos on the internet where I could watch someone else do the thing. I had mom, dad, high school and college instructors, and PBS (Sewing With Nancy is still on the air BTW). And the library, always the library. In my generation, we knew we had to practice the thing to make it a good one. In wood shop the teacher cut out the gorgeous scrolled wood in a demonstration, but we could see the bucket of scraps, broken pieces and badly cut versions right there next to the table. I saw my mom use her seam ripper. I watched dad measure twice and cut once. Practice and trial runs were an inherent part of the doing process.

The thing is, we have so many more resources available to us, that the number of techniques and materials for any given project has multiplied exponentially. So the new sewist watches six different videos on installing a zipper and is more confused than ever because they don’t know which one to use. This is where experimenting comes in. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen posts where the questioner is essentially saying “which of these is the right way?” and we befuddle them further with the answer “whichever one works for you”. But that’s the honest answer, the ‘right’ technique is the one you can do to a level you find satisfactory.  Finding the right technique means trying, and failing, a bunch. But then you hit on something that makes sense to you, so you do it a couple more times and hey! that’s looking pretty good!

I’ve advised people on processes, they ignored my advice and spent more money and produced a heavier prop than if they had followed my advice, but they were happy with their result. So was their technique ‘right’? For them: yes. It’s the method they understood and could perform well, which made them happy with their result. and in the end, being happy is what really matters.

Ah, there’s the rub: happy. All too often I see people miserable and frustrated, mostly because of a lack of practice. They fell for the inadvertent lie and started their project full scale or in fine fabric and are in tears because the first time they did it it was an abject failure. They didn’t know or listen to the ‘practice first’ advice, and have now lost time and money in quantity. The biggest problem I see in this situation is the maker not realizing they need to practice. They failed once and assume that there must be some other technique that will be better, that will be perfect the first time. All I can say is “there there, try again”. I’m truly sorry you had a catastrophe. And it might not be the unrecoverable failure that you think it is at this moment. That might even be the perfect technique for you and that specific project, but you won’t know unless you keep trying.



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