One of the running themes at MAL is to show off your ugly things. We’ve talked about the shame that we experience when we botch something up, when we can’t make our product match our vision, or when we look back in anguish at our cringe-worthy creations of the distant past.
There is another aspect of artistic failure that we haven’t discussed much, and one that I’m starting to have a handle on. I think it’s a form of failure that is a sign of skill and experience as an artist. I’m talking about planned failure.
Here is the culmination of my year of screw-ups:
I have spent the last year making that Zelda costume. It is probably the largest single project I have undertaken and it turned out absolutely brilliantly. I am proud as hell of it, but as with most projects, now that I’m done, all I can see are the mistakes. But far more important than the little mistakes that you can see, is the mountain of mistakes that you can’t. Hiding under that big swoopy dress is a pile of failed experiments, scrap metal, missteps, and missed stitches.
At the start of the project, I’d never successfully done machine embroidery, I hadn’t made a jacket in over a decade, I didn’t know the word “appliqué”, and I’d never even attempted to sew a dress. The only part I had any confidence in was the metalwork, and the part I was confident about there was that I wouldn’t get it right on the first try.
That knowledge was probably key to my eventual success. I looked at the project and realized that I wouldn’t get any of it right on the first go, so instead I planned for failure at every stage of the process.
It mostly worked.
I didn’t think to take pictures of every step, for which I apologize. As most of us do, I only broadcast the good bits. I celebrated the successes and trashed the failures.
However, I did think to keep most of the metallic mistakes, and before I got to this:
I made all of these:
More than just making sample pieces on the assumption of failure, I was so worried about getting her costume right, that I made an entire practice costume before I dared touch hers. I made my own Zelda outfit, partly to have, but largely to try out the materials and techniques on something less precious before I committed anything to the proper princess dress.
Even with practice and planning, I screwed up on the final product. That coat started very badly, for example. The very first seam I sewed, I sewed inside out…
I spent as much time with a seam ripper as I did on the machine, but it eventually turned out okay, and when I finally got to her dress, I had a much better handle on the process. Even then, I made samples of everything before I put scissors or needles to any of the final fabric.
It was incredibly time consuming, but totally worth the extra effort.