Notes on Failure

My first review ever on Amazon was a bad one – a horrific one star, completely slating my first book Crochet at Play.

In the weeks before the book’s release, I would lay awake in bed, heart pounding dreading exactly this moment. I was certain it would be the worst, most heart breaking creative moment of my career.

And then my exact fear came true…I can’t remember how I found out or why I was even looking, but I remember clearly clicking through to the full review, hand shaking, feeling sick to my stomach.

Despite my worries beforehand, the sky didn’t fall, the world didn’t end and actually, it wasn’t that bad. The review itself was about a technical issue with the cover, nothing more, but that was almost irrelevant. My worst fear came true and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d imagined it would be.

In the following weeks and months, other reviews came in and they were overwhelmingly positive…but its rarely the positive feedback that sticks. Criticism echoes much louder in the mind than praise and failures, real or perceived, haunt us long after the event. In retrospect, I am grateful for that review, it prepared me for a future of pattern support, complaints and failures that come with being a creative.

And I have had many failures along the way. I took 200 kits to a very well known craft fair and sold 5. I have designs that will never see the light of day because they are such an unresolvable hot mess.  I was knitting a cardigan for myself and only realised once I’d done 2 sleeves and the body to the underarm that I’d made it 3 sizes too small.  I burnt my sample of the Twist It cardigan for an issue of Simply Crochet on the Aga, after I had previously singed a pair of socks for my book Hook, Stitch & Give in the same way.

Each time, I just pick myself up, stuff the offending item in a closet and move forward, climbing the steep, hard climb of learning , improving my technical skills and refining my business strategy.

I was reminded of this particular aspect of my own journey recently when I was teaching a class on Crochet for Knitters. In the room were some incredibly talented knitters who were looking to expand their work into crochet.  As they grappled with one hook instead of two needles and getting their fingers working in the right way.   Learning is hard and much of my work as a teacher is reassuring students that there are few who get it from the outset, there are always mistakes and they won’t be the first whose initial attempts result is a tangled mess, but that its how they move on from it that counts.

Being creative is hard work, whether you are a designer, a maker, a writer, a baker, whether you write your own patterns or follow someone else’s, the simple act of creation puts a piece of yourself out into the world.  That’s the nature of it…you make something that wasn’t there in that exact form before.  You use your time, your money and your skills. You choose the combination of pattern and colour and material.

But creation and failure go hand in hand. Sometimes things work and sometimes they really don’t. Making anything involves some risk – it may be that the pattern doesn’t work or that the skills required are too steep a learning curve, but as makers these are risks that we not only willingly take, but love – chased by the eternal question of how is it going to turn out.

the truth is that I feel like a failure a lot of the time – whether I haven’t paid attention to the brief and have to remake something (as above) or I let a much-loved blog gather moth balls as I am frozen by questions of where to go from here. But accepting the downs as part of the process is really the only way forward, I have found. The failures are usually worth it. 

A version of this post originally appeared in Simply Crochet issue 33.