DIY Disaster: The Five Stages of Recovery

DIY Disaster: The Five Stages of Recovery

Last week I had a spectacular sewing fail. In my mind I was making an incredible jacket, but one mistake (melting a hole in the neoprene) led to another mistake (cutting too much off one side of the the flannel to compensate) and in then end I had spent $80 on materials and 12 hours on the above jacket that I will never wear. I can’t even stand to look at it! Trust me, the zipper mismatch is the least of the problems here.

As with my (many) DIY disasters in the past, I had to go through 5 stages of recovery:


DIY Disaster: The Five Stages of Recovery

What you’re thinking: I can fix this! I can tooootally fix this! It’s going to be ok. I am going to take it apart a little and fix it. Oops, that didn’t work. I’m going to try something else. Oops that didn’t work. (Repeat until you’ve made an even bigger mess.)

What to do: STOP! Step away from the project.  You are too close to the problem right now to see the solution. . Go to bed. I know, you’re wondering “wait, how did you know my disaster happened in the middle of the night?” Because 90% of DIY Disasters happen in the middle of the night, when you’re tired but you’re so close to finishing you can’t stop now! Right now you need sleep, you need distance, and you need perspective. You may be able to salvage your project, you may not, but you won’t know until you sleep on it. If you have slept on it and have figured out a way to salvage your project, then congratulations! Try not to gloat too much in front of the rest of us, because we’re moving on to Stage 2 which is:


Lessons From a Craftastrophe: Alida Makes

What you’re thinking: I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS! 

What to do: Swear. If there was ever a time for bad language it is now, and believe it or not, science backs me up on this! In 2009 Dr. Richard Stephens of Keele University conducted a study that found that the use of swear words can help with physical pain. You can read more about the study HERE. You may not be in physical pain (unless your project included the use of a glue gun, in which case you probably have second degree burns on several fingers) but the emotional pain from a DIY fail can be intense, and swearing just might help. Just make sure there are no small children around, or else your 2-year-old’s first potty word could be “SH*T!” (ask me how I know).


DIY Disaster: The Five Stages of Recovery

What you’re thinking: My project is a failure and you told me to step way from it, so what do I do now?

What to do: Pour yourself a drink. Self care is very important in a time like this. The simple act of pouring yourself a drink and allowing yourself the time to sit and enjoy it will help immensely. The type of drink is up to you, hot tea, diet coke, or a coffee are all solid choices. If I were you, however, I’d go for the good stiff drink. I’m not saying that alcohol is crucial to this process, I’m just saying that when life gives me lemons, I make a lemonade. And then add vodka.


DIY Disaster: The Five Stages of Recovery

What you’re thinking: I spent so much money on supplies, and hours of my time (which is priceless) on this project! 

What to do: The bad news is: your money and time are gone, and I cannot get them back for you. The good news is: it wasn’t wasted! I want you to imagine that instead of spending the money and time on a project, you had spent it on a class. And in that class, you learned some valuable lessons. I bet you won’t make those same mistakes on a new project, because unlike the information you learn in a class, you will never forget what you learned from this experience. It is burned in your brain forever.


DIY Disaster: The Five Stages of Recovery

What you’re thinking: In the grand scheme of things, a this is not a huge deal. I’ll try again.

What to do: You are now safe to try again! You are past your anger and frustration. Your new project will not be tainted with the mistakes of your DIY disaster because you learned from them.  Only a seasoned DIY failure will understand what you went through, so it’s best to put on a brave face to the world and only talk about this hellish experience with the others in the DIY community. They will commiserate, and maybe share some of their fails with you. I wish you good luck on your next DIY adventure, and if you make new mistakes, please refer to Step 1.

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29 thoughts on “DIY Disaster: The Five Stages of Recovery

  1. Ohhhhh my I LOOOOOOVE this. SO SO SO TRUE….ALL of it!!! You are amazing!! This should be printed, laminated and hung up in every sewing room around the world 🙂

  2. True to a T!!! The denial stage I probably hang onto a little too long, and then stage 4 also involves a bad mood and some wallowing. 😉

  3. Please add Step 2.5: THROW THE DUMB THING AWAY! So it doesn’t lay around for 10 years and you go through all the steps over again every time you see it! Ask me how I know…

  4. This is a very timely post for me, I had one of these experiences yesterday trying to make my daughters Halloween costume! I threw it away, sulked & started over today.

  5. I think your 90% estimate on how many disasters are late at night might be low, lol. And distance is exactly what most mistakes need. I like to say my project is in time out while I think about what to do next.

    1. I had yards of swim suit material, i was gong to make me a swim suit, in stead I decided at the last moment to make swim suits for my sisters 5 grand daughters; they were having a family get together . No problem right I can sew and did I mention I had about a week and a half. Getting measurements I began. I cut, sewed, and lost a lot of sleep! Of course I missed the dead line but wait all was not lost, I had one grand child who lived close by so I could make her a couple of suits easy you would think until I tried the first one on. It was a little short through the body, no problem I could add a little to the straps no trouble at all , but wait where the suit
      fits around the upper leg was a tad wide for a little girl. No problem I had enough material to add a little skirt ! I was so confident my ability to fix this I missed all the steps. Not to fear I now have 5 suits in a bag because I know someday I will do something with the partially finished swim suits !
      Susan Galloway

  6. Hilarious!!!! I would actually be interested in seeing what other mistakes were made (not in a watching a car crash happen kind of way, I swear!). It is just interesting to see what more experienced blogger can mess up on so that we can learn what to be careful with too. (Okay, and it sort of drives me crazy to not see an entire garment… blame it on my OCD tendencies)

  7. This post just made me laugh so hard I was crying. It is absolutely a classic and I csn completely relate to all of this. Late night catastrophes followed by both drinking and swearing. Thanks for such a great post.

  8. I love this post! I had a disastrous attempt at altering some pants and stage 1 lasted for many more revisions than it should have (they are back in the needs alterations box). I also had a zipper issue on a dress and when I tried to fix it the seam ripper destroyed my fabric and there wasn’t enough to cut a new piece which was a blessing in disguise. A few days later when I bought an extra yard and had a few good nights of sleep I was able to salvage the dress 🙂

  9. I once had a spectacular fail. It was knitting (although sewing is my delight) a long aran cardigan for the current boyfriend. Everything going really well. Finished both front sides. Had done 2 RIGHT sides. I very nearly got stuck in stage 2 but eventually passed into acceptance. I’m afraid recovery (which I see as stage 6) took a while. Have you also noticed (I did last week while doing free machine embroidery) that once you make a hideous mistake, even though you pull it out & resolve to start again, if you do not calm yourself & look at the mistake as simple error & not a huge thing, you keep making the same mistake. It’s like my brain got stuck on failure.

  10. Ha! I’m between stages 4 and 5 on a fabric collage I made for the living room. I ran out of fabric Mod Podge 1/3 of the way through. After going to 3 craft stores and finding only regular MP (not the fabric kind), I pulled the “I’m tired and I won’t stop now!” thing. Sigh, it turned out a little janky. I learned a few lessons: a) always test new materials, b) don’t let tired obsession lead the way, and c) do *not* trust craft-store employees who tell you regular Mod Podge and fabric Mod Podge are the same. Take it from me; they are not. Still trying to decide whether to add some mixed-media layers or simply cover it up and start over. Harumph!

  11. My stage 5 is the “throwing in the towel FOREVER” stage. I convince myself I am terrible at said skill and resolve to use my time more wisely in the future on things like cleaning the house or working a second job. Then I read things like this and do it all over again. Also in my experience the vodka/lemonade thing is what most often leads me to step one in the first place.

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