Learning from Failures

Several months ago, I was asked, "Kestrel, how do you learn from your failures?" To me, a "failure" would be a project that failed so spectacularly there was no way for it to be saved, so I just threw it in the trash and moved on. I have only ever had one of those in my life, but that failure and the process of recovery taught me one of the most important life lessons I've ever learned.

Story time

It was the summer of 2004. I was 15 years old, soon to be entering my Junior year of High School in a few short months. My mom was a member of our small town Art League, which sponsored an artist presentation at each monthly meeting. The upcoming artist worked with fabric, and as I had been a member of the 4H Sewing club for several years, she thought I would be interested. Little did either of us know, but that presentation would change my life.

Mom took me to the meeting that night, and we watched Sandy describe a process of drawing a template, cutting shapes from Wonder Under-baked fabric, and ironing the shapes together to make a picture. Her work was beautiful, and I was thoroughly intrigued. I wanted to give it a try myself, so Mom and I made a trip to the local Joann Fabrics for supplies.

My first attempt was a simple pop art-style picture of Birds of Paradise flowers:

Birds of Paradise

Since that picture went well, I decided to make another. This time, though, I wanted to use a subject much nearer and dearer to my heart: Fantasy.

In school, I was the weird, nerdy kid who drew pictures of dragons during class and at the lunch table. My friends and I played Magic: The Gathering, Neverwinter Nights, and Dungeons & Dragons. We swapped fantasy books and quoted the Lord of the Rings movies for months. All things fantasy have been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember, so believe me when I say the subject of my second fabric picture was extremely important to me.

I had drawn a picture of a mermaid swimming with a sea dragon. Up to this point, I had mostly been re-drawing fantasy work from well-known artists in the genre, so this picture was extra special because it was my own creation. This was the subject I chose to re-create in fabric.

The Fail

I drew my template, hand-picked my fabrics, traced the pieces onto Wonder Under, fused it to the fabric, cut everything by hand, and finally ironed all of the pieces together. I was in the finishing stages of ironing the design when disaster struck. My iron had a blowout all over my art, and the fabric was covered in mineral crystals. As I tried to dry and clean my precious artwork, it just kept wrinkling until it was almost unrecognizable. I literally crinkled it up into a ball, threw it into the trash, and ran out the door to our backyard in tears. That was it; I was done with fabric forever.

My mom, who worked from our home, overheard me and realized pretty quickly that something was wrong. She retrieved my crumpled art from the trash and then came to find me. When she sat down next to me outside, she said, "Your picture isn't ruined. We can save it." And that's what we did.

She took me back inside, we got a new iron, and together we worked to salvage my treasured picture. And by the time we were done, I was in tears once again because I was so relieved and excited and worn out — basically I was a typical teenage emotional wreck, but I'd also made a core memory and learned an incredibly valuable lesson.

That experience taught me about the importance of critical thinking, perseverance, and logical reasoning. It's a lesson I've carried with me through developing my own unique method of making quilts, and today I get the most enjoyment in my work by challenging myself to try new methods of achieving my goals. There's no way I would be in this position today if Mom hadn't forced me to save Best Friends all those years ago.

Here is Best Friends, which I still have and is now framed and hanging on my wall.

Best Friends