I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.
~ Thomas A. Edison
My younger daughter decided some time ago that she wanted to sew. After she’d been hand-sewing for several months, I gave her my sewing machine. And, after learning some basics about how to operate it, she went to town making pillowcases. Given that she only had to sew a few straight seams, I didn’t think anything of it.
Then earlier this summer she announced that she wanted to make a skirt. I explained that she’d likely need a pattern and drove her to the fabric store. After browsing the easy-sew patterns, she chose one for a long skirt and picked out a pretty light blue cloth.
Now when Abbie gets an idea, she jumps right in. Thus, almost before I’d hung up my car keys, she was spreading out the pattern paper ready to cut out the pieces. I explained that she’d need to carefully read all the directions first and then be sure to follow all the sewing steps in order.
She dutifully obliged in terms of cutting out the fabric pieces. However, as soon as she had them all, she folded up the pattern paper and tossed the directions aside. When I reminded her about following the directions, she very politely but matter-of-factly said, “I’d really like to figure it out myself. I’m sure I can do it.”
Thus, the next day she sat down at the machine and deduced for herself how to organize the pieces, in what order to attach them to each other, and even how to insert the yoke with its elastic waistband. The process had its moments of angst, and she ripped out several dozen stitches more than once. I gently suggested she might want to consider looking at the directions, but only once. I could see that she was determined to do it her way.
Obviously, there are times when we need to insist – perhaps for safety reasons – that children follow specific directions. But with Abbie’s skirt there was no reason to insist. If she failed, we’d only be out a few dollars on a pattern and fabric. If she succeeded, she’d gain much in terms of experience and confidence. And it was more important for her to know I believed in her than that the skirt turn out perfectly. After all, as Thomas Edison proved, the best ideas often come from trial and error.
As you can see, the skirt turned out very well for a first attempt. And it’s not even evident that she did it on her own, without directions. A few weeks later, she decided to experiment again by making the skirt knee-length. I love her willingness to take risks, for it tells me that she feels safe to try no matter how something turns out in the end. May it always be so.