I’m a ridiculously suggestible person. If I see a McDonalds advert, I must have chicken nuggets right away. If someone suggests a new way of doing things, I often take it as sacred law. But I’m at my most suggestible when I see someone doing something fun and creative, because I immediately want to have a go myself. Listening to good music makes me want to sit down at the piano, a quick scroll through Pinterest has me reaching for my glue gun, and don’t even get me started on any TV competition with “Great” in the title.
During the third series of The Great British Bake Off, my friend Nathan and I were inspired to bake every technical challenge just because we could (and our mutual long-term unemployment may also have had something to do with it). And we did really well – it turns out that baking is pretty easy – so when I discovered The Great British Sewing Bee, I had no reason to believe I wouldn’t be absolutely brilliant at sewing as well. “This will be awesome,” I thought. “I can make all my own clothes.” However, I came across one small problem: sewing is really hard.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m quite fortunate to be good at a lot of things. Yes, it is a weird thing to keep bringing up, but I do have a point – promise. You see, when you can generally turn your hand to something and achieve a reasonably good result, you don’t often fare so well when you try something and struggle to get it right. If I come across an obstacle that’s often me done, and I decide to give up and focus on something I know I can do instead. I may be good at a lot of things, but determination is definitely not one of them.
And sewing is full of obstacles. You can’t just wing it with reasonable intelligence, Google and a bit of creativity; you need actual technical ability and knowledge. You have to do each step in the right order or the whole thing fails. Everything has to be neat and precise. And there are so many things that can go wrong with a sewing machine, I really wonder how we ever started making clothes at all. I bought my machine three or four years ago, and things go so wrong every time I try to use it that months and months go by before I dare to get it out again.
And so, when I saw this year’s first episode of Sewing Bee, sat down to make (what I thought) was a super easy top and the thread got all bunched up in a knot, I had no idea how to fix it. Google couldn’t help me, so I went to the OG font of all knowledge: my Grandma. I lugged my sewing machine over to her, handed her the fabric and thread I’d been using, and waited for her to tell me the machine was broken or the tension had the wrong setting or the thread was too thick – something technical and definitely nothing to do with me. Instead, she sat down, lined up the fabric, and sewed an immaculately straight line of stitches with no problem whatsoever. How rude.
The problem, my Grandma explained, was that I’d been going too fast. I wasn’t good enough to whizz through and get it done in 20 minutes. I needed to slow down. I needed to focus. I needed to practise and practise if I ever hoped to be any good at sewing (I should point out, my Grandma just told me to slow down – if she’d said the other stuff to my face I might have poked her with my needle). Usually, this would be enough of a hurdle for me to throw my hands up in the air and say, “Fair enough. It’s not for me. I’ll go do something I’m good at instead.” But then I thought, “Maybe it would be good for me to do something I’m not good at.”
It’s very humbling to become a beginner and know that you’re not the most capable person at something; to have to ask for help and admit you can’t do it on your own. And struggling through something – keeping at it until you get better – builds character; it builds resilience and drive for the times when you really need a bit of gumption. And then when you do get better at something you were terrible at, your sense of achievement is ten times higher; you don’t just brush it off because it was easy – you proudly point at what you made and say, “I did that. I was hard. Maybe it’s not perfect. But I did that.”
So I’m going to carry on sewing, even though I still suck at it (I’m currently dealing with a baffling sleeve issue). But what’s that thing for you? What do you wish you were good at, but never try because you know it will be hard? Why not give it a go? You may never become an expert at that thing. You may never become fluent in Spanish, or play guitar like Jimi Hendrix, or grow vegetables any larger than your little finger. But if you try, just try, who knows what you might learn about yourself along the way?
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti