7 Lessons from a Crafting Failure

Girl by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash via www.angelamaywaller.com

Vintage Silver Feather Tree via thecottagenest.blogspot.com

On the internet, it often seems that every project turns out beautifully while birds sing and rainbows shine.

This is SO untrue.

Failures happen to everyone. I don’t often share mine mostly because they don’t help my reader to a successful conclusion. But failures can be helpful for learning in other ways, so I’m going to tell you about one of mine and what I learned from the experience.

To start, let me tell you about my blog friend Jennifer from The Cottage Nest. Her blog (and Instagram feed) are filled of sweet vintage charm and purposeful living. I have been continually inspired by her. Case in point, this stunning vintage silver Christmas tree that lives in her studio space (pictured at right and below).

Vintage Silver Feather Tree via thecottagenest.blogspot.com

The first time I saw it, I gasped out loud. I think it’s one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. I desperately wanted one. I have never found one locally at a thrift or antique shop, and I never felt confident buying one online.

7 Takeaways from a Crafting Failure via www.angelamaywaller.com

But I’m nothing if not resourceful and a couple of years ago I decided to make my own. I considered several options, but in the end I decided to spray paint the mini tree that the kids decorate with old clip-on earrings.

Spoiler alert: this did not go well.

I had concerns up front about the spray paint, which I try never to use, and the plastic, which doesn’t take to being painted. But I was determined to try anyway.

I armed myself with two cans of spray paint, unwrapped the burlap from the base and started spraying. I tried to go lightly and move around as much as I could to cover all the surfaces of the needles.

But… nothing happened. A whole spray can gone and the tree looked almost exactly the same. I kept going with the second can, spraying a little more closely this time to get some paint on the tree.

I thought at least maybe I could get a light coating, like frost.

“Poland” by Curioso Photography on Unsplash via www.angelamaywaller.com

Girl by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash via www.angelamaywaller.com

But, no.

Half done with the second can and nothing. I started painting really heavily on the tips. Finally the paint was building up on the needles. I got caught up in the success and just kept going.

Except…. it was terrible. Where the paint had built up to visible levels, the needles were stuck together in clumps. It was bad.

Real bad.

Well, I thought, maybe after it dries I can use flocking to cover all the globby needle and paint clumps and make it work.

The new goal: total coverage like a heavy snow.

“Cabin in Winter Forest” by Les Anderson on Unsplash via www.angelamaywaller.com

“Pershing Square Closeup” by Gary Chan on Unsplash via www.angelamaywaller.com

Except for one major problem.

It didn’t dry.

It just turned into a tacky, sticky mess and stayed that way. I brought it inside where it was warmer. I put it in front of a fan. I put it in front of a heater. I tried everything I could think of for TWO WEEKS. Nothing.

It was a total fail. I had to throw it away.

I’ll be honest with you, it sucked. I’d like to say I blissfully went on, saying that failures are part of life and give us our greatest lessons and opportunities. But I didn’t. Intellectually I believe that, but in that moment, in my guts? Not so much.

I HATE when projects don’t turn out. I mourn the loss of time, energy, materials and money. Sometimes projects are salvageable, which softens the blow somewhat, but with a project like this? Total fail. Not salvageable, not recyclable, not reclaimable. Just 100% garbage. By which I mean, literally, I had to throw it all in the trash.

Don’t worry, there’s good news.

I wasn’t able to salvage that project, but after taking some time to reflect, I’m learning from it. Here’s the seven things I took from this project that will help me going forward. I hope they will also help you.

Lesson #1: Trust your instincts

I had a gut feeling that using spray paint on the plastic needles wouldn’t work, but I ignored my instincts because I wanted SO BADLY for it to work. I searched the Internet to find blog posts that supported my desire, but didn’t examine them critically to be sure they were attempting the same type of color change that I was ( they weren’t). In retrospect, I would have been better served to listen to my gut.

Lesson #2: Don’t compromise your values for a project

“Hold the Green” by Mert Guller on Unsplash via www.angelamaywaller.com

It is important to me to at least try to minimize my impact on the environment. I’m not perfect, by any means, but I figure every little bit helps. So I no longer use spray paint; it has a lot of volatile compounds and you can’t recycle the can. I broke my rules for this project and I regretted it. Not because the project was a failure but because it just felt icky to me to use it. If the project had succeeded, I would have felt crummy every time I looked at it, so it still would have been a failure. Your values are likely different than mine, but whatever they are, don’t compromise them for a project.

Lesson #3: Don’t be afraid to go bigger

One of the options I could have chosen for this project was to build an ornament tree, but I was afraid of tackling a big project like that and having it not work out. In retrospect, I would have been better off just going for it. If I’m going to learn from a failure, I’d rather learn from one where I’m really trying something that’s a new and exciting challenge.

Lesson #4: Be willing to start with something simpler

Another strategy I could have used here was to be willing to use a simpler design. I could have built a flat wood and wire ornament tree, for example. No, it wouldn’t have been tinsel-y, but it still would have been cute and I would have saved myself a lot of heartache. Once I succeeded at building one of the simpler wooden ones, it would have given me the courage to try a more complex project later on.

Lesson #5: Model the value of failure

Quote: Failure is Always an Option from Adam Savage of Mythbusters via www.angelamaywaller.com

This is what I consider to be my second biggest error after failing at this project. I didn’t frame my failure as a learning experience. Instead I just threw it out and never mentioned it again. But in doing that, what am I teaching my children? I don’t want them to feel like failing is a bad thing—it is through trial and error that we learn. We watch a lot of Mythbusters in our house and one of our favorite quotes is, “Failure is always an option.” I had the chance to embody that in my home for my kids and didn’t.

Lesson #6: Be gentle with yourself

This is not to say that you shouldn’t feel your feelings! Failing sucks! Nobody enjoys it and nobody wants to experience it. So when I’m talking about good modeling I’m definitely NOT saying to stuff those feelings! Acknowledge that it sucks and allow yourself to feel crappy. Feel those feelings to the fullest and give yourself some self care. Then you can let this failure go and move on.

Lesson #7: Get back on that horse

“Begin” by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash via www.angelamaywaller.com

Finally, this is what I consider my biggest error in the aftermath of this project. I gave up. I felt so crappy about how it turned out and wasting all that time and money that I chucked the whole idea and quit. What a waste of a learning experience! Instead, after allowing myself to have my feelings and then modeling the value of failure by reflecting on the project together with my family, I could have chosen a different project and just kept going. What better?

Vintage Silver Feather Tree from thecottagenest.blogspot.com

Moving forward

So, while I didn’t take my own advice at the time, there’s nothing stopping me from taking it now! A vintage-inspired silver ornament tree is now on my project list. My first one might not be exactly like the real one at Jennifer’s house, but I’ll be happy with it anyway. I can always revisit the project later!!!

What’s a craft fail you’ve experienced? How did you recover? Leave a comment below or come and share with me on Facebook or Instagram!

Love, Angela


Many thanks to Jennifer from The Cottage Nest, who graciously gave me permission to share pictures of her vintage tree to illustrate this post. Also thanks to the generosity of photographers whose work is shared viaUnsplash:Alexandra Gorn,Curioso Photography,Les Anderson,Gary Chan,Mert Guller andDanielle MacInnes.


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