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If you can’t tell by the shift in temperature or those weeks of back-to-school advertising, it is already October.  Many students and teachers are in the first weeks of a new school year.

I have such clear memories associated with going back to school. All that promise in a new pencil bag. The pleasure of arranging dividers and paper into binders, its organization guaranteed to break down within the first week, but oh, the potential.

Sonya is wearing: February Lady Sweater by Pamela Wynne in Malabrigo worsted; 100 Acts of Sewing Shirt no. 2; Simple Skirt; and cropped Pants no. 2. 

Putting aside my love of fresh school supplies, we all know that learning doesn’t stop once we leave school. It gets gussied up with new terms like professional development or continuing education. There is instruction out there for everything imaginable, from hobbies to sports, having babies to training puppies. (Hopefully not all at once.)

Tea Leaves Cardigan by Melissa LaBarre in AVFKW Toasted; Dress no. 2; and Pants no. 1. 

When we are first learning how to do things, it can seem as if everything is about the “right” way versus the “wrong” way. This front-loading of rigid rules can be off-putting for the beginner. While some rules are made to be broken or at the very least to bend a little, there are others that are there for a very good reason. While it’s not necessary to tell you all about my gauge mistakes, I will say making those mistakes gave me a concrete example of why gauge isn’t some arbitrary concept. That too-large hat or tiny sweater perfectly illustrates cause and effect. I have always learned by doing, and sad though it might be to rip out stitches, it is instructive to see the result of not getting gauge.

Cria by Ysolda Teague in Abundant Yarn & Dyeworks DK; modified Dress no. 2; and Pants no. 1. 

This touches on how we learn. I like to follow along with things in my hands. Other people might be more visual, or need to hear instructions restated in more than one way. While children, with their developing brains, seem primed for learning, as we get older, it can be more difficult to achieve a similar level of receptivity. Is it because the long list of things we accomplish on the way to adulthood somehow narrows our natural inquisitiveness? Maybe we get too used to that feeling of mastery and it becomes difficult to not know. Curiosity may be what ignites the desire to learn, but it also takes a degree of vulnerability, a willingness to accept what we don’t know, and not fear making mistakes.

Knitting Pure & Simple #294 in Rowan Linen Print; Dress no. 2; and cropped Pants no. 2. 

Somewhere in our collective consciousness is that idea of the natural gift. We want to find it easy, we want to do well right away. But effort and mistakes are part of growing and learning. Mistakes are sometimes surprising, like when a needle falls into your lap while knitting a sock on two circular needles. Mistakes can be funny, like when I unsuccessfully try pinning a sleeve into the neck while sewing. Every mistake is a lesson, a mile marker on the journey of acquiring a new skill. Whether you fix the mistakes or leave them in, is a personal choice. Just don’t worry about making them.

About The Author

Sonya Philip is an artist, designer, teacher, and the author of The Act of Sewing. She has made it her mission to convince people to make their own clothes, by teaching classes and selling patterns. When not covered in bits of thread, she can be found knitting another shawl or cardigan. Sonya lives in San Francisco with her family and their scruffy terrier duo, Willie and Hazel.


  • Amen!

  • I love this post and so enjoy seeing Sonya and her beautiful colorful outfits! I always see sweatersshe has made that inspire me.

    I wish I had learned earlier that making mistakes is okay and necessary.Now I try to embrace and learn from them.

  • Lovely post! I learned to ride a horse at 25. Over 10 years later I find that the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. LOL But I LOVE learning more. I have found that since I am no longer in school (No more grades!) the more fun it is to learn new skills. I learned to crochet about 5 years ago and knit 2 years ago. Next on the list, weaving!

  • What a wonderful post. I laughed out loud about the second needle dropping in your lap because I have done that. More than once. I am a bit of a learning junkie and got a doctorate in my thirties. It was a bit scary to go back to school at that age but wound up being a truly great, if incredibly difficult, task. Sometimes hard things remind you of just how resilient you really are and the making of mistakes reminds you how insignificant they ultimately are. I am in a sewing group where we teach each other new things – sometimes I turn out to be quite adept, other times, not so much – but we always puzzle through things together and sometimes laugh really hard (because it is entirely possible to concentrate so hard on a stitch that you embroider the garment to your lap!).

  • I enjoyed this post — learning is a gift we give ourselves. I’m enjoying the new skills I’m developing through my knitting. I subscribe to Ann & Kay’s idea that it should be fun, so when I find myself getting a little frustrated, I relax, take a breath and think about how far I’ve come in such a short time . . .

  • Again, an inspiration to me to get going on knitting that winter sweater! You look lovely~

  • Loved this article! I learned to sew and knit well over 50yrs ago, complements of my incredible older sister. Many mistakes have been made along the way and I’m hoping I won’t have to re-learn from them again. Having just retired, I’m looking forward to doing a lot more of both activities.

  • I discovered you on Instagram, and was inspired by your wonderful sense of color and fashion, and also by the fact that you decided what was comfortable/fun for you, and made it into a sort of uniform–which makes it easier to dress every day. I am wanting to learn how to sew, and already knit, and have become more determined to wear what I make. A big part of that comes from your posts/blog. Thanks Sonya!

  • Love this post and agree with all the comments. Being a perfectionist, I have to remind myself “don’t take yourself too damn seriously!” I’ve mellowed with age and try to laugh (& learn) from my mistakes: big and small

  • I read somewhere a long time ago that if you’re not making mistakes you’re not learning anything. It referred to a work setting but I think it’s true all across life. I confess that I seem to be unable to eliminate puckers from set-in sleeves, even when I add a basting stitch and pin carefully. So, you know what? I have puckers in my sleeves. Big deal. I love the Dresses no. 2 and wear them with pride, telling everyone who comments on them “I made it” and they’re blown away. And, I hope, just the tiniest bit envious that I am so happy with the way I look in my new clothes. Thank you, Sonya, for helping me find a style of dressing that makes me feel good about myself and for designing clothes with POCKETS. And thanks, Ann and Kay, for introducing Sonya to MDK-land.

  • So warm and reassuring. I love Sonya and these columns!

  • Sonya you always look so pleased! I love this. And yes, fear of making mistakes is one to avoid. After all who made the rules? A lot of them are no more than opinion. Except that admittedly it’s good to attach the sleeve to the armhole not the neck…

  • This is fabulous I love knitting but I’m not that good but I still wear my knitted items or give them to my daughter who’s always happy for a scarf in cold New York.

  • Exactly! Well said!

  • I love the idea of not fixing mistakes……but if it’s a sleeve attached to the neck!!! Lovely column as always.

  • I love your essays and photos. For me it’s been bith inspiringand helpful and hits the spots that need it most. Thanks!

  • Love the contrasts; it’s amazing what really goes together but one would think not, eh? Love the ‘mistakes’ you mention.

    I’ve been knitting/crocheting a lot these past few years…’s cheaper than a shrink, of course…..and with my surplus of stitch markers, and I mean surplus, I slip/clip one onto goobered up stitch areas to fix after a bit. Eventually, I decided to leave the goober unfixed…..and leave the stitch marker hanging out there; LOL!! It becomes a ‘what is it?’

    Sometimes, I just pop a marker on somewhere in the work…..just because…..not on a goober; LOL!! Rather like an artist signing their work…..bottom right side…..? The gift recipient can slip or cut them off…..or ‘leave’ them. ((:

    Mind you, I will fix most of the goobers and have become very adept, IMHO, at tinking, frogging, picking up stitches, etc. This year, I believe I’m not a bad knitter/crocheter. ((:

    Thanks for listening! @@

  • It took me dozens of projects and two mysteriously tight sweaters to realize I’d been knitting twisted stitches the entire time…oh boy, did I laugh!

    • Laurel, I think you are my new hero — going boldly where no newbie has gone before! Fearlessness is a great approach to learning!

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