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  • Deb Doyle, The String Alliance

“I Don’t Know What I Did Wrong…” an ode to troubleshooting


Last weekend I sat down at my sewing machine to tackle a muslin for a new dress. I’m an advanced beginner sewer, and the pattern was going to introduce me to some new techniques.


When it came time to shirr the fabric, I watched the intro videos on the pattern website, read the helpful hints in the instruction booklet, and followed the instructions as outlined. My shirred back was as flat as a pancake, and the elastic side looked like a bunch of squiggly lines. I watched the video again. Reread the instructions. Tried again with a few modifications. Same result. Third time. Same failure.


I drafted an email to the designer asking for help. Two days later, several emails, a trip to a local sewing store, and a YouTube search, I figured out my error and successfully shirred a test strip.

Here’s the thing: while the video and the printed instructions were clear about the steps to take, there were no troubleshooting hints. The kind of visuals that answer the question:

“If your shirred fabric looks like this (insert image), you have likely done this. Try doing it this way instead.”


When someone opens with “I don’t know what I did wrong?” they have two requests. The immediate one: please fix this for me. The more fundamental request is about WHY: tell me what I did wrong, so I don't do it again. In other words, teach me.

You are probably terrific at answering both questions when someone comes to your shop. However, as you create video or photo content demonstrating techniques, consider adding some “bonus content” that includes images or videos of common errors and their cause.


Show your distance learners the WHY of their errors. Help them learn to diagnose and fix their own mistakes. It might save you from having to troubleshoot via email or zoom.


What was your most frustrating troubleshoot story?

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