How does a professional craft designer become a “failure enthusiast” who promotes bad craft to the world? For Heather Mann, it all started with a botched crocheted collar — which she shared, along with other project disasters, on the blog CraftFail.com. Readers responded, and the sad, scary, and hilarious results are now available in CraftFail: When Homemade Goes Horribly Wrong. (Heather’s craft successes can be found on the budget-crafts-gone-right site DollarStoreCrafts.com, which she also founded.) In celebration of the book’s release, we spoke with Heather about the unexpected upsides of blowing it, the baffling virality of certain bad-idea crafts, and how to spot an Epic Fail in the making (hint: anything involving rainbows is pretty much doomed).
When people craft, they usually hope to make things that are beautiful — or even perfect. How did you get the idea for a book on crafts that fail?
First, I want to say that the book isn’t about finding ugly crafts and calling them out, or about making fun of anyone. My partners and I consider ourselves to be completely failure-friendly, and we only share things people have sent to us to be shared. In my own crafting, I’ve had a whole string of failures. The CraftFail blog started because I tried to make a crocheted collar for a t-shirt. I made it with yarn instead of the recommended thread — substituting materials is a really common way to get into trouble — and it came out looking like a bright green clown collar. I didn’t want to just throw it away, so I gave it to my mom and she laughed right in my face when she opened the package. Because I’m in the habit of documenting and sharing things on social media, I shared it, and that’s how this all started.
What was the response?
Immediately, people responded positively. They really wanted to share their own Fails and almost every post that came in was from a new person. There is a big, friendly audience out there for things that go horribly wrong.
Did that surprise you?
Personally, I am interested in authenticity and I shy away from fake, so the reactions didn’t surprise me — but the reach was bigger than I expected. There’s this obsession with perfection, especially on Pinterest, so seeing gorgeous aspirational images side-by-side with the reality of people’s skills was a winning combination.
Some of the results are categorized as Fails and some are Epic Fails. What’s the difference?
When we see a single example, it’s a Fail, but when we see the same craft project time after time from different people, we consider it to be an Epic Fail. There’s a Rainbow Cake that has gone wrong again and again. One contributor described it as looking like unicorn puke. Rainbow anything, really — with lots of colors and layers, it’s a perfect storm for failure.
Like the Rainbow Cake, a lot of the Fails in the book are food.
I think maybe 50% of what we get are food Fails. It’s a popular category because even if you’re not a crafter, everybody eats. The best thing about food Fails is that you can eat the evidence.
I have to admit, some crafts in the book were new to me, like hula hoop weaving or marbling your own fingernails. Are we suffering from craft inflation, a constant upping of the bar?
Yeah, a lot of people are putting things out there, hoping something will go viral. Just recently I was looking around and someone had an idea for making hot cocoa in a glass ornament — which I think is a really bad idea, just horrifying — but I kept looking and there were about 25 versions of it, iterated over and over.
What are some typical reasons crafts go awry?
Number one, jumping in without reading the instructions can lead to bad results. Substituting materials, especially in cooking and baking, creates problems. Not measuring (or measuring wrong) and not having the materials assembled before you start also get people into trouble.
How do you look at failure today?
I used to have a lot of anxiety about failure, but then I really started to enjoy it. Partly, it’s fun to make fun of yourself, but failure is also a really important part of learning, and ultimately is more valuable than success. If you tried something new and succeeded on your first try, you wouldn’t know why. It’s through failure that we learn how to do something right and develop a deep relationship with techniques and materials. There’s a lot of perfectionism in craft right now — especially with so many perfect, beautiful images online — but I think eventually the pendulum will swing back the other way to something more realistic. Not everyone can be successful at everything, but we all can relate to failure. And embracing failure can help us learn in all areas of life, not just crafts.
If I failed at a craft, how can I share it with you?
The best way is to email me at email@example.com.
What’s the most memorable craft fail you’ve experienced? Tell us in the comments!
All photographs courtesy of CraftFail by Heather Mann, published by Workman Publishing, 2014.