What's the Fuss! (Or, how not to write about zippers.)

I made Simplicity 2226 this weekend (pics coming soon) and it’s a nice pattern — very straightforward, which is good as it’s intended for beginners. (I liked it because I wanted something that in my head I was calling “a Modcloth-esque bike-friendly skirt” — something that looked kind of kicky and cute, but had good pockets and wasn’t so full that I had to worry about it getting caught in my bike spokes.)

Because it was so simple, I pretty much ignored the instructions. (At this point, I can make a waistbanded skirt in my sleep. Actually, if I could be a sleep-sewist, that would be the best thing ever. Wake up to find myself hunched over the sewing machine, having just finished hemming something? Awesome!)

But in folding up the instruction sheets to shove them back in the envelope, my eye fell on this:

what's the fuss!



Leaving aside the slightly unidiomatic “what’s the fuss,” telling someone “oh yeah this thing you heard was hard is just a matter of simple steps” is step one on the list of ways to make people 1) fail and 2) feel bad about themselves for failing.

Because, honestly, zippers don’t just “appear complicated”, they ARE complicated. They require you to have both spatial eptness and patience, which are two things that it took me years to develop as a sewist. Sure, putting in a zipper is simple, but simple ain’t necessarily easy.

I’m not saying that beginners shouldn’t attempt zippers! I think you absolutely should — I think everybody should. Zippers for all! But underselling the difficulty is not the way to inspire confidence in beginners — because when they screw up (and they most likely will, I end up unpicking zippers at least ten percent of the time and I’ve been doing this for DECADES) they won’t think “oh hey zippers are hard, let me cut myself some slack and try again,” they’ll think “oh hey the instructions said this was simple and I screwed it up and oh noes I will never learn to sew!”

Lest you think I am overstating this, I regularly have this conversation:

Would-be sewist: “Did you really make that dress? I would love to learn to sew! I tried to make a skirt once … but I couldn’t put in the zipper right.”

Me: “Zippers are hard! They take a lot of patience.”

WBS: “I guess I just don’t have the knack!”

Me: “It’s really just practice.”

WBS: ::disbelieving stare::

It’s much better to be upfront about it. “Zippers can be complicated, but with careful attention and patience you can get one inserted straight on the first try 90% of the time.” I’d also include a list of things you can do to make zipper-insertion less painful, like hand-basting (some people have luck with gluestick basting, I’ve heard), making sure you have a good zipper foot, always sewing in the same direction on both sides, marking where seams should cross on both sides of the zipper tape (I always do this, it makes a huge difference in getting waist seams to line up), increasing the seam allowance if necessary, and so on. (Has anyone written a “Troubleshooting Your Zipper Insertion” blog post or YouTube tutorial yet? That would be genius.)

TL;DR summary: telling people something is simple makes them feel stupid if they don’t get it right the first time. Telling people something takes hard work but is worth it makes them feel great, even if they get sub-par results. (Psychology geeks: this is probably related to the “Fixed mindset/growth mindset” paradigm.)