squigglyThis is what plied yarn looks like when, at the time of plying, you forget to reverse the direction of the wheel and spin clockwise, the way the individual threads are already spun. You end up with a squiggly mess, impossible to untangle. I was quite embarrassed that, after a year and a half of spinning, I made such a beginner’s mistake.

There’s a fair amount of gloating going on in the world of blogging and the internet at large, as you know. We only like to share our successes, show off our best sides. I am certainly guilty of that too. Yet, every homesteader knows that this life is full of trial and error. Much of it is figuring things out, experimenting, and often sad or hilarious fiascos. Many of my wise teachers have sent me off after a workshop with the words, “Go home and make lots of mistakes!” And I’ve done just that, the dutiful student that I am. So, lest I give the impression here that my projects are just one smooth success after another, here are some of my most memorable failures… I mean, lessons learned:

zinniasIn August, my efforts to dye yarn with zinnia failed – twice. I adored the buttery yellow yarn on the cover of Rebecca Burgess’ wonderful Harvesting Color, and was bent on doing whatever it took to recreate that color. I drove to a farm on Sauvie Island, picked two bucketfuls of gorgeous red, orange, and pink zinnias, and embarked on my dyeing project. The end result: yarn that was, at best, off-white. Definitely not yellow. In my stubbornness, I drove back to the farm, picked even more zinnias, did the whole thing again. The result: a little hint of more pigment, perhaps, but still only off-white. I was so discouraged that I almost gave up dyeing altogether.

Or shall I tell you about my first sourdough bread? It was a dramatic day that involved, among other things, the explosion of a glass dish in the oven and a consequent emotional meltdown on my part. At the end of the day, I did pull out two rather nice-looking loaves from the oven, but they were, frankly speaking, on the small and hard side. My only consolation were the words of the urban homesteading guru Erik Knutzen: “The road to bread baking nirvana is littered with hockey puck loaves and existential angst. Push through the wall of frustration and you emerge on the other side…”

It doesn’t end there, of course. The first batch of worms in my worm composter died mysteriously after a couple of months. I have not yet been able to successfully grow basil or onions from seed. And I still haven’t fully figured out how to get the outside compost to heat up properly. But slowly, even a perfectionist like me can learn to tolerate failure, laugh at my mistakes, and start over again. For there’s no other way in this kind of life — there are no shortcuts: you have to fail a lot. Get good at failing. In fact, a perfectionist like me should be doing this. While I work on my sourdough, or dye vats, or compost, I myself am being worked on.