Before I fell down the bobbin lace rabbit hole, I made myself a medieval shift. Watching others sewing in videos about historical costuming made me want to sew, too. Morgan Donner’s video Making Basic Medieval Underwear inspired me to dig out some plain muslin, draft a pattern, and make a shift of my own. I had already finished it when I first heard a Hidden Brain podcast that made me laugh with understanding.

Hand-stitching to finish the seams.

Close Enough: The Lure of Living Through Others is mostly about choosing the ease and perfection of virtual experience over the disappointments that can go with real life. But it also mentioned research that shows people tend to be overconfident when trying a new activity if they’ve already watched instructional videos with people performing the same task.

Medieval shift in process, body with side gores and sleeves.

This was definitely me. I thought making a shift looked really easy, and it mostly was. Except when it wasn’t.

Sleeve with gore and gusset pinned onto body.

The first thing that went wrong was the sleeves. In her directions, Donner tells you to cut triangles off the lower half of the sleeve and use them as gores to widen the upper parts. I did this, but the dimensions of my sleeves were very different than hers. My triangle were slivers that were nearly completely sucked up by the seam allowance I used.

Sleeve with tiny gore and gusset, from the inside.

Even as I was sewing them on, I wondered if I was making a mistake. Later, I considered taking the sleeves apart to redo the gores, but I’d already hand-sewn the seams down. My felled seams were not as pretty as Donner’s, but I didn’t want to unpick all my work and do it again, so I decided to live with the tiny nearly useless gores.

Flat felled seam from the inside.

The next disaster happened when I tried on the temporarily basted shift. A seam ripped under the arm. The whole point of the basting was so I could check the fit, so it didn’t bother me too much. Besides, I already knew what to do because of the video: add gussets under the arms.

So I added cut out square gussets and stitched them onto my already weird gores. Technically, the gussets worked. The shift fits me. But I also wound up with wonky seams and puckers and I’m not sure why. I don’t know where I went wrong, only that my shift did not turn out exactly as I’d envisioned.

My medieval shift, complete with underarm “gathers.”

I’ve been sewing for decades. Granted, not much of it has been clothing. Mostly I’ve made quilts, and some three-dimensional things of my own design. It seemed like I should be able to put together a fairly flat and square garment perfectly, but I couldn’t.

The videos I’d watched made me overconfident in my skills, a little like Kay in her humorous mask-making video, who is so sure sewing is a snap. I now have much more respect for the skills of the sewing vloggers I’ve been watching. Just because it looks easy doesn’t mean it actually is.

Has a video convinced you that something was easier than to do than it actually is? When have you been overconfident?

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