Ideas overwhelm alert

Over the summer I’ve been working on a big, intense quilting project that’s preoccupied a lot of time and all my mental energy.

My all-encompassing summer project underway

Now it’s over, I’ve entered a creative kerfuffle. I have masses of ideas, lots of stuff Pinned for inspiration, thoughts of projects whirling round my brain, but feel like I can’t really grasp and go with any of them.

I feel like I am standing at the entrance to a maze, and can see tiny glimpses of my perfect next project there, in the centre of the meandering pathways, but I’ve got no idea how to get there. Usually there is another commission in the pipeline, so this wouldn’t be a problem, but I’ve given myself a break from magazine work…

Because I live with anxiety, decision making is something I can really struggle with. It’s interesting… I tried Googling craft and its relationship with anxiety, and found a heap of stuff about using craft to help with anxiety and depression, but sometimes I find it’s exactly the opposite. I wondered if it was because I am aiming to get paid for what I make, so there’s the pressure of it being a commission and not wanting to let people down, but actually, I think it’s more my perfectionist streak – or shall we be honest and call it a neurotic fear of being ‘wrong’? I’ve been dwelling on this, because it’s not how it should be, is it? And whilst I’m trying to make other life changes (being strict about daily meditation, changing eating habits to support my mental health), I’m thinking of ways that I can corral my creative ideas so that they don’t overwhelm me, causing craft paralysis.

My first idea was to think back over all the projects that I’ve completed (especially from years back, when I was just starting out), evaluate the styles and techniques that I’ve enjoyed and found most creatively enriching.

I made this for a swap, 7 years ago. Can’t believe it’s so long. I love this style of applique, and adore working with felt. These days I’d use a better background fabric, and make the bag itself a better shape, but I like where I was going with this.
More felt and freestyle embroidery.jpg
Looking back (this pincushion is from 2011) I was actually more confident in my choices and less concerned about making making ‘mistakes’. I remember the fun I had, making this one up as I went along. I’m still really proud of it.

This means being really honest with myself and recognising the difference between things I have just loved making and things I have loved because I got brilliant feedback on them.

I love this design and doing the raw edge appliqué on this needle book. There are definitely things I’d do differently 6 years later, but that stylised design and the simple hand stitching still really works for me.

I’m mostly in the habit of taking pics of everything I’ve ever made, so I can have a scroll through and remember the feelings associated with each project. This is a bit of a boost in itself because it’s good to see the range of skills and achievements, but it’s also quite sad, I think, because I can see that 5 or 6 years ago, I was a lot more confident and playful in my choices.

I love mucking about with words, and small quilt-as-you-go projects. SMALL is definitely a word I keep coming back with… I have a butterfly mind and easily lose interest in a project if it’s not fun any more.
More thoughtful fabric placement. It seems to work better if I allow myself to have fun (no brainer!)

Reading this back, I think there’s other stuff that I need to do to address a few issues, not least the ‘being wrong’ thing. I’m planning to write a few more posts on this subject – aiming at creating a toolkit to help me through those times when I hit this kind of block, or when my confidence and craft-esteem takes a dive.

So stick around if this is the sort of stuff that bothers you too.. and ideas! I’m after ideas please.. do you get crafters’ block? Are you  overwhelmed by ideas? What do you do to quieten/ignore that internal negative voice?

54 thoughts on “Ideas overwhelm alert

  1. Ali, thank you for this really interesting and open post. I can relate to so many things you have written about and to most of the comments. The self doubt is quite often the reason for my paralysis. Seeing all the amazing work and productivity of others can have quite the opposite effect on me, then anxiety might struck and it’s pretty much impossible to start making anything. If this happens, I tend to pull away from social media a bit. I go back to my own notes, my lists of things I planned to make or my sketches. There is always a project or idea that gives me that feeling of comfort and calm, something that settles my anxiety and I can get back to sewing. If this is not working, then I switch to tidying my sewing nook, I might refold my fabric or reorganise some of the patterns and usually I don’t even notice how I find something exciting to make. The last resort for me is to simply stay away from my sewing space and any kins of craft for some time and do something copletely different. I am just so happy to see that I am not alone. I hope you get back on track soon. I love seeing all the things you make! Thank you for shaing your thought and feeling. xox

  2. Ooooh so many beautiful past projects! You are so talented!
    I find personally that crafting takes me both ways in terms of my mental health. I too have anxiety, which I beleive started when I moved away from home, but got really bad when I moved to london and was unemployed for 6 months. I had to spend 6 months in therapy to learn to deal with it properly. In one respect, crafting really helps me. The main way my anxiety manifests is in exessive nail biting, to the point of swelling and bleeding and being unable to speak or move, so having something to do with my hands really helps to keep my mind occupied. I also find one of my triggers to be feeling as if I am not acheiving anything, so, again, making things helps me to kill that negative thought. But at the same time, picking new projects or not acheiving perfection can make me feel anxious. For the most part crafting does me good though. The positive effects way outweigh the negative effects!

  3. Its interesting you say this as over the years my husband has reminded me that my crafting is meant to be a release from stress and anxiety and at times he has felt it is actually causing it. Too many projects, too many commitments, and I only craft for fun. Incidentally, I really love your zippy pouch and pincushion from a few years ago.

  4. Yes, yes and yes to your questions! Although there seem to be some lucky people who aren’t hampered by it I think it’s easy to feel completely paralysed by the weight of your own expectations, by self-doubt, and by just not knowing where to start because there are potentially so many things on the ‘list’. I’m not in a position to advise anyone because I’m not very productive but the thing that works for me is to just *make a start* on something on the list, however small, however hard it is to fight against the ‘craft paralysis’, and quite often that’s just enough to build up a bit of momentum. Given that making anything at all is a triumph against inertia the other thing is to try as hard as possible to view anything that didn’t work as a successful learning experience and congratulate yourself for that rather than viewing it as a crafting failure!

  5. I have only just round to reading this properly as have been busy celebrating a very big birthday. I am sure you must feel better just writing this post, your work is so lovely, neat and always seems quite perfect, I can see a difference in your earlier projects where you seem bold with colour and style, perhaps start, if you can just doing things for yourself and not what others want from you. The being perfect thing is hard one and I find myself not attempting things because I know it’s not going to be as good as some of my fellow crafters.These days with t’internet we can learn to do anything and practice makes perfect they say. It is you that gave me the inspiration and confidence to start sewing again after a lifetime break working and bringing up my family, retirement freed me to start again being creative, you have shared what you know so freely and I just hope that you can ease the anxiety and benefit from your wonderful talent in a way that suits you and everyone else. Keep posting and letting us know what you decide to do for your next project, no matter how small!xxx

  6. Would love to read more on this subject. I suffer from anxiety myself and struggle with anxiety about projects I take on not being good enough. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings on the subject.

    1. Conquering that negative self-talk can be really hard can’t it. I’m definitely going to write a bit more about that, and try and come up with a few coping techniques. Thanks for reading and commenting – it’s much appreciated.

  7. Thanks Ali, for this wonderful and honest post. I think we all can relate to this in a way, maybe a little different than your experience, but nonetheless. Thinking about the to do list can be very daunting, especially if you are head over heals into way to many projects anyway.

    As a side note: your post made me think of the 30daysofhappiness project that Amanda from Westwoodacres (I think her website is called ‘a crafty fox’?) is posting this month. She describes how she struggles with anxiety issues (in general) and what has helped (and is helping) her getting thru. I am not involved in this project, but I really enjoy reading the posts. You may find them interesting too?

    1. Anne – thank you so much for letting me know about what Amanda is doing at A Crafty Fox (including the link in case anyone is reading through the comments – Just had a quick look and it looks very interesting – and she’s a food lover like me, which really appeals. Thanks so much for your kind words about my post – it’s much appreciated.

  8. OMG reading this is like you are describing me, I take things on all the time and then stress over doing it well enough to the point where I procrastinate and then the most important thing becomes getting it done rather than how well it is done. Somehow at this looming deadline stage it frees up my block and it gets done but I never get out of this anxious cycle and always feel I could have done better! There are loads of projects I have wanted to do for years E.g. making my first quilt but because it’s not for someone else and theres no deadline I never even get started. I reckon it is because we care so much about what we do that we can end up feeling like this, after all solving creative problems is often a lonely pursuit done in the presence of people who don’t want it need to understand the complexities . I have taken comfort and ideas from all the marvellous posts here and Ali I applaud you for speaking out and look forward to more posts on this topic.

    1. Julie, thanks so much, I relate so much to what you say. I am DEFINITELY a last minute kind of person too, and I think very much for the reasons you describe – a looming deadline is always a real destroyer of the crafter’s block!! Let’s hope we can both work out some better ways of enjoying our creativity rather than beating ourselves up about it. 🙂

  9. What a beautiful post. Fear definitely holds us back, but, what are we actually afraid of? We want to enjoy our creativity whilst striving for perfectionism. Maybe we should be happy with just growing and learning through each new process that we attempt. I love the photographed items, would you give details please as to how to make that lovely pin cushion? I’m a beginner in dressmaking and avidly read a watch everything about it; I actually need to just do it!

    1. Hi Anne – thanks so much for your insight. I absolutely agree about learning to be content with the journey of creating, rather than fretting about some perfect endpoint – you’re so right. It’s a question of developing that more healthy way of thinking, and I’m hoping to write more about that too. I’m not sure if you mean the felt pincushion or the little fabric pincushion with birds. If it’s the felt pincushion, then it is constructed in exactly the same way as this one – and the top is just some freestyle couching – here’s how you do that (if you don’t know already):

  10. I’ve been trying to incorporate more small (quick) projects into my sewing time. I spent the first half of the year on 3 very large quilts and while the end result of those are very satisfying, I like the more frequent wins too!

    1. Thanks for your comment – you make such a good point – small can be really good can’t it! Over the last week I decided to make some little zippy pouches, and really enjoying the process – simple, but gorgeous fabrics to play with, and nice quick finishes. I think it’s so important to work out the ways of doing your creativity that suits you best – sounds like you have that a bit more sorted than I do!

  11. I frequently have crafting anxiety. My issue is that I get so far then worry about ruining it with the next step e.g. the quilting part, the zip etc. Whatever I make rarely seems good enough to me, even though other like what I make them. Sometimes I stop for long periods of time before going back to doing anything at all. If sewing isn’t making me happy then I don’t sew. I do love seeing all of your makes though x

    1. Hi Kay – thanks so much for your comment (and your kind words about my makes, that’s really appreciated). I found myself nodding in agreement with your description of being anxious about ‘the next step’ – I frequently get in a stress about quilting (and then binding after that!) because I’m afraid of taking the wrong decision about how to proceed. It’s particularly hideous when you’re working on a commission!

    1. Sympathies Barbara – I do hope you can find a way forward. I am working on some thoughts about how to move thorough that ‘idea overload’ situation, and am planning to blog about some of the techniques I’m going to experiment with. I’m hoping it will help me develop a better approach instead of just panicking about wanting to make All The Things!

  12. I’ve loved seeing your makes over the years. Thank you for sharing. I find that having a project that I can go to when I have a creative block helpful. Something I can work on for as long as I need to – 5mins or 30mins – something not stressful. At the moment it is a crochet blanket. Every now and then I do another row, it has no deadline, it isn’t being gifted, it’s just a forever project; my therapy blanket.

    1. Hi Bekki – thanks for your kind words and for your suggestion. Funnily enough, it’s one of the things that I was thinking of trying, having a long term project with no deadline, that’s not too tricky, so that you can just pick it up when you need to occupy your hands and brain. Suddenly craft becomes relaxing again! Crochet is great for that isn’t it, because it can be a very ‘automatic’ process. I’m interesting in identifying simple sewing projects that can have the same effect. Hmmm – food for thought, thanks so much!

  13. Your work is always beautiful. I remember my first mini quilt —- eeks to the fellow swapped that received it! But we all have to start somewhere!!

    1. Thanks Cynthia – oh yes, I have that thought about some of the early swaps I did! One of the things that I have to remind myself is that mostly people are very kind and appreciate all the work that goes into handmade, so not doing the ultimate perfect work is not the end of the world. 🙂

  14. The more ideas I have, the more overwhelmed I become and I flit (in my mind), from one project to the next, finding it very hard to decide on what the next project will be. Two solutions work for me – 1) have a break from sewing or 2) ditch the list of potential projects and sew something small purely for fun. At the moment I’m having a bit of a break from sewing and spending lots of time in the garden. I’ve already decided on the next project, whereas before the break, I had a million ideas swimming around in my head and bumping into each other. My daughter often tells me that I see mistakes in my own work that neither she nor anyone else would ever notice.

    1. Pam – I totally love your ideas. I find getting out into the garden a real help too – having an alternative outlet for creative thinking is a real bonus. And also totally agree about working on a small fun project. And, yes, it’s so important to remember that our standards for ourselves are way too high, and no one even notices the ‘mistakes’ we think we have made.

  15. I’m also an anxiety prone person, and have often caught myself up in the cycle of thinking ‘oh I have to make/finish this thing’ often causing myself even more anxiety. Good old CBT techniques are the ones that help me the most in this situation My normal reminder to myself is that I’m doing this as hobby, its supposed to be fun and the only one judging is me and I try to step back.
    One of the common suggestions for being stuck, from my beading group is to make up kits for projects (especially from things you already have) even if you don’t make them – it makes them feel more achievable and present than just looking at patterns/ideas, although you need to be careful not let yourself pressure you into doing them.
    Hope you find your feet again soon.

    1. Shyeni – thanks so much for your comment. I’m planning a post about CBT techniques, I find them really useful too, so glad they are helpful to you. The idea about putting a kit together is absolutely brilliant, I really like it, so great to do something creative without the pressure to achieve, because it’s just about the ideas. Thanks so much for sharing that. 🙂

  16. I think a lot of us get that anxiety at times. But I’ve started to recognise that there sometimes needs to be mental space between projects. A time to recover the creative energy and let the inspiration bubble to the surface again. I use this time to tidy up and reorganise or do a boring but necessary job like mending or sewing something basic. Tidying and cleaning as a diversion isn’t always negative – sometimes it’s part of the whole process.

    1. YES! Definitely – I think you are so right. Tidying and organising are definitely part of the process. I am coming to realise that being ‘in control’ of my fabric stash – especially organising scraps, really reduces craft stress. And just rediscovering fabrics, trims, other crafty bits and bobs can be a real inspiration. Thanks so much for mentioning this – really appreciate it.

  17. What a timely (for me) post -thank you. I too was fearless when I began quilting, eschewing patterns and leaping enthusiastically in to projects without a backward glance. Now? I’m paralysed even by fabric choice – let alone quilt design. I’ve given up on a QAL because not knowing the block design from one month to the next, let alone it’s placement in the overall design meant that I couldn’t plan the overall colour distribution. That quote will be pinned up on my wall too – thank you.

    1. Gill – I really feel for you… and I can’t tell you how much I relate to your comment. It’s a real struggle sometimes isn’t it, especially when you aspire to high standards in your quilting, to just go with the flow. It sounds like we both need to try and recapture something from those those fun early days.

  18. I think that my perfectionist streak is also more a neurotic fear of being wrong. That really struck a nerve. And that ties in with people’s expectations. Because I’ve learned to do a good bit of so many things, people seem to believe that I can do just about anything. And sometimes that’s a good thing as it challenges me to learn more, to attempt something I might otherwise not have tried. But, at other times, it can render me almost paralyzed with fear or indecision. Sometimes it’s something that I KNOW I’m not skilled enough to take on. Or it edges right up to the limit of my skill level if I stretch myself REALLY hard and then I worry that it’s not going to be perfect, it’s going to be amateurish, it’s going to be wrong. And the worst part is, is that no matter how many times you explain that you’ve never done this thing before and it’s not going to be perfect….. people just seem to assume that you’re being modest instead of being frank and honest about your skill level and abilities. And then I make myself crazy trying to meet those expectations. And there’s no joy in the thing I’ve created or the experience of making it. Just stress.

    1. What a heartfelt comment – thank you so much for your honesty. And I can’t tell you how much it strikes a nerve with me…. I also have a tendency to take on things that I later regret because it’s SO MUCH outside my comfort zone. It’s getting the balance right isn’t it. As you say, it’s great to take on new stuff to learn, and have a new challenge, but very tough if you are putting yourself under too much pressure.

  19. Yes. Sometimes I have a crafter block too. It would end up that I would do something new. By the way, I love all your design. Perhaps you can try adding up cultural design in future. For example Batik motif. 😊

    1. Thanks for your comment – that’s a great idea, to try something new, taking on a bit of a challenge which is about learning rather than a perfect end point. Thanks for your kind words about my designs.

  20. Don’t you think when we start out on our journey into quilting and crafting we aren’t quite so concerned with being right, but having fun with it. I know that is how I was. Now as I do more, even though I still love it, I am more focused on “Doing it right”. I spend more time looking through my fabric to get the right combinations for a project, where years ago, I would have grabbed what I liked and to heck with what others thought. I have done this so much that my resolution for 2016 was to do it my way. I can talk myself out of anything being negative about it. Ya’ll are one great group of people.

    1. Love it! What a great resolution… And I am so glad that you can talk yourself out of feeling negative about it – you need to share your techniques with us..! I hope you are finding 2016 a great year of doing it your way. 🙂 🙂

      1. I worked with at risk teenagers for 25 yrs and one thing that we tried to go was to see what they were working on or on themselves. What are their thoughts on what they were looking at. Write them down in a list. Now pick out 1-2 positive things about each negative write these down. After a while it comes a little easier to rethink those negative thoughts. Some days are still hard. But hey, we aren’t perfect


  21. I kind of relate to the part where you talk about your playfulness in your earlier stitching. I’ve just started learning how to quilt. However, I learned to make clothing in the eighth grade, and I really flew with it. Made a lot of clothes for myself and my sister. Zippers, buttonholes, snaps, did everything. No fear. Then I stopped making clothes and did more craft sewing and now quilting. I kind of shy away from clothes because I think I can’t do zippers or buttonholes anymore. I blame my own reluctance on all the perfectly made items with zippers, buttonholes, etc., that I see online, which back in the day I never had access to, so nothing to compare my work to. And not too long ago, I came across a quote by Theodore Roosevelt which says “Comparison is the thief of joy” and how true is that!!? . . . I have it taped to my sewing room wall now.

    1. Oh! Excellent quote! I need to write that on a banner and display it prominently where I can see it umpteen times a day!

      I used to be fearless. I can remember, in my 20s, buying 10 yards of cream pinwale corduroy for a dollar a yard and making a slipcover for my ugly plaid sofa. Didn’t have a pattern, didn’t have any instructions or a guide. I just…..jumped in, figured it out as best as I could and went for it. Did it turn out perfect? Of course not! But it was pretty damned good and I was proud and pleased as punch with my “new” sofa. I made curtains and simple quilts and appliquéd clothes made from recycled adult clothes for my children…..most without patterns and/or instructions.

      When did I fall into the perfect trap? The comparison trap? Time to reconnect with my 20 something year old self I think!

      1. TOTALLY agree about reconnecting with our more confident selves of earlier years. And you are so right about the perils of the ‘perfect trap’ and the ‘comparison trap’. The internet is a wonderful world, but with beautiful work right there in front of us All The Time, it can really knock your confidence I think.

    2. Great quote! Yeah, the online world can definitely knock holes in your confidence can’t it. Fantastic idea to have the quote there to remind you whenever you are in your sewing room. Thanks for your really helpful comment.

    1. That negative voice is such a nightmare isn’t. I really struggle with it – and I’ll be writing about it a bit more. I think there are techniques that I use (from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and from Mindfulness) to help with my day-to-day anxiety that I can use to help with my craft anxiety. I’m really determined to tune that negative voice out…!

  22. I think there’s a lot to think about in this post!! I certainly experience overwhelm and have been joining Collette at Poppy and Poochie because she’s doing a series on how to grow your creativity. You should link up with this post, other people might find it useful too and next week it’s all about creative blocks 🙂

  23. You know I never thought about it but anxiety is probably directly relating to quilting. I get very anxious towards the end of the project and then the let down happens where I am so sad when it is over. Hmmmm….I must now look this up. I never want to make and charge for the public because it plays on my insecurities and I don’t want to have a failure I guess. Interesting read, as always, thank you!

  24. Hi Ali your post bought a tear to my eye like seeing a mirror image of myself. I have only been sewing a couple of years so feel that anything I make is useless even though others tell me they like what I do. I find my anxiety at times crippling and so frustrating as it hampers my progress. I have tons of ideas but seem to be stuck in mud sometimes when it comes to making. Your post gave me comfort as I really admire your work and it is so good to know I am not on my own. Keep your chin up and don’t lose heart Ali.
    Big hugs
    Dorothy xx

    1. Awww Dorothy… I’ve had a tear or two lately, trying to get myself together. ‘Stuck in the mud’ is such a good description, I have that really stodgy-brained feeling too sometimes. Thanks for your kind words. 🙂

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