Creativity, sewing and rules
As promised, my first post in a series on sewing, stitching, creativity and inspiration, is here! In the series I’ll be looking particularly at the way that sewing can affect mental health, mood and well-being – both positively and negatively. This is about my explorations rather than any expertise that I have, and I’d LOVE to read your feedback, comments and thoughts in response to these posts.
Sewing & decisions: when it all goes pear-shaped
When I am in the creative doldrums, and feeling anxious or stressed, the first sign of it in my stitching life is an inability to make decisions. What shall I make – I have loads of ideas to choose from, but don’t know where to start. Then I dither about fabrics, colours, fabric styles and prints, turning over (what feels like) 1000s of ideas. I try different combinations and none of them seem right – my confidence slides away, and my enthusiasm with it. Out of nowhere, a relaxing day of sewing turns into a great big heap of stress.
The power of limits
I’ve had this experience quite a lot recently, so I turned to one of the ideas that I’ve noted down from my creative reading list – creating set of rules for a particular project.
In Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art (which I highly recommend – at first it’s a touch hard going, but worth sticking with), Stephen Nachmanovitch talks about the power of limits and how by intentionally limiting ourselves, we can tap into inner resources and jump-start our creativity.
…necessity forces us to improvise with the material at hand, calling up resourcefulness and inventiveness that might not be possible to someone who can purchase ready-made solutions.
Limiting yourself or setting creative rules seems a bit regressive and not at all playful – and playfulness surely is a foundation stone of creativity – at first, but think about it:
What’s a game without a set of rules?
Another quote from Nachmanovitch:
Commitment to a set of rules (a game) frees your play to attain a profundity and vigour otherwise impossible.
Jane Dunnewold makes similar points in Creative Strength Training, where she uses Japanese haiku as an example of how working within limitations (17 sound units/syllables) can produce exciting results.
Identifying parameters around process or materials may feel limiting, but in fact it frees you to concentrate on making and meaning and teaches a little about balancing work and play.
So here’s my first suggestion for the next time you are stricken with stitcher’s creative block:
Write yourself some rules
The idea is to release yourself from decision making by putting at least some of those decisions in the hands of ‘The Rules’ (and remember, they’re your rules, you can change them if you want – don’t let the rules make you stressed too!).
Here are some suggestions – you can think of some of your own I am sure, and then combine them to give yourself a great game plan. You can even put the suggestions in a hat, and select a couple at random:
- Use one or two colours or a defined colour palette
- Work in black and white
- Use only the supplies you have
- Ask someone else to choose the supplies for you
- Only use hand-stitching
- Only use a sewing machine
- Work on tiny scale
- Work on a huge scale
- Learn a new technique
- Use straight lines only
- Use curved lines only
- Use shortcuts
- Use traditional methods
- Use thrifted fabrics and supplies
- Work with a colour that’s not one of your favourites
- Revisit a project that didn’t work out
- Make something for a friend whose taste you don’t share
- Give yourself a time limit
- Do a craft swap where the rules are written for you
I’ve done a couple of projects using self-imposed limitations over the last 10 days or so.
Training to make decisions
An added bonus to this exercise – as you work within the limitation of the rules, you might well encounter difficulties – but, hurrah…
The difficulties aren’t your fault!
This detour round your ego frees up the brain to see the problems as possibilities, making it easier to keep going and work them through with good humour and maybe even a little bit of playfulness. And you might even break through to the other side and create something you love….
So, for example, when I made the second hoop pictured, I knew that there was no way I had time to draw the log cabin grid and foundation piece the fabrics as I would normally, so I decided, very quickly, to go wonky and trim the fabric pieces to size as I went. I think the wonkiness really suits the small size of the hoop, and more importantly, I had fun.
As I worked, I thought about the plasticity of the brain, and the way that with practice and training (as with CBT) it’s possible to change the habits of a lifetime and learn to approach life’s difficulties and annoyances in a more positive way. And of course, this exercise, if it works for you, will do just that – giving you practice in responding creatively, imaginatively, resourcefully, when stitching stresses occur.
I’d love to hear what you think – is this a technique that you think would be useful to you?