I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I love to listen to live radio and to Podcasts whilst I sew/quilt/muck about in my studio pretending to work. And I know that there are lots of you who like to do the same (or binge on Netflix of course..!), so I’ve decided to do a regular series on my unmissable listens.
I’ll be sharing some of my favourite Podcast episodes and TED talks every Tuesday – hopefully inspiring you to check them out too.
I warn you (but maybe that should be a promise!) that it’s going to be an eclectic mix – but I am sure that’s a good thing, because my readers are a varied bunch, and everyone will find something to like. The topics I tend to search out for are creativity, craft, mental health, spirituality, philosophy, but I also love wonderful stories of all kinds – so if you have your own recommendations for me, please leave a comment.
First up is my all-time favourite episode (so far, although there is close competition) of probably one of the best-known Podcasts out there, This American Life: One Last Thing Before I Go
It’s probably crazy to start with such an excellent piece of radio, because it might all be downhill from here, but I really want to give you the Podcast bug, so best to start big, I thought!
I’m a bit stuck though, because I don’t want to say too much about it (Spoilers) – but I can say this: both stories within the episode are deeply moving, thought-provoking and incredibly well-told. They speak (in VERY different ways, and that the contrast is part of the success of the episode) of the human struggle to communicate, to express our feelings, our inadequacy, our bravery, our weakness and our resilience in the face of loss and death.
If you’ve never listened to a Podcast before, you can just listen to it on your browser, or download it for later, or use a Podcast app.
Hope you enjoy it – I’d love to hear what you think.
Another week passes! There’s nothing like doing a daily project to make you mindful of the passing time…! If you’re here for the first time – a recap – I’m doing the 100 Day Project on Instagram (#the100dayproject), creating flat lay photos of fabrics and haberdashery based on palettes I glean from Design Seeds. You can see all my collections on my Instagram feed with the tag #100daysofcuratedcolour, and you can also find them, very nicely presented on my Pinterest board – Curated Colours for Stitching Inspiration.
I’m always surprised by how much people love the more neutral or single tone palettes. Or maybe I do a better job of them because they are a bit easier. Anyway, 70 was the winner over on Instagram this week, closely followed by 66 and 64. I think I agree with everyone else – what do you think?
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 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?