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Remember this post that I wrote asking if your sew-jo has ever left you and how you’ve got it back? Well, responses to that post, comments I got from people on my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds and a bit of my own research have resulted in a comprehensive article for this month’s Love Sewing magazine. So comprehensive in fact that it needed to be quite heavily edited to fit into my allotted double page spread! Not one to let work go to waste, here is the full piece in all its unedited glory.
May your sew-jo never leave you again!
How do you get your sew-jo back?
I’ve been sewing for over 30 years and there have definitely been times in my life when sewing has been more and less important to me. Most of us have times when our creative outlets have to take a back seat because life just takes over, but that’s normal and it doesn’t mean we want to do it any less, in fact often we want to do it more at these times, precisely because forces beyond our control are keeping us from it!
But what if your drive to create leaves you completely? Has your enthusiasm for sewing ever left you temporarily? Again, although it’s scary, I think it’s a perfectly normal phenomenon and comes as part of the creative package. After working 60 hour weeks to write my new book whilst keeping the rest of my business going for the last 9 months, mine was definitely on the wane recently.
I hope the sharing of some of my own experiences on this subject and the collective wisdom contributed by other sewists will help should you find yourself stuck in a creative rut.
Why does it go?
So what are the most common causes of this sewing equivalent of writers’ block?
Perfectionism & Fear of Failure
Perfectionism is the enemy of creatives, it’s a fine balance; I think a little bit of a perfectionist tendency can be useful as it keeps you striving to do the best you can and constantly improving your work, but too much can be the complete opposite and actually stunt creativity. The way it manifests is the thought creeping into your head that if you did that thing you’ve been thinking about making; “it would be a bit rubbish and never as good as it should be, so I might as well not bother”. I’ve definitely suffered from this in the past and the way out is simply to just allow yourself to make a mess, accept that mistakes are useful and help to develop your work, how can you learn if you don’t make mistakes? It’s impossible to just be perfect all the time, how could you ever develop and improve on perfection?
This was a recurring theme for the sewists who shared their experiences with me online; if everytime you sew you have to clear the dining table, unpack your project and your sewing machine, it’s often time to put it all away again as soon as you’ve started, so why bother?
Too Much Sewing For Others
Taking on too many projects for others was a cause mentioned by a few people online. While it’s rewarding to make things for others (when they’re well received!), make sure you put time aside for selfish sewing too.
Are You Happy?
There is a theory that you need to be in the right headspace to be creative, happy and relaxed and unencumbered with too many worries. Bobobun68 on instagram shared an example of this saying “I sewed nearly every day until my dad died and then it went for months. When my marriage ended two years ago I could manage work and being a mum but all creativity went. As my happiness returned sewing and inspiration came flooding back hugely like an addiction. I’ve pushed myself to learn more and I’m loving it, so I’d say my sewing mojo is heavily influenced by my emotions.”
However, there is a parallel theory that if you’re not happy to start with, being creative can actually help to make you happier; a theory which is backed up by phychological research explained in this brilliant piece about overcoming writer’s block by Maria Konnicova on the New Yorker website: http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/how-to-beat-writers-block If you can push yourself over that initial hurdle to start creating when you’re feeling low, the creative process will usually leave you feeling in a much better place.
How do you get it back?
Variety & Learning
They say variety is the spice of life, so try a different craft from sewing; learning something new is always really absorbing and rewarding, so get a friend to show you or take a class. There are some brilliant short classes to get your creative juices flowing again on Creative Bug.
Fresh inspiration surrounds us in magazines, books and online. Join a local creative group or connect with fellow makers online. I recently got myself a copy of Oh Comely magazine as an antidote to purely sewing magazines; it’s still aimed at creative types but encompasses a lot more. I’ve heard Flow and Frankie are also great reads.
Sew something quick and small or something safe that you’ve made before and you know works well, I love verykerryberry’s advice on Instagram to sew pyjama pants. The perfect remedy I’d say, who doesn’t need more cosy pymama pants and they’re easy to sew for others too.
Get out there
Walk the dog, go for a run, go to the gym, I find any kind of exercise refreshing and invigorating to mind, body and creative soul. This is one that definitely works for me and that I use a lot; I’ve often had some of my best ideas while dripping with sweat in the gym!!
Focus is always useful to me, if I think “oh I can make anything I want”, I can’t make anything! Whereas if I think “I’d like some new t-shirts”, I’m off!
Do the washing up
Any kind of mindless repetitive physical task can help unlock the creative part of your brain.
Try and organise a sewing space at home, no matter how small, even if it’s just keeping your machine accessible (and visible as a constant reminder) on top of a cupboard or shelf ready threaded up and with your project neatly nearby you’ll be able to grab small bits of sewing time as and when the urge takes you.
A project for every circumstance
Have a few projects on the go and I do say this with caution as being a serial “starter” can also lead to sewing misery; you need to be a “completer” too. Some great advice from Deborah who commented on my blog was to make sure you have a small portable project as one of your projects on the go. That way you can take it on train journeys, do it in front of the TV and possibly even take it into meetings at work….!!
Have some “playtime”
Open up the floodgates – whenever I write, it’s like a stream of consciousness and ideas at first, I never write something polished and finished from the start. I like to edit heavily! It’s the same with sewing; I play around with ideas, use some cheap fabric that I’m not worried about spoiling and make lots of toiles, play around with some fabric embellishment or manipulation ideas or hack away at an old garment that I was going to throw out anyway.
I love some of the advice in this post on the Brainpickings blog, especially the tip from artist Lisa Congdon to spend 30 days doing repeated drawings of something that you’re already comfortable drawing. You could easily apply this to sewing: make a few versions of a quick tried and tested pattern, but use different fabrics, try some easy style adaptations to the pattern, add some embellishments, even try making it from recycled old garments.
While sewing for others can sometimes cause you to lose your sew-jo, certain types of selfless sewing can also be a way to reconnect with the joy of sewing. I love the approach of poppiesgrowinva on Instagram who says: “When I feel down about sewing I sew something super easy like a pillow cover or stuffed bunny for my boys. Sometimes “selfish sewing” doesn’t feel as great as you expect it to. Sewing things others can enjoy and benefit from, those have been my favorite makes!!! We are also too critical of ourselves. When you make a simple gift for someone they don’t see any of the flaws you see yourself when sewing! It can help you see that things don’t have to be perfect!!” Also a good technique for when the perfectionism monster tries to take you over…
Go back to things and edit/rethink
I often use a technique that I call “tricking myself into working” rather than sitting down with a blank page, fresh piece of fabric, brand new word doc open on my computer and thinking “right, now I’m going to do that thing” I just make adhoc notes and randomly try stuff out as and when it pops into my head and before I know it I have a new project, pattern, blog post well underway. An essential tool for applying this technique is to have a notebook/sketchbook and pencil with you at all times!
Remember: the end result isn’t always the be all and end all.
Children never suffer from these creative blockages, they create with that beautifully uninhibited approach of simply enjoying the process without focusing on the end result being the be all and end all. Social media, whilst being a wonderful place to share, encourage and seek inspiration that can help you rediscover your sew-jo, can also be a place to make you feel inadequate and like you’re not coming up to scratch. If so, unfollow the people who most make you feel that way or take a break completely for a while. Most important is what you’re doing and how much you’re enjoying it, not what everyone else is doing.
On a bigger, longer term solution I think it’s healthy for creative types to build variety into their everyday working and / or hobby lives.
I think I’m quite lucky in that I’ve managed to carve myself a job where I get to do a variety of differently creative tasks. Take writing this column! I love writing and it’s great to have an outlet and a purpose to write and while still being creative and thoughtful, it’s different to sewing.
I’ve also recently taken on a collaboration to work with a local charity on some clothes recycling projects and have recently finished my contribution for this year’s The Refashioners.
Even my most recently acquired hobby (learning how to play trumpet) taps into this need, I experienced my last creative lull about 18 months ago and realised that I needed to redress my work/life balance. I decided to learn a musical instrument because a) it’s good to keep learning b) it’s another creative outlet unrelated to what I do to earn a living and c) it’s something I know I can get absorbed in and get “flow” from, the way I can with sewing.
So, don’t give yourself a hard time, embrace a little creative block as part of the creative process and a reminder that you need a bit of variety and a bit of nourishment for your creative soul. Go out for a walk, take that online class and break out the colouring pencils!
Thanks to everyone who contributed their stories online.
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